From Fordham Hall Estate via Hillhouse Wood
Spring or summer
Carpets of wood anemones and other wild flowers in Hillhouse Wood; breeding birds in woods and hedges and along the River Colne.
Some short sections of path cross arable fields that may be ploughed; muddy paths in wet weather.
Park at Fordam Hall Estate or bus to Ford Street from Colchester or Halstead
Gently undulating terrain, mainly on well-defined unsurfaced footpaths, with two short sections on quiet roads; a few stiles beyond Hillhouse Wood.
Click on a marker on the map for route details
Stage AB: Fordham Hall Estate to Hillhouse Wood
From the Fordham Hall Estate car park go back out on to Ponders Road, turning left then right at the T-junction. About 50m down a footpath turns off on the left, going off half-right through the hedge. Follow it past a pond (go round it to the left if muddy!) to the far edge of the field, where it crosses a footbridge. Turn right on the track, following the hedge on your right down to another footbridge, after which turn left, following the hedge on your left then bearing right heading for the bottom corner of the field, where you emerge on to Fossetts Lane. Cross it to follow the footpath along the field edge parallel to the road, returning to the road just before the buildings of Chancers Farm. Follow the road past the farm and round the bend, then turn right on to a farm track. Follow this up to the entrance to King's Vineyard, where a hedged footpath turns off right. Follow this, bending left and then right, until you come down the slope to a footbridge leading into Hillhouse Wood.
Stage BC: Hillhouse Wood to Cookﾕs Mill
Follow the footpath into the wood, bearing right where the paths diverge, following the RCCP waymarks. Keep roughly straight on, crossing two streams, until you come to a narrow strip of woodland at the south-east corner of the wood, then exit on to an arable field via a kissing gate. Follow the tall hedge on your left to a stile which brings you out on a farm track. Turn right and follow the track down, passing between a barn on your right and houses and outbuildings on your left and coming out on to an arable field. The path heads down across the field towards Cook's Mill and the River Colne behind it.
Stage CD: Along the River Colne
At the gate to Cook's Mill turn sharp right to cross in front of it along the verge of the field, and then for a short way beside the River Colne. Enter the next field via a footbridge and gate, and follow the path around the edge. A gate brings you on to a farm track, where you turn left to (re)join the Essex Way. Soon the track becomes a grassy path across pasture land. Bear left where the path forks either side of a lone oak, passing through a gate then following a hedge on your right through pasture. Go over a stile into a boggy area of open woodland close to the river, then, passing a footbridge across the river, continue along the edge of open grassland, with a wetland area down on your left and the river beyond. When you come to a fence with a stile turn right to follow the path. Cross Mill Road and continue along the edge of the grassland with the river below to your left, until you come to an ancient hedgerow running in from the right.
Stage DA: Return through Fordham Hall Estate
Turn right and follow the path up next to the hedge. Turn left beside the second hedgerow on the left and follow the path up to Ponders Road, crossing and turning right to continue beside its lefthand hedgerow with recently planted woodland on your left. After 100m or so the path, marked by posts, diverges from the road and heads up a broad grass track between blocks of tree plantings, then swings right to head across to the car park.