A magical woodland country pub walk through ancient Essex wild woods
Known as Boundary Walk, this leisurely 3 mile pub walk hugs the edge of Hockley Woods, the county’s largest swathe of ancient wild wood. Suitable for all the family, it involves some gentle inclines and a couple of small footbridges.Download PDF Guide
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In Hockley Woods car park next to the pub, head to the side of the play area – from there, a path leads down into a valley thronged with oak, sweet chestnut, birch, ash and rowan trees. Keep following the path as it leads along the perimeter of these enchanting woods.
After about 500 or so yards, you’ll reach a stream. Cross the small bridge and note the concentration of hornbeam trees. The age-old practice of coppicing – whereby trees in a particular area are felled and then allowed to regrow – provided the local economy with a never-ending supply of wood.
Still continuing today, coppicing creates a constantly shifting woodland landscape. In newly-exposed clearings flowers are first to flourish – including foxgloves, honeysuckle and cow wheat. In June and July, look out for the rare heath fritillary butterfly which favours cow wheat’s golden blooms. The domed nests of wood ants also often spring up in these cleared areas. Birds that like to nest in the light-filled spaces include willow warblers, chiff chaff and whitethroats. Aside from hornbeam, the trees that then gradually take over these cleared areas include sweet chestnut and trusty oak.
“Hockley Wood is also home to Western Europe’s largest population of the rare wild service tree…”
…recognise it by the sharply jagged edge that runs down each side of its wide leaves.
Dotted through the woods are several ponds. Over the summer months, dragonflies can be seen darting across the water in pursuit of their prey. Toads, frogs and newts all spawn in the still water.
After running for a short distance beside a horse trail, the path then bears left and starts to rise. Observe how the types of tree begin to change; chestnut and birch thrive on the slopes, whereas oak dominates the highest ground. Here, at the wood’s southern edge, you can take in fine views across to Rayleigh and Eastwood.
For a long period, the area was treated as a group of separate woods, each one under a different owner. Earth banks acted as boundaries and, at certain points, they are still visible as thin mounds snaking their way through the trees.
The path then arcs through the wood’s eastern section where the soil is more acidic. Brambles, bracken and bluebells prefer it here, as does birch. Walk this part of the woods in Autumn’s cooler months, and you may spot distinctive red and white fly agaric toadstools standing out against the brown carpet of birch leaves – an enchanting sight to enjoy before heading back to the warmth of the Bull Inn for a well-earned drink! A final bridge crosses over a stream before the path climbs back up to Hockley Woods car park.
Hockley Woods are over 130 hectares – and the entire area has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Point of Interest
Many of Hockley Wood’s plants - such as wood spurge, cow wheat and wood anemone – are only able to grow here because the soil has lain undisturbed for so long.
The Bull Inn
Rumour has it, one of the pub’s mighty ceiling beams came from the scaffold used to hang the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin.
With its distinctive weather boarded exterior and magnificent bull’s head above the door, the Bull Inn is a Grade II listed country pub that exudes a peaceful, rustic charm. Parts of the historic timber frame date back to the 16th Century – and since that time, it’s been welcoming visitors into its cosy interior.
There is also a pub restaurant with an imaginative menu that features regularly changing specials and sumptuous Sunday roasts with all the trimmings. On long balmy summer days, the lovely garden buzzes with people choosing to enjoy their food al fresco.
But perhaps the Bull Inn’s most endearing feature (and one why we’re so popular with ramblers!) is the fact we’re situated at the edge of Hockley Woods, last remains of an ancient forest that seeded 10,000 years ago when the last Ice Age came to an end.
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