If you were looking for the sterotypical ideal of an English village then there is no real need to lok beyond the village of Finchingfield located deep in the lanes of northern Essex, If you have this image of elderly spinsters cycling home from choir practice in the lengthening shadows of a summer evening past old duffers peering into their pints of bitter outside the village pub and the cricket team losing the battle against boredom and bad light on the green.
So, here's a checklist for the perfect English village.
1) Has it got a triangular, well kept village green - check
2) Has is got a duckpond with ducks and not shopping trollys - check
3) Has it got a couple of pubs, preferably thatched that serve proper bitter - check
4) Has is got a cricket team who never win - check
5) Has it got quaint houses that get featured on porcelain collections - check
6) Is it far from an out-of-town B & Q or Comet superstore - check
7) Has it got a village shop and post office where time is unknown - check
8) Is it stuck in 1953 ?
9) Are you still reading this ?... then go there !
The church of St John the Baptist dates back to Norman times - some 800 years ago - and the zig-zag patterns over the main doorway are typical of this period. Entry to the higgledy-piggledy churchyard with its leaning tombstones is via an archway through the medieval guildhall, built some time around 1500 and now housing a small museum and exhibition room. The guildhall overhangs the main road, and the jettied upper storey unfortunately bears the scars of knocks from passing trucks.
The inside of the church feels bigger than the outside suggests and is filled with monuments to local families buried there through the centuries. This is one of the reasons I like to visit old village churches - they bring a sense of the continuity of an areas history.
As a child, passing the raised area of the churchyard by the main road, I always marvelled at the masses of flowers on two particular graves. Fresh flowers in summer and artificial in winter, they were always entirely covered with colour, and my mum, who grew up in neighbouring Gt Bardfield, told me they were gypsies graves. I don't know if this were true, but on my visit to Fincingfield in 2005 the flowers were still there.
Finchingfields post mill dates back to the 1750's but stands on the site of earlier mills dating back to medieval times. After falling into disuse the mill has now been well restored and is a pretty feature of the village. It is open to the public, but not often. To see it you need to coincide your visit with the 3rd Sunday of the month between April and September (opening times are 2pm - 5pm). Admission is free, but guided tours for groups can be arranged for which a fee is charged.
The Fox Inn sits right on Finchingfields village green. It gets incredibly busy during the summer months and at weekends, and is a popular pub with bikers. Has a friendly feel to it, does good bar meals, and you can sit outside - in fact, when all the outdoor tables have been taken, you can still take your glass and sit over on the green (bring the glass back though, there's a good chap).
Favorite Dish: I think the last time I ate here it was fish and chips - proper pub grub is what's on offer here.