Michael Leapman visits the oldest wooden church in England on a walk around Ongar

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The Independent Culture
The east is supposed to be the drier side of London so, seeking a firm footing, I headed for Ongar - the eastern extremity of the Central Line until the service was cruelly curtailed at Epping last year. This charming country walk, taking in the oldest wooden church in England, has a few soggy patches but nothing daunting if you are suitably shod.

From the clock tower car park walk south down the slope of the A414, and turn left at Ye Olde Corner Shoppe to approach St Martin's Church. This partly Norman church, built in 1080 from flint and reused Roman bricks, has some pleasing features, but if your time is limited it would be better to save your church visiting for Greensted, later in the walk.

Follow the path through St Martin's churchyard and turn left on Castle Street. At the end of the street, follow the footpath sign through a kissing gate by a lamp post marked "Spring Meadow" and bear left on to a path behind houses, signposted as the Essex Way, a long-distance footpath. Soon a moat and ducks appear on your left and then the high mound which is all that remains of Ongar's 12th-century castle.

Turn left on a track marked "permissive path", which follows the curve of the moat and the mound. Ignore a left turn (signposted "Ongar Town") and keep ahead over a low fence on a narrow path - muddy for the first few paces - to the left of playing fields.

Approaching the cemetery turn left, passing a house named Treetops, and at the main road turn right. Just past the approach to the former Ongar Station turn left into Bowes Drive and right at Mark's Avenue. Where the road ends, go straight ahead into a field and take the footpath that follows its right-hand edge, enjoying the open views.

The path leads to the main road through a wooden kissing gate by a broad metal gate. Cross the road and turn left down the hill to the ridge over Cripsey Brook. Just beyond Ruggles Restaurant cross the road again and turn left along a surfaced bridleway between hedges, which winds gently uphill before veering left to cross the defunct railway line and reach a cottage where the surfaced path ends.

Keep ahead past the cottage and into the wood for a few yards until you reach a signpost, partly concealed in trees on your right. Turn left here, following the green-and-yellow arrow, to cross a stream and then a stile that leads into an open field with lovely views below. Turn left and then right, following the edge of the field until, where the hedge ends, the path becomes a broad, grassy, downhill track.

Ahead is a distant view of the white weatherboarded tower and shingle spire of the church we are making for. Keep walking towards it. At the bottom there is a mucky patch where the path crosses another stream, but soon afterwards you are on a concrete farm drive.

A narrow wooden gate beside a white metal one brings you to Greensted Church on your left. The nave was built in about AD845 by the Saxons, who made the walls from tree trunks split down the middle - still in a remarkable state of preservation. The tower was probably built in the 17th century and the pulpit installed in 1698. Just outside the south porch is the stone grave of a 13th-century crusader.

Leaving the churchyard turn left and left again, passing a lodge on your right. Where the drive bends left go straight ahead through a small white gate on to a field path, again following the Essex Way arrow.

The clear path heads across a field and through a gate, where you should bear left to follow the left-hand fence.

Go through a new kissing gate, cross a drive and climb a stile, leading to a straight downhill path through the middle of a field. Ongar is now visible ahead, as the path dips before crossing a rook, then becomes a paved drive up to the clock tower and car parks.

This route is taken from Essex Rambles by Derek Keeble (Countryside Books, 1988)

Distance: Three-and-a-half miles

Time: Two hours including church visit

Parking: By clock tower on Ongar High Street, A414 (pay and display)

Buses: 201 and 501 from Epping underground Mon-Sat (infrequent Sunday service - ring 0345 000333 for times)

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