The Essex Serpent was such a brilliant route that when the creator of that particular day out (Gareth) comes back at you with another whim then we know that it just has to happen. It has taken a while for things to dry out but with spring in the air the gravel has begun to dry out sufficiently for an assault on the Maldon Wyrm.
What is a Wyrm you might ask, and for good reason. A Wyrm is a type of dragon or sea serpent made famous in all types of folklore and more recently as a mutated garbage man in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Maldon Wyrm is a route that doesn’t have a huge amount to do with dragons or sea serpents (not that I can make out) but does take in some stunning local history and scenery including some of the finest ancient woodland in the area.
Sandford Mill Lock. Our beginning and end.
Our journey begins at Sandford Lock in Chelmsford, one of the many locks on the canal between Chelmsford to Maldon which was responsible for the City’s success in manufacturing; enabling raw materials to get in and out of the factories back in its manufacturing heyday. Now they are just obstacles for paddleboarders and diving boards for the local youth.
From here we go up and over Danbury via Graces Walk, a pretty piece of byway which serves as a connection between Chelmsford and the woods via national route one. It is also haunted by Lady Alice Grace who, it is said, either drowned herself of was drowned in the brook at the bottom of the hill. Personally I only learnt of this legend relatively recently and as this section forms a regular part of my night riding I’m now permanently a little freaked out by it. Evidently you can still hear her footsteps. Fortunately I haven’t heard her as yet and again this morning it appears she was having a lie in!
Graces Walk. It's haunted don't you know!
The woods in Danbury are currently in benefiting from a wet spring and having a great bluebell year. As we meander through Thriftwood thinking about the ancient sight we’re about to retrace the stark contrast between the stunning bluebell wood and the adjacent gravel quarry are all too evident. There would have been a time where this woodland would have stretched throughout the country, undisturbed by our hand. What a place it would have been.
Once upon a time it was all like this.
Little wonder then that in 991AD up to 4000 Vikings landed in Maldon, seeking more green and pleasant land, defeating the Anglo Saxons in a great battle. The first waypoint of our journey is the site of that battle at the causeway to Northey Island where it is believed the Anglo Saxons and Vikings negotiated the terms of victory by shouting across the water at each other.
The leader of the Anglo Saxons, a giant of a man with swan white hair and nearly 60 years old, was Byrhtnoth. He was killed early in the battle and apparently it took three men to do so. His body is in Ely Cathedral. His head is somewhere else. However his statue looks out to sea at the bottom of Promenade Park, sword aloft, like a boss, and forms our second waypoint.
There he is and his massive sword!
Past the barges we go through Maldon exiting via the Maldon Burh’s, a series of defensive ditches constructed around the time of that battle to fend off the Danes and onto the Blackwater Rail trail, a restored old railway line complete with former train platforms! In the spirit of The Essex Serpent todays route is carved out using some excellent trail and wouldn’t be suitable for a strict road bike. Perfectly accessible on a mountain bike but perfect for the “gravel” bike or in our case a cyclocross bike with slightly bigger tyres. Much of a muchness. The old railway took us on our return journey to Wickham Bishops where our next stop is the disused church of St Peter. Built in the 12th century this church has a whole heap of history attached to it but is currently home to a stained glass window artist. Stuck out on a bit of gravelly double track and with quite a modern house seemingly plonked next to it. Quite a place.
Todays whip and the door of a very old church.
Our route from here takes in some of the best lanes the area has to offer and tracking the river Chelmer drops us off at All Saints Church in Ulting. Nestled besides the river this little church has been sitting here since 1150 and apart from someone building (or rebuilding) a massive house between the church and the adjacent graveyard not a lot has changed, maybe. An exceptionally pretty spot and I think pretty unique with its proximity to the water.
With our route nearly complete we tail back towards Chelmsford and our final stop, a bronze age fort that is now surrounded by trading estates and office blocks. Some more fine lanes negotiated as well as a few cycle paths over the newly reconstructed Boreham interchange, a reminder that unfortunately we do live in 2023, we then dive into the hedges that separate a distribution centre for Aldi, Parcel Force and the Royal Mail sorting office to find a bronze age fort thought to date back as far as 1000BC built atop an Anglo Saxon settlement and cemetery. Only a handful of these remain in England. And here it is. Overlooked by someone’s office.
And so we are back at the start. Around 50km of finest singletrack, byways and lanes the area offers speckled with a reminder that modern life is, indeed, rubbish.
Route notes: Gareth has once again put together a splendid route which you can access HERE. A couple of side notes which I’m sure he won’t mind me including go as follows.
This route is perfect if you want a traffic free experience. The town centre pieces through Maldon do go round the houses to avoid all main thoroughfares. However you literally do go around the houses so if you want a more direct route from Promenade Park that is achievable if you are happy to negotiate the top of Maldon High Street. The only other adjustment I might make is when you appear on Church Road in Boreham to drop down to the river and pick up a section of the river back toward Chelmsford taking the tunnel under the A12 into the back end of the industrial park to access the fort via some footpaths.
This is a great route and would serve as a great day out with lots of options for coffee and cake stops, picnic options and a bit of local history!