Who doesn’t love a winter walk followed by a coffee and a bun? We certainly do and we are forever looking for new and different places to explore before we treat ourselves to a couple of cappuccinos and something very unhealthy.
We are currently housesitting in the remote countryside of rural Essex looking after the lovely Ed, our German Pointer buddy. Most of his walks obviously take place in the fields and lanes around the house but when the weathers good we try and find somewhere new for both him and us. Jo once again lived up to her Queen of Research title and found such a place just half an hour from here.
The Flitch Way
Located on an old disused railway line the Flitch Way Country Park is a fifteen mile cycling and walking route between Braintree and Bishops Stortford. It was developed back in 1869 by Great Eastern Railways and although it was initially popular a substantial drop in passenger numbers caused it to close in 1952. Freight traffic continued using the line until 1970 but the route was finally closed completely a year later.
With the rails now removed the Flitch Way is now a safe, traffic-free environment for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders and is part of the National Cycle Network.
Why is it called Flitch?
We assumed Flitch was a place but No, it’s far more interesting than that. Named after an old Essex tradition if you really want to know.
The ‘Flitch’ ceremony in nearby Great Dunmow was for couples that could prove that they had not argued in their marriage for a year and a day so were awarded a flitch (side) of bacon as a reward.
Have you qualified for a Flitch?
We headed for Rayne Station where we could have a decent walk with Ed, visit the Carriage Museum, and treat ourselves in the Booking Hall Cafe. Seemed to tick all of our boxes and Ed was well up for it. We thought we’d head west towards Bishops Stortford for a while then retrace our steps before going east to the edge of Braintree. Should give us a good look at the Fitch Way and end up back at the station.
We were prepared for there to be shedloads of dogs but it wasn’t as busy as we expected, perhaps the overnight rain or slightly windy conditions put people off but as long as you are wrapped up it’s no problem is it? Keeping our Ed on the lead was fine as he had so much opportunity to run free back at home and to be honest he isn’t bothered by other dogs at all. In fact he does that funny thing where he almost pretends that he can’t even see them and pushes on completely ignoring them.
Built in 1866 Rayne was one of the busiest stations on the line in its day with a goods yard, cattle dock, station masters house, and more. Restored in 1994 with the Booking Hall Cafe being opened in 2009. The complete station still stands with cafe tables and chairs scattered along the platform with the carriage museum standing slightly further down.
We couldn’t resist having a quick look in the Carriage Museum and at the great little model railway depicting what the station and line looked like back in the 1950s. I do like a model railway but unfortunately my most dreaded person materialised as soon as we entered.
‘The Over Helpful Volunteer‘.
Now I know that these people give up their time willingly and without them these museums wouldn’t exist but I have to admit that I’m not that good interacting with them. Jo on the otherhand is positively brilliant and makes them believe that she is their best friend and absolutely fascinated by every little thing they say. I’m not.
I’m not rude (I hope) but like Ed I try to avoid any eye-contact and attempt not to engage more than a cursory ‘hello‘ and ‘good bye‘. Maybe throw in a ‘nice train‘ if they seem especially in need of a compliment. Obviously the ‘nice train‘ comment wouldn’t work as well as expected if it was an art gallery.
The Booking Hall Cafe
Not the main reason for our visit but we were looking forward to a sit down after a long old walk and a couple of coffees and perhaps a bun or two! The Booking Hall Cafe is, as it sounds, located in the old booking hall which is still kept in its original decor. Shelves of calorie-laden cakes and tasty biscuits adorned the walls as we grabbed a table in the corner and enjoyed our well earned rest. A fabulous place for a cafe with so much character and it knocks the spots off Starbucks and Costa Coffee. Always so much better to find an independent coffee shop to one that’s in a big chain isn’t it?
With lots of regulars tucking into full English breakfasts and doorstep bacon sandwiches it looked to be doing really well and we could only imagine how nice it would be in the summer when you could sit out on the platform. Bit cold in January for that.
So in the midst of a cold wet winter we managed to find a break in the weather and a lovely location to enjoy a morning out in the sunshine followed by coffee in a fascinating building. What more could we have asked for?