Jun 152024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Throwley Old Hall 1 Limestone cliff of Beeston Tor Manifold Trail descending to Beeston Tor view from the road to Throwley Old Hall 1 descending from Throwley Old Hall towards Manifold Valley Throwley Old Hall, Staffs 2 road to Throwley Old Hall secret dale to Rushley water catchment reservoir above Soles Hollow common spotted orchid Throwley Old Hall, Staffs 3 looking down to junction of Hamps and Manifold Valleys strip lynchets on the way to Throwley Old Hall Greater butterfly orchid in Rushley dale roadblock at Slade House Farm

The River Hamps is a winterbourne, only flowing after winter rains, and on this warm cloudy summer’s day it was a bushy green channel of butterbur leaves smothering the dry stones of its bed.

Setting off from humpbacked Weag’s Bridge, I followed the Manifold Way’s cycle path past the looming cliff of Beeston Tor, its grey limestone face seamed with cracks and caves. The path snaked to and fro across the dry Hamps, the verges spattered with yellow rattle and common spotted orchids.

A side path led up through Old Soles Wood and on up Soles Hollow into open sheep country. I crossed the long ridge of Mere Hill with spectacular views east to the gorge of the River Manifold and the tent-shaped upthrust of Bunster Hill at the entrance to Dovedale. These iconic hills, dales and uplands of the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border are a walker’s dream, and it felt like a privileged moment to have them grouped together in one prospect.

At Slade House I found a big cream-coloured bull blocking the farm drive. He seemed dopy and drowsy among his harem, but we hadn’t been formally introduced, so I hopped a stone wall and bypassed the bovine roadblock.

Below Slade House a deep and sinuous dale, seemingly nameless, runs eastward. As soon as I got into it I found slopes of unimproved grassland thick with wild flowers – intense blue milkwort, harebells nodding on slender stalks, and masses of greeny-white greater butterfly orchids. What a treat to be walking here.

Things soon got a little more challenging as the path wriggled under sycamores and hazels in a dank, damp tangle of herbage. I walked with head bowed, watching for slippery stones, and hands raised out of the way of stinging nettles, like a surrendering soldier in a jungle.

Out of the stingers at last, I came to the tumbledown farm and neat holiday cottages of Rushley, and turned up the long open-sided road to Throwley Hall farm. On a knoll rose the blackened stone ruin of Throwley Old Hall, tall and stark, its Tudor mullioned windows looking out blankly over medieval ridge-and-furrow fields to the deeply carved cleft of the Manifold Valley.

I sat and stared, munching an apple, while the Throwley cattle came to the wall and stared at me.

How hard is it? 7 miles; moderate; field and woodland tracks

Start: Weag’s Bridge, Grindon ST13 7TX (OS ref SK 100541)

Getting there: A523 (Leek-Waterhouses); at Bottom House, B5053 (‘Warslow’). In 1½ miles, right to Grindon; then ‘Manifold Valley’ to car park on left before Weag’s Bridge.

Walk: Pass bridge (don’t cross); ahead on cycle path (Manifold Way/MW). In ¾ mile after 3rd bridge, left off MW (101534, gate, ‘Old Soles Wood’) up woodland path. In ⅓ mile through gate (100529); up cleft. In 500m left through gate (102525, yellow arrow/YA); right along wall for ½ mile to cross road (104517). Follow drive to Slade House (107510). Through farmyard (fingerpost ‘Calton’), then gate (YA). Grass path to next gate (107508); fork left (stile), down hedge to bottom. Left (107504, gate, YA) along dale bottom path for 1½ miles to road at Rushley (124514). Left; in 100m, left up road (‘Manifold Trail’/MT). In 1 mile pass Throwley Old Hall (111525); on to farmyard; left (‘Calton’). Immediately dogleg right/left through wicket gate (110526, YA, MT). Half right to corner of wall (108528); track to gate beside trees (108529); down slope to gate (107533, MT); follow MT back to Weag’s Bridge.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Black Lion Inn, Butterton, Leek ST13 7SP (01538-304232, – everything you could want in a comfortable, welcoming village inn.


 Posted by at 04:10
Jun 082024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
view from Red Flats lane Blue Stocking Lane half absorbed in oats Blue Stocking Lane Hangingside Lane stone-cobbled Hollinhill Lane 2 stone-cobbled Hollinhill Lane shady corner of a cornfield off Hollinhill Lane. Looking back from Hollinhill Lane to the Boat Inn Chesterfield Canal near Hayton

The Nottinghamshire countryside east of Retford lies low and rolling, a mosaic of isolated farmhouses and fields connected by a very extensive network of old green lanes. Wide and rutted between ancient hedgerows full of wildlife, these grassy lanes are a rare survival, a reminder of what all back-country roads were like before the advent of tarmac and the motor car.

We set off from the Boat Inn by the Chesterfield Canal in Hayton under a pale blue midsummer sky hazy with heat. A bit of breeze from the east took the sting out of the sun as we followed Hollinhill Lane’s cobbled course between fields of barley shaded by ash trees and field maple with bright pink seed pods. Bringing my nose close to one of the dog roses in the hedge I caught a scent as sweet as a breath of perfume.

We turned along Hangingside Lane, green with hip-high grasses, its surface bumpy with bricks and shiny shards of vitreous china. An acid-yellow brimstone butterfly kettered energetically among the roses, and the pale brown bristly heads of sun-dried teasels trembled in the breeze.

A footpath led away across a beanfield, making a beeline for the cooling towers at West Burton power station, their slim-waisted shapes as graceful and iconic as a Henry Moore sculpture. Skylarks sang over the young bean plants, each white petal with its sooty ‘eye’ giving the illusion of a forest full of miniature pandas staring out at the intruder.

A quick dash across the busy A620 and we were swallowed up in the greenery of Blue Stocking Lane. No earnest salons of rural intellectuals here; instead, brown cows somnolently munching their cud in the pastures on either side, and a chiffchaff giving out its two-tone manifesto among the leaves of a bird cherry.

West along rutted Red Flats Lane, the meadows on either side coursing with wind ripples through their grasses. Scribbly whitethroat song from the hedges, a delicate funnel of spider web centred on a dark hole in the dirt, and a lane leading down to Clarborough and the Chesterfield Canal.

We followed the towpath north back towards Hayton among yellow flags and under humpbacked bridges. Fish made concentric rings on the water as they snatched unwary midges, and a black cat prowled the reeds on its stealthy evening patrol.

How hard is it? 5¾ miles; easy; green lanes, canal towpath

Start: Boat Inn, Townend Bridge, Hayton DN22 9LF (OS ref SK 728852). Please ask permission to park; please give inn your custom!

Getting there: Bus 97 (Retford–Gainsborough)
Road: Hayton is on B1403, signed in Clarborough from A620 (Retford–Beckingham)

Walk (OS Explorer 271): From Boat Inn cross road; down Burntleys Road; immediately right. In 150m at 3-way junction, take middle lane (‘Hollinhill Lane’) on map. In ½ mile at T-junction, right on Hangingside Lane (738853). In ½ mile pass end of Goit Lane on left; in 150m, left (737845, ‘public footpath’) across fields, aiming for cooling towers. Cross A620 (747847; fast road, please take care!). Down Blue Stocking Lane opposite (‘Public Bridleway’). In ⅓ mile, just after dogleg, ahead at right bend (750842) down green lane. In ½ mile lane widens; right here (753835) along Red Flats Lane. In 1 mile at tarmac road, left (740836) for ½ mile to recross A620 in Clarborough (732834). Along Little Lane; in 400m at T-junction, right (727834) across Parish Pasture. At far right corner pass netball court to road; left over bridge; right along canal (727837) for 1 mile to Townend Bridge (No. 66) and Boat Inn.

Lunch/Accommodation: Boat Inn, Hayton (01777-717534,


 Posted by at 04:06
Jun 012024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
path by Buckden Beck 1 path by Buckden Beck 2 view over Wharfedale stone walls of Wharfedale path by Buckden Beck 3 narrow cleft with the path by Buckden Beck path by Buckden Beck 4 lead mine spoil in the cleft of Buckden Beck 1 remains of Buckden Lead Mine looking back down Buckeden Beck valley to Wharfedale path by Buckden Beck 5 lead mine spoil in the cleft of Buckden Beck 2 track descending to Buckden cottongrass covers the upland moor below Buckden Pike looking down to Cray on the descent to Buckden

This walk starts along one of the most beautiful waterside paths in the Yorkshire Dales, a cornucopia of waterfalls, limpid pools, wild flowers and birds of the uplands. Buttery yellow bird’s-foot trefoil, salad burnet, golden tormentil and rock rose; blue of milkwort and insectivorous butterwort on lime-green leaf rosettes, early purple orchid still in bloom – the banks of the beck were spattered with the bright colours of low-growing plants well sheltered in the narrow valley.

The beck came jumping from pool to pool, sluicing down rocky cliffs hung with dense mats of sodden mosses. Its trickle and bounce, the energy in its scouring of flat stone and moulding of flanking rocks were in tune with the dipper who bobbed and curtsied on a branch of hawthorn overhanging a pool, and with the ring ouzel – rare bird of the uplands – that streaked away low and hard with a flash of its white collar.

In the dark little hollow where the first tall waterfall hissed down its rock face, the path made a hairpin bend and climbed precariously to a narrow cleft in the limestone outcrop up which we scrambled. A repeat performance above the second fall, and the climb eased off.

Up ahead the vee of the valley was blocked by a great orange-yellow heap of spoil from the Buckden Lead Mine that once roared and hammered up in this remote spot. We passed broken buildings and rubble-strewn ground scattered with the tiny white flowers of spring sandwort, a metallophyte or plant capable of flourishing on ground polluted with heavy metals – a delicate entity to grace an industrial wasteland, albeit framed by green hills.

Up at the 702m summit of Buckden Pike we sat to catch our breath and take in the view – north over an immense lowland, south towards the Peak District, and west to where the Three Peaks of Yorkshire stood clear in their characteristic shapes – Whernside’s rising ridge, Ingleborough’s tall double hump, and the sloping leonine profile of Penyghent.

The long descent across the moor and through a network of stone walls was glorified by the sunlit westerly prospect up Langstrothdale, the dale sides undulating downward in a smooth succession of limestone ribs and sloping green pasture, an encapsulation of all that makes the Yorkshire Dales such wonderful walking country.

How hard is it? 5 miles; strenuous. NB A walk for agile, sure-footed walkers, properly shod. Narrow path with unguarded drops; some rock scrambling along Buckden Beck.

Start: National Park car park, Buckden BD23 5JA (OS ref SD 943773)

Getting there: Bus 72B (Grassington-Buckden), 874 (Leeds, Ilkley) Sun, BH
Road: Buckden is on B6160 between Cray and Kettlewell (signed from A684 Leyburn-Aysgarth)

Walk (OS Explorer OL30): Leave car park through gate (‘Cray Hill Bridge, Buckden Pike’). Right (‘Buckden Lead Mines’) along wall, then left on path on left bank of Buckden Beck. Path soon becomes narrow and twisting. Just before first tall waterfall, path hairpins back to left (947776 approx), then short scramble up rock outcrop. Same again just before second tall fall (948776 approx). Above second fall, cross fence before changing to path on right bank. In ½ mile at mine site (954781), up left side of spoil heap, on into ruins. Just before arched entrance, left on path (wall on left). In 100m right uphill beside wall on left. Follow this clear path uphill for 800m to angle of wall (961786). Left (ladder stile) to trig pillar on Buckden Pike (961788). Ahead by wall; then follow clear path, slippery and rocky in places, for 2¼ miles back to Buckden.

Lunch/Accommodation: Buck Inn, Buckden BD23 5JA (01756-761933,

Info: National Park Visitor Centre, Grassington (01756-751690,

 Posted by at 02:17
May 252024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
path through the oilseed rape our cohort of cattle, Peatling Parva 1 our cohort of cattle, Peatling Parva 2 buttercup meadow near Peatling Parva 1 buttercup meadow near Peatling Parva 2 brook near Peatling Parva All Saints Church, Peatling Magna 1 grotesque head in All Saints Church, Peatling Magna Trim hedgeside path near Bruntingthorpe All Saints Church, Peatling Magna 2

A sunlit late spring day in Leicestershire, the lush grass shin high in the pastures, enough dandelion clocks in the uncut meadows to teach the time to every child in Peatling Parva.

Young cattle blew and sighed as they followed us timidly among floods of buttercups. There were kingcups in the little trickling slip of a brook, and campion as pink as nail polish in the field margins. The hawthorns along the Leicestershire Round path were so thickly laden with may flowers it looked as though a giant had shaken a nine-league flour dredger over the gentle dip and roll of the landscape.

With a flutter of wings a skylark flew down to perch for a moment on a fence post, dull gold breast streaked with chocolate, crest flattened to its crown like a wonky toupee.

Ahead the steeple of All Saints Church at Peatling Magna rode the ridge of a cornfield. The heavy 19th-century slate gravestones of the Wayte family formed a guard of honour to the south door. Inside were the magnificently etched alabaster tombs of the Jervis family, husbands and wives lying on top in Tudor and Stuart dress, their many children ranged round the sides.

Up in the roof strange faces leered down – bosses fashioned with mischievous humour by some anonymous medieval wood carver. A hedgehog grinned, a lion waggled its tongue and a moustachioed Green Man looked out from a rosette of leaves.

From the church we headed east across old green earthworks, the remains of the manorial fishponds and gardens. Medieval ridge and furrow striped the fields beyond in green and gold, deep grassy furrows interspersed with ridges carpeted with buttercups.

On Lutterworth Road we met a procession of men in outsize handlebar moustaches and formed attire astride ancient eructating motorbikes – participants in the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. A thoroughly splendid cavalcade, whose roaring and growling formed a gradually fading soundtrack to our trudge across ploughland to Bruntingthorpe.

We were sorely tempted to take tea outside the Joiners pub. But the prospect of Sunday roasts at the Shires Inn in Peatling Parva won the battle. We followed the homeward path through blue-green wheatfields where the afternoon sun had brought out a fine hatch of butterflies – orangetips, tortoise shells and peacocks.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; field paths

Start: The Shires Inn, Peatling Parva, Lutterworth LE17 5PU (OS ref SP 589894)

Getting there: Bruntingthorpe, then Peatling Parva, signed from A5199 (Leicester-Husbands Bosworth)

Walk (OS Explorer 233): Right along road; just before church, right (590896, fingerpost/FP). Stile into field; fork left (FP) to double gate by pond (591897). Cross field to kissing gate/KG (yellow-topped post/YTP). Follow path (YTPs, KGs, stiles, yellow arrows) for ½ mile to path T-junction (598904). Right; cross stream (footbridge, YTP). Left along hedge on Leicestershire Round path (YTP) for 1 mile to road junction (594920). Right up bank (FP); aim for stile/KG on right of Peatling Magna church (596924). Right on path (YTPs) to road bend (598921). Cross grass triangle, KG/YTP into field, and on for ¾ mile to Lutterworth Road (609916). Right, in 300m on right bend, left (608914, ‘Bruntingthorpe’) across fields for 1 mile to Bruntingthorpe (NB some YTPs are obscured by hedge growth. GPS is helpful hereabouts). At Bruntingthorpe ahead on concrete roadway to road (604898); right; left down Church Walk. Follow YAs and YTPs past church (601897) and on (YTPs) for ¾ mile to Peatling Parva.

Lunch: The Shires, Peatling Parva (0116-247-8271,

Accommodation: Greyhound Inn, Market St, Lutterworth LE17 4EJ (01455-553307,

Info: Leicester TIC (0116-299-4444);

 Posted by at 01:08
May 112024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Monarch's Way in Hidcote Combe 1 Monarch's Way in Hidcote Combe 2 Buttercup pasture near Upper Quinton 1 Buttercup pasture near Upper Quinton 2 near Meon Hill looking to Upper Quinton from slopes of Meon Hill path beside oilseed rape crop

The three neighbouring counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire butt up against one another near Mickleton, and today’s walk would be shared between the latter two.

The houses of Mickleton stood in beautiful Cotswold stone, more cream than gold in colour. In the high wall of the manor house a line of musketry loopholes bore witness to the invasion fears of 1940.

In the buttercup pastures beyond St Lawrence’s Church, newly shorn ewes bleated in phlegmy voices for their fat-legged lambs. Steep green parkland slopes led us east below the Italianate red tiled roofs of Kiftsgate Court. The treble atonal humming of a swarm of bees, invisible but close overhead, made us duck as they flew by like a cloud of djinns.

From the footpath alongside Hidcote Manor’s gardens we glimpsed visitors in bright summer clothes strolling by flowerbeds and borders of every artful hue and design. Then it was out across the sloping fields of Hidcote Combe, following the Monarch’s Way above Marchfont Brook. Sheep snoozed and grazed under a cloudless sky where a vintage single-engined aeroplane purred like a throaty old cat – the sound of a warm summer’s afternoon.

Hidcote Combe is a sharp extremity of Gloucestershire, a finger rudely poking the backside of Warwickshire. At Admington Lane we crossed the county border and began to traverse the lower slopes of Meon Hill. This flat-topped hummock is laden with stories and superstitions ranging from witchcraft murders to the red-eared hell hounds of King Arawyn, Lord of the Netherworld.

All seemed as peaceful and rooted as could be on this day of glorious views across the Vale of Evesham. Yellowhammers wheezed among the hawthorns. We sat on a field headland for the pleasure of staring across many miles of sunlit countryside, down over acres of buttercup fields to the pale spire of Lower Quinton church backed by a distant line of low green hills.

Up and on at last across fields corrugated into ridge and furrow by medieval farmers. The long whaleback of Bredon Hill and the pale blue silhouette of the Malverns came into view as we followed the margin of a ploughed field sown with pumpkins, their varieties recorded on golden labels – Mellow Yellow, Gladiator, Hot Chocolate, Chucky. What would a literate ploughman of the Middle Ages have made of that?

How hard is it? 6¾ miles; easy; field paths

Start: St Lawrence’s Church, Mickleton, Glos GL55 6RZ (OS ref SP162435)

Getting there: Bus 21/22 (Stratford-Moreton-in-Marsh)
Road – B4632 (Stratford-Broadway)

Walk: Below church, through gate (‘Heart of England Way’/HEW); follow bridleway. In next field, gate (164434, blue arrow/BA, HEW); path with hedge on right. At next gate HEW goes right across stream (166431), but keep ahead, following BAs for ½ mile to road at gate (173430). Right for 40m; left (gate, fingerpost); fork left uphill (yellow arrows, kissing gate/KG) to cross top of Hidcote car park (177430). Left through gate; follow Monarch’s Way/MW (posts, waymarks) for 1⅓ mile to Admington Lane (187447). Right along road – take care! In ¼ mile, at Admington Road Farm, left (191446, stile); follow MW and Centenary Way/CW for ⅔ mile to road (185454) at Homeleigh. Dogleg right/left; follow MW/CW for ¾ mile to road in Upper Quinton (178462). Left; from ‘The Orchard’ follow HEW across fields (KGs). In ½ mile with wooden gate (‘Permissive Access’) ahead (122458), turn left through KG (white arrow). Right along hedge and on. In ⅓ mile, through woodland. On emerging (171452), right downhill; through KG (170451). Left along hedge; follow HEW to Mickleton.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Three Ways House Hotel, Chapel Lane, Mickleton GL55 6SB (01386-438429,

Info: Chipping Campden TIC (01386-841206)

 Posted by at 02:08
May 042024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The path across Barningham Moor 1 The Grey Stones Rabbit-dropping counters on an ancient gaming board? The path across Barningham Moor 2 Stone wall guide across Barningham Moor golden plover on alert

At a cattle-grid just outside Barningham we were scratching our heads over which way to go when the farmer pulled up on his quad. While his border collie watched us with deep suspicion from the passenger seat, he not only pointed out the way over Barningham Moor, but gave us chapter and verse on local lore – ancient mounds in the fields, solstice alignments, old trackways, drove roads.

A contented man with an enquiring mind. We left him shaking feed nuts out of a sack, surrounded by Swaledale ewes. A narrow road ribboned away across the green landscape. Barningham Moor is famous for its nesting birds, and today the cloudy sky was alive with curlews, lapwings and golden plover circling and calling, their haunting cries the very sound of springtime in the northern hills.

A cuckoo called from a clump of trees, then flew across us to perch in a thorn bush and resume its communication. Four tiny curlew chicks scampered among the heather shoots as their mother flew a circuit and piped to summon them together.

Lines of grouse butts stood among the heather and bilberry, but this moor is just as much about the conservation of wild birds as it is about shooting. It’s a place of long association with human activity, too. Not far from the road stood the Grey Stones, a monument constructed during Romano-British times, a circular embankment some forty metres across with big stones erected around the rim.

Just beyond the enclosure a large grey boulder held ancient carvings, four wedge-shaped incisions in a line, and six circular holes or cups at one corner, their triangular pattern suggesting the gaming board of some long-forgotten pastime. We left a rabbit dropping in each cup in case some spectral gambler from antiquity should happen by.

Opposite Haythwaite Farm a stony track led away into the heart of Barningham Moor. We followed it for miles under the cold grey sky, circling back towards Barningham with crunching stones underfoot. A path along the beautifully maintained stone wall of Barningham Park, then a track through quiet grassy parkland to pass handsome old Barningham Hall and rejoin the neat street and immaculate front gardens of the village once more.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; moorland road and tracks. No dogs, please (ground-nesting birds).

Start: Barningham village street, near Barnard Castle, Co Durham DL11 7DW (OS ref NZ 086103)

Getting there: Bus 79 (Richmond-Barnard Castle) – 1 a day.
Road: signed from A66 at Smallways between Scotch Corner and Barnard Castle.

Walk (OS Explorer OL30): Walk west up village street. At top of hill, right bend; in 150m fork left over cattle grid (079100). Follow road for 1½ miles to Haythwaite Farm (058090). Opposite house, left on stony track for 1¼ miles to gate at fork (066077). Left here, keeping wall on right. In 1 mile pass railway wagon and grouse butts (077087); keep to wall to go through gate at far corner (081091). Down along wall to next gate; down to gate in wall at trees (085093). Right; left over stile to bypass Park House farm sheds. Half left to gate in dip (086095); follow wall past black shed, round corner and on. In 500m wall bends left (093096); follow it down to cross stile. On beside wall. In 250m, left through kissing gate (093098). Ahead on grass track to turn left through park wall at far corner (091100, yellow arrow). Through plantation, past Barningham Hall, down drive to Barningham.

Lunch/Accommodation: Milbank Arms, Barningham DL11 7DW (01833-621955,


 Posted by at 01:09
Apr 272024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Springtime landscape near Benington 1 Springtime landscape near Benington 2 Springtime landscape near Benington 3 Springtime landscape near Benington 4 Springtime landscape near Benington 5 Springtime landscape near Benington 6 Springtime landscape near Benington 7 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 1 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 2 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 3 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 4 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 5 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 6 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 7 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 8 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 8a Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 9 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 10 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 11 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 12

The two renovators were busy lime-washing the chancel of Benington’s Church of St Peter, but they courteously moved their buckets and twitched back their plastic sheeting to let us wander around. Extraordinary stone carvings abound in St Peter’s – a pair of Green Men supporting the chancel arch, a gurning friar, face howling in terror, and the effigy of a king either plunging a sword into his own guts or trying to pluck it out.

No such dramas in the churchyard, overgrown or rewilded according to your point of view, the gravestones half drowned in cow parsley, buttercups and miniature cranesbill.

The whole village of medieval timber framed houses seemed awash with greenery this spring morning, and the elderly gardener leaning on his fork at the gate of Town Lane had all the time in the world to expound on the life and times of Benington. Lucky for us that the famed gardens of Benington Lordship hadn’t opened yet, or we would never have got away from this delightful spot.

A scribble of blackcap song, loud and melodic, followed us along the nettly verge of a barley field. Skylarks sang over the fields each side of the broad flinty track of Cotton Lane as it curled up and over the back of Great Brookfield Common.

A short stretch of High Elms Lane, a ridge road lined with pale pink campion and Jack-by-the-hedge, and we were following a shady green lane where enormous poplars trembled their ace-of-spade leaves in the wind.

A reviving sandwich and immaculately kept pint at the Lordship Arms on the crossroads in Burn’s Green, and we went on east past a dimple of ponds, walking a wide track through hay meadows waist-high with grass awaiting its first cut of the year.

The bridleway through Benington Park made a pale parting among the sombre blue-green of wheatfields. Here I picked up a big solid flint shaped and scalloped, perhaps a palaeolithic hand axe.

In a sea of silky green barley a fragment of hedge, thickly powdered with may blossom, showed where a country lane had once run. We crossed the fields to find Duck Lane, and turned homewards between banks of periwinkles spreading their royal blue petals like windmill sails.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; field paths and green lanes

Start: St Peter’s Church, Benington, Herts SG2 7LH (OS ref TL 297236)

Getting there: Bus 384 (Hertford-Stevenage)
Road – signed from A602 between Stevenage and Watton-at-Stone

Walk (OS Explorer 193): Up lane to junction; right (‘Ware, Hertford’). Just past bus shelter, right (303235, kissing gate) on permissive path. In ½ mile at arrow post, ahead (299229); in 100m, join sunken lane on left. In 300m, by brick hut (296228), fork left uphill on Cotton Lane. In ¾ mile, left up road (298215). In 500m, fork left (301217, ‘Benington’) up track. In ¾ mile cross road at Lordship Arms PH (309226). In 300m at Pond Cottage, fork right along track (312228). In 100m fork left (blue arrow/BA). Follow BAs, descending into valley. In 500m, left (318230, BA post). In 500m at far corner of Home Covert, bear right (312230, BA) through trees and across field. Cross Benington Park house drive; right (BA) onto hill top by 4-finger post (308234). Left up hedge for 30m; right on path across field, then on left of hedges. At bottom of slope, left (309240, BA); in 250m, left (306241) along green lane, then Duck Lane to Benington.

Lunch: Lordship Arms, Burn’s Green (01438-869665, – superb real ale pub.

Accommodation: Roebuck Inn, London Rd, Stevenage SG2 8DS (01438-365445,

Info: Benington Lordship Gardens –

 Posted by at 01:28
Apr 202024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 2 Ogmore River 1 Portobello House by the Ogmore River Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 3 Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 4 Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 1 Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 5

A hazy, breezy day on the Glamorgan Coast, and a Sunday buzz in the car park at Candleston Castle.

Merthyr-Mawr National Nature Reserve lies at the mouth of the Ogmore River. It boasts the tallest dunes in Wales, a great spread of sandhills that covers 840 acres of coast. The dunes sit on top of a shelf of limestone, hence their great height and also their remarkable fertility. Here you can find a dozen species of orchid, rare liverworts in damp patches, and delicately beautiful dune pansies from spring into autumn.

We climbed a slope of naked sand speckled with fragments of shell, past deep valleys dotted with sulphur-yellow hawkbit and bushy hollows where strawberry flowers spattered white across the mossy turf.

Down beside the ebbing Ogmore River, a flat littoral of saltmarsh lay strewn with the whitened trunks of trees washed out of the river banks in winter floods. We climbed a dune through scratchy marram grass to where the seaward view opened – galloping horses on the wide beach, and the pale rise of the Exmoor hills far across the grey-green Bristol Channel.

Between a shingle bar and the sandhills someone had built a charming little hut into a dune, its driftwood roof and carefully laid stone walls so seductive to the inner child that we were sorely tempted to play houses there all afternoon.

Soon the path ran up into the dunes again, crossing swards of violets and tiny pink cranesbills. We stopped to listen to an invisible bird singing with a silvery little trill, then headed east on sandy paths through an enchanting coppice of wind-stunted hazel where bluebells and wood anemones splashed the undergrowth with colour.

Late afternoon sunshine lay on distant hills, inland and across the sea. Our homeward path lay along a rubbly lane where an ivied angle of stone wall was all that remained of Candleston Castle, a fortified house 700 years old. Most of the strongholds along this coast were buried or choked out of existence by catastrophic sandstorms late in the 14th century – but Candleston on its limestone ledge had been built just high enough to escape that deadly tsunami of sand.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy; sand dunes, beach and woodland paths.

Start: Candleston Castle car park, near Bridgend CF32 0LR (OS ref SS 872771) – 
£5 all day.

Getting there: Merthyr-Mawr signposted from A48 Bypass Road between Bridgend and Porthcawl. In ½ mile dogleg right/left; follow road to car park at end.

Walk (OS Explorer 151): With your back to road, take downhill path (red, yellow arrows); cross stream; ahead up dune slope. At prominent tree stump bear left. In hollow, pass blue arrow, ‘To The Beach’. When you reach a fence, follow it to go through gate. With fence on right, head for beach. Right along beach for ¾ mile. Opposite Black Rocks, Wales Coast Path/WCP sign points to dune path along fence (855767). In 200m fence bends inland, but keep ahead here. In 250m, at 2nd WCP post beyond fence, turn right inland (850770) on wide sandy track. Follow path inland for 400m to junction (851774); right on broad path. At fork, left (post with both waymarks missing); follow path for 1 mile, passing four gates with ‘Newton & Candleston Circular Walk’ signs. At stone wall, right on farm road (866778). In ⅓ mile drive bends left, then right to Candleston Farm. Hairpin right here (870779) down stony lane for ½ mile to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Ewenny Farm Guesthouse, St Brides Road, Bridgend CF35 5AX (01656-658438,


 Posted by at 04:45
Apr 062024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Oak and bluebells, Rotherley Wood apple blossom, Tollard Royal track above Munday's Pond spring greenery and blossom above Tollard Royal Skulls information pillar by General Pitt-Rivers's excavations, Rotherley Down view from Ox Drove Track descending to Ashcombe Bottom Track descending through bluebell woods to Ashcombe Bottom Bluebells by the track to Ashcombe Bottom King John Inn, Tollard Royal track in Ashcombe Bottom

A cloudy, murky morning over Cranborne Chase. The views from Win Green were all melted into muted greys. The topograph on the saddle of high ground hinted at the prospect: fifteen miles northeast to Salisbury, twice that to the Isle of Wight down in the southeast.

Children skipped and tumbled down the steep slope towards the wooded Ashcombe valley. The sharp spring wind was soon shut away, and calm descended on the deep green cleft where the path ran edged with primroses, violets and pungent wild garlic in full flower.

These woods of the Ashcombe Estate are a prime example of careful management and discreet signage. The vast hunting forest of Cranborne Chase, on whose borders they lie, was once a different affair – a tangled tract of deep forest where outlaws skulked and wild locals in straw helmets beat up gamekeepers and poached the deer.

Down in Tollard Royal all was peachy, the snugly thatched cottages of flint and clunch, the gossipers on the benches round the village pond, all in a Sunday morning peace under steep valley slopes.

We climbed over a ridge where spring lambs were busy butting milk out of their mothers’ udders. In the cleft below the rains of late winter were drying, leaving Munday’s Pond a soggy circle of nettles.

Our path lay uphill, breasting a slope beside the old hazel coppice of Rotherley Wood. A marvellous sentinel oak, twisted, split and bow-backed, stood with its feet in a flood of bluebells, and the hazel stools themselves were circled by the sharp evergreen leaves of butcher’s broom, another indicator of ancient woodland.

Up on the back of Rotherley Down lumps and bumps in the turf showed where a Romano-British settlement was excavated in 1886-7 by local landowner General Augustus Pitt Rivers. ‘Skulls’, says the inscription on a modest pillar. ‘1 was brachycephalic, 3 were mesaticephalic, 6 were dolichocephalic, 3 were hyperdoliocephalic, one was uncertain’. The General, father of modern British archaeology, remained an educator to his fingertips.

Beyond the settlement site we turned along the chalky white track of the old Ox Drove ridge road towards Win Green. The clouds had cleared, and the Isle of Wight lay blue and humped on an invisible sea far in the southeast, a view familiar to those residents of Rotherley Down two thousand years ago.

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

Start: Win Green car park, near Tollard Royal, SP7 0ES (OS ref ST 924204)

Getting there: Tollard Royal (B3081) signed from A350 (Shaftesbury-Blandford Forum). At top of hill before Tollard Royal, follow ‘Donheads’, then ‘Win Green’.

Walk: Through gate at top of car park; follow path along fence and downhill. Follow ‘Wessex Ridgeway’/WR and ‘Footpath’ signs through Ashcombe valley. In 1¾ miles, hairpin back left (937185, ‘Tollard Royal’ fingerpost); in 50m right through 2 gates (WR); follow path with fence on right. In ¾ mile, just before Tollard Royal pond (945178), left over stile. (NB for King John Inn, right at road). From stile climb bank, at top, on through gate (arrow) along fenced path to stile (949181). Diagonally left down to gate (940184, Munday’s Pond on left). Ahead on grassy track up slope beside Rotherley Wood. In ⅔ mile track enters wood; ahead through gate onto open down; Pitt-Rivers information pillar and excavations to right (950194). Opposite pillar, left through gate; right up middle of fields (arrows) to Ox Drove road (949205). Left; in ½ mile fork left (938206, ‘Cranborne Droves Way’), then right on chalk trackway. In ¾ mile, beside NT ‘Win Green’ sign, left (928207) up grass path to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: King John Inn, Tollard Royal SP5 5PS (01725-516207,


 Posted by at 01:16
Mar 232024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
on Cold Moor Urra Farm old mine tips above Urra Farm paved course of Cleveland Way from Carr Ridge looking across Vale of Mowbray to Roseberry Topping Wain Stones Looking towards Wain Stones from Garfit Gap looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 4 looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 3 looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 2 looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 1

Bikers were out for a burn-up on the bendy road to Stokesley. We soon left them behind as we climbed to Carr Ridge up the Cleveland Way. This long-distance path, paved and pitched with stone, loops round the outlying hills of the North York Moors with grandstand views all the way.

Up on top it was cold and cloudy over the moors. The sharp shark-fin of Roseberry Topping stood out to the north, its western face a concave scoop showing where half the hill had once slid away in a massive landslip.

The flat flagstones of the Cleveland Way carried us dry-shod over bog and slutch. The stone slabs had once floored textile mills, and were brought here after the factories closed – a fine example of recycling. Blackfaced sheep dashed away and drew up to swivel round and stare madly at us before resuming their precise, selective nibbling among the bracken and sedge.

A side path left the Cleveland Way and headed across the moor to where pale heaps of spoil marked the sites of long-abandoned jet and alum mines. We picked our way between them, dropping down the hillside towards the red roofs of the farming hamlet of Urra in broad green Bilsdale below.

Here the landscape changed to cattle pastures and plentiful trees. We followed field paths down and up again, heading out of the sheltered valley and up a gritty track towards the aptly named Cold Moor. It was exhilarating to stride the northward ridge with a sharp wind in the face and a good firm track underfoot.

Down in the pass of Garfit Gap we met the Cleveland Way again and turned east for the stepped climb up to the sandstone outcrop of the Wain Stones. Blackened and sculpted by weathering, they stood proud of the ridge end, their Easter Island profiles and tall faces packed tight in a jumble of rocks.

We sat on a fallen boulder and took in the view under a clearing sky. Skeletal cranes and smoking chimneys of Teesside, the great patchwork lowland of Mowbray Vale, a distant suggestion of the Pennine hills against the clouds in the southwest. And sailing high in the north the outline of Roseberry Topping once more, less of a shark fin from this perspective and more like a giant ploughshare abandoned on the ridge by some mythical tiller of the moors, perhaps one of the giants of the Wain Stones themselves.

How hard is it? 7 miles; moderate/strenuous; cobbled/paved moorland paths; a little scrambling at Wain Stones.

Start: Clay Bank car park, near Great Broughton (NZ 573035)

Getting there:
Road: Car park on B1257 between Great Broughton and Chop Gate

Walk (OS Explorer OL26): Left up road. In 200m pass ‘Bilsdale’ sign; left up stone flagged path (‘Cleveland Way’). Follow CW; at top of climb, fork right (579030, ‘Bridleway’). In ⅓ mile (occasional posts), path bears right across slab bridge (583021). In ½ mile right (576018, ‘Bridleway’) to road in Urra (572018). Right; in 100m, left (‘Urra Farm’); then stile (yellow arrow/YA), gate, stile; field path down to footbridge and road (564018). Dogleg right/left (stile); up bank to gate at Broadfield Farm (562019). Left (fingerpost, gate); right (fingerpost, wall gap); up field to gate (560019); up to track. Right; in 100m, left up steep path. Follow it for ⅔ mile to meet Cleveland Way at Garfit Gap (554034). Right up to Wain Stones (559035); round them or scramble up through them to flagged path; CW to road (513033). Left to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Wainstones Hotel, Great Broughton TS9 7EW (01642-712268,


 Posted by at 01:09