One thing Essex is not short of is places with chuckle-inducing names. We have Ugley, Messing and Mucking for starters. But it’s Fingringhoe, and especially the shortened F’hoe that we see on signs around here, that has me sniggering.
In fact, the name of the village is firmly rooted in its geography. The original site nestles in a bend of the Roman River, a tributary of the Colne, and was once a thriving port. The suffix “hoe” means a protruding piece of land like a heel which is likely to be that part of the village enclosed by the meander. The “ing” comes from the ancient “ingas” or people and the “Fingr” is probably, like “hoe”, referencing the land’s shape.
These days, most visitors are drawn to Fingringhoe for the Essex Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve. Opened in 1961, it was the EWT’s first site. Overlooking the Colne Estuary, up to two hundred species of birds have been sighted here including the two dozen male nightingales that produce a rousing chorus each spring. In addition there are plenty of avocets and other waders and wildfowl to be spotted. Add to this the 350 or so species of flowering plants and you can see the attraction.
Close to Great Dunmow lies the pretty village of Great Easton. Its distinctive church caught my eye as I approached. Perched on top of a hill it can be seen from some distance. That hill is thought to be the remains of a motte and bailey castle, long since gone, and the reason Great Easton used to be known as ‘Easton ad montem’ or ‘Easton atte munte’ to distinguish it from its neighbour, Little Easton.
The church of St John and St Giles is Norman, though it was built on the site of a Saxon church using Roman bricks. A timber tower once stood where the current brick one does; it was struck by lightning and now the wood can be found in some of the houses in the village instead.
On the porch is an inscription which refers to a murder which took place in 1830. It reads:
Near this spot lies a murdered man
Whose remains were found in Handless Spring.
Unfold the murderous deed if you can
And the Wretch or Wretches to justice bring.
Many believe that the victim’s ghost haunts the village. It’s not the only one: allegedly the ghost of a headless monk wanders by the river at night. There was an archaeological dig in the 1940s which uncovered the stone tombs of two monks, but one of them was missing his head. The remains were reinterred but it would seem someone’s restless…
Dedham Vale is categorised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and you’ll easily see why as you walk along the River Stour’s banks.
It straddles the Essex-Suffolk border and is still easily recognisable from Constable’s paintings. The artist John Constable was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, but went to school in Dedham, Essex. Although his most famous painting, The Hay Wain, depicts Willy Lott’s cottage over the Suffolk border at Flatford, the part of the valley located on the Essex side of the county boundary is just as worthy of a visit.
A walk alongside the Stour takes you past reed banks lining marshes and wide grassy flood plains dotted with trees. It’ll take you about 90 minutes to stroll from Manningtree railway station to Dedham High Street via Flatford, where you’ll find the famous mill and also a lock. A little electric boat ferries passengers from Flatford to Dedham on Wednesdays and weekends, but it’s only about 3.5 miles if you want to walk the whole route.
When the sun’s shining, it’s a good opportunity to rent a boat and take a leisurely row down the river to blow off all the cobwebs and stresses of urban Essex living. Right now, the flowers are coming into bloom and leaves are starting to appear on the trees, making this a beautiful location for a walk. And at the end, there are plenty of little shops and cafes in Dedham just waiting to be explored.