When I first moved to London, one of the things that intrigued me most about the UK was the country walks. Unlike hilly San Francisco, the flat areas of Britain offer miles of walking paths, some of which take multiple days to cover. They cut through public property and private, farmland and country lanes, and they make popular day trips from London.
Yesterday I experienced one such country ramble. A friend of a friend is part of a walking group at work, and every weekend they travel to a different part of England to explore the countryside. My friend invited me to join them on a country walk in Essex, about an hour’s train ride from London.
I had very little experience with Essex (or Rochford, our final destination) before hopping on the train from Liverpool Street station. In the days leading up to the walk, a few friends made fun of the location, what with Essex having gained notoriety in recent years from the TV show The Only Way Is Essex (Americans, read: the British Jersey Shore).
But what I met with when we arrived was far from too-fake tans and bad tattoos. In fact, it was far from people at all. The country ramble took us along incredibly varied terrain, from narrow paths under leafy canopies to overgrown trails along wheat fields and raised mounds separating the River Roach from the farmland next door.
It took us past country churches and over golf courses, alongside horse pastures overgrown with yellow wildflowers, and next to pretty country houses and little cottages with big rose gardens out front.
In the middle of it all, it took us to a country pub in a pretty village called Paglesham. The Punch Bowl was everything my inner American loves about historic pubs, with its low ceilings and dark wood. It even had a sign warning patrons that the floors might be uneven due to its being over 500 years old.
I couldn’t resist a Sunday roast for lunch, and sat outside at a sunny picnic table enjoying my beef, Yorkshire pudding, and potatoes while resting my legs for the journey back to Rochford.
Said trip took us on a slightly different path, with our country ramble passing barns and tractors and taking us over fallow fields. Eventually we were back at the Rochford train station, ready to travel home to London.
After 13 miles, we were all grateful for a place to sit, and I was happy to have had my country walk. Now that I know how easy it is to go for a ramble for a day, I might start joining the group on a regular basis. If I can get my legs to work again, that is.