We are blessed with gorgeous trails and many fine churches on the Essex/Suffolk border, and friends will note how frequently I photograph both while on my runs. I wanted to create a route that celebrated both and was accessible for many at around 50k. Although I have been noodling on this for over a year, it was finally plotted just days prior to the attempt when another FKT with a friend had to be postponed.
The route includes nine or ten miles of paved surfaces (far more than I would have preferred) but I wanted to avoid any frustrating out-and-back sections - and frankly - churches are rarely away from a road. While this makes shoe choice a real compromise in winter it won’t be an issue during better weather. Note: it is necessary to follow the route GPX precisely, rather than plot your own route between the churches.
The route starts and finishes at Holy Trinity Church, Halstead, Essex (see Google maps link below) at the main entrance on the Southern side. After weaving through this historical market town and passing seven churches, the route heads East on easy trails close to the River Colne, to Colne Engaine, Earls Colne and White Colne. Turning North through quiet valleys and trails, to Countess Cross then Pebmarsh, and Little Maplestead: home of ‘the little round church’ – my favourite in the area and one of only four surviving medieval round churches in England. Then on to Great Maplestead, Wickham St. Paul and Guestingthorpe and the beautiful ‘Church of St Mary the Virgin’ dating back to the fourteenth century. Now heading West to Little Yeldham and Great Yeldham and some longer stretches of tarmac, then South East following the Colne Valley and rolling hills. If you have time, check out Hedingham Castle (in the village of Castle Hedingham) arguably the best preserved Norman keep in England, circa 1100. Then Sible Hedingham, picking up the River Colne again and the most likely stretch to flood during winter, and the final four miles of trail back to Halstead.
It really is a beautiful route: very little traffic on the winding lanes and non-technical trails - although there are agricultural fields to cross and plenty of mud in winter.
Which side of the hedge? https://explore.osmaps.com/route/14787643/22-churches-fkt-?lat=51.979965&lon=0.588192&zoom=11.2591&style=Leisure&zoomLock=auto&type=2d&isMapDirty=true&overlays=&placesCategory=