Dating back to Saxon times, Langdon simply means ‘Long Hill’. The Country Park and Nature Reserve (Contact details shown at the bottom of the page) sit on a 385ft high crescent shaped hilly ridge which extends from Dunton to Vange, giving panoramic views over the Thames Estuary and across to London. It covers 400 acres of meadows, farmland, modern and ancient woodlands and houses an abundance of wildlife from Green Winged Orchids to the Great Crested Newt.
The Country Park is split into two sections known as Westley Heights and One Tree Hill, and the Essex Wildlife Trust own the adjoining Langdon Nature Reserve to the north east and the north west. Footpaths and horse/cycle rides pass through attractive farmland between the various sections providing extensive areas of accessible countryside where, even on the busiest Sunday afternoon, visitors may find a quiet corner to relax and enjoy the peaceful scenery.
Since Neolithic times, people have visited the Langdon Hills. Some were responsible for the place names; others built settlements, deer parks, harvested the woodlands, or farmed the land. Some of the old meadows still have signs of ridge and furrow ploughing.
Although agriculture declined, industry advanced. In 1886, the Tilbury brickfield company developed One Tree Hill, with two tile kilns where the present toilets stand, and a light railway to take the brick earth down to the brickworks at the foot of One Tree Hill. The industry is last mentioned in 1906 and all that remains today is the large enclosed sand pit together with ponds and spoil heaps.
The brick and tile works was not the last industry at One Tree Hill. In 1920, an enterprising local man bored a mineral well and built a bottling plant below Martinhole Woods. Some older residents claimed that “Vange water was good stuff”, but unfortunately the outlet from the tuberculosis hospital’s septic tank flowed into the ditch which ran past the well: in 1924 it was shut down! There is still one remaining structure in the woods.
The Dunton section of the Nature Reserve once had hundreds of bungalows and chalets in an area known as “Plotlands”. They were built between 1900 and 1940 by Londoners, utilising farmland that became redundant after the agricultural depression. One remaining house, the “Haven” is now a museum with original 1930’s/1940’s memorabilia. Evidence of the other “plotlander” homes still exists, with nature taking a hold and providing a great habitat for reptiles – you may well see Adders basking on the fallen brickwork.
The hills were saved from major housing development when they were bought by the County Council in the 1930s under the ‘Greenbelt scheme’. In 1949, the decision to build Basildon New Town was to lead to an ever increasing number of local visitors to the park. The needs of 150,000 local residents for peaceful countryside make the hills more important than ever. In 1973 the Langdon Hills Open Spaces were declared as a Country Park. In 1989 the Essex Wildlife Trust bought the Langdon Nature Reserve thanks to a generous endowment in memory of Herbert Langdon Dowsett.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The Country Park and Nature Reserve has many flower rich meadows producing spectacular colours, which attract clouds of butterflies and the chirping sounds of grasshoppers in summer. The meadows are cut for hay and grazed by cattle and sheep in order to keep their rich diversity. The park has 3 meadows which are classified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). These meadows contain a great diversity of plants including the Common Spotted Orchid and the Green Winged Orchid.
Ancient woodlands dating back to prehistoric times contain an abundance of native trees, including the rare Wild Service Tree, and carpets of bluebells. Coppicing encourages a variety of woodland flowers. As the trees re-grow the woodland becomes denser, providing nesting areas for many of our summer visiting birds.
The country Park and Nature Reserve is home to over 50 species of breeding birds, and 29 species of butterflies, including the Grizzled Skipper which is becoming quite rare. Some of the ponds are home to the Great Crested Newt, and many of the sandy banks are home to Badgers as well as rabbits and foxes.
WALKING, CYCLING, AND HORSE RIDING
If you are on foot there is a vast array of paths to choose from. The numbers on the map correspond to numbered posts on the ground at path or ride junctions to help you find your way around.
If you are riding a bike or horse you must stay on the tracks marked in blue on the map. Within the area of the Wildlife Trust, Basildon and the Country Park, there are 18 miles of horse/cycle rides to choose from and there are a number of guided bike rides organised throughout the year.
LANGDON HILLS COUNTRY PARK
There is a catalogue of activities available to schools, which are run at the park. These activities cover the range of stages from Key stage 1 to A-level. All of which correspond to the QCA scheme of work.
There is also a Junior Nature Club for 7-12 year olds, and a newly formed Youth Ranger service for 13-16 year olds, which runs once a month.
There are plenty of opportunities if you would like to help carry out a worthwhile task in the countryside, such as pond cleaning, step building, hedge laying, and coppicing. These are both sociable and fun, and help to protect the landscape and its wildlife. If you are interested, the Friends of Langdon Hills meet every Sunday throughout the year, helping with conservation tasks and running larger events. They also display at local craft shows and fetes.
ESSEX WILDLIFE TRUST LANGDON NATURE RESERVE& VISITOR CENTRE
The Visitor Centre also hosts an abundance of wildlife activities. During term time these are linked to the National Curriculum to provide a hands-on learning experience for visiting school children. During the school holidays there are Family Nature Days and Wildlife Discovery Days: hunting for creepy crawlies, dipping for newts and watching birds are combined with arts, crafts and games to ensure that the holidays are never boring. At weekends, the centre hosts birthday parties with a difference – come rain or shine!
The Visitor Centre also offers a range of optics, gifts, toys, books and light refreshments. Next to the centre is a beautiful wildlife garden, a peaceful and relaxing place to watch nature as you sip your cup of tea.
Location, opening Times and contact details:
HOW TO FIND US BY ROAD: One Tree Hill is signposted from the Five Bells Roundabout on the A13. Westley Heights is behind the Harvester at the top of the hill on the B1007. The Essex Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre is situated on the Lower Dunton Road and is also signposted from the A13. By Bus: There are bus services, but unfortunately they do not bring you to the park entrances. By Rail: The closest stations are Laindon and Basildon.
For bus and train timetables phone travel line on 08706 082608
The park is open every day of the year from 8.00am until dusk. For more information about the park and events or school activities, please contact the Ranger service on: Office: (01268) 542066
Or visit the website at: www.thurrock.gov.uk/langdonhills
The Visitor centre is open Tuesday – Sunday 9.00am – 5.00pm and Bank Holiday Mondays. Closed Christmas and Boxing Day. For further information, and for museum opening times, tel: 01268 419103
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the web site: www.essexwt.org.uk