john

Jan 122019
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A crisp winter’s morning in the heart of the New Forest. A crowd of semi-wild ponies cropped a hoard of fallen crab apples with a snick and crunch of their strong teeth. We walked briskly north from Beaulieu Road station, then struck out west over a wide swathe of heather, the grey sky pressing down on the dark pines along the flat horizon.

Looking over the bridge rails of a gloopy stream at King’s Passage, we spied sprigs of bog myrtle. Plucked and rubbed between the fingers, they brought a spicy tang to the chilly air. All was as quiet as could be on this still wintry day, with only the clickety calls of stonechats and occasional snort of a pony for a soundtrack. Other walkers with scampering dogs passed on diverging tracks, without disturbing the illusion of solitude and silence so characteristic of the New Forest’s back country.

The lush grasslands of Longwater Lawn border the winding Beaulieu River, their herbage enriched by silt from winter floods. Five pones stood by the footbridge with an air of contemplating profundities. Their presence beside the slow flowing stream through the grassland would have graced the most delicate of Chinese silk paintings.

A wriggling track of pale flinty gravel is all that’s left of the ancient Salt Way, by which the precious commodity was brought inland on pack ponies from the salt pans on the Hampshire coast. The old track led on to the second half of this walk of contrasts, a network of forest rides among the trees of Denny Inclosure – ancient oaks, tall pines as straight as guardsmen, and beeches with enormously elongated limbs.

A glimpse of red-tiled Denny Lodge, once the residence of Groom Keeper and Head Forester, and we took the homeward path among bracken fronds so richly gold that we were tempted to stuff our pockets with them.

Start: Beaulieu Road Station, near Lyndhurst SO42 7YQ (OS ref SU 349063)

Getting there: Rail to Beaulieu Road station.
Road – M27 Jct 1, A337 to Lyndhurst, B3056 (‘Beaulieu’) to Shatterford car park, just before station.

Walk (8 miles; easy underfoot, but no waymarks; OS Explorer OL 22):
Rail – Platform 1, up steps, left along road; Platform 2, up steps, left across bridge. Opposite Shatterford car park, right.
Road: cross B3056.
Then: Follow gravel track north beside railway. In 300m, pass bridge on right (348067); in another 400m, fork left in dip (347071). In 50m, fork right; keep parallel with railway. In 500m, with Fulliford Passage bridge on right (345076), left along grass path. In 350m, right to cross King’s Passage bridge (342076). At 3-way fork beyond, take middle path ahead across grassland. In ½ mile, cross ridge (336084); aim to cross footbridge among trees (334086) and keep ahead.

In 300m, path bends right towards wooden fence (333088). Left here (west) on grassy, then gravel track, heading for distant Lyndhurst Church spire. In ¼ mile cross a track (329088); ahead for 500m to cross footbridge over Beaulieu River (323087). Ahead through line of trees; left (southwest) along track. Keep to left of line of trees, then aim for distant Lime Wood Hotel. In nearly 1 mile cross B3056 (317075); follow ‘Pondhead Farm’. In 350m, pass farm sheds/barns on left (318072); aim past telephone pole to cross footbridge (317070). Fork left on path into trees; bear left for 30m, then right to gate into wood (319067).

Ahead along forest ride. In 500m, left at T-junction on gravel track (324065); in 30m, right along grassy ride for ½ mile, across Little Holm Hill to go through gate (330060). Right to cycle track; left to barrier (334059); right (‘Access to Private Properties’). In 250m, at ‘Upper holding’ notice, fork left. Pass Denny Lodge on right; in 80m, just before Denny Cottage on left, turn left (334055) on woodland path with fence on right, then on in same southeast direction.

In 300m, leave trees; ahead across bridge (336053); fork left and ahead for 400m across next 2 bridges. After 2nd of these (340051), ahead and bear left on gravel path, then grass through trees. In 350m look for hollow on right beside path (344050); at cross tracks beyond with gate to right, go left. Cross bridge at Woodfidley Passage (346051); ahead, soon bearing north parallel with railway to return to car park/station.

NB: No waymarks – map, compass, Satmap very helpful!

Lunch: Drift Inn, Beaulieu Road station (02380-292342, driftinn.co.uk)

Accommodation: Beaulieu Hotel, Beaulieu Road station SO42 7YQ
(0800-444441, newforesthotels.co.uk)

Info: New Forest Centre, Lyndhurst (023-8028-3444)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:32
Jan 052019
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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On a cool bright morning we followed Water Lane out of Welburn and headed for the Howardian Hills. The jewel of the landscape hereabouts is the stately pile of Castle Howard, but from the cobbled field path leading north towards the hills we could only glimpse the tip of its crowning dome.

There were plenty of follies and architectural fancies to admire as we walked the parkland tracks – pyramids and obelisks, a wonderfully ornate Temple of the Four Winds high on an aeolian ridge, and peeping over the trees of Kirk Hill the tall colonnaded mausoleum of the Howards, Earls of Carlisle.

In an overgrown paddock beside the rusty barns of Low Gaterly a grey mare and her tiny companion horse, only as big as a dog, were browsing their thistle patch, delicately nipping off the remnant flower heads with lips curled back out of the way of the prickles.

Up on the ridge of the Howardian Hills an ancient earthwork shadowed the escarpment, a bank and ditch perhaps 4,000 years old. From here there were great open views to the smoothly flowing outline of the North York Moors, sombre and dark under a lively silver sky.

A mile along the ancient bank under quietly whispering larch and sycamores, and we descended a holloway into the parkland of Castle Howard. The great house stood on its ridge, a dream realised by the talented and bold amateur architect Sir John Vanbrugh at the turn of the 18th century. We found the parkland turf still corrugated by what underlay it – the ridge-and-furrow fields of the medieval village of Henderskelfe, swept away by command of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle in favour of the artful curves of his landscaped park.

The homeward path led across a steeply arched Palladian bridge over the New River lake. I glanced down as I crossed, to see a stone carving of a bearded river god, reeds in his hair, staring with bulging eyes and mouth agape along the artificial waterway at the giant house on the hill – whether in awe or horror was hard to say.
Start: Crown & Cushion PH, Welburn YO60 7DZ (OS ref SE 721680)

Getting there: Bus 183 (Malton-Castle Howard)
Road – Welburn is signed from A64 (York-Malton) at Whitwell on the Hill

Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 300): Left from Crown & Cushion; left down Water Lane. ‘Public Bridleway’ north for ¾ mile to turn right along Centenary Way/CW beyond East Moor Banks wood (723693). In ⅔ mile, left (732694, ‘Coneysthorpe, yellow arrow/YA); in 150m, left opposite Low Gaterly barn (YA). At Bog Hall dogleg left/right, then right on track (725709, ‘Easthorpe’). In 900m keep ahead (734713, ‘Park House’), zigzagging up to cross road (733715). Up Park House drive; in 50m left (gate, BA); follow wooded escarpment edge and ‘Slingsby Bank’ (BA). In 1¼ mile, left (714729, ‘Coneysthorpe’), for 1 mile to Coneysthorpe. Left along road; in 100m, right through wall (713713); follow drive (‘Welburn’). In ½ mile, at corner of Great Lake, fork left by gates; in 100m, right (719706, ‘Welburn’) through scrub to track (722705). Right into parkland; right (‘Welburn’) to Temple of Four Winds, New River Bridge (724698) and return path to Welburn.

Lunch: Crown & Cushion PH (01653-618777, thecrownandcushionwelburn.com); Leaf & Loaf Café (01653-618352), Welburn.

Accommodation: Talbot Hotel, Malton, N Yorks YO17 7AJ (01653-639096, talbotmalton.co.uk). Friendly, comfortable, long-established hotel.

Info: castlehoward.co.uk; howardianhills.org.uk; yorkshire.com
Ramblers Festival of Winter Walks, 21 December – 6 January:
ramblers.org.uk/winterwalks
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:51
Dec 222018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Set in a north Cotswold landscape of iron-rich stone the colour of dark honeycomb, Great Tew is a dream hive of mullioned cottages under thatch. It’s hard to credit this immaculate place as the tumbledown village it became in the 1970s, its houses neglected to the point of collapse, their roofs in holes.

The scandal of Great Tew’s decay had complex roots, and its recovery to picture postcard appearance has been a long process. All seemed right with the world on this brisk afternoon, though. We glanced in the open door of the Falkland Arms where cheerful county couples and horse whisperers crowded the dark bar under a canopy of beer mugs swinging by their handles from the ceiling.

Behind the pub a bridleway ran east away across the open pastures of Great Tew Park. A red kite skimmed the trees and circled the grassland, steadying itself a few inches above the ground before dropping to snatch at some morsel among the tussocks.

The park was dotted with fine old specimen trees – cedars and pines, oaks and chestnuts. Five horses at a gate nodded their long noses and accepted a handful of grass apiece. Away to the north the hills rolled like a breaking wave, more sharply defined than the pale limestone wolds of classic Cotswold country.

At Ledwell we found a dimpling well, the old cast-iron village pump standing alongside. The mossy roofs of Over Worton huddled in the trees near a tall war memorial. In the church lay Edmund Meese, who died ‘pious, chaste and sober’ in the reign of King James I. His effigy was discovered in 1967 under the church floor, minus toes, nose and hands – they had been cut off so that the sculpture could be squeezed into its hiding place. Edmund’s extremities were restored, but in darker stone than the rest of the effigy, giving him the appearance of being severe frostbitten.

On over the fields to Nether Worton, where church, schoolroom and cottage leaned companionably together in the shade of a large apple tree. On with a cold wind slapping our cheeks, to join Groveash Lane where it wound at the feet of the hills.

A broad old trackway led us back to Great Tew through damp woodland of willow and alder. The bare branches scratched at a sky growing ever greyer and more wintry, and the thought of the log fire at the Falkland Arms put springs in our boot heels.

Start: Great Tew village car park, Oxon OX7 4DB (OS ref SP 395293)

Getting there:
Road – Great Tew is signed off B4022 (A361, between Banbury and Chipping Norton)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 191): Left from car park; left into village. Just past Falkland Arms, left (‘Bridleway, Ledwell 2’), following broad track of bridleway east through fields. In ¾ mile it bends right (408293); ahead here through gates (blue arrows) on fenced bridleway, forking right past Hobbshole Farm to road (413284). Left, then over crossroads (418283, ‘Ledwell’). At Manor Farmhouse bear left; left by well (‘Over Worton’, yellow arrow/YA). Keep left of fence over lawn; right at wall along path. In 150m, through gate (421282); half left (YA) to gateway; half right to footbridge (424284) and up field beyond to road (426285). Right; in 100m, left (‘Over Worton’) up drive. At house, right (arrow) across stile; half right across 2 fields to cross lane at Over Worton by war memorial (430291).

Up church path; past church; through gate at east end of churchyard. Follow fence on left down to gate (430295); cut corner and go through hedge; follow path north-west, then north across fields for ½ mile to road opposite Nether Worton church (426301). Left; at junction, left (‘Ledwell’); in 400m, round sharp left bend; in 50m, right through gate (421300). Fork right on bridleway.

In 250m fork right at gate gap (418300, arrow), across field. Cross footbridge (416302); aim half left for distant track going uphill on left of wood. Before you reach it, left on broad bridleway of Groveash Lane (415305). In 1 mile at T-junction (402302) left for ¾ mile to Great Tew.

Lunch/Accommodation: Falkland Arms, Great Tew OX7 4DB (01608-683653, falklandarms.co.uk) – warm, firelit, thriving village pub

Info: Banbury TIC (01295-753752)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:51
Dec 152018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The wind nipped at our heels as we left the tube train at Loughton and climbed the hill behind the little Essex town. Handsome red brick villas lined the road, proclaiming this the Metroland that the railways brought into being for Edwardian commuters to the city.

At the crest of the rise a few steps plunged us back into the medieval England of great hunting forests and the footpad-haunted wilds that all travellers feared. Epping Forest today, 6,000 acres of tree-smothered uplands, is only a shadow remnant of the sprawling Royal Forest of Waltham that once stretched away from London. But walking the broad tracks under these old beeches and hornbeams with their green sinewy limbs, you still catch the silence and solitude of proper deep woodland.

Long-tailed tits flirted their tail feathers and squeaked in miniature voices among the bare boughs. There were goblin faces in the contorted trunks of beeches unpollarded for a century or more. The circular embankments of Loughton Camp, an Iron Age enclosure where Whitechapel highwayman Dick Turpin kept a hideout, lay screened among trees that spread their own witchy darkness around themselves.

If it hadn’t been for the lobbying of far-sighted Victorian campaigners, Epping Forest would have been nibbled away to nothing by smallholders, squatters and developers. The 1878 Epping Forest Act put a stop to all their encroachment, and today’s walkers, cyclists and runners are the beneficiaries.

The wind made a seashore roar in the treetops, but down at the roots of the forest hardly a breath stirred the leaf carpet. We followed the well-made path north-east, revelling in the silence and the earthy scent of millions of trees.

Beyond Jack’s Hill the landscape changed character. Heathy patches of birch scrub and bog appeared in wide clearings and the tree cover thinned as more blue sky spread overhead. The ramparts of Ambresbury Banks, another Iron Age ring fort, stood naked and tall, studded with smooth-trunked beeches.

The sigh of the wind gave way to the muted roar of the M25. We crossed the motorway, turned our backs on the massed trees of the forest, and dropped down to Epping tube station with wide views opening across the Essex ridges to the far blue hills of Kent across the unseen Thames.

Start: Loughton tube station (Central Line), IG10 4PD (OS ref TQ 423956). Finish Epping station, CM16 4HW.

Getting there: Underground rail to Loughton. Road – Loughton is off M11, Jct 5.

Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 174): From Loughton station, to main road; left across bottom of Station Road; up Old Station Road with Sainsbury’s on left. Over roundabout; up Ollards Grove. At top at Forest View Road (418961), left along path. At road, right; in 200m, left (418963) through car park, past ‘The Stubbles’ sign. Across grassy hill; into trees; in 150m, right at Strawberry Hill Ponds (414965) along broad, flat Three Forests Way (3FW).

In 300m cross Earl’s Path (416967); take right fork. In ¾ mile, just past Loughton Camp, 3FW forks left (421977), but keep ahead along The Green Ride. In 1 mile cross A121 (429986); bear right through metal barrier, then follow path round to left and on. In 600m at Ditches Ride T-junction (434989), left to cross B172 at Jack’s Hill (435996). Keep same direction past Epping Forest sign, and on.

In nearly 1 mile at Epping Thicks, with tall post on left and short one with yellow arrow on right, keep ahead at fork (444004). In ½ mile, at Ivy Chimneys, left along road (450011). Fork right along Bell Common. At end of houses (454015), right; just before Hemnall House, left through hedge; right down grassy slope; left at bottom on green lane among trees (‘Centenary Walk’ on OS Explorer). At road (458013), left round Western Avenue. At T-junction, left along road. In 250m pass Woodland Grove on right; in 30m, right (460016, ‘station’ sign) to tube station (462016).

Lunch: Forest Gate Inn, Ivy Chimneys CM16 4DZ (01992-572312)

Accommodation: Premier Inn, The Grange, Sewardstone Rd, Waltham Abbey EN9 3QF (0333-321-9123)

Info: Epping Forest Visitor Centre, IG10 4AF (0208-508-0028)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:41
Dec 082018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A winter day in a million. A gentle breeze out of a cloudless blue sky over mid-Wales, with the sheep pastures along the valley of Cwmannell sparkling in the sunlight as they sweated off last night’s sharp frost.

We followed the farm road from Beulah to the horse paddocks around Hafod-y-garreg, then a slippery hill path that descended through golden oaks to a water-splash pond below Erw-felin. Here a solemn tribe of shaggy-legged horses came to sniff at our hands. No biscuits, lads, sorry!

Up beyond Bwlchmawr the hills grew lumpy, their flanks patched with bracken glowing rusty red in the sun. A network of old green tracks crisscrosses these valleys, and we followed one that dipped in and out of the dingles of Nant Cwm-du and Nant Einon. A cottage stood in roofless solitude above the Einon stream, where a flock of grey-headed fieldfares flew off with sharp grating calls.

The three faces of Mynydd Epynt stared back at us on the southern skyline as we stopped for a breather at the crest above Bron-rhydd. Then it was steeply down to cross the Nant yr Annell stream, and steeply up to meet a broad ridge track. It led us west to a high pass and a sensational view from the nubby heights of Cribyn Bedw.

A seat on a prominent rock, and a good long stare round the wide bowl of hills that encircled the well-wooded farmland down along the Annell and away up the curved valley of the Afon Cammarch. Mynydd Epynt looked massive and solid from here, a crouching beast of a hill.

Far below lay a side valley that might have been modelled by Disney, so perfect were the proportions of its fields, hedges, farm, chapel and forested slopes. Yellowing larches stood up like rockets among the dark conifers, and the guns of invisible shooters went pop-pop-pop as a line of beaters drove pheasants out of cover.

At last we rose and started back down the broad green track to Beulah. Rams stood at the fences, nose-to-nose with ewes in adjacent pastures, and the winter sun poured down like cold honey over woods and fields.

Start: Trout Inn, Beulah, near Llanwrtyd Wells LD5 4UU (OS ref SN 920513)

Getting there: Bus 48 (Builth Wells – Llanwrtyd Wells)
Road: Beulah is on A483 between Builth Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells. Trout Inn car park is behind garage – please ask landlord’s permission!

Walk (6½ miles, moderate hill walk, some short overgrown stretches, OS Explorers 187, 188): Right along A483, in 100m, right (‘Abergwesyn’). In 300m, left (917515) on bridleway road past Aberannell and on for ¾ mile to Hafod-y-Garreg (905513). Pass sheds on left; in 150m, at entrance to Bron-rhudd drive, left down track. In 150m, right (905512, gate/stile) across field to stile (903511); ahead, parallel with Nant Einon stream on left. In 400m, fork left, descending to ford stream (900512, stile).

Up brambly bank opposite; up field to gate; up next field to gate into Erw-felin stableyard (899510). Ahead up lane for 700m to road (898504). Right to Bwlchmawr farm (893508); fork right between house and barns up green lane. In 400m at waymark post, right to cross Nant Cwm-du (889510); through gate; track past cottage (blue arrow), descending to cross Nant Einon by decorative bridge (891513). Right up fence to second gate (892513); right along grass track with fence on right for ½ mile, rising to summit (901515).

Same direction through 2 gates; track bears left (902516), descending to cross Nant yr Annell (899513), then bearing right and rising to gate (903519). Ahead for 50m to ridge track; left for ¾ mile to summit of Cribyn Bedw (891523) for sensational views. Return down track and on for 1½ miles to lane at Aberannell (915515); left to road; right to A483; left to Trout Inn.

Lunch: Trout Inn, Beulah (01591-620235, thetroutinn.net).

Accommodation: Lake Country House, Llangammarch Wells LD4 4BS (01591-620202, lakecountryhouse.co.uk) – friendly, comfortable former fishing lodge.

Info: Builth Wells TIC (01982-563307), visitwales.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:30
Dec 012018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The River Avon went rushing under the mill bridge at Little Durnford, the water as grey as molten glass. We leaned on the bridge rail to admire it before setting off along a green lane that shadowed the course of the river up its shallow valley.

At Lake the flanks of the valley were scratched with strip lynchets and laneways, evidence of a vanished village. From the valley bottom Lake House stared out from multiple windows under five tall gables, a handsome old house in a beautiful setting sheltered among its trees.

A wide green track led north up the dry chalk valley of Lake Bottom, past the paddocks at Springbottom Farm where a ginger horse rolled ecstatically on the grass. Up on the skyline a row of ancient burial mounds made a grand introduction to a memorable view – Stonehenge in all its glory, the tall grey trilithons catching and holding the eye.

A trio of hippy caravans stood parked by the greenway. We turned off before the Stones and the rushing traffic of the A303 that so disfigures the prospect, and made for the braided trackway of the Harroway, the oldest and least regarded of England’s prehistoric roads.

The white chalky ribbon of the Harroway winds south over Normanton Down, a remarkable ritual landscape associated with Stonehenge, whose mysteries and meanings are only now beginning to be probed with modern ground-penetrating remote sensors.

Bowl barrows, long barrows, bell barrows lie scattered across the grassland. We passed Bush Barrow, a tree still growing out of it, excavated in 1808 to unearth a skeleton six feet tall and 4,000 years old, adorned with a golden breastplate. The Harroway ran between a pair of shallow disc barrows and descended past a field of cheerfully grunting pigs rooting in an Armageddon of mud.

At Druid’s Lodge we left the ancient road and turned back over the downs towards the Avon valley. Lapwings flickered in black and white over the fields, three hares scampered and stopped, scampered and stopped, and a big bird of prey (marsh harrier? hen harrier? – we couldn’t decide) suddenly sailed across our track, flapping its great wings with enormous lazy power as it scanned the ploughlands for unwary mice.
Start: Black Horse PH, Great Durnford, Wilts SP4 6AY (OS ref SU 135380)

Getting there: Bus 201 (Amesbury-Salisbury)
Road – Great Durnford is signposted off A345 (Amesbury-Salisbury) at Stock Bottom

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 130): From Black Horse, right along road. In 100m, opposite Field House, right on gravel track. Cross millstream; follow path for ½ mile to cross road (132386). Stile opposite (‘Normanton Down’); path down to road (129389). Left up trackway. In 1 mile, track curves left by Springbottom Farm stables (122400); in 150m keep ahead (right) at fork on grassy track. In nearly 1 mile, at NT sign, left through kissing gate (120413); in 350m, left at next kissing gate along Harroway trackway (117415) for 1¾ miles to A360 (099392). Left along verge for 250m; left (‘Upper Woodford’) on track, then road for 1¾ miles to road at Upper Woodford (124373). Left; in 60m, right (fingerpost) on stony, then grassy lane. In ¾ mile, right (133379) across millstream bridge, back to Black Horse.

Lunch: Black Horse, Great Durnford (01722-782270) – NB closed Sun eve, all Mon.

Accommodation: Rollestone Manor, Shrewton, Wilts SP3 4HF (01980-620216, rollestonemanor.com) – very comfortable B&B + dinner in historic house

Info: Salisbury TIC (01722-342860); visitwiltshire.co.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:45
Nov 242018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A midwinter day of cold, clear, sunny weather on Scotland’s West coast. I lingered on the braeside above Ullapool, looking down at the sunlit town and across the loch to snow-streaked mountains beyond.

From here you can appreciate why the British Fisheries Society chose the place in 1788 for development as a herring port. The little town huddles on its headland near the sea entrance to Loch Broom, sheltering the harbour with the fishing boats and big Calmac ferries. Millions of herrings made Ullapool’s fortune early in the 19th century; then again in the 1970s when Iron Curtain factory ships processed millions more and flooded the pubs with thirsty crew members.

The stony path rose up the hillside through clumps of flowering gorse and winter-dried heather. Ahead the view opened out through the jaws of Loch Broom to the hummocky shapes of the Summer Isles, romantically named, hard as hell to scratch a living from, lying ten miles out to sea.

Soon the way forked at a bench. I climbed a tinkling granite path to the little cairn at the crest of Meall Mòr. A sensational mountain prospect to all quarters – Sàil Mòr blotched with snow, Beinn Ghobhlach like a khaki tent in the west; a jumble of peaks around the three-thousand-foot Beinn Dearg in the east; and the north closed by the snowy beast-back of Ben Mor Coigach.

* NB These variations on Beinn and Ben, Mòr and Mor are correct according to the map and online references.

Back on the main path once more I skidded over icy rocks and through frozen puddles, descending to where Loch Achall lay in its lonely glen. The water shone a deep ice-blue. There was not a sound, not even from the dipper flirting its white breast among the stones of the Ullapool River. If there was a more beautiful spot in all Scotland to sit and stare just now, I couldn’t imagine it.

I crossed the river where it charged in glassy grey surges through the rocky narrows of Eas Dubh, and crunched back to Ullapool along the glen road with a pair of buzzards circling close overhead, mewing in courtship to one another like the first promise of spring.

Start: Ullapool car park, Ullapool, IV26 2XB (OS ref NH 125941)

Getting there: Bus 961 (Inverness-Ullapool)
Road – Ullapool is on A835, signed from Inverness. Car park (signed ‘Latheron Centre’ off Quay Street) is next to Tesco.

Walk (7½ miles, moderate hill walk, OS Explorer 439): Walk back to cross Quay Street. Down Market Street; left along A835 (131942). In 350m, take 2nd of 2 right turns into Broom Court (130945). Through kissing gate/KG ahead (orange arrow, ‘public footpath’). Path climbs steadily. In 450m, it bends left (134944); in 300m, right at bench (132946) up path (red/white post). In 350m pass topograph (136947); in another 400m fork left in hollow (139946, red post). In 100m, right at bench (red post) to climb Meall Mòr (143947) and return to bench. Right on path for 1 mile; at 2nd tall KG (154951), go through; left (white arrow) to track; left to road; right across bridge (155953) to Loch Achall outflow (163956). Right on riverbank track to road (157955); left for 1¾ miles. Pass working quarry on right; in another 200m, left by cattle grid (132951, ‘Ullapool Hill Walks’ fingerpost) on path (green post). In 350m, at fork with green post in middle (133948), right to bench (132946) and outward path to Ullapool.

Conditions: muddy and wet path in places

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Tanglewood House, Ullapool, Highland IV26 2TB (01854-612059, tanglewoodhouse.co.uk) – immaculate, comfortable, superb loch-side position.

Info: walkhighlands.co.uk; visitscotland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:29
Nov 172018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Twenty four hours of solid rain over Bedfordshire had given way to a misty, moisty, mizzling day; not exactly raining, but the damp cold air pearled face and hands with gossamer-fine moisture. The thatched eaves of Old Warden’s cottages dripped, the village road rippled with runnels of water.

In Warden Wood I turned aside over a carpet of birch leaves as soft and yellow as butter, to find Queen Anne’s Summerhouse in its lonely clearing among the pines. It’s doubtful if the queen even knew of this bold brick folly’s existence, but Sir Samuel Ongley thought it wouldn’t hurt to honour his royal liege on the grand estate he’d bought in the 1690s with his East Indian Company profits.

A long green bridleway led north among beet fields, wet and whispering in the misty wind. Pheasant poults went scuttling ahead, then crouched motionless, camouflaged in a ditch. It was their mother who gave way to panic, exploding away right under my boots in a whirr of wings.

I passed the long hangers at Old Warden’s airfield where the wonderful old stringbags of the Shuttleworth Collection are housed. These historic aircraft and motor cars are not preserved as museum exhibits, but are restored to active life in the air and on the ground, living entities once more.

Deep in Home Wood beyond Ickwell Green, a Permissive Path looped round a remarkable monument – a complex of medieval fishponds squeezed inside a warren bank, providing fish and rabbits for the lord of Northill Manor. Bending and curving in and out of one another like a Chinese puzzle, these half-filled ditches, scattered with gold leaves, gave off a powerful atmosphere of mystery among the coppiced hazels along their banks.

Big open fields surrounded the handsome square brick house at Highlands Farm. Lapwings and starlings picked over the winter wheat fields, and a brown hare streaked for cover.

Coming back into Old Warden, the tower of St Lawrence’s Church floated disembodied above the mist. I turned into the church and stood amazed at the riot of fantastic wood carving that embellishes the dark interior – snakes, angels, swags of flowers, and a very tender depiction of the disciples, hooded and sombre, lowering the limp body of Jesus into the tomb.

Start: Hare & Hounds PH, Old Warden, Biggleswade, Beds SG18 9HQ (OS ref TL 138440)

Getting there: Old Warden is signed off B658 (A1 at Biggleswade)

Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 208): From Hare & Hounds, right along road. On left bend, right (fingerpost/FP, white posts) up path through Warden Warren (in ¼ mile, detour left to Queen Anne’s Summerhouse at 143438). At road, left (144433); in 600m, left (149430, bridleway FP) for nearly a mile to Shuttleworth College drive (157442). Right; in 150m, left (gate, black arrow/BLA, yellow top post/YTP) on bridleway for ½ mile to cross road (155448); on for ½ mile to Ickwell Green beside pre-school (150456).

Cross to continue along Northill Road (pavements). In ⅔ mile pass pond, then church; then left (149466, ‘Cople’) on Bedford Road. In 250m, left (147466, ‘Greensand Ridge Walk’/GRW). In 450m, detour left (143465) on Permissive Path circuit of medieval fishponds. Returning to GRW, left (YTP) through Home Wood. At western edge, left (138462, GRW) round field edges.

In 300m through kissing gate/KG (136462); left, and aim left of Highlands Farm house through KG (GRW). Cross paddock to KG left of sheds (GRW). Cross 2 paddocks (GRW), through trees (131460, YTP) and forward across 2 wide fields. At far side, left (126461, YTP). In ½ mile GRW turns right (123455, YTP), but keep ahead on bridleway (BLAs) through Palmer’s Wood. From Mount Pleasant Farm (136448) follow drive to road (138445). Right; in 200m, right to St Lawrence’s Church (137443), or keep ahead to Hare & Hounds.

Lunch: Hare & Hounds, Old Warden (01767-627225, hareandhoundsoldwarden.co.uk) – excellent village local

Accommodation: Old Warden Guest House, SG18 9HQ (01767-627201, oldwardenguesthouse.co.uk)

Info: Sandy TIC (01767-682728)

Shuttleworth Collection: shuttleworth.org

visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:01
Nov 102018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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For this Armistice centenary weekend, a walk of three lives to be remembered. The first two are intertwined – Hal Willoughby Sandham (1876-1920, an unsung Great War soldier, and the artist Stanley Spenser (1891-1951), whose murals in the Sandham Memorial Chapel near Newbury rank with his very finest work. The third life is that of Brenda Parker (1939-2008), Hampshire countryside campaigner, walker, wildlife enthusiast and maintainer of footpaths, a local hero unsung by the world at large. It was the countryside trail named in her honour, the Brenda Parker Way, that we followed out of Burghclere down a disused railway, a tunnel of trees and brambles with glimpses ahead of the long high spine of Watership Down.

Under a bridge festooned with trailers of ivy like jungle creepers, then up out of the ‘lost world’ of the abandoned railway cutting and off through arable fields on flinty tracks and green bridleways. Monster oaks with twenty-foot girths stood in the hedges like guardian giants, their twigs sprouting round brown galls.

A piercing silvery light smeared the sky over the downs. At Woodside Farm two ginger horses were having a tremendous game in their field, whinnying and snorting and dashing up and down with a great drumming of hooves. We heard their joyful neighing as we followed the Brenda Parker Way across the beanfields and along the old driftway called Ox Drove, back to Burghclere and the Sandham Memorial Chapel.

John and Mary Behrend of Burghclere were dedicated patrons of the arts. Mary’s brother Hal saw active service in Salonika during the Great War, and when he died of malaria in 1920 the Behrends had the chapel built in his memory and asked Stanley Spenser – a fellow Salonika veteran – to paint its interior in acknowledgement of all anonymous soldiers.

Here are men in camp hauling great tureens of blood-red soup. A kit inspection, with items laid out like body parts. Soldiers dressing themselves under shroud-like malaria nets. Exhausted men asleep around a mounted officer. And a tiny, distant Christ overwhelmed in a maze of white battlefield crosses.

Spenser’s genius was to discover spiritual glory in humble things and people, and he found its supreme expression in this remarkable memorial to the unregarded soldier.

Start: Sandham Memorial Chapel car park, Burghclere, Hants RG20 9JT (OS ref SU464608)

Getting there: Bus 7A from Newbury
Road – Sandham Memorial Chapel signposted off A34, 5 miles south of Newbury (M4, Jct 13)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorers 158, 144): Right along road; first right (Spring Lane); in 400m, right (467605, ‘Brenda Parker Way’/BPW). Left along old railway for nearly 1 mile. Under bridge (473593); right up slope (BPW); right across railway to road (476593). Left; right (‘Ecchinswell’); beside next junction, left (‘Bridleway’). Follow blue arrows/BAs for ½ mile to junction (481598); left (BAs) up Earlstone Manor drive. At top of pond on right, bear right (fingerpost) along pond edge. Leave trees (481599); left along field path (yellow arrows) for ¾ mile to road beyond Woodside Farm (491604). Left; in 600m, left (493610, BPW) across fields for 1 mile. At Palmer’s Hill House (478612), follow drive past house on left, then on for 400m to road (475614). Right; in 600m, opposite Lakeview House gate, left (478619, fingerpost), descending through trees. At bottom, left (477620), following Ox Drove for just over 1 mile, crossing road at 473619, to junction by old railway (463610). Left to road; right to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Carpenter’s Arms, Burghclere RG20 9JY (01635-278251, carpentersarms-burghclere.co.uk)

Sandham Memorial Chapel: Open Fri, Sat, Sun (01635-278394, nationaltrust.org.uk/sandhamchapel-memorial-chapel); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:09
Nov 032018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Durham, laid out Blanchland as an estate village in the early 18th century, basing it around the remnants of a medieval monastery whose lands extended far and wide across these borderlands of Northumberland and Durham.

From the slopes of Buckshott Fell we paused to look back. Blanchland had entirely disappeared. Monastic gatehouse, rambling old Lord Crewe Arms that was once the Abbot’s lodging, immaculate vegetable gardens and neat sandstone cottages – the deep cleft of the Derwent valley had swallowed them all. The northward view swept over the invisible village and on up rough pastures to the wild Northumbrian moorland of Cowbyers Fell.

All round us the sprigs of old burned heather formed silver-grey patches among the dark green of newer ling – essential food and shelter for grouse. We disturbed a female of the species who clattered off in a panicky whirr of stubby wings, calling ‘Go back-back-back!’

It’s not only grouse that benefit from the careful management of these moors and upland pastures. In spring they are favoured nesting sites for curlew and golden plover, whose sweet, haunting whistling is the signature tune of the Durham Dales.

Beyond the moor road from Blanchland rose two tall industrial chimneys, stark reminders of the lead mining industry that once steamed, smoked, roared and clanged across these moors. Beside Sikehead Dam’s wind-ruffled reservoir stood the broken-topped chimney which belched out deadly lead vapour, brought from Jeffrey’s smelting mill far below along a mile of stone-lined flues. Once a year some wretch would be detailed to climb the interior of the chimney and scrape off the ‘fume’ or condensed lead vapour for re-smelting.

Not far away we came to a sister chimney, elaborately capped, standing over disused shafts 400 feet deep. Employees of the Sikehead Mine laboured down there to hew the lead ore that kept the Industrial Revolution towns of Britain in water pipes and the army in bullets.

The homeward path lay among old spoil heaps, stone field walls and the steep rushy pastures of lonely daleside farms. A cold wind blew down the Bolt Burn’s valley, a pair of missel thrushes bounced and bobbed among the sedges, and a flock of fieldfares provided an aerial escort to see us off the Durham moors.
Start: Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland, nr Consett DH8 9SP (OS ref: NY 967503)

Getting there: Bus 773 from Consett
Road – Blanchland (on B6306) is signed off A68 at Carterway Heads, 3 miles west of Consett.

Walk (6½ miles, rough moorland walking, OS Explorer 307): From Lord Crewe Arms, left along B6306, across bridge, uphill. In 200m, right by Blanchland sign (967502); up road for ⅓ mile; at right bend, ahead through gate (968496). Ahead with wall/fence on left, uphill for 1 mile. Where track begins descent, at gate on left, turn right across moor (970481) on track for ½ mile to road (964475).

Left; in 70m, right (fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA) on track across moor. In ¼ mile, left at T-junction (960473, YA). Just before Jeffrey’s Chimney (the left-hand of two), right over stile (958467, YA); left along dam wall. At far end, right, aiming for Sikehead Chimney (right-hand one). At fence by chimney, right (955464, YA) on grass track beside dry dam, then curving left down to angle of wall (953468).

Right through gate (YA); follow wall along hillside, keeping it on your left, for ½ mile. Cross wide right-angle of wall to a bent YA (958475); left downhill to gate into forestry (957476, YA). Boggy track downhill through trees (ducking under some boughs!) to exit kissing gate at bottom of trees (956477, YA). On down fenced path, over stile into wood (955478, YA). Down forest path to valley road (955479).

Right along road; in 500m on left bend, left off road (958482, YA, ‘Pennine Journey’/PJ) down path. In 150m, right (957483, YA, PJ), north through trees for 1 mile to road (958497). Left downhill; just before Bay Bridge, right (958499, PJ) through trees for 700m to Blanchland.

Lunch/Accommodation: Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland (01434-677100, lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk) – wonderful village hotel, ancient, full of character.

Info: visitnorthumberland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:05