john

Mar 062021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Pentland Hills are to Edinburgh what the Chilterns are to London or the Wicklow Mountains to Dublin – a green open space on the doorstep of the capital city, hilly country that’s easily accessible and threaded with excellent paths. Setting out from West Linton, just to the south of Edinburgh, on a cold damp winter morning, we were looking forward to getting city air out of our lungs and a little red into our cheeks.

The stony lane called The Loan ran straight between mossy banks towards hillsides paled by a dusting of snow. Beech trees formed a guard of honour on either hand. Sleety rain came in short sharp flurries, pocking the puddles in the old droving track that soon joined a Roman road. Agricola’s soldiers built it in about 80 AD, a straight highway heading for the Firth of Forth.

A hillside of coarse grass rose alongside, lumpy and dimpled with ancient lead workings. Locals name this piece of ground the ‘siller holes,’ after the tradition that it also yielded silver to the miners.

Soon we turned aside on a rutted and grassy track heading purposefully into the hills. A couple of hundred years ago sheep were drive in great multitudes along these Pentland tracks down to West Linton market, a huge bustling affair where up to 30,000 sheep might be sold.

Below the track the Lyne Water went hurrying round the intricate bends it had carved for itself in its steep-sided green valley. Shooters walked its banks, pop-popping away at pheasants, each discharging gun betraying its position with a sudden spurt of grey smoke.

Beyond the shooting party we descended to cross the river, icy and black as it raced below the footbridge. Then it was back along a moorland road in spatters of snow which cleared in an instant to beautiful sunshine spreading across the hills.

Near West Linton we recrossed the river and follow a teetering woodland path known with good reason as the Catwalk. High on the lip of the Lyne Water’s gorge we threaded the beeches, watching our step and admiring the races of the river far below. Sleet gave way once more to sun, and every beech twig sported a row of raindrops as bright as brilliants.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; good tracks and paths. Catwalk path is narrow above steep slopes.

Please only walk within your Tier area, or enjoy this as an armchair walk till restrictions lift. And please consider others when you park.

Start: Gordon Arms Hotel, Dophinton Rd, West Linton, EH46 7DR (OS ref NT 149520)

Getting there: Bus 93 (Peebles – West Linton), 101 (Dumfries-Edinburgh)
Road: West Linton is on A702 between Edinburgh and Biggar

Walk (OS Explorer 344): Up lane opposite Gordon Arms (‘Carlops via the Loan’). In ¾ mile, right along the Roman Road (143530, ‘Carlops’). In 500m, sharp left (145535, ‘Little Vantage’). Follow arrows through farmyard and on. In 1¼ miles, at angle of drystone wall, left through gate (131546, arrow). Descend to river; right to cross footbridge (128546); up bank to road (127545); left. In 1¾ miles, left (140523; ‘Carlops’ on reverse of sign). Cross river above Lynedale House (141523); in 200m at top of rise, just before sheds on left, turn right (142527), up bank and through kissing gate. Follow narrow Catwalk path through woodland at edge of ravine for ¾ mile to return to West Linton.

Info: scotways.org, pentlandhills.org, visitscotland.com
Walking in the Pentland Hills by Susan Falconer (Cicerone)
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk
More walks info: @somerville_c

 Posted by at 01:49
Feb 272021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A day of big weather over the Forest of Bowland – big clouds sailing in patches of blue sky, a big boisterous wind across the high empty moors of this most treeless of ‘forests’. Bowland is a huge area of wild hilly country in the north west of Lancashire, Slaidburn a rare centre of civilisation at its heart.

We passed the First World War memorial in the village – 27 local men killed in that great slaughter – and crossed the arched bridge over Croasdale Brook. From the road a field path led north by way of stepped wall stiles and clover leys, the big bosomy fells of Bowland rising in the west, their flanks dull red with bracken, the long back of Pendle Hill ten miles off in the southeast like an upturned ship’s hull.

Twenty years ago the Forest of Bowland was notorious for possessing only one public footpath within its hundreds of square miles of moorland. Nowadays, thanks to the Countryside & Rights of Way Act of 2000 and a more enlightened attitude among landowners, plenty of hill paths are open to all, and the lower pasture lands are crisscrossed with rights of way.

We followed a path across grass fields gleaming in the sun, down to Shay House and a moorland road north. Soon we branched off along tracks and paths through coarse grass, rush clumps and boggy dells where cattle stared and went trotting off with panicky little steps.

Below lay Stocks Reservoir, looking for all the world like a natural lake with its islets, encircling trees and angling boats. The navvies who lived up here in the late 1920s, constructing the reservoir dam, had a canteen with its own branch railway line bringing barrels of Dutton’s Blackburn ale direct to the cellar, whence it was sold to the men at 4d a pint.

Round the reservoir we went, crossing the grassy rampart of the dam wall, then descending a long track through sheep pastures. We passed the Tudor country house of Hammerton Hall, the dozens of blank windows in its three gabled bays lending it a secret and inward looking air, and came down to Slaidburn just as the rain began to freckle in over the hills.

How hard is it? 6½ miles; moderate; field and moorland paths

Please only walk within your Tier area, or enjoy this as an armchair walk till restrictions lift. And please consider others when you park.

Start: Slaidburn car park, BB7 3ES (OS ref SD 714524)

Getting there:
Slaidburn is signed from A65 (Skipton-Settle) at Long Preston.

Walk (OS Explorer OL41): Right along road; right by war memorial; in 200m, left (712526, wall stile, fingerpost) up fields. Beyond beech plantation, half left (712529); path over 6 fields to Shay House drive, left of barn (707544). Right to road (710546); left. In ½ mile, right (710553, fingerpost) on moorland track. At corner of plantation fork half left (714556, yellow arrow/YA) to far left corner of plantation ahead (717559, stile, YA). On across stream and past ruined house for 700m to reservoir track (723559). Right. In 1 mile, cross track near Board House (717547); cross dam wall. Near far end, right down steps; left; at end, left (720544, gate). Immediately right up bank, across successive stiles and fields. Right along grassy track (721543) with wall on left, down to Hammerton Hall. Through gate (720539); right; bend left through gate (YA); follow stony drive. 100m after crossing Holmehead Bridge, left (713530) with wall on right. At ford (714525), right along river to road (712525); left into Slaidburn.

Info: forestofbowland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk
More walks info: @somerville_c

 Posted by at 01:10
Feb 202021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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We set out under a cold grey sky on one of those dank winter days when you are glad of the company of two pelting dogs to cheer you up and urge you into motion. There is nothing more ridiculous than a dog frisking about like a mad thing, and nothing better at barking the midwinter blues away.

Priston lies sunk in a fold of ground just south of Bath in that debatable land where Cotswold and Mendip hills blur together. Beyond the stone-built cottages we passed the church of St Luke & St Andrew with its curious central tower and outsize weathercock.

The path led south-west down a narrow valley where a slim and nameless stream slid round its bends under a coat of leaf-green weed. On the far side of the park-like wooden fences, ewes heavy with lambs stared and turned tail. Hazel twigs wriggled with catkins, snowdrops hung their white heads among the damp black leaves of last summer, and the bare hedges were netted with ragged powder puffs of old man’s beard.

The dogs played follow-my-leader, sheepdog Megan with a stick across her jaws. Cockapoo Philip zigzagged from one ditch to another like an earthbound snipe. By the time we reached the farm lane at the foot of the valley, he was sporting a thick and clotted pair of mud trousers, and had turned colour from pale cream to chocolate brown.

Turning north up the hill, we passed an old sheep-dip in the break of a field, beautifully shaped and stone-walled. Alas, no water in it for cleaning filthy Philip. From beyond the hillock of Priest Barrow came the pop-pop of shotguns and a faint cawing of rooks disturbed from the roost.

The path sloped down to Stanton Prior and the little grey church of St Lawrence. From here we turned south across the slopes of Pendown Hill to drop into the Priston valley, spread in greens and greys below. At Priston Mill the pool lay as dark as smoked glass. Beyond, the cottages and farm of Inglesbatch stood along their ridge.

The dogs, garbed from muzzle to tail in mud, led the way home beside a brook overhung with pussy willow buds as soft as kittens’ paws. In the sodden fields buzzards sat and waited, hungry enough in this back end of winter to be grateful for every unwary worm they could seize and swallow.

How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; field paths, muddy in places; 2 streams to ford)

Start & finish: Ring o’ Bells PH, Priston BA2 9EE (OS ref ST 694605)

Getting there: Priston is signed from Marksbury on A39 Bath-Wells road

Walk (OS Explorers 155, 142): Leaving Ring o’ Bells, turn left along side of pub. Take left fork to pass church; bridleway continues (692604, ‘Bridleway’); over stile and on (yellow arrows/YA). In 250m, fork left (YA) to valley bottom, and follow path for 1 mile to road (677595). Right uphill. In 200m, left through kissing gate/KG (677597); right along hedge, following YAs north for ¾ mile past Priest Barrow to road (675610).

Forward for 50m; forward off road (fingerpost, KG). North along hedge; across footbridge; through KG, up to top of hill. At road (675618), dogleg right/left; on up green lane, crossing road (675620) and on for half a mile to Stanton Prior (676627). Right along road past church; in 150m, on left bend, right along byway (679628) for ⅓ mile to cross road (682623). On south (‘Bridleway’) for ⅔ mile to road at Pottern (685614). Left; fork left for ⅔ mile to pass Priston Mill (695615).

In another 100m, fork right (‘Byway’) across ford and on for 350m to gate (699613). Left along green lane; cross ford; up slope, right at top (701614). In 100m, pass barn; right through small gate; through KG. Down slope to next KG; down to cross footbridge (700611). Follow field edge, YAs south to road (697606); right into Priston.

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

 Posted by at 02:23
Feb 132021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Notwithstanding its name, the New Forest is not a monolithic block of trees. These 150 square miles of ancient royal hunting ground comprise woodland, wetland, heathland, water and farmland, a wonderful patchwork of accessible countryside from which to tease out a walk for a short winter’s day.

Waymarks are thin on the ground in the New Forest, but the patch of open heath that stretches south of Burley is crisscrossed with good clear paths. We set out on a cold sunny morning along a gravelly track that ran between flowering gorse, sombre winter-dark heather and individual silver birch trees whose slim trunks and dusky red twigs glowed in the clear light.

New Forest ponies cropped the grass by the path, delicately snipping off precise bites with their strong grey teeth. From Turf Hill the southern skyline was spiky with ranks of conifers. We caught a glimpse of a pale blue whaleback hill on the distant Isle of Wight. Between hill and trees rose the slender rocket shape of Sway Tower, a Victorian folly 218 feet tall, built entirely of concrete and still standing proud in the landscape.

It’s easy to get the impression that these heaths form a flat tableland, but in fact they are burrowed with surprisingly steep valleys known as ‘bottoms’. We dropped down into Shappen Bottom past the tufted mire of Holmsley Bog, and crossed the long disused track of the Southampton-Dorchester railway, savouring the smell of bog myrtle cones that we pinched and rubbed to release their spicy fragrance.

Up on Holmsley Ridge beyond we strode west into the sun and wind, buoyed up on exercise and exhilaration. Three ponies had caught the same mood; they came cantering across the path, hooves drumming, tails flying, the leading pony neighing wildly and kicking up his heels as he frisked along.

Down in the hollow of Whitten Bottom streams, pools and flooded ruts led to Whitten Pond, the wind-ruffled water steel blue, the grassy margins a brilliant green in the low afternoon sun. A broad track beyond climbed the gently domed nape of Dur Hill Down, before looping off across the heath towards the old railway.

It’s a shame that Slap Bottom signifies nothing more exciting than ‘sloping valley’. There we steered around a group of ponies grazing the bank of a stream, and sauntered back to Burley in the cold bright sunlight.

How hard is it? 5¼ miles; easy; heathland tracks, wet in parts.

Start: Burley Cricket car park, Cott Lane, Burley, Ringwood BH24 4AP (OS ref SU 214029)

Getting there: Bus 125 (Ringwood)
Road – Burley is signed off A35 (Christchurch-Lyndhurst) and A31 (Ringwood-Southampton)

Walk (OS Explorer OL22): Cross road; down track (‘Forestry Commission Burley’). In 50m left on gravel track. In nearly 1 mile cross old railway (219015); in 200m fork right (219013). In ¾ mile keep ahead (right) at fork (209010) to Whitten Bottom. Cross stream by outlet at Whitten Pond (203012); ahead to cross road at barrier (201013). On along track over Dur Hill Down. In ½ mile at post, right (194013) along line of trees, on track curving right across heath to road (201017). Left across old railway; right into Burbush car park. Aim left towards power lines; in 50m, right on path between trees, across stream into open. Ahead up slope; in 500m, left (206018) on clear track. In ½ mile at Goat’s Pen Cottage join gravel drive (212025); at tarred road, right to car park.

Info: Ringwood Gateway (01425-473883, thenewforest.co.uk); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:25
Feb 062021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The sun had broken through at last, rolling away a cold blanket of mist to reveal the Wiltshire Downs and their subtle undulations. We stepped out under a blue sky, hearing horse hooves pounding along an unseen gallop in the hollow where Manton Stables lay hidden.

This wide open downland is horse and cattle country, the gallops tending to stretch along the tops, the cattle grazing the dry valleys below. A very fine Charolais bull, contentedly recumbent, kept a lazy eye on us as we passed on our way to the Devil’s Den.

Neolithic men raised the huge stones that form the structure of this passage grave. After the end of the last glaciation, these sarsens – ‘saracens’ or foreign stones – lay scattered all across the downs, easy pickings for the builders of Stonehenge and other ancient monuments.

We followed a wide path west through a shallow valley where a great congregation of lichen-stained sarsens delineated the curve of the hollow. Local people, seeing their resemblance to an enormous flock of sheep in bedraggled fleeces, named these clustered stones the Grey Wethers. Cows moved slowly among them, and a handsome ginger-and-white Simmental bull licked one ruminatively for the minerals it contained.

Sarsen stone is composed of sandstone bound together with a glassy silica. In his book ‘The Stonemason,’ Andrew Ziminsky calls it ‘diamond-hard, tougher even than granite.’ Nonetheless, three centuries ago in his ‘Palaeographia Britannica,’ antiquarian William Stukeley warned masons not to build with sarsen; ‘It is always moist and dewy, and rots the furniture.’

We shadowed the river of stones up the valley, then took to the ancient downland tracks that are the pride and joy of Wiltshire’s walkers. The Herepath (a Saxon word for ‘warpath’) led to the Ridgeway, a high road of braided ruts with a stunning view westward over many miles of downs and wooded valleys gilded by the afternoon sun.

Sarsens lay alongside the Ridgeway, and sarsens bounded the White Horse Trail, another venerable downland track that led us homeward between leafless hedges. A yellowhammer perched high on a bush, its breast sulphurous in the sunlight, and fieldfares flew over with vigorous wing thrusts, flocking together for protection and company in obedience to an age-old winter instinct.
How hard is it? 7½ miles; easy; downland paths and tracks

Please only walk within your Tier area, or enjoy this as an armchair walk till restrictions lift. And please consider others when you park.
gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code 

Start: Gravel Hill car park, Downs Lane, near Fyfield, Wilts SN8 1PL (OS ref SU 159700)

Getting there: Follow ‘Manton House & Hollow’ on A4 (Calne-Marlborough) between Fyfield and Manton. Car park 1 mile on left.

Walk (OS Explorer 157): Follow gravelled trackway west. In 700m left through gate (153703); on through field, with fence on left. In 500m, left (149701) down slope beside fence; left through gate (150698) to Devil’s Den stones (152697). Return to gate; on along grass track through Grey Wethers valley. In 1 mile path curves right to metal gate (137706). On with fence on right to corner of Wroughton Copse (138711); left down slope; left along Wessex Ridgeway/Herepath (133710). In 300m cross gallop (130709); bear right for 550m to stile onto Ridgeway National Trail (127714). Right for 1 mile; right onto White Horse Trail/WHT (125729). In ⅔ mile fork right at copse (132723), cross track and on (WHT). Through wood (135720), then grassy track (WHT). In 600m, left on Wessex Ridgeway/Herepath (143714); in 100m right (‘Byway’) to car park.

Info: uksouthwest.net/wiltshire/fyfield-down; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

The Stonemason by Andrew Ziminski (John Murray)

 Posted by at 01:29
Jan 302021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A beautiful day was promised over the eastern fells of the Lake District, with light easterly winds and plenty of blue sky. So it turned out, as we set off from the tiny village of Dockray to make a circuit of the craggy outlier of Gowbarrow Fell.

In the pastures around Parkgate Farm they were training an excitable young sheepdog in the business of gathering his charges. The flock swerved and fled across the field like a shower of white iron filings impelled by the black-and-white magnet of the dog. He yapped shrilly, they bleated high and low, the farmer shouted and whistled. Gradually the noise faded as we crossed Riddings Beck and turned up Gowbarrow’s steep rocky slope.

The fell rises in a graceless lump of green-grey rocks and fox-brown bracken to the east of Dockray. Norsemen named it ‘Windy Hill’, but all was still today under the winter sun. ‘More deer than trees’ was a late 17th century description of this private hunting ground for the lords of the Greystoke estate. Gowbarrow is still a wild place today, a hummock of moorland, rock, heather and boggy ground.

Views as much Alpine as Cumbrian opened to the south as we gained height on the steep stony path, a view of Ullswater’s lake and wooded shores. Beyond rose the long hummocky ridge of High Street, where the sun was causing the last curls of early mist to shred away in the clear air.

Up we went, a stony ascent by rocky steps and tree roots. Sparkling streamlets descended beside the path with a tinkling sound like distant sheep bells. A meadow pipit, disturbed from a mossy bog pool, darted up and away with snipe-like jinkings and a sharp chip! chip! of complaint. Near the top of the fell the gradient eased and the path ran over a wide heather moor to reach the trig pillar on Airy Crag at 1,579 feet.

The view from here was superb in unbroken sunshine, Ullswater trending northeast towards the flat plain of the Eden Valley and the rise of the North Pennine fells beyond, Great and Little Mell lumping in the northern foreground and a big crumple of high fells towards Helvellyn in the south west.

Down a well-trodden path, clockwise round the hump of Gowbarrow, to reach the lake shore level and a woodland path to Aira Force.* The waterfall that Wordsworth and countless other poets admired came bouncing and sluicing in white water down a black rock chute slick with mosses and liverworts. A fine spectacle to mark the homeward path through woods of alder and silver birch, along the fellside and back to Dockray in the last of the afternoon sunlight.
*NB spelling = Airy Crag; Aira Force

How hard is it? 5 miles; strenuous; steep climb to Airy Crag; many trip hazards on paths; many steps at Aira Force.

Start: Royal Hotel, Dockray, Penrith CA11 0JY (OS ref NY 393216)

Getting there: Dockray is on A5091 (Glenridding-Troutbeck)

Walk (OS Explorer OL5): Cross A5091; follow lane beside Dockray House (‘Aira Force’). Cross Riddings Beck at Millses (397217); in 200m through gate; left (399216, ‘Airy Crag’) through gate. Steeply up beside stone wall to Airy Crag trig pillar (408218). Keep ahead clockwise on clear path for 2¼ miles to footbridge over Aira Beck (401203). Don’t cross; turn right up right bank to Aira Force (399205). Cross lower footbridge; up steps; right to recross upper bridge. Path north on right bank to Millses and Dockray.

Lunch/Accommodation: Royal Hotel, Dockray (01768-482356, the-royal-dockray.co.uk) – friendly, characterful village inn.

Info: Penrith TIC (01768-867466); visitlakedistrict.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:33
Jan 232021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Horses in thick winter coats were cropping the paddocks at Berrow Green on a still, cold Sunday morning. Low sunlight crept across the fields, dispersing the last of the early mist, causing the horses’ breath to steam and the post-and-rail fences to cast long skeletal shadows of themselves on the frosty grass.

This country to the west of Worcester is all ups and downs, steep little slopes rising to wooded ridges and falling away into stream clefts where the winter sun doesn’t linger. Walking south from Berrow Green we had the Malvern Hills head-on in front of us, the north end of the range forming an unfamiliar hunchback lump in contrast to the usual prospect of a miniature line of mountains, elegantly extended and rising from the Midland plain.

The woods on Berrow Hill were smoky grey, patched with apricot where the last of the leaves had not yet blown away. On a rise of ground Easinghope Farm stood in solid red brick next to its weatherboarded barn. Seventy black-faced ewes in the farm paddock scuttled away, to stop all together and stare as we went by.

Moss and grass grew in the centre strip of narrow Easinghope Lane. A horse and rider went clopping slowly by. Five fat white turkeys came gobbling and squawking to the gate at Hawksnest Farm, their little pink eyes all agog. We pulled up to admire the eastward panorama over the Worcestershire lowlands, then descended into the steep valley of Bannersbrook.

Treecreepers squeaked their needly calls as they searched for insects hidden in crevices of the oaks and sweet chestnut trees. A trickle in a ferny hollow marked the outpouring of the intriguingly named Nipple Well, perhaps a remedy for mastitis in days gone by.

A sharp climb on slippery oak leaves, and we were up on the ridge of Ankerdine Common with a wonderful view west over the sunlit curves of the Terne Valley. Then down again through the trees to scatter the young ewes in the river pastures around Horsham Farm.

Above the homeward path a pair of redwings perched on the topmost twigs of a young oak, displaying the handsome arch of their pale eyebrows, as the short day’s sun slipped down towards the western woods.

How hard is it? 5¼ miles, moderate; field and woodland paths

Start: Admiral Rodney Inn, Berrow Green, Martley WR6 6PL (OS ref SO 748583)

Getting there: Berrow Green is on B4197 (signed ‘Martley’ from A44 Worcester-Bromyard)

Walk (OS Explorer 204): From pub, right along road. In 150m, left (Worcestershire Way/WW). Follow WW (well waymarked) for 1¾ miles to Ankerdine Common car park (737567) and on down to road (735564). Right uphill. In 200m, left (735566, ‘Sunningdale, Private Road’). In 50m fork left downhill through woods (yellow arrows/YA, green tree markers) to drive (733572). Right to Horsham Farm. Through gate at Lower Horsham Farm (734577); bear right (YA); through gateway (circular ‘public footpath’ waymark). Just past pond, right (gate, YA). In 150m, dogleg right/left (736578, stile, YA); in 15m, right (YA) up hill. In 100m, dogleg right/left (stile, YA). In 150m, through gate in lower field corner (738578). Ahead (fence on left); left at corner of Tinker’s Coppice (740578, YA). Uphill; at top of slope, right (742578, rails, YA) through copse to road (743578). Left; in 100m, right (fingerpost) down fence to stile onto road (745578). Left; right at corner; in 100m, left (fingerpost) across paddock; left (748578) on WW to Berrow Green.

Lunch/Accommodation: Admiral Rodney, Berrow Green (01905-886181, admiral-rodney.co.uk)

Info: Worcester TIC (01905-726311); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:49
Jan 162021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Across the Low Weald of Kent the sun was flooding paddocks and pastures with a rich wash of gold. It was one of those cold bright winter days when you can dream of spring, even though there isn’t a flower to be seen.

We set off from Dunk’s Green along footpaths dry and crunchy over the underlying greensand. Out in the fields it was a different matter. Brooks and ditches brimmed with winter rain, and every step brought a squelch and squirt underfoot.

On the outskirts of Plaxtol Spout a flock of siskins flirted among the alder cones they were feeding on. Beyond lay Old Soar Manor, a jumbled old structure with a very ancient building attached – a knight’s dwelling, built some seven hundred years ago by one of the local Culpeper family, of solid red ragstone with tiny arrow-slits in the walls.

Walking on, we wondered what this bowl of country might have looked like seven centuries ago. When did today’s immaculate apple and fruit orchards make their appearance, and when did money begin to lay out these manicured lawns and plant such immaculate hedges?

Up in Hurst Wood the ways were rutted and muddy, the views sublime. Winter had stripped away the leafy screens of the trees to reveal long wooded ridges in the distance, all painted in muted greys and blues by the low afternoon light.

We passed the smoke and small flames of a clearing where a forester was coppicing sweet chestnut, and descended green lanes to handsome red-and-white Yotes Court.

This lovely house was built in the last days of the Commonwealth by James Master, a gentleman whose expenses book still survives. What he spent his wealth on gives a good idea of who he was – a man of leisure, a hawker and rider, a gambler and cock fighter. A wide reader, too, and quite a dandy – his boot tops of sea-green silk were each embellished with a yard of costly lace.

The countryside where his house stands is embellished, too. Our homeward path lay past apple orchards and raspberry cages, shaven pastures and perfectly shaped hedges, among which the mellow brick farms and white-capped oasts sat ensconced like so many plump and satisfied judges after dinner.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; muddy in woods

Start: Kentish Rifleman, Dunk’s Green, Tonbridge, Kent TN11 9RU (OS ref TQ 613527)

Getting there: Bus 222 (Wrotham – Tunbridge Wells)
Road – M26, Jct 2a; A25 Borough Green; follow ‘Plaxtol’, then ‘Dunk’s Green’

Walk (OS Explorer 148): From pub, right along road. In 250m, left (615527, fingerpost/FP) to cross road (613433, FP). Bear left to stile/road (611534); right into Plaxtol Spout. Right (611537, ‘The Street’, ‘Crouch’). In 200m right (612538, FP). In 650m path approaches Old Soar; fork left (618541, arrow) to road (619540). Left; in 400m, right (‘West Peckham’); in 200m, left (624543, FP) into woods. In 200m, right (626543,); in 400m, right (628541); in 50m, left (white arrow). In 150m fork right (630540) to T-junction (631538). Left; in 150m, opposite gate, right (631540) down path, eastward for 1 mile to road (646539) in Swanton Valley. Dogleg left/right and on; just before Yotes Court, right at junction (650535) for ⅔ mile to road (641533). Right; in 15m fork left. In 400m fork left (636533). In 600m cross Gover Hill crossroads (631530); bridleway downhill to junction (630524); right, following Greensand Way for 1¼ miles to Dunk’s Green.

Lunch: Kentish Rifleman, Dunk’s Green (01732-810727, thekentishrifleman.co.uk) – takeaways available (ring to check).

Accommodation: Bull Hotel, Wrotham TN15 7RF (01732-789800, thebullhotel.com)

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

 Posted by at 02:01
Jan 092021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Berwickshire coast of south-east Scotland is a rugged one, all sharp-nosed headlands and lumpy sea stacks. On a windy January morning the promontory cliffs of St Abb’s Head looked bleak and exhilarating, just the place for a post-Christmas blow-through.

Yellow buds of winter aconite were struggling out under the trees at the National Nature Reserve car park. ‘And snowdrops, look!’ exclaimed our son George. Long-term resident of tropical Australia, he was revelling in the sights and sensations of this proper winter’s day.

Wrapped up to the eyes, we set out along the coast path above cliffs of volcanic rock so tumbled and jagged that the outcrops resembled shattered castle walls. A greenish wash of guano slathered the rocks, though the seabirds responsible were long gone to their winter quarters further south.

Grey seals had pupped on the secluded beaches of dusky red sand, and we caught glimpses of the adults offshore as they dived like fat Olympic swimmers after shoals of fish.

This was weather to make our expat son gasp and grin. The gale pushed and shoved us like an invisible thug. The dried sea pinks of last summer nodded wildly at the cliff edge, and cold blasts of wind feathered out the whitecaps on the sea into a heaving grey mass.

The path led into a sheltered green valley for a few minutes’ respite before climbing up the flank of Kirk Hill and into the wind again. Here on the slope in 643AD Aebbe – a Northumbria princess in flight from the unwanted attentions of King Penda of Mercia – founded a nunnery. When St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne came visiting, he spent his nights in prayerful immersion, up to his neck in the sea. A hard man for tough times.

Just below the summit stood a lighthouse and the whitewashed cottages where its keepers once lived through wind, sun and wild weather. The walled garden where they grew their greens lay abandoned beyond.

From the viewpoint above a magnificent view unfolded, west along mudstone cliffs stacked and folded towards the Firth of Forth and the distant hump of North Berwick Law, east over the fishing villages of St Abbs* and Eyemouth among their volcanic headlands.
*NB St Abb’s Head has an apostrophe, St Abbs village doesn’t.

George spread his arms and stood flapping like a scarecrow, delighting in the grey sea and wild sky, while I chased after the hat which the wind had snatched off my head and flung far away.

How hard is it? 5 miles, moderate; hilly coast path

Start: St Abb’s Head NNR Visitor Centre car park, St Abbs, near Eyemouth TD14 5PL (OS ref NT 913674) – £3

Getting there: Bus 235 from Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Road: A1 (Berwick – Haddington); B6438 at Reston to Coldingham and St Abbs.

Walk (OS Explorer 346): From Visitor Centre follow ‘Path to St Abb’s Head’ signs; then ‘Lighthouse Loop’ (purple arrows) to lighthouse (914692) and topograph beyond. Left along road. At north-west end of Mire Loch, left (908690) on Mire Loop (yellow arrows). At lower end of loch, right (913685) up stony track to road (912684). Ahead, following road back to car park. Left along B6438 to St Abbs harbour, and return to car park.

Lunch: Old School Café, Ebba Centre, St Abbs (01890-771413, @EbbaCentre) – excellent home cooking and baking, warm welcome all year round. Book ahead if in group of 5+

Accommodation: Home Arms, High St, Eyemouth TD14 5EY (01890-751316, thehomearms.com)

Info: St Abbs Visitor Centre (01890-771672, stabbsvisitorcentre.co.uk)
St Abb’s Head NNR Centre (01890-771443 nts.org.uk) – open 30 March–31 Oct.
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:00
Jan 022021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Where overnight rain had been sluicing through the Thames Valley, winter sunshine as clear and sweet as honey was now pouring across the grey and gold stone houses of Kelmscott.
William and Jane Morris spent their summers at Kelmscott Manor from 1871 onwards. William, the Father of the Arts & Crafts movement, found the obscure Oxfordshire backwater a balm for the soul. ‘Heaven on earth,’ he called Kelmscott. It became a rather more earthy paradise for Jane, who conducted a passionate affair at the manor with pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

We found the manor confined in a winter jacket of scaffolding. Sulphur-yellow quinces had dropped over the garden wall. They rolled along the lane we followed down to the rain-charged River Thames.
Rooks in their dozens went up cawing from the trees along the river, a broad highway of contrary tides whose main flow pushed downstream at running speed, while backwaters eddied and spun in opposing directions. On the graceful curve of Eaton footbridge we stopped to admire the strength and surging power of the water, then turned east through wide green meadows whose medieval furrows each held a miniature lakelet of rainwater.

The little church of St Michael & All Angels at Eaton Hastings benefited from the proximity of the Arts & Crafts powerhouse of Kelmscott Manor. We found a William Morris west window showing three ultra-romantic archangels with flowing locks and androgenous countenances. In the north chancel window Edward Burne-Jones created a stormy St Michael, heavy-eyed and morose, a striking characterisation.

The Thames lay distant as we walked on through the fields. The brimming ditches were lined with crack willows and ash trees distorted, bowed and twisted out of shape. A rowdy gang of winter thrushes roistered among the hawthorns, raucously exclaiming to one another as they stripped the branches of their crimson fruits.

A pair of sturdy old stone bridges spanned the bifurcated Thames at Radcot. A skirmish here in 1387 between the forces of King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke saw 800 men flee into the marshes and drown, but there were just three deaths by fighting – Sir Thomas Molyneux, a varlet, and a boy. History records that the knight was treacherously stabbed, but one would like to know more of the misfortunate varlet, not to mention that wretched child.

Such strife seemed far away as we strolled the Thames Path back towards Kelmscott. On the bank we passed a young woman in a bathing suit. She had been swimming in the cold and flooded river with the help of a stout rope and a strong companion. Pink from head to toe, she glowed with health and vigour. ‘The swans were scary,’ she confided through chattering teeth, ‘but I loved it!’

How hard is it? 7 miles, easy field and riverside paths.
Start: Plough Inn, Kelmscott, Lechlade GL7 3HG (OS ref SU 249991)
Getting there: Kelmscott is signed off A17 (Lechlade-Faringdon)
Walk (OS Explorer 170): Passing stump of cross and Plough Inn on your right, fork left along road. In 150m, right (250990, ‘Kelmscott Manor’). Ahead beside manor (‘Radcot Bridge’). In 150m, right on Thames Path (253988). In ½ mile, left across footbridge (247985). Through left-hand gate beyond cottage; left along field edges (National Trust green arrows) for 1 mile to road (263985). Ahead past Eaton Hastings church; follow D’Arcy Dalton Way east for 1¾ miles through fields (kissing gates, stiles) to A4095 at Radcot (286994). Left across 2 bridges; right (285995) on Thames Path for 3 miles to Kelmscott.
Lunch/accommodation: Plough Inn, Kelmscott (01367-253543, theploughinnkelmscott.com)
Info: sal.org.uk/kelmscott-manor; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:34