john

Aug 132022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Aberllefenni - fence of slates Sarn Helen Roman road on the way down to Aberllefenni view from the ridge Cadair Idris from the ridge 1 Cadair Idris from the ridge 2 looking north from the ridge looking east from the ridge bridge at Aberllefenni view from the path at Aberllefenni 1 slate miners' chapel, Cwm Ratgoed rush fields of Cwm Ratgoed looking down towards Cwm Ratgoed start of the path from Aberllefenni slate mine spoil heaps, Cwm Ratgoed view from the path at Aberllefenni 2

A sunny midday with steamy clouds lifting over the hills of mid-Wales. The slopes around Aberllefenni were littered with screes of broken stone, evidence of the former occupation of this village where the dark blue slate has been mined since medieval times.

Slate is still processed here – slate from as far away as China – but Aberllefenni lies as quiet as can be these days. In the neighbouring valley of Cwm Ratgoed, once the scene of intense quarrying activity, sheep cropped the slopes among the mine levels. Each tunnel mouth spouted a fan of spoil, as though giant rabbits had been burrowing.

The trackbed of an old tramway led past slate workshops, cottages and a chapel, all in ruins, all of black slate blocks. The mine manager’s house, Ratgoed Hall, overlooked the workings from its garden eminence. There was a tremendous poignancy to these stark mementoes of vanished industry in the peaceful green valley.

From Cwm Ratgoed we started on a long, steady climb through the forestry of Ffridd Newydd. The path led steeply up between larch and pine, the banks either side thick with star mosses, lichens and the green platelets of liverworts kept moist by the trickling hill streams.

Sunlight filtered through the tall bare trunks of the conifers and fell in bars across the path, but there were no far views until we’d reached the ridge above the forest. There one of the finest panoramas in Wales burst on us all of a sudden, many scores of miles of hills and mountain peaks, with the centrepiece immediately to the south-west, a wonderful prospect of Cadair Idris in full sunlight.

The mountain lay so big and so close it came as a physical shock after being so long enclosed among the trees. Its two shadowed corries gave it the aspect of a blunt-headed creature peeking over its shoulder. It was an awe-inspiring sight, one that commanded attention until the path dipped, the forestry rose and Cadair Idris lay hidden once more.

The old Roman marching road of Sarn Helen dropped us by easy degrees back down to Aberllefenni’s rubbly slopes, its stone slides and spoil banks, and a great square cave mouth that led into the old slate mine, a dark door into the hillside high above.

How hard is it? 8 miles; demanding walk, with long upward climb on forest path

Start: Bus stop/layby at crossroads on north edge of Aberllefenni, near Corris, SY20 9RU approx. (OS ref SH 771100)

Getting there: Bus 34 (Machynlleth)
Aberllefenni is signed from A487 (Machynlleth – Dolgellau) at Corris

Walk (OS Explorer OL23): Uphill on lane (‘Unsuitable for caravans’). In 150m, left up stony track (yellow arrow/YA, fern carving). In 500m round left bend (775104); in 400m, fork right down to valley road (774107). Dogleg right/left (YA); follow YAs along track. In 1 mile pass Ratgoed Hall (730121). In 400m track bends left towards Dolgoed (779125). Don’t go through gate, but bear left along fence to another gate; down to ford river opposite Ceiswyn (778125). Left (YA); follow track to enter forest (777123). In 400m, hairpin back right up path (777119) past fire-beater stand. In 200m cross rough forest roadway; on up track, then path to cross another forest track (775124). On up steep path. In ¾ mile, at top of climb, you reach open grassy area. Steeply up left on faint zigzag path to fence and ladder stile (768134). Ahead (waymark post) downhill for ⅔ mile to moor road (758134). Left for 2¾ miles to Aberllefenni.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Gwesty Minffordd Hotel, Tal-y-llyn, Tywyn LL36 9AJ (01654-761665, minffordd.com)

Info: visitwales.com

 Posted by at 01:34
Aug 062022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Staithes village, harbour and cliffs Cliffs and scars  between Staithes and Port Mulgrave 1 Cliffs and scars  between Staithes and Port Mulgrave 2 Staithes harbour at low tide Cliffs and scars  between Staithes and Port Mulgrave 3 Staithes harbour and cliff Staithes village, harbour and cliffs What Staithes is proud of! Looking back at Staithes Staithes harbour and cliffs

A cold, cloudy day on the coast of North Yorkshire as we went down a twisty street between the closely packed houses of Staithes. The fishing village where in the 1740s young James Cook began to dream of running away to sea is a tumble of red roofed houses and steep little laneways.

A couple of cobles – local fishing boats with pointed prow and stern, Norse style – lay in the low-tide mud of Staithes harbour, a scoop of defensive walls facing the North Sea between dramatically striated cliffs with razor edge profiles.

From the cliffs above, we got a wonderful view over the many-coloured houses of the village and the rugged coast marching away north-west towards the distant giant’s geometry of industrial Teesside.

The massive buildings of Boulby mine, just inland of Staithes and still extracting rock salt and natural fertilisers, stood witness to the mineral riches that have been dug for centuries from these varicoloured cliffs – alum, potash, coal, jet and iron ore.

Below the cliffs, wide rock pavements ran out seaward, the sea roaring softly at their outer extremities. Fulmars and rock pigeons swooped with the thermals. Bands of ironstone and smeary greys of mudstone lined the cliffs, the harder ironstone outcropping in sharp-featured knobbles and crags.

At Port Mulgrave a steep path led downhill from the line of clifftop houses as far as a seat. The landslips of this unstable coast have destroyed the former hair-raising descent by ladder and rope down the lower half of the cliff. On the dark rocky shore below, a famous fossil-hunting spot, three or four cobles lay on the scars beyond a line of home-built fishermen’s huts. The crumbly cliffs stood guard all round, walling off this little world apart where a great ironstone mine once fed the blast furnaces of Teesside.

Past a terrace of former miners’ cottages with outside privy sheds, and out beyond Hinderwell across deep little stream gorges in dense woodland of sycamore and hazel. A nuthatch with a slate-blue back, buff waistcoat and dashing black eye stripe scuttled head nethermost down an oak trunk, searching the bark for insects. We topped out of the woods and crossed sheep pastures corrugated with medieval ridge-and-furrow, heading north towards Staithes where a pale blue sky hung over the invisible sea.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; strenuous in parts, steep woodland valleys

Start: Staithes car park, Staithes TS13 5AD (OS ref NZ 782185)

Getting there: Bus X4 (Middlesbrough-Whitby)
Road – Staithes is signed off A174 (Guisborough-Whitby)

Walk (OS Explorer OL27): Follow ‘Footpath to village.’ At harbour, right up Church Street; follow Cleveland Way/CW for 1¼ miles to Port Mulgrave (Optional detour – by first houses/796177, fingerpost points left down steep path to seat and viewpoint over shore. Return same way). In 200m, right/inland off CW (799175). At churchyard, left to cross A174 at Hinderwell (791169). Ahead down close; ahead up laneway; right along terrace. Follow alleyway, then footpath (fingerpost, yellow arrows/YA) across fields into woodland (785167). Down to cross Dales Beck. Keep same direction up, over and down to cross Borrowby Dale (781166). At foot of steps, right up woodland path to gate (781167). Half right across field; right (YA) past Plum Tree House (780171). On (YAs) across fields. At ‘Borrowby’ fingerpost cross 2 stiles (779175); follow right-hand hedge down to cross Dales Beck (780176). Right (‘Staithes’) up bank, past Seaton Hall to A174 (782180). Left to roundabout; right into Staithes.

Lunch: Cod & Lobster Inn, High Street, Staithes TS13 5BH (01947-840330, codandlobster.co.uk)

Accommodation: Captain Cook Inn, Staithes Lane, Staithes TS13 5AD (01947-840200, captaincookinn.co.uk)

Info: Whitby TIC (01723-383636); yorkshire.com

 Posted by at 01:52
Jul 302022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
flowery ditch of The Caburn hill fort 1 chalk track leading to The Caburn hill fort flowery ditch of The Caburn hill fort 2 flowery ditch of The Caburn hill fort 3 at the top of Caburn Bottom flowery ditch of The Caburn hill fort 4 wild marjoram growing in Bible Bottom looking down towards Oxteddle Bottom and Bible Bottom Wall butterfly

On a warm midday the half-moon shapes of paraglider sails – green, pink, yellow and rainbow – were wheeling in cloudy air off Mount Caburn. Looking south from the summit of the Iron Age ceremonial enclosure, we watched the paragliders swooping this way and that against a backdrop of the silvery sinuation of the River Ouse as it carved its way seaward through the chalk rampart of the South Downs.

The diminutive brick-and-flint estate cottages of Glynde lay neatly stretched below. A tufted path, jumping with grasshoppers, had led us up from the village, a straight course between fields of dusty ripe barley, the bearded seed heads hanging low. In a tin cattle trough a meadow pipit was bathing ecstatically, throwing up sparkling showers of water drops.

Wild flowers dotted the chalk grasslands of Mount Caburn – eyebright, tall yellow spikes of agrimony, red bartsia, and masses of wild marjoram where wall butterflies with dark spots and bars on their yellow wings were basking in the sun.

The 2,500-year-old ditch round the hilltop enclosure was spattered with blue flowers – scabious, harebells and viper’s bugloss – among which flitted blue butterflies. The same theme of chalk grassland flowers and butterflies continued all along the path that dropped down a slope of Access Land into a tangle of dry flat-bottomed valleys.

In Oxteddle Bottom faint foundations in the grass showed where winter sheds for plough oxen stood in medieval times. Bible Bottom’s enclosure was too well camouflaged under grass and wild vegetation to make out. We picnicked on a bank of marjoram, the bushy pink flowers exuding an oily pungency.

It was a scene straight out of an Eric Ravilious painting. Sheep were grazing these valleys as they have done for centuries. Although a Sussex shepherd of past times might have blinked at the sight of the farmer puttering up the slope of Bible Bottom on a quad, little else has changed here over the years.

Up on the nape of the downs we turned for home as views opened up to the north over the broad hedged lowlands of the Sussex Weald, a vista in total contrast to the billowing downs to the south. We threaded between Bronze Age burial mounds and old chalk quarries before turning off down the long path to Glynde, with the dimpled green wall of the South Downs beyond.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; downland footpaths

Start: Glynde railway station, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 6RU (SO ref TQ458087)

Getting there: Rail to Glynde; bus 125 (Lewes – Eastbourne)
Road: Glynde is signed off A27 Lewes-Eastbourne

Walk (OS Explorer OL25): From station, left; in 300m left (457090, Ranscombe Lane); in 40m, right (gate, yellow arrow/YA) on field path for ¾ mile to ridge. At gate in ridge fence (445093), left to The Caburn (444089). Return towards gate; 100m past outer ditch of hillfort, left (444091) on path down Caburn Bottom. At bottom, ahead (440097) along Oxteddle Bottom. At pond, right-hand gate (437099, permissive path); in 300m bear left; cross stile (437101). Follow fence on left; in 400m, chalk path (433101) up to gate (431101). Ahead (YA) to post (430100, YA); right. In ¾ mile at Southerham Farm notice, kissing gate (442105); past waymark post, then wood on left. In 200m pass dewpond; before stile, right along fence (447105). In 300m fork left (466103), up to stile; on with fence on right. In ½ mile, left at gate on right (445093); retrace steps to Glynde.

Lunch: Little Cottage Tea Rooms, Ranscombe Lane, Glynde BN8 6ST (01273-858215, littlecottagetearooms.co.uk)

Accommodation: Ram Inn, Firle BN8 6NS (01273-858222, raminn.co.uk)

Info: glynde.co.uk
@somerville_c

 Posted by at 02:40
Jul 232022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 1 lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 2 lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 3 lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 4 lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 5 lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 6 beautiful bellflowers amid the lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 7 lush landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes 9

It took a noisy age for the car to crunch down the obscure gravelly byroads leading to Fen Drayton Lakes Nature Reserve. Once out along the trails that weave among these former gravel pits, there was bird squeal and chatter from every thicket and reed bed.

Dunnocks chip-chipped away in the dogrose hedges, coot squawked from the reedy fringes of Ferry Lagoon, and a blackcap unwound its melodious string of a call from a hiding place in the branches of a massive, many-stemmed willow.

The RSPB sees that the trail paths are well mown, and the grass and undergrowth are kept flattened by the boots of thousands of birdwatchers and strollers. This sunny afternoon, gravelly patches were smeared over by bright yellow stonecrop flowers. A new hatch of damselflies made the most of the hot sunshine, their electric blue needle shapes hovering delicately over nettle beds and grass for a second or two, then vanishing, to rematerialize three feet away

A stretch of paths led us beside the sinuous Great Ouse, where a bare-chested lad proudly helmed his hired river cruiser. Glossy brown cattle munched dewlap-deep in dense grass pasture, flicking their tails rhythmically against the flies. A spotted dog stood guard over a pair of fishing poles while its master caught forty winks in the shade of an umbrella.

We turned off along the banks of a navigation drain thick with yellow water lilies. From the reeds on Swavesey Lake a grasshopper warbler issued a song like the buzz of a fisherman’s reel. With distant cuckoo calls as a farewell we left the lake reserve and headed for Amen Corner.

In times past the fen village of Swavesey had more than its share of religious Nonconformists. Primitive Methodists, Ranters, Quakers, and a raft of Baptists – Unitarians, Trinitarians, Particular and Strict, among others. After their clandestine meetings further out in the wilds, many of these dissenters would gather at the piece of ground called Amen Corner, just outside the village boundary, for a final prayer and a last ‘Amen’.

Today a peaceful little Nonconformist graveyard lies here, next to the village allotments. We set course past Swavesey windmill, topped with an exotic onion dome, and were back among the lakes of Fen Drayton in time to hear the evening chorus from briar and bush, and to watch crook-winged common terns diving headfirst into the meres for their last catch of the day.

How hard is it? 4½ miles; easy; well maintained, level paths

Start: RSPB Fen Drayton car park, Holywell Ferry Road, Fen Drayton CB24 4RB (OS ref TL 343699)

Getting there: Fen Drayton Reserve is signposted off Fen Drayton Road between Fen Drayton and Swavesey (A14, Jct 24)

Walk (OS Explorer 225; trail map downloadable at rspb.org.uk/fendraytonlakes): From car park, left along Holywell Ferry Road (track). In 500m, right (342704, ‘Riverside path’). In ¾ mile, just before footbridge, right (352701, ‘Trails’). In 300m, left across Covell’s Drain, right along embankment. At gate, left (353696, ‘Swavesey’). In 400m cross busway (356695; take care, buses drive fast!) In 700m at Amen Corner cemetery (359690), right past Swavesey Windmill (353688). In ⅔ mile cross roadway (350686) and on. In ⅔ mile cross bends of a farm road and keep ahead on footpath (341686). In 200m, right (339686, ‘Public Byway’). Keep ahead where track bends right (340690). In 100m pass car park and on. In 650m recross busway (339696). In 500m, right (339700, ‘Car Park 250m’) to main car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Golden Lion, Market Hill, St Ives, Cambs PE27 5AL (01480-412100, thegoldenlionhotel.co.uk)

Info: Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB Reserve (01954-233260, rspb.org.uk/fendraytonlakes)

 Posted by at 01:52
Jul 162022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Coast path near Kingsdown The beach at Kingsdown coast path along the cliffs between Kingsdown and St Margaret-at-Cliffe 1 path over the downs coast path along the cliffs between Kingsdown and St Margaret-at-Cliffe 2 St Margaret’s at Cliffe 1 Coast path, looking to the Dover Patrol memorial 1 St Margaret’s at Cliffe 2 Coast path, looking to the Dover Patrol memorial 2 St Margaret’s at Cliffe 3

A glorious day of blue sky over the coast of East Kent. At Kingsdown the white chalk cliffs shone in clear light polished and sharpened by sea and sunshine. Along the pebbly shore stood old iron winches, rusted into immobility by salt-laden water and winds. Decades have passed since the village fishermen used them to haul their boats up the steeply shelving beach.

We climbed the steps at the end of Oldstairs Bay and set out on the cliff path with a stiff north breeze pushing us along. A kestrel balanced on the wind, infinitely fine adjustments of wings and body keeping it in place. Looking back, we saw a line of white cliffs curving east beyond the murky waters of Pegwell Bay, Ramsgate’s buildings lying low along the shore, the red roofs of Broadstairs cresting their rise of ground beyond.

The green sea heaved gently below, reflecting a light clear enough for us to pick out the coast of France some twenty miles off – field shapes, woods, radio masts and a long pale line of sandy beaches. Air balloons, stringbag aeroplanes, greasy swimmers and long-range shells from coastal guns – all have crossed that narrow stretch of sea, but never an invading army for the past thousand years.

One dastardly enemy of England did launch a deadly stroke against the capital from these Kingsdown cliffs – arch-villain Sir Hugo Drax with his ogre’s-teeth and sweaty ruin of a face. Lucky for all of us that James Bond was on hand to frustrate his knavish tricks and redirect the London-bound Moonraker rocket to plunge to its destruction in the sea.

Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, had a holiday home at St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, just along the coast. We came by the spot where Fleming had Drax’s men collapse the cliff onto 007, near a tall obelisk commemorating the brave Great War deeds of the Dover Patrol. Just beyond we found a magnificent view over the tight, cliff-encircled bay that cradles St Margaret’s, and a zigzag of steps running down to the pebbly shore.

The homeward path led across inland fields sown with winter cereals, a landscape of long parallel valleys and tufts of woodland, with the sea diminished to a green backdrop caught in a vee between one slope and the next.

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

Start: Cliffe Road, Kingsdown CT14 8AH (OS ref TR 380482).

Getting there: Bus 82 from Deal
Road: Kingsdown is signed off A258 between Walmer and Dover.

Walk (OS Explorer 138): Coast Path south for 2¾ miles to St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe. ½ mile past Dover Patrol monument, left down steps to shore (369446; yellow arrow). Right to seafront. Up road beside Coastguard PH (368445). On right bend, ahead up steps (367444, fingerpost/FP). Fork right at top to road (366444); right, in 150m, fork left on Hotel Road. In 100m, left (368445, FP) up steps; on up Cavenagh Road; on up grass path (FP) to The Droveway (366448). Right; follow road for ⅔ mile to Bockhill Farm. 150m beyond farm, left at path junction (372455). Keep ahead up field margin path; in 600m it bends sharp left, through kissing gate; in 100m, right down tarmac track (367459, cycleway No 1). In 400m pass tall pole on left (368464); in 100m, left through hedge; half right on path across field. In 1 mile keep left of houses (373478) to road (374481). Left; right down Upper Street into Kingsdown.

Lunch: Coastguard PH, St Margaret’s, CT15 6DY (01304-853051, thecoastguard.co.uk)

Accommodation: Five Bells, Ringwould CT14 8HP (01304-364477, fivebellsringwould.co.uk)

Info: Dover TIC (01304-201066)

 Posted by at 03:40
Jul 092022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
View from the steep fields outside Bucknell View from the steep fields outside Bucknell 2 green lane near Bucknell green lane near Bucknell 2 green lane near Bucknell 3 tangled path in Darky Dale 'viewpoint' at the summit of Hopton Titterhill beautiful green cleft of Honeyhole, descending to the Redlake valley path through lush grassland descending to the Redlake valley

A hot summer’s afternoon in Shropshire, the River Redlake overgrown with rushes, the grey stone walls along Bucknell’s village street sprouting deep pink valerian.

A green lane us away up sloping fields where brown and white cattle chomped their cud in the shade of big old hedgerow oaks. A red kite planed low over the grass on long crooked wings, and a pair of swallows raced overhead in a twitter of excitement as they swerved and snatched insects out of the still air.

‘Walking With Offa’ said the waymarks along the path. The mighty defensive rampart and dyke built by King Offa of Mercia in the late 8th century runs south and north along the Welsh Borders a few miles west of here, but the terrain around Bucknell offers the same challenge to a walker – steep slopes, sudden descents, boggy valleys and forested hills.

A high-banked lane fringed with white bindweed and deep yellow St John’s wort led to the high farmstead of Mynde, from which the path plunged down a hillside into the well-named depths of Darky Dale. Next came a climb through bracken banks and up the thickly forested slopes of Hopton Titterhill, which landed us breathless at the summit.

The viewpoint marked on the OS map turned out to have been obliterated by the growth of trees, but it didn’t matter. In a clearing under the knoll we sat to eat our apples and crunchy biscuits on a lacy white picnic cloth of heath bedstraw, serenaded by the clicks and whistles of a tree pipit perched in a spruce nearby.

The forest track went gradually downhill among soft hair-like grasses full of cuckoo spit, a frothy defence extruded by the nymphs of froghopper insects. They shelter from predators in these gooey cradles, tiny white bugs in their hundreds.

We followed the path down to Meeroak Farm, and on down a beautiful green cleft looking across the River Redlake’s green cleft valley to the crumpled faces of Stowe Hill and Caer Caradoc. The return path along the valley was a delight, with the river curving close below and a thrust fluting its evening song.

How hard is it? 6¾ miles; moderate; field and footpaths

Start: Baron at Bucknell Inn, Bucknell SY7 0AH (OS ref SO 351741)

Getting there: Train to Bucknell
Road: Bucknell is on B4367, signed off A4133 Ludlow-Knighton road

Walk (OS Explorer 201): Left along road; left up Dog Kennel Lane. Between Brookside and Caverswall, left (355742, ‘Walking With Offa’/WWO) up green lane, then fields to cross road (355747, ‘Mynd’). In 100m, right (WWO, stile); field path (stiles, yellow arrows) to lane beyond house (356752). Right; in 300m, left (358753, fingerpost, ‘No Through Road’). 40m past Mynde Farm*, right on field path, descending to lane (359758). Dogleg right/left (WWO) and on through gate.

Cross valley floor (359759) and bear left, keeping parallel with Darky Dale stream on left. In 200m, stile into trees (359760, WWO). In 150m at gate, bear right uphill (357761, WWO). By metal gate at top of bank, left (359764, WWO) on path inside edge of wood. In 100m cross forest track (359765); take right-hand of two paths (not one with red/white arrow/RWA). In 300m cross track (357767); ahead up track (RWA). In 250m, where climb flattens, fork left (356769) on downhill track. In 150m, by pond opposite RWA pointing ahead (354770), right up through trees to meet a cross-track at hill summit (354771).

Left on track across hill; on down to track junction (353774). Left; in 250m, bear right off track onto clear grassy path (351773), descending to cross forest road (349773) and on. Keep straight line ahead at edge of forestry for ½ mile. At Meeroak Farm, through kissing gate (344766); left (yellow arrow, ‘Viaduct’ waymark). Follow farm track for 300m. In a dip, right (345762, WWO); follow WWOs for ¾ mile down to valley road (336756). Left; in 800m on right bend, ahead through gate (342753, WWO). Follow WWO for ¾ mile; at house, fork right (345743, gate, ‘Viaduct’) along lane to Bucknell.

Lunch/Accommodation: Baron at Bucknell Inn, Bucknell (01547-530549, baronatbucknell.co.uk)

Info: Ludlow TIC (01584-875053), visitshropshire.co.uk

 Posted by at 01:56
Jul 022022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Hetty’s House Tearoom, Holt Country Park Dragonfly pond in Holt Lowes 1 chalky path through Holt Lowes 1 Dragonfly pond in Holt Lowes 2 Field edge path to Hempstead 1 Field edge path to Hempstead 2 Hempstead's Church of All Saints - stumpy brick tower, flint-built body, and 20th-century apse with a perky little thatched roof. chalky path through Holt Lowes 2 a keeled skimmer enjoys a rest in the chalky mud of Holt Lowes

We kept a good eye out for silver-washed fritillaries as we puzzled our way along the tangled path and sunny glades of Holt Country Park. But the elusive butterflies, leopard-spotted swoopers that love oak and conifer woods like these, were deep in their midday snooze, and not to be seen.

No matter – the woodland ponds and puddles were buzzing with insect life drawn out and about by the strong Norfolk sunlight. Soon Jane’s sharp eyes had picked out a beautiful dragonfly, a keeled skimmer, a great rarity in East Anglia. Somehow this spot suits them, a marginal place where woodland meets the heath and mire of Holt Lowes. Our skimmer, a large male, perched still long enough for us to admire his ice-blue dagger of an abdomen before he darted away after a midge or perhaps a female skimmer.

We followed a path of flint and pale sun-baked clay among ling and bell heather along the edge of Holt Lowes. Thick clumps of gorse grew as tall as the silver birch of the heath. The fresh lime green of young bracken relieved the sombre colour scheme, along with the occasional shard of brilliant yellow from solitary gorse blooms.

Our way led through a belt of pines and showy pink rhododendrons to Hempstead Road. The quiet country lane descended between sandy banks to pass an abandoned old mill, its flint walls sturdy, its cast-iron flywheel still in position.

In hot afternoon sun we trod a field-edge path, a former green lane now shorn of its hedges, that curved round ponds and lanes to reach the tall farmhouse of Hempstead Hall. A bulbous old Spanish chestnut stood beside the road, who knows how old? – spiral-twisted, battered by storms, pollarded by lightning,

At Hempstead the Church of All Saints was a cut-and-shut affair, a stumpy brick tower, a flint-built body and a 20th-century apse with a perky little thatched roof. A gravestone inscription commemorated Bob Mack (1919-1999), ‘whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe.’

A lovely quote, and a beautiful place for a handy man to lie at rest, and for two weary walkers to eat their picnic on the churchyard bench before the homeward stroll.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy; woodland and field paths

Start: Holt Country Park car park, Holt, Norfolk NR25 6SP (OS ref TG 082375)

Getting there: Bus 45 (Holt-Norwich)
Road – Signed off B1149, just south of Holt (A148, Cromer-King’s Lynn)

Walk (OS Explorer 251): Pass wooden bird totem. Right; in 50m, left (green arrow). In 200m, left past pond (084374), through gate; left up side of Holt Lowes heath, parallel with trees. In ½ mile, left through gate (089380); in 100m, at purple arrow post, right to cross car park to Hempstead Road (089383). Right; in ⅔ mile, right (097378, footpath fingerpost). In 400m bear left past pond (095374), between barns to road. Past pond on right; fork left (yellow arrow/YA) past Hempstead Hall (097373); on for 300m. Opposite bungalow on left, right (099373, footbridge, YAs); field path to road at Hempstead Church (105370). Right; in 300m, right at Church Farm (105367, fingerpost) on field path. In ⅔ mile dogleg left/right past barn (096368) and on. In 700m descend; cross River Glaven (087367); on (YAs) to road (084368). Right, following paths parallel to road. In 500m, at pond, left through gate (084373); retrace steps to car park.

Lunch: Hetty’s House Tearoom, Holt Country Park

Accommodation: Byfords Hotel, Shirehall Plain, Holt NR25 6BG (01263-711400, byfords.org.uk)

Info: Holt TIC (01263-713100)

 Posted by at 02:17
Jun 252022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
view north along the Wales Coast Path stile on the Wales Coast Path looking downhill to the Wales Coast Path 1 looking down on Mynachdy’r Graig, ‘the monks’ house on the rocks’ crumbling cliffs beyond Ffos-lâs farm coastal pastures approaching Mynachdy’r Graig, ‘the monks’ house on the rocks’ view north along the Wales Coast Path 3 view north along the Wales Coast Path 2 looking downhill to the Wales Coast Path 2

A cool, showery day over the hills of mid Wales, but a strip of blue sky and an onshore breeze were forecast for the coast of Cardigan Bay.

Clouds like grey cannon smoke rolled across the hilltops inland of Blaenplwyf. The Friesian cattle at Rhosfawr farm stared moodily at us as we passed. One cow was wearing an e-bell on her collar, designed to warn her away from the electric fence around the pasture.

In the rushy fields approaching Pentre we spotted a hornet in the grass, its wings too soaked with the morning’s rain to allow it to fly. Two dogs came barking to the farm gate, soon retiring after making their point. We followed a stony lane over the ridge and down towards a royal blue sea.

This section of the Wales Coast Path runs along cliffs of spectacular formation, undercut by the sea, bulging out in dark brittle rock topped with even more shaky clay. The string of coastal farms is threatened with ruin as the clifftops erode and crumple.

In medieval times this coast belonged to the rich and powerful Strata Florida abbey. Mynachdy’r Graig, ‘the monks’ house on the rocks’, was one of the abbey’s granges or outlying farms. Today, abandoned as a working farmhouse and less than forty metres from the ever-advancing cliff edge, its plain square dwelling and slate-roofed sheds are in the care of the National Trust.

Everything was utterly quiet and peaceful, the only sound the gentle wash of the sea on the rocky platform at the feet of the cliffs. A bevy of young choughs went cackling by, swooping like fighter planes. Outcrops beside the coast path were rock gardens of stonecrop, bell heather and wild thyme.

The path rose and fell for mile after mile, the cliffs and promontories of Cardigan Bay spread out from the Llŷn peninsula down to Pembrokeshire. As we stopped to admire the view, a big bird of prey came gliding by far below. Too bulky for a kite, too masterful in flight to be anything other than an osprey on a fishing expedition from its base up the coast at the Dyfi Osprey Project.

Its wingtips downturned, an arc of white feathers across its shoulders, it gave not a single flap, just cruised the wind, bigger and more powerful than anything else aloft. A most magnificent spectacle.

How hard is it? 7 miles, moderate one-way coast walk

Start: Blaenplwyf, near Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales SY23 4DJ (OS ref SN 576755)
Finish: Llanrhystud, near Aberaeron SY23 5DQ (OS ref SN 539697)

Getting there: Bus T5 (Aberystwyth – Cardigan)
Road – Blaenplwyf is on A487 between Aberystwyth and Llanrhystud

Walk (OS Explorer 213): From bus stop south along A487. At end of houses, right (boulder, green cabinet) up lane. In 100m through gate on right (573754); keep right of Rhosfawr farm sheds, then right up field track to road (570755). Left; in 100m, right (stile, yellow arrow/YA) to road at Pentre (568753). Right; in 50m right up lane beside Llain Bach. In ½ mile, meet Wales Coast Path/WCP near Ffos-lâs farm (560755). Left on WCP. In 4½ miles, with caravan site in view ahead, descend long slope; through gate (535705), right (WCP) to kissing gate, then fingerpost (534703). Left off WCP here; follow YAs to Banc (539703). Down drive; in 50m right (gate, YA), anticlockwise round scrub patch to stile in corner (YA); down scrubby hillside with hedge on left. In 200m hedge turns right; left over stile in corner here (539701, YA); right down green lane to road (538699). Left to A487 and bus stop in Llanrhystud. Bus return to Blaenplwyf.

Lunch: Black Lion, Llanrhystud SY23 5DQ (01974-202338, @blacklion.llanrhystud.9) 

Accommodation: Aelybryn, Llangwyryfon, Aberystwyth SY23 4EX (01974-241744, aberystwythbedandbreakfast.co.uk)

Info: walescoastpath.gov.uk; visitwales.com; dyfiospreyproject.com
@somerville_c

 Posted by at 02:14
Jun 182022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The broad, tranquil River Trent near Trent Locks Swans on the Trent near Attenborough Nature Reserve Swan and cygnets (one hitching a ride) on the Trent near Attenborough Nature Reserve Attenborough church spire 1 scrape lagoon at Attenborough Nature Reserve River Trent near Attenborough Nature Reserve, with Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station on the skyline River Trent near Attenborough Nature Reserve, with Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station on the skyline 2 Sluice on the River Trent near Attenborough Nature Reserve Houses by the River Trent Houses by the River Trent 2 Houses by the River Trent 3 The Erewash Canal enters the River Trent Chimney and cooling towers at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station Trent Lock on the Erewash Canal Attenborough church spire 2

It didn’t take long to shake the dust of post-industrial Long Eaton from our shoes. As soon as we had turned off the main road and were down on the towpath of the Erewash Canal, it was all cosy red brick architecture, drooping willows and slowly chugging narrowboats with flowerbox roofs.

In the half century between its completion in the 1780s and the coming of the railways, the Erewash Canal had an absolute field day transporting everything from millstones and deal planks to cheese, lead and pottery. In 1808 alone it carried more than a quarter of a million tons of coal. The focus of all this activity was down at the southern end, where at Trent Lock it joined a mighty confluence of waterways.

Trent Lock still buzzes and bustles, but these days with fishermen, boaters, duck feeders and drinkers at a brace of jolly pubs. Here the River Soar, the Erewash and a couple of cut-through canals join the River Trent, a wide and powerful water highway that bends and snakes along its valley. Over the trees beyond the river loomed the eight massive cooling towers and giant chimney of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, an apparition more like an artistic installation than a coal-guzzling, CO2-belching monster of obsolescence.

Walking the western bank of the Trent past swimming lakes and broad meadows, we watched sand martins flitting round their nesting holes in the orange-red flanks of the river. Sand and gravel lie in thick beds along the Trent Valley, dug out over the years to form great hollows now flooded into a new purpose as wildlife lakes.

Flocks of Canada geese, great crested grebes and tufted duck with their slick black ponytails sailed the calm waters of Attenborough Nature Reserve’s string of manmade lagoons. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has run the reserve since the 1960s, a remarkable achievement in enabling free public access alongside the welfare of wildlife here.

A whitethroat let out a burst of burbling song from a goat willow as we headed away from the gravel pits past Attenborough’s Church of St Mary with its dark stone needle of a spire. From a perch in a half-downed alder a blackcap projected a counterblast of brilliant notes, the sound fading behind us as we turned up the village street towards the station.

How hard is it? 5 miles (7½ with Kingfisher Trail, 6¼ with Tufted Duck Trail); easy; riverside paths.

Start: Long Eaton station, NG10 2DF (OS ref SK 481322)
Finish: Attenborough station, NG9 6AL (OS ref 518346)

Getting there: Rail to Long Eaton.
Road: Long Eaton railway station is on Wilsthorpe Road, signed off A6005 Beeston-Derby (M1 Jct 25)

Walk (OS Explorer 260; downloadable Attenborough Nature Reserve trail map at broxtowe.gov.uk): From Long Eaton station, cross roundabout; follow Fields Farm Road across canal; right (486322) onto canal towpath. South to Trent Lock (491311). Left along Trent Valley Way. In 3 miles, at grass triangle, left (520335, ‘Attenborough Nature Centre’). At roundabout (516339) left to Nature Centre. To continue walk, from roundabout/car park follow ‘Bridleway to Attenborough Village’. In 300m, you reach a fork (518342). If following Tufted Duck or Kingfisher Nature Trails, bear right for circuit, returning to roundabout/car park, and to fork. To finish this walk, left from fork (‘Attenborough Village & Church’) on bridleway past St Mary’s Church (519343). Left up Attenborough Lane (‘Erewash Valley Trail’) to Attenborough station.
Return to Long Eaton station.

Lunch: Attenborough Nature Centre, Barton Lane, Chilwell, Notts NG9 6DY (0115-972-1777)

Accommodation: De Vere Orchard Hotel, Beeston Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2RJ (0115-697-8175, devere.co.uk)

Info: nottinghamshirewildlife.org

 Posted by at 02:15
Jun 112022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Nene Way between Nassington and Yarwell Wildflower meadows beside the River Nene River Nene near Yarwell 1 River Nene near Yarwell 2 Nassington Wansford Bridge common gromwell in Old Sulehay whitethroat with a beakful of caterpillar grubs

The houses of Nassington looked lovely this sunny afternoon in their creamy yellow-grey limestone, the crocketed spire of St Mary’s Church rising above all. Inside the church, tall arcades rose into the cool interior air. Armed knights and their horses rode the walls in red ochre, courtesy of some anonymous medieval muralist.

Village children were squealing in the primary school playground as we set out north from Nassington along the broad valley of the River Nene. The age-old debate over the pronunciation – ‘Neen’ or ‘Nenn’ – of this East Midlands river was eventually settled by means of a croquet match, the winners declaring in favour of the latter. How very British.

The Nene Way led through lush buttercup meadows along the river’s flood plain. An ancient barge slumbered in retirement up a rushy side channel where reed buntings squeaked and chittered. We stopped to sit and nibble apples and cheese in the shade of a poplar grove, lulled by the soporific sighing of millions of long-stalked leaves agitated by each gentle breath of breeze.

The stone-walled lanes of Yarwell lay baking in the sun. Up at Wansford the many arches of the Tudor bridge spanned the Nene and its flood meadows. In Wansford churchyard lay Albert and Ann Padley, married 71 years and separated in their deaths by just four days – a testament of constancy illustrated by the two companionable swans carved on their headstone.

A treble hum of bees and hoverflies greeted us as we entered the shade of Old Sulehay Forest, a refuge for plants, insects and birds. This piece of ancient woodland above the Nene Valley is not a forest in the sense of a solid block of trees, but rather a mosaic of different soils and habitats. Figwort, bryony, herb bennet and wild strawberry carpeted the broad ride through the wood, and on the limestone soils in the old quarries of Stonepit Close and Ring Haw we found milky blue masses of speedwell, silverweed with papery yellow flowers, common spotted orchids, and tall nettle-leaved bellflower about to bloom.

The homeward path ran through beautiful wildflower meadows. Here we paused to watch a whitethroat perched in the fork of a tall sprig of angelica, its white chest puffed out, round black eye as shiny as polished jet, and sharp thorn of a beak packed with green caterpillars for its hungry nestlings.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; field and woodland paths

Start: St Mary’s Church, Nassington, Peterborough PE8 6QH (OS ref 063962)

Getting there: Bus – CallConnect (0345-263-8153, lincsbus.info)
Road: Nassington is signed off A6118 at Wansford (A1, Peterborough-Stamford)

Walk (OS Explorer 227): From west end of church, left along Church Road. At T-junction, right (068962), in 50m, left, following waymarked Nene Way/NW north for 2½ miles to Wansford Bridge (074992). Left; left along Yarwell Road. Pass surgery; in 150m, right (070991, fingerpost, stile) on path. In 150m left (black arrow (BLA), parallel to road. In 450m path bends left; in 30m fork left; in 100m, right (067988) on bridleway through Old Sulehay Forest for 1 mile. At road, left (054984); on left bend, right (054980) through gate on path round Ring Haw. In ½ mile through 5-bar gate (053973); cross byway; take path to right of Ring Haw Field Station. Kissing gate, then field edge path. In 200m through 5-bar gate (052970); left (arrow) on field path (BLAs). In 350m, right across old railway (055968); left (arrows, BLAs) across fields. In ½ mile through housing estate to road in Nassington (061964); left to church.

Lunch/Accommodation: Queen’s Head, Nassington PE8 6QB (01780-784006, queensheadnassington.co.uk)

Info: wildlifebcn.org

 Posted by at 01:35