Country Walking in Essex: Thrift Wood Wildside Walk in Bicknacre, Essex: Healthy Life Essex.
Enjoy views of ancient woodlands and open countryside as you explore some of the famous Green Lanes of Essex. This corner of the county is home to ancient manor houses and relics of the Wildwood which once covered Essex..
The Walk takes its name from Thrift wood itself, formerly known as Hall Wood, these 48 acres of ancient woodland are leased and managed by the Essex WildlifeTrust. The woodland consists of hornbeam coppice with oak standards. Other trees to look out for include birch, ash, coppiced sweet chestnut and wild service tree. The reintroduction of coppicing has enhanced the plant and animal life in the woodland and results in a colourful display of bluebells and wood anemones in the spring.
The most important woodland butterfly is the heath fritillary which was introduced by the Trust in 1984. This attractive butterfly became extinct in Essex by the end of the 19th century due to the decline of good coppice woodland. The caterpillar of the heath fritillary feeds on common cow-wheat and this plant has increased greatly with the coppicing in Thrift Wood. The introduction of this butterfly has therefore been a success.
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Wildside Walks are usually 'Waymarked', but be aware that some waymarks are now in dis-repair or even missing. They are found on special posts, stiles, gates and some fingerposts. The posts are usually painted white so that they can be seen from a distance (when needing to cross large fields etc this can be very useful. Tip: Binoculars can be handy to have when looking for the white posts.)
Wildside walk plaques are bright green and unique to Wildside walks in Essex.
Yellow 'Directional Arrows' usually on circular disks indicate the direction you should follow. (Path junctions are more complicated! Each arrow indicates an alternative route, so use the map to make your choice.)
Three different types of directional arrow are used:
Plain Yellow: used on 'official' public footpaths
Yellow Arrow with Courtesy Footpath: A small number of paths are not 'official' public rights of way. Most courtesy paths are in Nature Reserves and are generally provided courtesy of the landowner.
Plain Blue: Used on 'official' bridleways. Only found on the Bicknacre walk - look out for horses and cyclists.
Mike and Jill of Healthy Life Essex - Walk Review
We visited Thrift Wood on a beautifully sunny autumnal day in mid-October 2008.
The map shows parking on the White Elm Road. We actually parked by Thrift Wood which is owned by the Essex Wildlife Trust, but there really is only room for one or two small cars there (there is a bus stop right outside the entrance to Thrift Wood).
The walk took us 31/2 hours, including a brief stop for refreshments at the Fox and Hounds public house in Cock Clarks. The walk offers two options. Whichever you take, you definitely need strong boots, particularly if you take the southern route. There is not much difference in distance but the southern route, the one we opted for, offers more countryside walking and less ‘on the road’, but also many more paths across farmland to navigate. It was quite dry when we visited and the farmers had mostly provided tractor-flattened tracks. Nonetheless, if it has been raining, they would have been very muddy and hard going. Another word of warning: do take your binos! As we were crossing farmland there were several instances where we struggled to know exactly which route to take, and needed binoculars to see the marked post across the field. (see 'follow the waymarks' above) In some instances it is not very clear at all, so do study the map carefully.
We started in Thrift Wood itself. A beautiful wood and, as you can see by our photos, the sun streaming through the trees added dancing shafts of light to the already glorious carpet of red, russet and gold leaves that marked our trail. The colourful scene was enhanced by the appearance of the Fly Agaric (shown above), the archetypal toadstool, beautiful but deadly. A small pond is shown at the top of the wood: unfortunately this is almost completely dried out and quite neglected. Perhaps next time we visit it may have been improved with some TLC. An abundance of grey squirrels were also enjoying the sunshine and scampering about quite happily. We have to agree with the love / hate relationship the EWT has for these creatures. They are certainly endearing to watch but can be extremely damaging to older hardwood trees.
Our first short trek across open, recently ploughed farmland led us around Folks Wood. Obviously a favourite with the birds: their song was absolutely glorious and various species flitted happily around.
And then the binos had to come to the rescue! The next part of the walk was across several fields of open farmland, skirting around Wickham’s Farm, and continuing until we reached Hackmans Lane – quite a fast B road. Throughout the whole of this part of the walk we were constantly amused by scurrying rabbits, doleful looking sheep, dozy partridges and pheasants suddenly taking flight out of nowhere! But the pub was only a short detour and at this point we decided a quick stop was needed!
A short walk back along Hackmans Lane and then back on to farmland and through a field of very friendly sheep. This took us to the beautiful Charity Lane, an example of a Green Lane for which Essex is famous. Once again, the dappled sunlight added to the beauty of this valuable wildlife corridor. As we walked alongside Cank Wood we were met by more partridges. They almost seemed to want to pose for pictures! It was at this point that signs were not very clear, so do take care.
We walked around more farms and farmland until we reached the Old Salt Road, a bridleway that led us back to the Thrift Wood. And the final treat of the day? A fleeting view of the Great Spotted Woodpecker!
A thoroughly enjoyable walk, but definitely one best kept for dry days.
A Saxon name, meaning Bicca’s peoples clearing.
White Elm Crossroads
It is claimed that a notorious highwayman was executed and buried at the crossroads with an elm stake through his body.
In ancient times owners of woods defined their boundaries using banks and ditches. Look out for old coppice stools and animal homes along the length of this ditch.
Look out for cow-wheat and wild service tree, both indicators of ancient woodland. Pregnant women used to eat cow-wheat flour in the belief that their child would be male.
The Old Salt Road
Salt extraction from sea water was an important industry in the 14th and 15th centuries. This bridleway is the Old Salt Road.
Many ancient trackways have ancient hedges. Why not try to date a hedge? Pace out 30 strides and count the number of different trees and shrubs (don’t include ivy, brambles or climbers). Multiply this number by 100 for a very rough age for the hedge in years, e.g. five species = roughly 500 year old hedge. Look out for blackthorn, hawthorn, elm, ash and oak.
An ancient woodland. Useful timber was removed in the past. Birch has now taken over.
This is a fine example of a Green Lane, for which Essex is famous. The County has over 800km of these tracks which are no longer roads but survive as public rights of way. Many date back to before the Romans. With a rich variety of trees, shrubs and wild flowers, Green Lanes form valuable wildlife ‘corridors’ through
Distance and time taken
Ordnance Survey Map
© Photographs by Mike Wilson 2008
Produced in conjunction with Essex County Council
Maps reproduced by kind permission of
the Public Rights of Way Dept, Essex County Council