john

Jun 242017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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There are parts of the Welsh Borders that are neither rugged mountains nor agricultural lowlands, but rather semi-wild uplands where sheep and cattle roam freely and a walker can step out along grassy pathways in every direction. The Begwns are a fine example, a rolling ridge of common land north-west of Hay-on-Wye that separates the Brecon Beacons from the hills of southern Radnorshire.

The National Trust owns the Begwns, and keeps the common beautifully grazed, mown and open of access. We set out west from the hill road south of Painscastle on a midday of brisk wind and hazy blue sky. A woman strode another path parallel with ours, her dark hair blowing out behind her, three dogs scampering around her heels.

Yellow tormentil flowers dotted the slopes. Bees bumbled among the dandelions in a nectarous daze. Our inland track became a pot-holed lane where foxgloves grew among the stone slabs of the walls. We passed the tumbledown farm of Bailey-bedw, the house roof in holes, an elder bush rising from the chimney pot like a puff of green smoke.

Beyond Bailey-bedw, sheep were gobbling turnips in a field beside the track. I watched a ewe make her selection, scrape it open with her incisors, then slide it with an upward jerk of the head to the back of her mouth where she crushed it between her strong yellow molars.

The track swung up and over a shoulder of hill, then bent back on itself to climb to The Roundabout. This conifer plantation perches at the brow of the Begwns inside a circular wall, commanding a really spectacular view. We gazed our full, south to the tumbled heights of the Brecon Beacons and the ship’s prow of Hay Bluff as pale as a lead cut-out in the haze, north across the Painscastle valley to where the green patchwork of pastures rose into dun brown moorland.

A grass track took us down from The Roundabout to Monks’ Pond, flat on its saddle of ground in a golden collar of flowering gorse. The margins of the water were spattered with white blooms of water crowfoot. We walked a circuit of the wind-ruffled lakelet, and headed back home over the grassy shoulders of the Begwns.

Start: Parking bay at cattle grid, Croesfeilliog near Painscastle, Powys, HR3 5JH approx. (OS ref SO 182445)

Getting there: On hill road to Hay-on-Wye, 1 and three quarter miles south-east of Painscastle. Park opposite National Trust ‘Begwns’ sign.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 188):
Cross road; follow track west along lower, right-hand edge of Access Land with fence on right. In ¼ of a mile cross stony track (177444). Two green tracks diverge here; take left one to ridge (175444). Right here (west) along rutted track, soon becoming tarmac lane. In ¾ of a mile cross road (163447); in ½ a mile, pass track to ‘Top of Lane’ (156448). In 100m fork left onto grassy path, which bends left over shoulder west of The Roundabout. In 600m, at large pond on right, turn left (149443) uphill to Roundabout (155444). From gate, head along spine of Begwns, bearing right across road (161440) to Monks Pond. From north-east corner (166438), head for angle of wall; north, then east on track with fence, then wall on right. In ½ a mile join farm track at Bird’s Nest ruin (176440); ahead to road (183442); left to car.

Lunch: Picnic at The Roundabout

Accommodation: Baskerville Arms, Clyro, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5RZ (01497-820670, baskervillearms.co.uk)

visitwales.co.uk; satmap.com, ramblers.org.uk

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 02:24
Jun 172017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Young lambs crying, ewes blaring, and a curlew emitting haunting cries from the slopes of Clougha as we skirted the stone stronghold of Cragg Farm. Sunlight slanted across the folded fells that climbed southward into the great upland wilderness of the Forest of Bowland. Nearer at hand, our aiming point of Clougha ran as a high line stretched against a pale blue summer sky.

Beyond the slit-windowed wall of Skelbow Barn – more fortress than hay-store – we turned uphill beside the musically burbling Sweet Beck. A faint path led up beside a nameless stream trickling over mats of slippery moss, heading for higher ground through tough old heather sprigs and acid green bilberry.

The sun struck glitters of mica out of the sandy stones of the track. Two bright green butterflies spiralled together over the heather, lovers or antagonists. A spring whelmed from the heart of a cushion of emerald moss so intensely green it stung the eyes. Thirty thousand feet above, a jet drew a smoky finger of white across the blue ceiling of the sky, a message from another world entirely.

Up at the heights of Clougha, three rectangular stone monoliths stood side by side in a sea of grey stony clitter. Close-up, they proved to be an installation by landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy – ‘Clougha Pike Chambers’, a trio of sentry boxes with beautiful elliptical openings. ‘A womb with a view,’ said Jane, sitting back in one of the sculptures to gaze out across the hillside and listen to cuckoos calling from Cragg Wood far below.

A Landrover track proved a reliable guide on our descent from Clougha. We stopped to watch an army of ants dragging a dried-out centipede across the stones. A mother grouse clicked frantically to her three fluffball chicks to stay low and invisible as we walked by. And out in front unrolled a most stupendous hundred-mile view over the low-tide immensities of Morecambe Sands, the widening arms of the Lakeland and North Wales coasts, and a blur on the western sea horizon that might have been the Isle of Man.

Start: Little Crag car park, near Caton, Lancaster LA2 9ET (OS ref SD 546618)

Getting there: On Littledale Road (off Rigg Lane, between Caton and Quernmore – M6, Jct 34)

Walk (5½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL41): Leaving car park, right along road. In 100m, right by cattle grid, over ladder stile, past Cragg Farm on field track. In 700m, left through gate at Skelbow Barn (551613). In 100m, right uphill with wall on right. Through gate; in 150m, left over ladder stile (551611). Right along wall; in 100m, beside gate, left up track on left of beck (NOT green embanked track on your right!), aiming for tree. Above tree continue, keeping about 100m from wall on left. In 300m, make for stony track bearing left round hillside, parallel with wall. 700m after leaving tree, track curves right/south (553606) for ¾of a mile to meet a 4 x 4 track (552596). Left to Goldsworthy installation (556595); return along 4 x 4 track. After 1¾ quarter mile descent, track turns sharp left near Cragg Wood wall for steep descent into gully (541612); right here on path along north edge of Access Land for ⅔ of a mile to ladder stile (551611), Skelbow Barn and car park.

Conditions: Ascent boggy after rain. Inadvisable in mist.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: The Borough, Dalton Square, Lancs LA1 1PD (01524-64170) – cheerful city centre stop-over.

Info: Lancaster TIC (01524-582394)
Information, online maps, more walks: christophersomerville.co.uk

Rossendale Round-the-hills Walk, 3 September:
facebook.com/Rossendaleroundthehillswalk/

visitlancashire.com, satmap.com, ramblers.org.uk

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 02:11
Jun 102017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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There were exciting times in medieval Ewyas Harold, back when the Welsh Borders were aflame with insurrection against their Norman/English overlords. The church tower, squat and small-windowed, looks more of a fortress than an ecclesiastical construction, and the tree-smothered mound on the outskirts of the village once held a castle built by the Earl of Hereford as a stronghold against the Welsh.

Today all is peace and quiet hereabouts. Goats graze the castle meadow. On the pasture slopes as we walked west, a muscular bull in a gleaming grey pelt stood lord of twenty slow-munching brown cows. At Platch the farmer came to his gate to point out the path. ‘See those white buildings in the trees across the valley? That’s where I was born – so I haven’t moved far!’

The sharp profile of Ysgyryd Fawr stood up on the southern skyline as we skirted Wigga farm. Down in the valley below, Rowlestone church lay modestly beside the lane. You’d never guess from the plain northern aspect of St Peter’s what artistic treasure lies within.

The master masons of the Herefordshire School of Sculpture created a 12th-century masterpiece in this humble spot. Over the south doorway Christ sits in glory inside an oval mandorla. Angels swing joyously on its frame like children in a playground. A Green Man with Medusa curls of foliage stares manically alongside. Inside, carved birds flank the chancel arch where St Peter and an angelic friend are depicted right way up, then upside down. The details have stayed remarkably sharp over the 900 years of these sculptures’ existence.

From the flowery churchyard (early purple orchids, cowslips, violets, milkmaids) we descended to the Cwm Brook, with a flock of frantically bleating sheep at our heels. A beautiful stretch of meadows beside the brook, a green lane leading to the banks of the River Monnow among delicate white flowers of meadow saxifrage – a rarity in this part of the world – and we were cresting the last hill outside Ewyas Harold.

There are lively times still in this small village. A hundred locals in party mood had descended on the Temple Bar Inn, and their animated talk and laughter drew us irresistibly in.

Start: Temple Bar Inn, Ewyas Harold, Herefordshire, HR2 0EU (OS ref SO 387286)

Getting there: Bus 440 (Abbey Dore – Pontrilas)
Road – Ewyas Harold is signed off A465 (Abergavenny-Hereford) at Pontrilas.

Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL13): From Temple Bar Inn, right (‘Longtown’) past Dog Inn. In 200m bear left up steps (386287). Cross field to left of castle mound; then track past sheds, through gate (yellow arrow/YA) and on west through 4 fields with hedge on right. In 5th field, Prior’s Wood is on right; at end of Prior’s Wood in 6th field (376290), aim a little left, away from wood, across field. Keep left of metal gate (373290); follow hedge on right for 50m to go through gate (YA). On through 3 fields with hedge on right to Platch Farm (‘Plash’ on OS Explorer); left up drive (farmer prefers walkers to use this, rather than footpath) to road (369286).

Right along road. In 600m, at Ball’s Cross, left (364285, ‘Rowlestone’); in 100m, left over stile (fingerpost/FP). Through scrub, then aim for top right corner of field. Right over stile; left along hedge; left through gate at field end; right along hedge to pass between sheds at Wigga Farm (366282). Cross field and stile; on to gate into road (368279). Left; in ¼ mile, opposite gate on left, turn right through gates (370277) down left side of hedge. In 50m, left (YA) along field to stile (372274, YA) into orchard. Through gate; follow hedge down to road, right to Rowlestone church (374271).

On left bend by church, cross road. Left through gate (YA); down field slope, bearing left to cross Cwm Brook by footbridge (372268). Left along right bank of brook for 600m to cross road (377264). Cross stile (FP); on with hedge on left. Over stile (YA) and footbridge; at next field end, right over stile (380262). Immediately left over stile; on with hedge on left; through gate to farm track. With house down on right (381261), turn left up concrete track to road and turn right (384262) past Rowlstone Park Farm.

In 400m, on second sharp right bend, keep ahead (386262) on stony lane between hedges. In 300m, just before River Monnow, left through gate (389263, FP). Bear left along river. In 500m bear left up slope to house on ridge (391267). Through gate; right along lane to road (391270); right downhill to Pontrilas. Left along A465; in 150m cross junction with B4347 (‘Ewyas Harold’); in another 40m, left (395276, FP) to cross Dulas Brook. Left along river bank (‘Herefordshire Trail’/HT). At end of 2nd field, half right (390286, HT) to cross stile; follow hedge to stile, then drive to road; left into Ewyas Harold.

Conditions: Many stiles!

Lunch/Accommodation: Temple Bar Inn, Ewyas Harold (01981-240423; thetemplebarinn.co.uk) – very friendly, helpful and comfortable

Info: Hereford TIC (01432-268430)

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

 Posted by at 01:19
Jun 032017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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When the Ward family from Cheshire bought an estate on Strangford Lough in 1570, Ireland was a rough and dangerous place for English settlers. The fortified tower the newcomers built and named after themselves, Castle Ward, was fit for the times. But the house that their descendant Bernard Ward built two centuries later in his beautifully landscaped park was a luxury home, better suited to easier times.

Bernard and his wife Anne could not agree on an architectural style, so they settled for a pragmatic, his-and-hers solution – the south frontage conforming to Bernard’s severely classical design, the north half that faced onto Strangford Lough in Anne’s exuberant Strawberry Hill-inspired Gothic. Inside, the décor carries on the inharmonious theme: Bernard’s rooms are of plain and perfect proportion, Anne’s a riot of onion-dome plasterwork ceilings and Turkish windows.

The National Trust have laid out several colour-coded and waymarked trails through the Castle Ward woods and parkland, and we chose the Boundary Trail that skirts the demesne. There was a bizarre start to the walk, as a silhouette familiar from TV hove in view – the grim stronghold tower of Winterfell, ancestral hall of the Stark clan from Game of Thrones. Remembered as a blackened and smoking ruin full of corpses, there was a curious frisson in finding the real thing standing tall and unblemished – the original fortified tower of the Wards, commanding a really superb prospect of the silky blue waters of Strangford Lough.

Beyond the forbidding old tower the trail led away north along the lough shore, where green and orange seaweed wafted a pungent iodine whiff across the path. An old crowstepped boathouse stood out in the water on a low promontory. Across the inlet the harbour town of Portaferry lay under its hummock of a hill, guarding the narrows where Strangford Lough’s tidal waters meet the sea.

Soon we turned our backs on the lough and followed the path under a clearing sky through sycamore and oak woods carpeted thickly with bluebells. The green parkland of Castle Ward lay in sunshine, gleaming with gorse bushes and buttercup drifts. Coot chicks meandered across a rushy pond, their fuzzy scarlet heads frantically bobbing. Goldcrests twittered sweetly high in the treetops of Mallard Plantation, where bell-like white flowers of wood sorrel still nodded among their trefoil leaves.

From a viewpoint on the demesne wall we looked out west across gold and green lowlands to where Slieve Croob and the neighbouring Mourne Mountains stood veiled in warm grey haze. Then we turned back towards Castle Ward through quiet pastures where the cows and calves gazed stolidly at us before resuming their steady munching.

Start: Castle Ward car park, near Strangford, Co. Down BT30 7LS (OSNI ref J572493) – moderate charge, NT members free

Getting there: Castle Ward is signed off A25, 1½ miles west of Strangford

Walk (8 miles, easy, OSNI 1:50,000 Discoverer 21; Castle Ward Trails map available from Visitor Centre; online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From main car park, right towards Visitor Centre. Before archway, take path on left (‘Trails, Winterfell’). Follow ‘Winterfell’ to Old Tower and gateway beyond. Left along shore, and follow ‘Boundary Trail’ and red arrow waymarks for 8 miles, back to car park.

Conditions: Very well waymarked throughout. Path is shared with cyclists. No dogs between March and October (livestock in fields).

Lunch/tea: Castle Ward teashop

Accommodation: The Cuan, Strangford BT30 7ND (028-4488-1222, thecuan.com) – friendly, family-run hotel

Castle Ward (National Trust): 028-4488-1204, nationaltrust.org.uk/castle-ward

Info: Downpatrick TIC (028-4461-2233); discovernorthernireland.com

satmap.com, walkni.com

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 01:56
May 272017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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If I could wrap up in one package my ideal place for a walk in spring, it would be these few miles beside the River Tees. There’s something complete, something absolutely perfect about the blend of sights and sounds here in this twisting cleft in the Pennine Hills – the rumble and chatter of the young Tees in its rocky bed, the high volcanic cliffs between which it snakes, the poignant cries of curlew and lapwing nesting in the sedgy fields, and above all the brilliant colours of the exquisite little flowers that bloom for a short, unpredictable season across the craggy back of Cronkley Fell.

Setting out on a cold, wind-buffeted morning in mid May, we had no idea whether the flowers would be out or not; their brief blooming depends so greatly on what kind of winter, what kind of spring Upper Teesdale has had. It felt more like a February morning as we crossed the racing Tees near Cronkley Farm. But in a damp bank beside the farm, sunk among masses of marsh marigolds, we spotted the pale yellow orbs of globe flowers, a signal that spring was at least attempting to elbow winter out of the way.

Behind Cronkley Farm we climbed between the juniper thickets of High Crag, up into the grassy uplands where the old droving track called the Green Trod runs up the nape of Cronkley Fell. The wind did its best to push us back, but we put our heads down and fought it to the summit.

A succession of ‘exclosures’ up here, wired off to make them impenetrable to the nibbling sheep and rabbits, harbours the rarest of Upper Teesdale’s spring flowers, delicate survivors of a post-Ice Age flora that has vanished from the rest of upland England. We knelt on the stony ground to take in these miniature beauties at eye level – deep pink bird’s-eye primroses, tiny white stars of spring sandwort, and the intensely, royally blue trumpets of spring gentians.

At last we tore ourselves away, frozen and entranced. We descended to the Tees and returned along the brawling river, where lapwings flew up and curlew skimmed overhead, intent on shepherding these human intruders away from their nests and unhatched eggs.

Start: Forest-in-Teesdale car park, near Langdon Beck, Co. Durham DL12 0HA (OS ref NY 867298)

Getting there: On B6277 (Middleton-in-Teesdale – Alston), 1½ miles beyond High Force car park.

Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL31. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Right along B6277; in 100m, left down farm track. Skirt right of first house (864296); down to wicket gate (yellow arrow/YA); on, keeping right of Wat Garth, to track. Join Pennine Way (PW) and cross River Tees by Cronkley Bridge (862294). Follow PW and YAs past Cronkley Farm, into dip (862288), up rocky slope of High Crag, and on along paved track. In 500m, left across stile (861283). PW bears left here, but continue ahead uphill by fence. Through kissing gate (861281); in 100m, turn right along wide grassy Green Trod trackway. Follow it for 2 miles west across Cronkley Fell (occasional cairns). Descend at Man Gate to River Tees (830283); right along river for 2½ miles. At High House barn (857294) aim half left across pasture for Cronkley Bridge; return to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk, Barnard Castle DL12 9EB (01833-650213, rose-and-crown.co.uk) – wonderful village inn, comfortable and welcoming

Moor House NNR: 01833-622374; northpennines.org.uk

Peak District Boundary Walk (friendsofthepeak.org.uk/boundary-walk): Launch Day, Buxton – Sat 17 June

satmap.com, ramblers.org.uk; thisisdurham.com

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 02:56
May 202017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Take your umbrella if you visit St Briavels on Whitsunday evening, because it’ll be raining bread and cheese. Those humble comestibles are hurled from the top of the Pound Wall opposite St Briavels Castle, while the townsfolk hold upturned brollies aloft to catch as many morsels as they can for good luck.

St Briavels stands on the eastern fringe of the Forest of Dean. Legend, myth and arcane customs hang thickly about this ancient slice of forest where Gloucestershire meets Monmouthshire and England stares at Wales across the beautiful valley of the River Wye.

Below St Briavels Castle we found a field path running along a side cleft of the Wye Valley where ewes with lambs at foot stood staring as we went by. Through the bluebell woods of Slade Bottom ran the Slade Brook, a stream laden with calcium, depositing thick layers of the stuff in miniature dams and pool rims over which the water sparkled.

This is all steep green countryside, heavily wooded and set with scattered farms. At Great Hoggins a chestnut horse and its Shetland pony sidekick came up to look us over. Willsbury Farm sat well down on its slope, all white walls, tall chimneys and tiny windows. Forest of Dean locals have always been inclined to plough their own furrows without so much as a by-your-leave; and when the Reeve of St Briavels decided to build himself a fine house at Willsbury back in 1230, he did so without permission. The Reeve’s illegal farmstead has stood unchallenged for almost 800 years. So much for respect for the law around here.

In Rodmore Grove below the house the brook ran red with mud through clumps of brilliant gold marsh marigolds. A glimpse opened out across the trees of Pickethill Wood to where the grey River Severn broadened between hills to its estuary under a sky of giant white puffed clouds, trampolines for angels.

We left the trees and walk up the long meadow to Highgrove Farm where lambs went kicking the itches out of their heels. A last climb up a hedge of may blossom, and we were cresting the ridge towards St Briavels in the first low sunbursts of a beautiful spring evening.

Start: George Inn, St Briavels, Glos GL15 6TA (OS ref SO 559046)

Getting there: Bus 701 (Coleford), 707 (Coleford-Chepstow)
Road – St Briavels is signposted from A48 (Chepstow-Lydney)

Walk (7½ miles, woodland and field paths, OS Explorer OL14): Opposite St Briavels Castle, down Mork Road beside church (‘Bigsweir’). At left bend, ahead (557049, ‘Mork Lane’). In 40m, right down drive of Tyltham’s Tump (yellow arrow/YA on telegraph pole). Follow YAs down garden to cross stile; ahead, contouring hillside for 500m to enter wood (561053). Follow path above Slade Bottom and through woods for ¾ mile to cross B4228 at Bearse Farm (572051).

Up drive opposite (fingerpost). Fork left along drive (‘Little Hoggins’); over stile; at field end, left (573049) and follow hedge on right. At top corner, right through kissing gate/KG; aim 50m left of gate opposite. Through KG (575046); half right across field to KG; stiles in paddocks to road near Great Hoggins Farm (578045). Left along road; in 300m, fork right off road (581045, fingerpost) along field edge with hedge on left. At far end, over stile; half right over brow of field, aiming right of Willsbury Farm, to cross 2 stiles (585044, YAs). Bear right to skirt pond anticlockwise. Cross south end of pond (586042); right over stile (YA); follow path through Rodmore Grove and other woods for 1 mile to road (588028).

Right along road; pass drive to Clanna Lodge, then footpath crossing road. In another 100m on right bend, fork left downhill on stony lane (582028). In 150m, where lane forks and bends left and downhill, keep ahead on woodland path. In 300m, round sharp left bend (580032), returning southward down west side of valley for 500m to stile out of woods (578028). Keep ahead for ⅔ mile through three long fields to pass below Highgrove Farm. After crossing last stile (570033), bear left in front of rock outcrop with fence/hedge on left. In 150m, left across stile (568035); up field edge; right along top of field. At next corner, left over stile (565034); on with hedge on left. Through gateway (563034); right with hedge on right for ½ mile to stile on right into lane (561041). Left to cross B4228; down roadway opposite; in 50m, right down Pystol Lane to George Inn.

Lunch: George Inn, St Briavels (01594-530228, georgeinnstbriavels.co.uk)

Accommodation: St Briavels Castle YHA (0345-371-9041, yha.org.uk/hostel/st-briavels)

Info: Coleford TIC (01594-837135, wyedeantourism.co.uk)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

St Briavels Bread & Cheese Scramble: 4 June, 7.30pm (calendarcustoms.com/articles/st-briavels-bread-cheese-scramble)

 Posted by at 02:05
May 132017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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On this cool spring morning Clunton lay as quiet as anywhere under the sun. Green slopes rose steeply on all sides, crowned with dark conifer woods, cradling the little village in a fold of the Shropshire hills. Looking back from the side of Clunton Hill, it might have been an Alpine rather than an English scene.

A field path led steeply up to the tangled ways of Merryhill Plantation. A quick phone call confirmed that its forbidding forestry notices were long out of date. We swung down the track and out into lambing fields where the northward view made us gasp, a painter’s ideal of hill country with patchwork fields, snaking lanes and artfully placed spinneys. This was the Walcot Estate bought by soldier-of-fortune Robert Clive (‘Clive of India’) in 1763, with the vast riches he acquired during colonial service with the East India Company.

Down in the valley we joined the Shropshire Way, a dusty white road running west between banks of violets, bluebells and star-like wood anemones. Giant old oaks, contorted and massive, stood on the banks of Walcot Wood, survivors of storms and the woodman’s axe, nowadays individually tended by the National Trust.

Up on Sunnyhill we came to Bury Ditches, a great oval hill fort built 3,500 years ago with four concentric rings of ramparts and ditches. Uncountable slaves and prisoners-of-war lived and died while mounding these prodigious earthworks. We walked a circuit of the ramparts, taking in the mighty view – the long whaleback of the Clee Hills, Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge in the east, the quartzite upthrust of the Stiperstones like a black excrescence on the northern skyline, and Corndon Hill looming bulkily over the huddled houses of Bishop’s Castle.

High in the sky a raven fought for mastery with a peregrine, black against silver, a scribble of swoops, sideslips and angry screams. We watched the battle until the birds had circled out of sight, and then dropped down the woodland tracks and out in brilliant sunlight over the long slopes back to Clunton.

Start: Crown Inn, Clunton, Shropshire SY7 0HU (OS ref SO 335814)

Getting there: Clunton is on B4368 between Craven Arms and Clun. Park at Crown Inn (please ask permission, and give the pub your custom!)

Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorers 201, 216): From Crown Inn car park, left up road (‘Bury Ditches’). At No. 5, Gunridge, fork right up lane (353817). Through kissing gate on left, over stile, uphill beside fence to stile (yellow arrow/YA) into wood. In 150m, right over stile; uphill beside fence to cross stile under tree at top left corner of field (337819). Right with hedge on right for 2 fields (stiles); half left to cross stile (341821); follow hedge on right uphill. Near the top, right over stile (343823, YA); left up hedge and through strip of woodland.

Exit over stile (345827, YA); right to cross stile into Merryhill Wood; track down to gate (350828, YA). Half left down field, aiming for dark treetops, then stile (354830, YA). Down to stile near corner of wood; down to stile/gate (356832, YA); left along valley road. Following Shropshire Way/SW for 1¼ miles past Lodge Farm (346838) to Stanley Cottage (335839). Through garden gate (SW) to pass in front of cottage; leave garden through another gate, and up drive to road. Right; left into Bury Ditches car park; take first path on right past Bury Ditches info board, and follow track (red, blue trail marks) uphill to Bury Ditches hill fort (328838).

At far (west) side, follow path down to gate (326836). Bear right on track parallel with hill fort. In ¼ mile, at junction, bear left (325840, red marker, SW); in 100m, left (red marker, YA); in 50m, right (red marker, YA). Descend into valley, cross wide forest road (322836), and descend grassy track (red marker, YA).

In 200m, red route turns left across stream, but bear right here (321834) on boggy, grassy track, keeping stream on left. In 200m, fork left down forest road (YA). At sharp right bend, go left through kissing gate (324831, ‘Walking With Offa’ arrow). Right along hedge, descending to turn right along farm road. At Stepple farm, keep to left of buildings (325826); pass between wooden gate posts, and fork right off drive through gate (YA). Track descends to gate (326823, YA); cross stream, and bear left with stream on left, through fields for ¾ mile back to Clunton.

Lunch: Crown Inn, Clunton (01588-660265, crowninnclunton.co.uk) – phone for opening times.

Accommodation: School House B&B, Chapel Lawn, Bucknell, Salop SY7 0BW (01547-530836, theschoolhousebandb.co.uk) – excellent, friendly place

Bishop’s Castle Walking Festival, 13-17 May: bcwalkingfest@gmail.com; walkingfestival.co.uk

Info: visitshropshirehills.co.uk; visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:03
May 062017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Flamstead sits in the gently undulating clay-and-flint country where Hertfordshire slips over into Bedfordshire. On this spring morning bright sunlight played on the tile-hung houses, and lit the pleasing jumble of brick, flint and thin old tiles that composes the church of St Leonard at the heart of the village.

It was a day in a thousand, woods and fields all bursting into life under the warm sun. Central London lay less than an hour away – how could that possibly be? Luton-bound aeroplanes passed silently like silver fish across the blue pool of the sky; but down here, walking through the spring wheat with flints jingling under our boots, we felt as remote from them as could be.

Beyond the busy main street of Markyate we came into more rolling ploughlands where beans were beginning to push up dark green leaves in neatly drilled rows. A faint heat ripple shimmered above the sun-warmed clay. In the woods around Roe End the beeches were just coming into leaf, their upper works a froth of tender translucent green, a contrast to the sombre density of the storm-tattered cedars in the former parkland of Beechwood House.

Some of the ancient oaks standing barkless like dry ghosts might be old enough to have sheltered the wicked Lady of Cell Park, Markyate. The legend that attaches to Lady Katherine Ferrers is well known hereabouts – her marriage in 1648 at the age of fourteen to the heir of Beechwood, the robbing expeditions she embarked on with her highwayman lover, their hideout in Beechwood Park, and the bullet that ended her life at twenty-six. Are the youngsters who attend school in the great mansion nowadays taught that racy tale? Let’s hope so.

Beyond Beechwood Park we followed the stony old trackway of Dean Lane, where two blackcaps were conducting a song battle from the hedges. Dean Wood is a magical sort of place, sun-silvered and wren-haunted. We drifted on in a daze of sunlight, past the duck pond at The Lane House, a tumbling old cottage of many corners and nooks, and back toward Flamstead through woods hazed with bluebells, where wild cherry trees lifted a froth of pink blossom against the deep blue sky.
Start: Three Blackbirds PH, Flamstead, Herts, AL3 8BS (OS ref TL 078146).

Getting there: Bus service 34 (St Albans-Dunstable), 46 (Hemel Hempstead-Luton)
Road – Flamstead is signed off A5 Dunstable road, just west of M1 Jct 9.

Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 182): Right along Chapel Road, left down Friendless Lane. At fork with Mill Lane, right; in 200m, right (073146, Hertfordshire Way/HW). Follow HW waymarks to Markyate. At road, right to village street (662164). Left for 50m; left along Buckwood Road. By last house on left, left (057164, HW); follow HW waymarks for 3 miles to Jockey End via Roe End (048156), Kennels Lodge (040149), Beechwood House (046145) and Dean Lane (048141 – 042140). In Jockey End, left along road (041137); in 150m, right past allotments. At gate, leave HW and turn left (041134, yellow arrow). Fenced path through paddocks, across road (044131); field, paddocks, white arrow to The Lane House drive (048128).

Left here on Chiltern Way/CW; follow CW waymarks to Flamstead via road at Prior’s Spring (055136), Little Woodend Cottages (058136), Wood End Lane (067137) and Pietley Hill (073142).

Lunch: Three Blackbirds (01582-840330, threeblackbirdsflamstead.co.uk) or Spotted Dog (01582-841004, thespotteddog.co.uk), Flamstead.

Info: St Albans TIC (01727-864511)
Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk

Dawn Chorus Walk, 7 May: College Lakes Nature Reserve, Tring, Herts – bbowt.org.uk/events/2017/05/07/dawn-chorus-0

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

 Posted by at 02:21
Apr 292017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A glorious day of sun and wind, with cotton-wool clouds chasing each other across the deep blue sky over Corton Denham. Aubretia glowed in purple and pink along the garden walls of the South Somerset village, sprawled along its lanes at the foot of the long green down of Corton Hill.

Out in the fields skylarks sprang up singing from the chocolate-brown plough furrows, where chunks of pale limestone lay scattered. We headed north along the Monarch’s Way with an enormous prospect spread on our left hand, a wooded vale leading to Glastonbury Tor, the summit tower a tiny pimple at the apex of its steadily rising, beast-like back. The long line of the Mendip Hills closed the view, running off westward to the green wedge of Brent Knoll 25 miles away.

On the slopes under Parrock Hill a flock of sheep ran frantically bleating after the farmer as she puttered by on her quad to refill the feeder. One of the ewes came cautiously up to sniff my fingers. Her lamb peeped out shyly from the shelter of its mother’s flank, the sun shining shell-pink through its outsize propeller-shaped ears.

From the mellow stone houses of Sutton Montis the old greenway of Folly Lane brought us across the medieval ridge-and-furrow to South Cadbury, tucked in the lee of Cadbury Castle’s great ramparted hill fort. A look round the excellent archaeological display in the Camelot Inn, a glance at the 700-year-old figure of Thomas à Becket painted on a window arch in the village church, and we were climbing a stony cart track through the Iron Age ramparts to the wide, sloping summit of the hill.

Did King Arthur, the ‘once-and-future King’, ever feast here with his warriors and his treacherous queen? Undoubtedly not as Tennyson and Hollywood depict him, all in shining armour in many-towered Camelot. But a major excavation in 1966-70 brought to light the foundations of a great aisled feasting hall, built in the early Dark Ages at the crown of Cadbury Castle. And spectral riders still sally forth from the fort at midnight, local stories say, their horses shod with silver that flashes in the starlight.

Start: Queen’s Arms, Corton Denham, Somerset DT9 4LR (OS ref ST 635225)

Getting there: Corton Denham is signposted from South Cadbury (A303 between Wincanton and Sparkford)

Walk (7½ miles, lanes and field paths, OS Explorer 129): From Queen’s Arms, left. Opposite church, left along Middle Ridge Lane. Round left bend; in 30m, right (633224, ‘Woodhouse’) up lane. At top, over stile; west across 3 fields, then cross 2 stiles and turn right (625224, ‘Monarch’s Way’/MW). MW north for 1 mile; descend from Parrock Hill to road (629241).

Up road opposite (‘South Cadbury’); in 150m, left up stony lane to road (626246). Left to T-junction; right (‘Little Weston’) out of Sutton Montis. In ½ mile on left bend, right on footpath (620252, ‘Leland Trail’/LT, ‘South Cadbury’). In 100m (626256), left over stile (LT); right along hedge. Stiles, LT for 600m to Folly Lane; left to South Cadbury. At Camelot pub, right (632256); 100m past church, right up lane (632254, ‘Cadbury Camelot’) to Cadbury Castle hill fort.

Make circuit of ramparts; return to road. Right; in 500m pass Crang’s Lane on left. In 100m, left (633249, fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA), down across field, across brook (YA) and on ahead across field and past barn. At entrance to green lane (633246), right over stile; left along hedge, then line of trees, then bank on left. In ½ mile, right (637240, YA) down fenced path, then lane past Whitcombe Farm and on to road junction (631237). Left; pass road on left; in 100m, left up steps and over stile (‘Corton Denham’). Follow path up through hedges, on with hedge/fence on right for ⅔ mile. Through gate (635229); down green lane to road; left to Queen’s Arms.

Lunch: The Camelot, South Cadbury (01963-441685, camelotpub.co.uk) – features Cadbury Castle exhibition

Accommodation: Queen’s Arms, Corton Denham (01963-220317, thequeensarms.com) – stylish, comfortable village inn.

Info: Yeovil TIC (01935-462781)

Walk The Wight: Sponsored charity walk across the Isle of Wight, Sunday 14 May –
iwhospice.org/page/walk-the-wight.html

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

 Posted by at 05:37
Apr 222017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The old house of Rosehall drooped on its mossy terrace like a faded socialite the morning after the night before. Standing on the driveway looking out over the tussocky parkland and along the beautiful wild strath of the River Oykel, we pictured the grand heyday of Rosehall in the 1920s as the Highland love-nest of the Duke of Westminster and his glamorous paramour, Coco Chanel. The French couturière and designer, by the way, was no drooping lily. She walked, rode and fished as hard as anyone.

We strolled the carriage driveway under great beech, their trunks as pale and smooth as chalk. The brawling and rushing River Cassley, a tributary of the Oykel, winds through the park, and we walked upstream against its rain-swollen flow.

A crook of the river, barred across with enormous rocks and ledges, swung in a tight roaring curve below a little mossy graveyard spattered with snowdrops, its stone wall beautifully mended and maintained. Here landlord Neil Walter Graesser lies buried with his beloved fly rod. Nearby lies William Munro, the Rosehall gardener who died in 1821 at the not inconsiderable age of one hundred and four.

Above the graveyard a handy bench overlooked the thundering chaos of the River Cassley’s falls, the river foaming and jumping, vibrating the rocks under our boots, the water rearing back on itself in glass-grey surges around submerged snags in the riverbed.

We tore ourselves away at last, following a sedgy path that threaded the pines and birches of Rosehall Forest, rising steadily uphill in snaking curves between banks of ferns and mosses. These forest paths don’t look after themselves; it takes the sharp eyes and constant attention of many willing locals to keep them clear and passable.

Walkers are the beneficiaries. From the waymarked trail we looked out across the valley, over the roofs of Rosehall and away to a high ridge of hills over which peeped the snow-streaked peaks of the Sutherland mountains.

We descended towards the Achness Hotel, promising ourselves one of their piping hot bowls of cullen skink and a mighty session of music. It’s doubtful whether Coco and her Duke ever looked forward to their champagne and foie gras at Rosehall with keener relish.

Start: Rosehall Forest car park, near Lairg, IV27 4BD approx. (OS ref NC 479019)

Getting there: Car park is on A837 Rosehall-Ullapool road, ¼ of a mile before Achness Hotel, Rosehall

Walk (5 miles, easy, OS Explorer 440): From car park cross A837, through lodge gates opposite, down gorsy path to bridge and carriage drive (478015). Right; in 250m fork left past Rosehall House and follow drive. In 500m, at small stone bridge, fork sharp left (473020) and bear right along River Cassley to A837 bridge (472023). Cross road; down steps, cross footbridge and continue along river bank. In 600m, at graveyard (468028), pass entrance gate and follow wall, then path up to falls viewpoint of the River Cassley. Cross footbridge; on along river bank. In 200m, bear right at wooden gate (469029) with fence on right to road (470028). Right; in 50m, left through gate; path uphill (blue stripe posts). In 550m reach lookout bench and forest road (474030). Left; follow Deerpark & Wildwood Trail (yellow stripe posts). In ¾ of a mile, bear left up Achness Burn Trail (479030, brown stripes) for 250m to viewpoint (483031) and return to Deerpark & Wildwood Trail. Left to return to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Achness Hotel, Rosehall, Lairg IV27 4BD (01549-441239, achnesshotel.co.uk) – friendly, informal hotel with music sessions.

Info: scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/rosehall

visitscotland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 01:21