Feb 242024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Lavenham - medieval houses lean together in the High Street Lavenham Church - demonic lion guards the west door Lavenham Church tower from Park Road Lavenham Church tower from Park Road 2 Lavenham Church tower across the plough 1 Lavenham Walk - the muddy old railway path Balsdon Hall isolated among its trees sugar beet mountain near Peek Lane Lavenham Church tower across the plough 2 Lavenham Church tower across the plough 3

Lavenham is ridiculously pretty, its High Street an unbroken run of delectable medieval buildings, each one more cranky, crooked and colour-washed than the last. No wonder the young American flyers of 487th Bomb Group, stationed nearby during the Second World War, came to walk its fairytale byways and drink and yarn in the impossibly beamy and lopsided old Swan Inn. Here the graffiti and signatures they scribbled on the wall plaster are lovingly preserved under glass.

Medieval Lavenham grew rich on the wool trade, a prosperity witnessed in its wonderful houses, guildhalls and great cathedral of a church. And it was a massive economic slump in Tud
or times, caused by competition from cheaper and better cloth produced elsewhere, that fixed Lavenham’s buildings in aspic. The impoverished townsfolk couldn’t afford to modernise or demolish them, so in their early medieval glory they remained through the succeeding centuries.

A cold west wind blew out of a wintry sky as we followed the trackbed of the old Long Melford branch railway out of the town. Arable land lay on either hand, the heavy dark soil sliced by recent ploughing into long gleaming furrows. We watched a trail of seagulls following a distant tractor, each new furrow no sooner opened than lined with screeching, squabbling birds.

Spring was beginning to knock on winter’s door. Hazel catkins trembled in the wind, daffodil spears were pushing up along the hedge roots, and over the open fields the first skylarks of the year poured out their continuous, ecstatic song. But winter was not done yet. Grey-headed fieldfares, overwintering from Scandinavia, flocked round a stark concrete wartime pillbox, crowds of goldfinches twittered in the treetops, and the mud of the winter rains lay black and stodgy underfoot.

Beyond the bare skeletons of beech and oak in ancient Lineage Wood we traversed fields of river-rolled pebbles to cross a tangle of old moats at Balsdon Hall farm. The yellow-faced 17th-century farmhouse lay tucked away behind trees, a remote setting among the fields. A characteristic rural Suffolk landscape, agricultural and unsmartened. Sugar beets lay heaped in roadside ramparts ten feet tall, and the great flint tower of Lavenham church rose across the waves of ploughed earth like a landlocked lighthouse.

How hard is it? 5¾ miles; easy; field and old railway paths

Start: High Street, Lavenham CO10 9QA (OS ref TL 915491)

Getting there: Bus 753 (Bury St Edmunds – Sudbury)
Road: Lavenham is signed off A134 (Bury St Edmunds – Sudbury)

Walk (OS Explorer 196): Up High Street, over ridge and down. In ⅓ mile fork left (017496, ‘Lavenham Walk’). In 100m, left along old railway. In 100m, right (‘Dyehouse Field Wood’). In 200m right by bench (914497, ‘St Edmund Way’) across field. Left along hedge. At Park Road, left (908497); in 300m, right along old railway (911494). In 1⅓ miles, Paradise Wood ends on left (893484); in another 300m, left (891481, arrow post) on field track. At Balsdon Hall Farm, follow farm drive between buildings (898484) to 3-arrow post at fork, with Balsdon Hall on right (900484). Ahead across fields to road (906476). Left; in 400m, left up Harwood Place (808480). In 50m, right (‘Byway’) along Peek Lane for ½ mile to road (909487). Left; in 200m, right (907487, fingerpost) on field path to road (913490). Right to Lavenham Church. Leaving south door, left along south side of church, then north side of graveyard to kissing gate. Follow tree avenue and walled path to Hall Road (914492); right to High Street.

Lunch/Accommodation: Swan Hotel, High Street, Lavenham CO10 9QA (01787-247477,

Info: Lavenham Information Point (01787-247983)

 Posted by at 01:42
Feb 172024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Dufton village green sandstone quarry face in Dufton Ghyll Wood Quarryman's 'Cockdick' graffito in Dufton Ghyll Wood Quarryman Dan McPhee's 1874 graffito in Dufton Ghyll Wood Brampton Beck Haw berries in Wood Lane split ash tree, Wood Lane houses of Brampton on their ridge Wood Lane approaching Dufton Ghyll Wood Wood Lane approaching Dufton Ghyll Wood, with Dufton Pike beyond waymark on the sandstone wall of Wood Lane golden evening light on North Pennine hills

The sky over eastern Cumbria was sliced in two: a great smoking curl of mist obscuring the tops of the North Pennine Hills standing east of Dufton, and away to the west beyond the green Vale of Eden a field of brilliant blue above the sunlit fells of the Lake District.

Down below the village Dufton Ghyll rushed in curls of bubbles between the sandstone walls of its miniature gorge. ‘Dan McPhee, 1874’ read a graffito scored in square letters into the dusky red rock, legacy of some long-forgotten quarryman. ‘Cockdick’, said another – maybe a nickname, maybe an insult.

Below the mossy quarry faces the path twisted among fallen fragments of beech and birch, then climbed to green pastures by way of stone steps hewn and placed by the quarrymen. In the yard at Greenhow Farm a collie crouched on guard on the tray of a quad bike; he never budged a muscle, only swivelling his narrowed eyes to track my progress out of his domain.

In the fields beyond, a gang of rams, muddy-coated and curly-horned, stood stolidly and stared me out. The sodden path squelched and slithered underfoot as I crossed Keisley Beck and came down into Flakebridge Wood.

From the sunless cottages at Flakebridge a rough path traced the lower edge of the wood, passing under beech boughs as yet leafless. Wild geese flew clamouring overhead, shadowy presences beyond the treetops – pinkfeet, I guessed, en route to their night roost.

The rutted farm road of Frith Lane led on to Esplandhill where a range of superb old sandstone barns stood tall. Tiny spears of bluebells were already pushing up in the hedge roots beyond, and a wren sang its chittering song in the alders along Brampton Beck where I crossed the racing water swollen with recent rainfall.

A final stretch northwards ran between wet rushy fields along Wood Lane. Moles had been driven up from underground by the flooding; their castles of finely dug earth stood tall, temporary refuge until their tunnels dried out under spring sunshine and became habitable once more. Ahead beckoned the cone of Dufton Pike, gilded by late afternoon sunshine, as my internal compass set course for the cheerful taproom of the Stag Inn on Dufton’s village green.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; field paths. NB: Some fallen trees to negotiate around Dufton Ghyll.

Start: Dufton car park, Dufton, CA16 6DB (OS ref NY 690250)

Getting there: Dufton is signed from B6542 in Appleby (A66 Brough-Penrith)

Walk (OS Explorer OL19): Right along road; immediately right (‘Dufton Ghyll’); descend to cross ghyll (wooden footbridge, NOT stone bridge!). Left along bank (yellow arrow/YA). In ⅓ mile at Redbanks Bridge dogleg left/right over road (694245; ‘Keisley, Flakebridge’). On through Greenhow farmyard; follow ‘A Pennine Journey’ across fields (YAs, stiles). In 1¼ miles cross footbridge and stile opposite (706231, YA). Right up bank to wall stile beyond (705230, YA). Down to stile at corner of wood (704229); half left to ladder stile (703226). Cross stream; into Flakebridge Wood. In 150m join track (703225); in 100m, left at junction, down to Flakebridge (704220). Bear right on track, keeping to edge of wood. In 1 mile leave wood (693229, stile); follow Frith Lane to road at Esplandhill (685230). Right; in 100m left past Brampton Watermill. In 400m right over footbridge (683234); left to join Wood Lane. In 1 mile enter Dufton Ghyll Wood (688249); down to cross ghyll (footbridge); up into Dufton.

Lunch: Stag Inn, Dufton (01768-351608,

Accommodation: Crown & Cushion, Appleby CA16 6XB (01768-351595,

Info: Appleby TIC (01768-351177)

 Posted by at 01:14
Feb 102024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
near Aston Tirrold looking back down Access Land dry valley 1 Access Land dry valley Access Land dry valley with juniper bushes fields above Aston Tirrold on the way down from Lowbury Hill, a linnet (I think!) braided ridge path on Aston Upthorpe Downs looking back down Access Land dry valley 2

A sunny winter sky over the Oxfordshire downs. We sauntered a circuit of the back lanes of Aston Tirrold – St Michael’s Church with its ancient doorways, the weathered brick and flint of the Manor House and street walls, the great weatherboarded barn, and round the corner in the twin village of Aston Upthorpe more handsome houses.

Once across the rush and swish of the A417 we followed an old mossy byway towards the low-lying downs south of the village, with cold wind and dazzling winter sun in our faces. The sky above the downs was bathed in a nacreous sheen. Partridges scuttled away among green beet leaves, a robin trickled out a dribble of song from the scrub of nettle and elder along the lane, and there was a feeling of being deep in agricultural countryside, far from any city.

In the spring of 1967 the youthful members of psychedelic folk-rock group Traffic installed themselves at Sheepcote Farm in this peaceful cleft in the hills to ‘get it together in the country’. Jamming night and day with only the hares and pheasants as audience, they soon nailed the songs for their debut album ‘Mr Fantasy’. Traffic didn’t last long, but their rustic sojourn fixed the name of Aston Tirrold in rock history.

The muted sun cast a bristly halo behind each teasel head along the byway. Soon we turned off the track to thread a lonely dry valley in Access Land. Juniper bushes prickled the slopes among heaps of white flints kicked out by burrowing rabbits. A couple of red kites came to circle overhead and issue high-pitched whistles as we climbed to the braided ridge track at the top of Aston Upthorpe Downs.

The shapely hump of Lowbury Hill rose alongside, site of a splendid Saxon warrior’s burial. Archaeologists found him interred with sword, shield, spear, a comb in a leather sheath, and under his back a tiny pair of shears.

Irresistible to speculate that it was for the enormous views north that the warrior’s tomb was sited on the eminence of Lowbury Hill. Descending the homeward track between hedges where linnets bounced among the dried elder and haw berries, we savoured the prospect over the wide valley of the Thames and thanked our lucky stars for this beautiful winter’s day as the sun set slowly behind us.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; downland tracks (some slippery).

Start: St Michael’s Church, Aston Tirrold OX11 9DJ (OS ref SU 558860)

Getting there: Aston Tirrold is signed off A417 between Wantage and Streatley.

Walk (OS Explorer 170): From church, left along Aston Street, then The Croft. At junction (556863, ‘Aston Upthorpe’) round left bend; follow road past ‘Olivier at Chequers’ and on (Spring Lane) to cross A417 (553853, ‘Byway’). Up byway; in ⅔ mile at corrugated shed, fork right (551844; ‘Byway leading to Restricted Byway’). In ⅔ mile fork left past square tank to gate into Access Land (545836, sign). Up valley. In ½ mile through gate and on (543829). At top of valley, through kissing gate (539827); left along byway. In 350m, left along ridge trackway (538824). In ½ mile at multiple arrow post, left down byway (545826, orange arrow). In 1 mile fork right off byway (549840, blue arrow) and follow hedge. In ⅓ mile left along farm drive (556848). Cross A417 (556852); along Chalk Hill; in 500m, right (556857, ‘Aston Street’) to church.

Lunch: Olivier at the Chequers, Aston Tirrold (01235-850800, – a restaurant, but you can have starters and sides. Book in advance.

Accommodation: Beetle & Wedge, Moulsford OX10 9JF (01491-651381,


 Posted by at 05:25
Feb 032024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
view near Chinnor Barrows as mist clears across the Vale of Aylesbury 1 view near Chinnor Barrows as mist clears across the Vale of Aylesbury 2 view over Chinnor as mist clears across the Vale of Aylesbury Icknield Way near Bledlow 1 Icknield Way near Bledlow 2 Wain Hill from Icknield Way Icknield Way near Bledlow 3 winter evening at Church End, Bledlow Lions of Bledlow PH view near Chinnor Barrows as mist clears across the Vale of Aylesbury 3

An ice-cold breeze coming east off the Chiltern Hills stung my eyes with wind tears as I followed the puddled track of the Icknield Way out of Bledlow. The low winter sun topped the trees on the crest of Wain Hill and threw the medieval ridge-and-furrow of the fields below the slope into sharp relief.

The Icknield Way, ancient thoroughfare across these chalk lands, ran at the feet of the hills. Soon I turned off on a carpet of wind-blown beech and oak leaves, into a steep holloway that rose up the escarpment in the chilly shade of a yew grove.

Near the top a fat ginger tomcat on a cold tin roof yawned massively as he watched me go by with supreme indifference. A path at the crest of the ridge brought me to a wonderful viewpoint over the Vale of Aylesbury where the sun was sweeping up the last of the morning mist and spreading golden light like butter over thirty miles of low-lying country.

A flock of goldfinches, softly twittering, flitted away from the thistle heads where they had been feasting. I passed the Bronze Age burial mounds of Chinnor Barrows, smothered under juniper and bramble, and dipped down another slippery hollow to the feet of the scarp once more.

The Ridgeway, companion to the Icknield Way, ran here in a succession of snaky curves under beech and ash. Silver birch trunks, their heartwood rotted where they lay, were no more than empty cylinders of bark where spiders and tiny beetles lay in their winter inertia.

The pearlescent sun swam down between the bare treetops of Thickthorne Wood. I followed a footpath over the grassy billows of the lower slopes before setting back across bare, silent stubble fields. A red kite wheeled down to land nearby and pick up a worm, short commons in the hungry months of the year.

Back in Bledlow with its beautiful old Church of the Holy Trinity and charming cottages of brick and timber framing, I ducked into the Lions of Bledlow pub. Literally ducked – the place was full of scalp-scraping beams, a properly cosy pub for sitting and replaying this perfect winter walk.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy, but muddy, sticky and slippery in places!

Start: Church End, Bledlow HP27 9PD (OS ref SP 778021)

Getting there: Bus 320 (Chinnor – Princes Risborough)
Road: Bledlow (NB – not Bledlow Ridge!) is signed off B4009 between Chinnor and Princes Risborough (A4129/A4010)

Walk (OS Explorer 171): Beside Lions of Bledlow PH, through gate (‘Footpath only’), across field, right along Icknield Way/IW (775017). In ½ mile at Hempton Wainhill, follow IW/Ridgeway between two houses and on (770012). In 600m fork left uphill (767009, ‘Bridleway, Wildlife Walk’). At top of rise, left over barrier (767002, ‘Chinnor Barrows’) and on. In ⅔ mile, back at Hempton Wainhill, right (IW). In 100m in front of house, fork right (770012, ‘Ridgeway/IW/Bridleway’). In ½ mile, just past track crossing, right (778011, gate, ‘Footpath’) across fields, soon with trees/fence on left. In ½ mile, just before crossing hedge, left (782006, gate). Right; in 20m, right (gate, ‘footpath’); cross field; cross Wigan’s Lane (784004). Down driveway; in 400m on right bend, left (787001, blue, yellow arrows). In 100m path bends left; in 300m, before waymark post (787004), left through hedge; recross Wigan’s Lane (785005). Follow fence; in 300m pass ‘Footpath’ gate; in 20m left (782006, gate); right along hedge. In 200m fork right through trees (781008); cross IW (781011); path by hedge to Bledlow.

Lunch: Lions of Bledlow PH (01844-343345,

Accommodation: Inn at Emmington, Sydenham OX39 4LD (01844-351367,


 Posted by at 02:09
Jan 272024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Greatford Hall Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Greatford Greatford Church and West Glen River Floods on East Glen River 1 Floods on East Glen River 2 Floods on East Glen River 3 Floods on East Glen River 4 Floods on East Glen River, looking to Wilsthorpe St Faith's Church, Wilsthorpe Worried crusader knight, St Faith's Church, Wilsthorpe Braceborough 1 Braceborough 2 Braceborough 3 Braceborough 4 landscape between Braceborough and Shillingthorpe Park 1 landscape between Braceborough and Shillingthorpe Park 2 Road between Shillingthorpe Park and Greatford 1 Road between Shillingthorpe Park and Greatford 2 Road between Shillingthorpe Park and Greatford 3

Greatford Hall lies beyond its boundary wall, a handsome rebuild in pale Lincolnshire limestone of the old country house where during the 18th century Dr Francis Willis practised pioneering forms of psychiatric treatment. His patients were misfortunate gentlemen of quality, the most illustrious of whom was the occasionally demented King George III.

In the village church alongside we found a bust of Dr Willis, bald and benign. The memorial eulogised the good doctor, ‘happily the chief agent in removing the malady which affected the present majesty in the year 1789’. The physician’s kindliness and benevolence were attested ‘by the tears and lamentations which followed him to the grave.’

With this touching image in mind we left Greatford and struck out north across the flat South Lincolnshire landscape, following the twisty Macmillan Way under a sky of grey and pink clouds. A proper midwinter afternoon, with floods gleaming in the fields beside the East Glen River and bushy-headed willows leaning over their reflections in the streaky water.

This is a countryside where church steeples have only the skeletal pylons as rivals for skyline prominence. The slender tower and spire of St Faith’s at Wilsthorpe beckoned us from afar. Inside, a dusty stone knight, perhaps a Mortimer, lay recumbent in a corner of the sanctuary, legs crossed at the knee to commemorate his two crusades, a purse and sword at his elaborate belt. The sculptor had furrowed the warrior’s brow with deeply incised lines, giving him a curiously worried expression.

Down the lane in Braceborough, little fierce stone lions guarded the label stops of the church windows. A mistle thrush was stabbing slots in a pile of apples that had fallen across the fence into the graveyard.

The homeward path led south over big fields of winter wheat, the slithery mud pocked with deer slots. In Shillingthorpe Park lumps and bumps in the wide grassland showed where immaculate parkland had superseded a medieval settlement. Trees had swallowed what little remains of Shillingthorpe Hall, a fine mansion which once housed a group of Dr Willis’s psychiatric patients.

Beyond the woods the West Glen River ran swift and swollen, stained bright yellow with floody mud. Towards nightfall we followed a quiet country road back into Greatford as a band of rooks flew chuckling and chattering overhead towards some distant roost.

How hard is it? 5½ miles, easy; field paths and country roads. NB can be wet around West and East Glen Rivers – take wellingtons in case!

Start: Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Greatford, near Stamford PE9 4PX (OS ref TF 086119). Park near Hare & Hounds PH.

Getting there: Bus 45 from Stamford (Call Connect, 0345-263-8253))
Road – Greatford is signed off A6121 (Stamford-Bourne) at Carlby, between Essendine and Toft.

Walk (OS Explorer 234): From NE corner of churchyard, path to road. Left; in 150m pass Ash Lodge on right; on next left bend, fork right on Macmillan Way/MW (086122, fingerpost). Follow MW through fields (fingerposts, yellow arrows) for 1¼ miles, crossing East Glen River (089131), to road opposite St Faith’s Church, Wilsthorpe (092136). Left; in 150m, left (091138, ‘Braceborough’). Follow road for 1 mile to Braceborough. Left at Village Hall (081131) to visit St Margaret’s Church and return to Village Hall; right for 600m to cross Greatford road (079126). Follow path through fields for nearly 1 mile to join MW in Shillingthorpe Park. Left (072116, fingerpost) on MW to road (075111); left for 1 mile to Greatford.

Lunch: Hare & Hounds, Greatford PE9 4QA (01778-560332) – open Mon-Fri, 2-9; Sat, Sun, 12-10.

Accommodation: Crown Hotel, Stamford PE9 2AG (01780-763136,

Info: Stamford TIC (01780-755611);

 Posted by at 03:57
Jan 202024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Trawlers at Eyemouth 1 Trawlers at Eyemouth 2 Trawlers at Eyemouth 3 Eyemouth 1881 fishing disaster memorial Looking back past Eyemouth to St Abbs Head Tilted greywacke cliffs near Eyemouth 1 Tilted greywacke cliffs near Eyemouth 2 Greywacke folds in the cliffs near Eyemouth 1 Looking south over Burnmouth and Ross 1 Greywacke folds in the cliffs near Eyemouth 2 Looking south over Burnmouth and Ross 2 Looking south over Burnmouth and Ross 3 Burnmouth harbour

Nearing the border where Scotland hands over to England, the cliffs of the south Berwickshire coast form a spectacularly folded and tilted rampart, partly ancient volcanic outpourings, partly sedimentary rock some 430 million years old with the curiously pleasing name of greywacke. Tucked away at the back of a sea-sculpted hollow lies the old fishing and smuggling town of Eyemouth, pungent with a whiff of fish and a smack of salt.

On the cliff path south of Eyemouth I stopped to watch the waves dashing in white foam on the Hurkers, jagged black teeth of rock at the entrance to the bay. On that reef and adjacent cliffs the Eyemouth fishing fleet was wrecked in a vicious autumn squall in 1881 that claimed the lives of nearly two hundred local fishermen in the space of a few hours. A devastating toll for the little town, and the stumpy, storm-proof build of the modern trawlers sheltering in the harbour today told of a sea that has lost none of its deadly power.

On a ledge of rock high above the waves a solitary figure in a yellow oilskin was wedged for a gull’s-eye view of the dramatic pull and suck exerted by the sea on its timeless mission to whittle away the land grain by grain. A last northward glimpse of Eyemouth sprawling down its cliffs and the lighthouse on St Abbs Head beyond, and I faced into a strong southeast wind laden with salt spray.

At Hurker’s Haven the sea has taken a great bite out of the cliffs, exposing green, red and yellow layers of rock scrunched up together by ancient subterranean upheavals like a Danish pastry squashed in a giant’s fist. Near the crest stood a wartime lookout, a plain concrete hut transformed into a child’s dream eyrie with fun-size table and chairs, a couple of pictures and a toy boat.

Beyond Hurker’s Haven the path ran between the cliff edge and fields stretching inland. The sea murk cleared to reveal the English coastline running away south. A tiny blob some fifteen miles off was Lindisfarne Castle, with an even tinier Bamburgh Castle beyond, both strongholds apparently floating far out at sea.

Now the long pincers of Burnmouth Harbour came into view with the houses of Ross beyond, twin fishing settlements clinging to the base of the cliffs where the waves rolled and retreated. The bent-up cliffs and solid breakwaters made a striking contrast with the diffuse energy and hunger of the sea, and I gazed my fill before turning for home with wind and spray at my back.

How hard is it? 9 miles there and back; easy; clifftop paths

Start: Eyemouth Seafront car park, High Street, Eyemouth TD14 5EY (OS ref NT 944644) – free

Getting there: Bus 235 (Berwick-upon-Tweed to Eyemouth)
Road: Eyemouth is on A1107 (signposted off A1 between Berwick-upon-Tweed and St Abbs)

Walk: (OS Explorer 346): Facing sea, bear right along harbour. At corner, right. In 500m, beside Quayside Chandlery (945641), left up causeway; left along fishing boat moorings. In 600m road curves right; on this bend keep ahead (948645) to post with arrow, and follow cliff path (posts with arrows) round edge of golf course. Follow ‘Coastal Path’ signs along cliff edge for 3¾ miles to road at Burnmouth (955610). Bear left (‘Coastal Path’) down road to Burnmouth Harbour and on along shore road to Ross community at far end (963604). Return to Eyemouth by outward route, or by bus from Burnmouth.

Lunch: Oblò Bar and Restaurant, 18-20, Harbour Road, Eyemouth TD14 5HU (01890-752527,

Accommodation: The Ship’s Quarters, Harbour Road, Eyemouth TD14 5HT (01890-769515,


 Posted by at 01:54
Jan 132024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Deckless clapper bridge at Bellever 1 Bellever Tor Laughter Man standing stone Granite rocks of Bellever Tor 1 Granite rocks of Bellever Tor 2 Granite rocks of Bellever Tor 3 Deckless clapper bridge at Bellever 2 Stone circle on Lakehead Hill Kraps Ring ancient settlement Granite rocks of Bellever Tor 4 Deckless clapper bridge at Bellever 3 Deckless clapper bridge at Bellever 5 Deckless clapper bridge at Bellever 4

Postbridge lies more or less in the middle of Dartmoor, its main attraction the medieval clapper bridge that crosses the East Dart River. Early on this brisk morning I had the bridge with its great granite slabs and piled supports to myself.

Out on the open moor a broad grassy bridlepath ran south through pale wiry grass. All round the long skyline of the moor swelled, its smooth undulations broken by the hard outlines of granite tors.

Down in a sheltered hollow the white cottages of Bellever lay cradled in dark forestry. The village has its own clapper bridge; the central slab is missing, and it would be a brave leaper who dared the jump.

A gravel roadway led through the conifers of Bellever forest to where Laughter Hole Farm lay silent and derelict among ancient trees trailing long green beards of usnea lichen. Beyond the farm the track headed on across the moor, wide open country all round, low ridges and hidden valleys, stunted thorns and willows dotting the coarse grass.

I turned off along a green track to pass the Laughter Man, a 10-ft tall standing stone on the slope of Laughter Tor. From here Bellever Tor stood tall on the western skyline, a jumble of granite that resolved itself as I got nearer into piles of flat wind-sculpted rocks stacked like grey pancakes. Near the top Dartmoor ponies grazed, glancing at me from under their rock star fringes.

It might have been the arresting profile of Bellever Tor that caused our ancient ancestors to construct their sacred sites across the slopes of Lakehead Hill. I followed a rough path through the tussocks, stumbling upon stone circles, a cist burial under a flat capstone, and a row of twelve tooth-like stones carefully aligned with the rising and setting of the sun.

There was something about these obscure monuments half buried in the moor grass that made me linger in their presence far longer than I’d intended to. Walking on at last, I thought of Tom White of Postbridge, a lovelorn suitor who dallied too long with his girlfriend. The pixies of Bellever Tor caught him on the way home and taught him a lesson by making him dance from midnight till dawn.

How hard is it? 5¾ miles; moderate; rough moorland paths. No recommended in mist.

Start: Bellever Forest car park, Postbridge PL20 6TH (OS ref SX 647786)

Getting there: Bus 98 (Tavistock-Yelverton)
Road – Postbridge is on B3212 between Moretonhampstead and Two Bridges

Walk (OS Explorer OL28): From car park, follow signs to clapper bridge (649788). Just before bridge, turn south off road (‘Bridleway’); up steps onto moor. In ⅔ mile at gate (652778) cross track; bridleway descends into Bellever. At road, left (656773) to clapper bridge (659773). Return along road; left through forest car park; follow track past Laughter Hole Farm (659759). On up hill (‘Country Road B3157’ fingerpost). At gate leave trees (658755); ahead (‘Dunnabridge Pound’). In 500m at cross-tracks (654752), right past Laughter Man standing stone (653753); on towards Bellever Tor. In ½ mile through/over gate (646758); right on grassy track to Bellever Tor summit (645764). Down broad path towards forest; in 400m, fork left (646767) on path up right flank of tussocky Lakehead Hill between forestry blocks. Follow it for 1 mile past cairn circle and cist (644774), stone row (644776) and stone circle (644777) to Kraps Ring settlement (645781). Path through trees beyond (post ‘5A’); in 200m, right on track, then left to Postbridge.

Lunch/Accommodation: East Dart Inn, Postbridge PL20 6TJ (01822-880213)

Info: Visitor Centre, Postbridge (01822-880272,

 Posted by at 03:34
Jan 062024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Looking north from the head of Buttermere around Gatesgarth St James's Church, Buttermere Herdwick sheep in foreground; Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks beyond Buttermere lake foot looking across Buttermere toward Robinson looking across Buttermere to Hassnesshow Beck and Robinson Fleetwith Pike at the head of Buttermere Misty light on Fleetwith Pike and Hindscarth Edge Looking south across Buttermere towards High Crag and High Stile Looking south across Buttermere towards High Stile and Red Pike

A cold morning in midwinter after a night of wild weather across the Lake District fells and valleys. The weatherman said all was set to clear to sunshine by midday, but it was still blowing a hooley on the tops as we dipped down the narrow mountain road to Buttermere village.

From the tiny settlement on its isthmus between Buttermere and Crummock Water, tough guys and gals wrapped in cocoons of winter clothing were heading for the heights. We were after something more modest today, the low-level circuit of Buttermere that’s one of the peachiest short winter walks in the Lakes.

We ducked into the diminutive Church of St James at the entrance to the village to gaze out of the window dedicated to supreme guidebook writer and illustrator Alfred Wainwright. The glass is perfectly blank; no need for any coloured image when the window frames a perfect view of Haystacks, the Master’s favourite peak where his ashes were scattered.

Broad-faced Herdwick sheep in the valley-bottom pastures saw us off around the lake, staring as though they’d never seen a human being before. At the far end of Buttermere, Fleetwith Pike rose magnificently, a sharp angle of fell running up to a peak with the knobbly spine of Haystacks alongside.

Soon these easterly fells were hidden by the lemon-yellow larches and wind-tattered silver birches and sycamores of Burtness Wood. Sourmilk Gill came rushing down its rocky cleft with tremendous noise and presence, a tumble of multiple strings of white water issuing from invisible Bleaberry Tarn high overhead. Up there the crumpled peaks marched southeast along the flanks of the valley – Red Pike and High Stile beside us, Grasmoor and Robinson opposite, two thousand feet above.

Every hillside stream was a torrent today, sluicing over mats of moss and liverworts in miniature waterfalls, coursing across the path. But as we reached the lake head the promised sun materialised over the shoulder of High Crag, flooding the fells with brilliant gold light.

From Gatesgarth Farm and the hump-backed valley road we took the homeward path along the northern shore. A flock of Canada geese with white chinstraps and shirt fronts bobbed on the lake, discussing our passing with hen-like clucks and coos. A rock scramble and a short splashy tunnel through an outcrop, and we descended to Wilkinsyke Farm at Buttermere village, as eager for tea and stickies as though we’d truly been storming the heights.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy gradients, but rough underfoot; lakeside tracks.
Start: Buttermere village car park, CA13 9UZ (OS ref NY 174169)

Getting there: Bus 77A from Keswick.
Road – Buttermere is signed from Borrowdale (B5289) and from B5292 at Braithwaite (A66 Keswick – Cockermouth).

Walk (OS Explorer OL4): From car park, through kissing gate; right along path (‘Lake’, then ‘Buttermere’). In 600m at gate with NT contribution box (174164), right; continue on track along south side of Buttermere for 2 miles to Gatesgarth Farm at lake head (195149). Left along B5289 (take care! narrow road with bends); in 600m, left off road (192154, fingerpost ‘Buttermere village’). Follow north side path. In 700m, short rock scramble at 187158 approx; short tunnel follows. At foot of lake, keep ahead at fork (178164, fingerposts) to Wilkinsyke Farm and road (176169). Left to car park.

Lunch: Syke Farm Tea Room, Wilkinsyke, Buttermere (01768-770277)

Accommodation: Bridge Hotel, Buttermere (01768-770252,; Buttermere Court Hotel, Buttermere (01768-770253,

South side path, through rough and rocky in places, is recommended for wheelchair users in ‘Accessible Walks in the Lake District & Cumbria’ by Mike Routledge (Pathfinder Guides;

 Posted by at 01:08
Dec 232023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
lakes at Armsworth Park 1 lakes at Armsworth Park 2 In the fields near Godsfield Farm 1 In the fields near Godsfield Farm 2 The ancient Ox Drove and its tangled hedges 1 The ancient Ox Drove and its tangled hedges 2

A pigeon was performing its soft and melancholy dirge as we left Upper Wield on a quiet morning. Thatched roofs peeped over immaculately kept hedges around the village green. Everything was neat and orderly – even the fingerpost pointing the way was handsomely carved in wood.

Out in the fields the Three Castles Path, dinted with horseshoe prints in the sticky mud, made west in the skirts of Barton Copse and Wield Wood. The still sky overhead was packed with heavy-bellied clouds, and soon a mizzly drizzle came our way – not honest rain, but a wetting miasma that blurred all views.

In the shallow valley to the south below Armsworth House a couple of recently created lakes winked like steely eyes in a wide sweep of shaven grass. Beside the path lay carefully seeded meadows and a plantation of young oak, cherry and field maple, each sapling in its swaddling band of biodegradable tree guard. Everything in view spoke of thought and money, plenty of both, invested judiciously with the future health of the countryside in mind.

The shower passed, and blackbirds and thrushes struck up. I began to hum the ‘after-the-storm’ bit from the Pastoral Symphony. A green woodpecker shot out of Godsfield Copse like a bolt from a crossbow, cackling manically as it sped away across the maize stubbles.

The name of Godsfield holds a clue. In the 12th century the Knights Hospitallers founded a preceptory or monastery here, and around two centuries later a chapel (now in private hands) was built at Godsfield. We saw its pitched roof rising beyond a garden wall as we passed Godsfield Farm and headed south for the ancient trackway of the Ox Drove.

Cattle and sheep were driven for many centuries along this wide highway between Old Sarum and its junction with the Harroway, oldest road in Britain, at Five Lanes End near Basingstoke. Evocative names, and there is another style for the old drove road too – the Lunway, from the Scandinavian ‘lundr’ or sacred wood.

No sacred forests surround the Ox Drove today – just thick hedges enclosing the flint-floored trackway, twenty metres from edge to edge, as it carried us through the gently swelling landscape towards journey’s end.

How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; field paths and trackways.

Start: Upper Wield, near Alresford SO24 9RU approx (OS ref SU 630387)

Getting there: Bus 41 (Basingstoke-Alresford), Wed and Fri
Road – Upper Wield is signed from B3046 (Basingstoke-Alresford) at Preston Candover.

Walk (OS Explorer OL32): From phone box, follow ‘Preston Candover’. In 100m left (‘Church’); then follow bridleway fingerposts/FPs (Three Castles Path). In 2¼ miles, 250m beyond end of Godsfield Copse, left along farm drive (598374). In ⅓ mile pass Godsfield Cottage (601371); follow drive past chapel (605370) to road (606367). Right; in ⅓ mile on right bend, left (604361) up drive (‘Lower Lanham’). In 50m, right (FP) through kissing gate/KG. Up field to KG; half left across field. At far side (607356), left along field edge; in 100m, dogleg right/left to join broad Ox Drove Way track between hedges. In 1¼ miles pass Upper Lanham Farm (620368); in ½ mile fork left through gate (627373) on track bending left to road (627377). Left to junction; left (‘Armsworth’); in 300m right (624378, stile, FP). Through KG; on beside Barton Copse. In 300m, cross stile (626380), then left through hedge. Half right across 2 fields to Three Castles Path (628386); right to Upper Wield.

Lunch: Yew Tree, Lower Wield SO24 9RX (01256-389224,

Accommodation: Swan Hotel, West Street, New Alresford SO24 9AD (01962-732302,


 Posted by at 01:14
Dec 162023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
chalk track to the Ridgeway dry valley with cultivation and erosion terraces on the way to the Ridgeway The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 2 The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 1 The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 3 The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 4 The Ridgeway near Ridgeway Farm permissive path through Eastbrook Valley tower of Ashdown House Ashdown House in its misty valley

It was scarf and frozen fingers weather over the Wiltshire Downs on a murky, muted morning. As we left Bishopstone the village children were prancing to school past the thatched houses with their walls of clunch or chalk blocks. ‘David Beal, Master of Thatch’ proclaimed a board outside a cottage, with the proof of the pudding on show all through the twisty byways of Bishopstone.

Chaffinches sang us off along an ivy-tangled lane that led to a dry valley with medieval strip lynchets lying in parallel ledges along the slopes. We threaded our way among a flock of recumbent sheep, the gently rising track turning from grass green to chalky white as it reached the Ridgeway on the crest ahead.

The ancient ridge track, a dozen paces wide, was potholed and puddled. A blackbird sang with piercing sweetness from a hawthorn twig just above our heads, so close and unafraid that we could see the working of its throat and the trembling of its bright orange beak with every phrase.

A line of leafless beeches kept the wind from the sheds at Ridgeway Farm. Here we turned south past a pig farm, the pink incumbents scampering away as though stung simultaneously into flight. Solitary crows stalked the plough furrows around the dishearteningly named Starveall Farm, and a shaggy-legged horse with a white nose blaze came up to accept a handful of grass from the greener side of the fence.

At the top of the track we turned east with red kites cutting circles overhead. There were big views to far downland ridges north and south, and as we descended the slope of Idstone Down a fine prospect ahead to the tall white shape of Ashdown House, a grand hunting lodge built in the 17th century for Elizabeth Stuart, elder sister of King Charles I and sometime Queen of Bohemia.

Elizabeth had a curious life, targeted by the Gunpowder Plotters at nine years old to be a hostage and puppet Catholic monarch, then in her teenage years as marriage fodder for the European monarchies. She was nobody’s stooge, however, but a highly educated and accomplished person with a passion for literature and language.

We passed the clamorous rookery in Swinley Copse and followed a wide valley track up to turn for home along the Ridgeway. A permissive path led us aside down a steep, twisting valley, quiet and beautiful, and we beat the rain into Bishopstone by a very short head.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; downland tracks

Start: Royal Oak, Bishopstone, Swindon SN6 8PP (OS ref SU 247837)

Getting there: Bus 47 (Lambourn–Swindon)
Road: signed from A419, Swindon-Cricklade (M4, Jct 15)

Walk: Between Bishopstone Stores and Village Hall, take pathway (‘Ridgeway’) to road (247836). Right; right up Nell Hill. In 150m fork right (‘Ridgeway’). Follow ‘Ridgeway’ signs up valley to The Ridgeway (249823). Left; in ⅓ mile at Ridgeway Farm, right (253827, ‘Public Right of Way’) along track. In ¾ mile climb slope; at top, left at track crossing (259810); in 100m, fork left (260809, arrows). In ¼ mile through gate (265809, blue arrow); on along fence. In ½ mile bear half left (273810, ‘Ashdown’) to cross stile. Keep same direction downhill, pass Swinley Copse (276816); in 100m in valley bottom, left on grassy track (277818). In 1⅓ mile, left along The Ridgeway (264835). In ⅓ mile, right over stile (260832, ‘Permissive Path’). After next stile, bear left down Eastbrook Valley. At bottom, through squeeze stile (251834); down track to road (249837); left (take care!) into Bishopstone.

Lunch/Accommodation: Royal Oak, Bishopstone (01793-790481, – superb throughout.


 Posted by at 01:34