7 of the prettiest villages in north-west Essex

The town and church

Thaxted is one of Essex's prettiest places - Credit: Archant

North-west Essex is home to chocolate-box villages filled with picture-perfect streets, quaint cottages and history spanning more than a few centuries.

Here are just seven villages which make north-west Essex so special:

1. Thaxted

Did you know that the tune for the popular hymn "I vow to thee my country" is named "Thaxted"?

Composer Gustav Holst first visited the village on a walking holiday in 1913. He moved to Thaxted shortly afterwards, setting up a summer music festival in 1916.

Today, you can bask in 10 centuries of history, be inspired by Thaxted's winding streets and wide open fields, or look forward to plenty of live music and dancing throughout the year.

June: Thaxted Morris Dancing on June 3. Picture: SAFFRON PHOTO

Thaxted is famous for its music and morris men. Picture: Roger King - Credit: Archant

2. Finchingfield

A magnet for motorcyclists, Finchingfield is perfect stop-off for a picnic on the village green.

There are plenty of places to grab a tea or coffee and soak up the sunshine on a hot summer's day.

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The village is also home to TV chef Jamie Oliver.

It is the most photographed village in England, according to Visit Essex.

Finchingfield village centre in the sun and pond. In the background: pretty cottages

Finchingfield village centre. Picture: Roger King - Credit: Saffron Photo 2016

3. Hempstead

Notorious Essex highwayman Dick Turpin is thought to have been born in Hempstead, near Haverhill.

It is thought Dick Turpin was born at The Bell Inn before being baptised in the parish church in 1705.

The Hundred Parishes Society describes Hempstead as "quite sleepy at first glance", but says the village is popular with ramblers who enjoy acres of woodland walks in gentle Essex countryside.

A thatched cottage with beams on the outside in Hempstead, Essex

Hempstead, between Saffron Walden and Haverhill, is full of cottages with character - Credit: JThomas/Geograph (CC BY-SA-2.0)

4. The Rodings

The Roding Valley lends its name to the London's least-used tube station.

If you were to follow the River Roding 20 miles north, you would reach a collection of villages known as The Rodings.

High Roding is home to cute thatched cottages and a 14th-century pub - The Black Lion Inn.

The Axe and Compasses in Aythorpe Roding is new by comparison, dating back to 1705.

Aythorpe Roding, Essex: A picture-perfect white windmill in the sunset. In the distance: flat countryside.

Aythorpe Roding's windmill stands tall in flat countryside - Credit: Mark Seton/Flickr (Creative Commons)

5. Castle Hedingham

According to its website, Hedingham Castle is the most iconic of all East Anglian fortresses commanding Essex for nine centuries.

Surrounded by leafy countryside, Hedingham Castle is a must-visit.

Travel back in time at the Norman Castle, an impressive building tucked away in the Essex woodland.

Alternatively, it's full steam ahead on the Colne Valley Railway.

Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castle - Credit: Archant

6. The Bardfields

Little and Great Bardfield ooze charm with their medieval cottages, small pubs and the Gibraltar Mill.

It is no surprise that the village inspired the Great Bardfield Artists, a collective which included Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious whose work is showcased in Saffron Walden's Fry Art Gallery.

A street in Bardfield with old buildings and a pub.

Great Bardfield. Picture: Roger King - Credit: Saffron Photo 2016

7. The Chesterfords

The Chesterfords' story began after Boudicca's revolt in the first century AD, according to Historic England.

Home to a Roman fort on the bank of the River Cam, the Chesterfords are packed with charm shaped by centuries of history.

Instead of passing it by on the M11, stop off at one of the village's bustling pubs or take a walk along the Icknield Way.

All Saints Church, Great Chesterford

All Saints Church, Great Chesterford - Credit: Archant