Friday, 30 July 2010

A walk in the Woods with Billericay Dickie

Tiptoe through the bluebells and get one-fingered salutes in Billericay's Norsey Wood…

“Had a love affair with Nina in the back of my Cortina, a seasoned up hyena could not have been more obscener…”

Maybe I shouldn’t have played my daughters Billericay Dickie so many times. It’s now their favourite song and as we drive into Billericay from Shenfield, they burst into an Ian Dury-esque chorus. Luckily they’ve not heard Plaistow Patricia yet.

Billericay has gone upmarket since my last visit in the 1980s. There’s delis and gosh, a Waitrose. But some things haven’t changed. It’s back in May and as Her Indoors drives past the gated homes of wannabe footballers down Norsey Road, looking for the famed bluebells in Norsey Wood she’s perhaps going too slowly for the driver behind. He veers off at the next left giving us a one-fingered salute out of the window. Well, this is Essex, where the car is king.

You don’t expect to find an ancient coppiced woodland in the heart of Billericay, but here it is, as featured recently on BBC2’s Natural World. Thankfully it’s now protected and run by Basildon Council. We park up and set off on one of the guided trails with our dog Vulcan. The bluebells are stunning, all over the undulating leafy forest floor and giving the whole place a Narnia meets Ian Dury feel.

We picnic on the fallen trunks of a coppiced hornbeam amid a swathe of bluebells. Nicola spots wood anemones, town hall clock, yellow archangel, wild garlic (ransoms) and sweet woodruff, all overseen by a robin whose territory we are obviously steaming in to, which is well out of order.

There’s plenty to see in the woods as you pass dog walkers in purple boots and pink cagoules; a not very clearly defined bronze age tumulus (found to contain the cremation urns in 1865), a hazel plantation, ponds and trenches dug in both world wars by the London Defence volunteers. Our dog Vulcan goes off lead and makes joyous circular runs up and down the surprising wet valley system, which makes the wood feel more like lush Devon than flat old Essex.

We get hopelessly lost in the valleys, but eventually return to the start, where the warden says he’s only ever had to rescue one person at post number five. Who would have believed you could get lost in Billericay?

It’s a weird outpost of Iron Age woods in Essex and a romantic spot with its May carpet of bluebells. We drive home wondering if Billericay Dickie might have found it an ideal spot to take Joyce and Vicky or indeed rendezvous with Janet from quite near the Isle of Thanet (who looked more like a gannet).


  1. Dan McMillan comments by email: "Billericay's got a Waitrose?"

    Yes, it's repositioning itself as the Holloway Road/Islington Borders of the East...

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