Car-free adventures aroundBraintreeEssex

Roman roads and Flemish weavers, nature reserves and discount shopping malls… Braintree has a long and varied history. Just over an hour from London, this Essex town has plenty to offer the car-free visitor. In the countryside nearby, you can find medieval barns with Knights Templar connections, disused railway lines, and gardens designed by Harold Peto.

  1. 3. John Ray

    If you have any time to spare between buses, don’t miss Braintree’s colourful museum, just over the road from the bus station. The statue outside is naturalist, John Ray, who was born in Black Notley near Braintree in 1627.

    • The museum has a John Ray gallery, where school groups can explore the natural world as well interesting displays on local history, from Celtic figurines to Flemish tapestries.
    • The changing exhibitions are pretty diverse too, from figures out of Star Wars to artworks by Henri Matisse.
    • John Ray’s work has had a lasting impact on the study of nature through the ages: he first used the terms like “petal” and “pollen” and worked out that the rings inside trees could tell us how many years old they were.
    • The John Ray Trust has worked with Essex County Council and others to devise a John Ray Walk, which celebrates his life. Buttercup way-marks lead from Braintree to the town of Witham, via Black Notley and Cressing Temple (see 4 below).
  1. 4. Cressing Temple

    This group of barns and walled gardens deep in the Essex countryside is beautiful and free to visit. It’s called Cressing Temple because the buildings were given to the Knights Templar in 1137. The 13th century barns are some of the oldest timber barns in England.

    • There’s also a Walled Garden, reconstructing a Tudor pleasure garden and a Tiptree Tea Room, serving up cake and coffee or – of course – locally made Tiptree jams with scones and cream!
    • The nearest station is White Notley. Cressing Temple is about a mile away along a road or by footpath: for a relatively traffic-free route, turn left out of the station and left just before the bridge onto the waymarked Essex Way.
    • Eventually follow the path left again under the main road to reach the road opposite Cressing Temple.
  1. 5. The Flitch Way

    The old branch line from Braintree branch line to Bishop’s Stortford was a single-track railway, opened in 1869, improving trade and travel across the Essex countryside. When it closed, a century later, the fifteen miles of tree-lined path gradually attracted a variety of wildlife. Today the Flitch Way is a popular route for walkers and cyclists. Bus 133 regularly connects both ends of the walk and the pretty town of Great Dunmow (see 6 below).

    • The route passes railway relics, thatched cottages and a variety of natural landscapes, from bluebell woods and butterfly-rich grasses to boardwalks through marshland. In spring the banks are sprinkled with primroses, in autumn overhung with rosehips and crab apples.
    • Follow signs near Braintree railway station to reach the café in an old booking hall at Rayne two miles away, an excellent place for refreshments (and there is Flitch Way museum in an old railway carriage).
    • The Flitch Way takes its name from a local tradition: a flitch (side) of bacon is awarded to happy married couples in “trials” that are still held every four years. The 133 bus also passes the gourmet Flitch of Bacon pub in Little Dunmow and the museum in Great Dunmow, where you can learn more about the Flitch Trials.
  1. 6. Forgotten Gardens of Easton Lodge

    Near the town of Great Dunmow, on the cycle-friendly Flitch Way or the 133 bus route (buses  seven days a week from Stansted Airport and Braintree), are the Forgotten Gardens of Easton Lodge. A sunken Italian garden, with colourful borders and stone balustrades round a lily pond, is one highlight of this ten acres of parkland, the work of Edwardian designer Harold Peto. A devoted group of volunteers has worked hard to restore the old glories of the gardens, which now include a tree house, walled garden and glade. The gardens are a couple of miles walk from the town, a chance to enjoy the local countryside.

    • Frances Maynard (known as “Daisy”) who commissioned Peto to create the garden, had a long affair with Edward, then Prince of Wales, became a legendary social campaigner and inspired the popular music hall song “Daisy, Daisy”. Among her celebrity friends was the early sci-fi writer HG Wells, who lived in a brick house across the fields nearby.
    • The gardens are generally open to visitors about one Sunday a month and they cost £4.50 for adults (kids are free).
    • February sees the annual Snowdrop Sundays, when visitors can enjoy delicate white carpets in the woods and along the lawn. The first one in 2019 will be February 17th.
    • In Great Dunmow, stroll along the High Street and turn right at the vintage Scrumptious Teahouse into Market Pace. Fork left down narrow Star Lane and left again by Doctor’s Pond onto a tarmac path.
    • Cross the road ahead and keep going, following the crocus-motif way-marks of the Saffron Trail. More details on this pretty walking route to Easton Lodge in our upcoming spring gardens feature!

Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount

Visit car-free in 2019!