diamond geezer

 Wednesday, May 30, 2012

So if you're ever in Ongar, and with the coming of the railway that is fractionally more likely, what could you do? You could get straight back on the train, if you're in a hurry or have zero sense of adventure. You could walk down the High Street to the first pub, which is the Cock Tavern, and lose yourself in real ale. Or you could walk a little longer round Ongar...

i) Start at the noticeboard opposite the library. There's a useful map here with all the sights worth seeing, which should help orientate you. If you're especially prepared you can print out the Millennium Walk leaflet before you arrive. And it's easy to fit all of this in before the next train arrives.
ii) The tall building opposite is Budworth Hall, with its big clock added to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. There are no such grand building projects for the Diamond Jubilee, alas, but there is a heck of a lot of bunting down Ongar High Street. Thieves nicked 30 metres of it last week, which made the front page of the local paper. The other 97% is still flapping patriotically.
iii) The High Street's rather lovely, in a small town Essex way. It's wide and crooked, with an assortment of timber cottages and townhouses all the way down to the river. You probably don't have a Mr Grumpy's Old Fashioned Sweet Shop where you live, but Ongar does. Your local newsagent probably hasn't gone quite so monarchy-tastic in their window display as Senners of Ongar has. You probably don't have the choice of two proper butchers, in almost neighbouring shops, both open on a Sunday. Plus more pubs, and bijou boutiques, and a washeteria, and... Let's just say Mary Portas would adore the place.
iv) Up a charming lane on the left is St Martin's, Ongar's church. It looks proper old, and indeed the belfry and parts of the roof are medieval. However, if you arrive during a christening service you're not going to get inside to take a proper look. Thankfully Ian did on our behalf.
v) Make sure you walk down as far as the fire station, opposite which is a row of white weatherboarded cottages with a famous former resident. Explorer David Livingstone lived in the room marked with a plaque, above the passageway through to the United Reformed church. Livingstone Cottages, I presume.
vi) Walk back up the hill and turn right into Castle Lane. A few houses up is a plaque to former resident Jane Taylor, who's one of the most famous poets you've never heard of. She wrote the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, some say here, and is buried in the churchyard over the road.
vii) And finally, if you carry on into the field along the footpath, here's Chipping Ongar Castle. Don't get your hopes up. It's a motte and bailey, of which only the high mound is visible, and that not very clearly through the surrounding trees. A moated ditch still offers protection, as does a large fence. Best viewed, so I'm told, during the winter. And hey presto, at the end of the path, you're back at the library again.

If you have a spare hour, you should definitely take a walk to Greensted Church. Walk past Ongar Sainsbury's, across the river, then straight across the next field and keep going through the trees. It's only a mile, and if you time it right you might even spot a steam engine puffing across the horizon. You won't spot the church at Greensted-juxta-Ongar until you're almost on top of it, tucked away in its compact churchyard, all fresh-mown and floral. But the building is unexpected, being made almost entirely of wood. It's the oldest wooden church in the world, which is pretty damned impressive really for a backwoods hamlet in Essex [upright photo]. It's "Stave Built", including 51 chunky vertical timber planks dating from before the Battle of Hastings, which you'll see best if you walk round the back. Look closer and you'll see a lot of the other beams are more recently restored, but never mind that, it's lovely. Yes, you can go inside every day of the year, which is how churches ought to be, although it's a risky stance to take. A photo on the wall shows the 16th century painting stolen from here back in January, on a Sunday afternoon no less, carefully unscrewed from the wall and wandered off with. Visitors should walk off with jams and chutneys instead - the back of the church is almost market-like, with a wide variety of reasonably priced hand-made preserves on sale. I went for the lemon and lime curd, which I can confirm is gorgeous, although a closer look at the label reveals it comes from an estate in Leicestershire. As for the church's interior, that's a bit dark, with illumination coming through stained glass in small dormer windows. The pews are narrow and lockable, the chancel is compact, the beams overhead are proper oak, and it's all just very wonderfully woody. For a proper report, and sharp people-free photos, go and read what Ian's written. Or better still, pay a pilgrimage yourself.

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