Day 2: Big Skies walk
Another blazing day dawned on Friday morning, and we met at the Bell in Horndon-on-the-Hill, a 15th Century coaching inn with a gruesome past: a blue plaque outside told us that in 1533 a local landowner was burned at the stake here for heresy. Thankfully the Bell was more welcoming to about 30 walkers, who, once suitably lathered in sun cream, set off in a crocodile to walk through the village.
Peter Woodard, who had devised all the routes (and was consequently dubbed ‘Extreme Leader’ for the occasion), led us out of the village in a loop in order to pass a historic site in English history. On the edge of the village lies a picturesque Elizabethan farmhouse, known as Saffron Gardens in reference to the flourishing saffron trade that went on here. It was once on the site of a small monastery called Cantis, and Elizabeth I slept here the night before her famous speech rallying the troops at Tilbury as they prepared to defend England from the Spanish Armada.
We returned to the village, passing the remnants of the windmill on the way to the Church of St Peter & St Paul, which dates back to the 13th Century. Sadly the church spire is looking slightly less beautiful than usual, and the weather vane at the top is covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin while repairs are carried out. We returned to the High Street via the 16th century Wool Market, a lovely, and well-used half-timbered building originally built to trade wool and cloth.
Next stop was a visit to Horndon Primary School, where there was great excitement as we showed the Horndon flag to the children, some of whose designs had been chosen to feature on it. The children paraded the flag around the playground, and the designers accompanied us a short distance from the school to see us off at the edge of the village.
Leaving the village behind, we struck off across the wheat and onion fields towards Orsett, passing the site of the palace of Bishop Bonner, Bishop of London in the 16th Century, and another picturesque Elizabethan farm, Lorkins Farm. Arriving in Orsett village, we were glad of the hospitality of the Orsett Churches Centre, who opened their doors to the weary walkers, providing cold drinks and a cool room in which to eat our sandwiches! The hall also had the advantage of being situated across the road from two thriving pubs nearby, which some of our number visited.
The second half of our walk took us north towards Bulphan, where we enjoyed the big skies and fields of ripening wheat as far as the eye could see. Many of the footpaths are newly passable, thanks to work carried out in advance of this project, and are now clearly signposted so that others can enjoy them in future. After a long and hot walk under blazing sun, we arrived at Bulphan, passing the village church and the school where, earlier in the morning, Ali had presented the flag to children who had also contributed towards its design, and then back to the village hall where a Bluegrass Festival was in full swing. Another walk complete.