To the lonely chapel
St Peter’s Way was one of the first trails to be created by Fred Matthews and Harry Bitten of West Essex Ramblers, following a proposal of 1970 by the Epping Forest Holiday Fellowship. Matthews and Bitten considered it to be ‘the finest [long-distance path in Essex] for variety and atmosphere’, citing as example Hanningfield Reservoir and the views from Purleigh Hill. And of the trail’s end-point, they said:
“To arrive here, isolated but not lonely, with the colours which abound on the marsh and the call of the birds, is to appreciate why Essex, although it has not the grandeur of the Pennines or the Lake District, is such a beautiful county and such a happy place for walking.”
The chapel was built in 654 by Lindisfarne monk St Cedd, using the Kentish ragstone of an earlier Roman fort (Othona) on the site. Cedd became an important figure at the Council of Whitby, which adjudicated on the form of worship in post-Roman Britain. The chapel fell out of religious use in the 18th century and was used as a grain store, but was restored in 1920 and is today a regular site of summer pilgrimage.
No train stations, but it’s still fairly easy to get to key points on the Way by bus, indeed there’s barely a significant village on the Way all the way to Tillingham that doesn’t have a decent bus service, ie anything up from six a day but more often hourly if not better (every 15 minutes at Stock on weekdays!). As far as Bicknacre, links are with Chelmsford rail station and sometimes southwards; from Purleigh onwards, they are with Maldon, which doesn’t have a rail station, or sometimes Burnham-on-Sea or Southminster, both of which do. Additionally, for many getting to Chipping Ongar is easiest by the hourly bus from Epping tube station. Check initially with traveline.info
Walking St Peter’s Way
I walked the path in 1998-99 with my walking partner Dave Travers, with break points at Stock and Mundon. Until 2019, the Essex & Herts Long-Distance Walkers’ Association walked the whole lot in one go every August Bank Holiday Monday, so we were a bit slow!
21 November 1998. Ongar to Stock, 13 miles.
After typical Essex farmland on the way to the village of Blackmore, more wooded country arrives and soon you pass through Mill Green, once an open plain of Writtle Forest, now with a little remaining heather amongst the birch and other trees. Beyond lie the A12 and main-line railway, both using the River Wid to approach the higher ground around Brentwood. Pass all three and you will arrive in Stock, its windmill still a landmark.
23 January 1999. Stock to Mundon, 14 miles.
Hanningfield Reservoir is just off-track, a 400 ha Site of Special Scientific Interest covered by a Bird Sanctuary Order – wildfowl include gadwall, tufted duck and pochard. The Essex Wildlife Trust have a centre and café here. After the two villages of West and East Hanningfield, the larger settlement of Bicknacre is skirted until vineyards are crossed on the way to Purleigh. The village sits on a little hill and there are good views from the Way across the Dengie peninsula, which you are now entering.
1 April 1999. Mundon to St Peter’s Chapel, 14 miles.
Soon you pass the weird shapes of the Mundon Oaks, trees killed by salt-water poisoning following the influx of sea-water to the water table. The Essex sea-wall is close by at Mundon Creek, and there will be an important maritime influence for the remainder of the Way; the marina at Maylandsea is one of many that dot the county’s coastline. There’s a bit of road walking through Steeple before a little rise and descent across the Dengie peninsula to Tillingham, with its beautiful village green. Soon you will be on Bradwell Marshes, largely arable now, but increasingly desolate as the sea nears. For its last two miles, the Way heads north by the sea-wall, saltmarsh stretching out far to the east, but the chapel beckoning on throughout.