Oct 192019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Today was one of those ‘Shall we?’ days – a morning of chilly winds over County Durham, and a weather forecast of spitting showers followed by proper rain. It wasn’t really conducive, the thought of pulling on all the raingear and setting out through a dank and dripping Hamsterley Forest. But in the end we were glad we did.

‘Oh, it can get a bit clarty up there in the forest,’ said the jolly young ranger in the Visitor Centre. We hadn’t heard that local word meaning ‘mucky’ for many a day. And a bit clarty it turned out to be, once we’d got off the hard-surfaced tracks.

We had a look at the ranger’s map and decided on the Three Becks Walk, thoroughly waymarked and well laid out. The Bedburn Beck, charged with rain, went bouncing down under the trees, a vigorous young stream of water stained toffee-brown with peat from the moors. The forest steamed, a heady whiff of bark, resin and damp pine needles.

Timber climbing frames beside the trail catered for youngsters with energy to burn. In its maturity Hamsterley Forest plays a role as a leisure woodland for walkers, cyclists, runners and riders, but when it was created in the 1930s, it was as a severely commercial softwood forest.

Back then the north-east of England was in the grip of the Great Depression, and local pitmen and shipyard workers who had lost their jobs were only too happy to be paid for planting young trees in their millions. They lived on site in barrack-like wooden huts, still to be seen near the Visitor Centre.

We followed the Three Becks Walk west among the pines and larches, their hard dark presence softened by borders of beech, oak and sycamore. There was a steady trickle of chaffinch song, a background chitter of wrens, and in the treetops the excited thin squeaking of goldcrests foraging high up.

Soon we forked off the surfaced track, up a stony forest path bound together with knotty conifer roots. Clearings opened up, large areas left to grow scrubby where spindly rowans and silver birch swayed to the windy swirls of rain.

A steep descent on a slippery track, across Bedburn Beck and up through Frog Wood on an old drove road to a view over a gate onto open moorland rusty with heather sprigs and bracken. Down past the ruin of Metcalf’s House, once an inn for the drovers, with an apse-shaped bread oven at the house end. And a return along Redford Meadows beside Bedburn Beck, a beautiful lush end to the walk in steady rain, watching for dippers along the stream and breathing in the scent of the wet exhaling forest.

Start: Hamsterley Forest Visitor Centre, Co. Durham DL13 3NL (OS ref NZ 092312). Car park £6/day.

Getting there: Hamsterley Forest is signed from A68 (Darlington-Tow Law) at Witton-le-Wear.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL31): Follow the well-waymarked Three Becks Walk (white arrow on orange square) all the way round. NB Hamsterley Forest contains many walking and cycle trails, so look out for the right waymarks! On the return leg, vary the route by following Riverside Walk (blue arrows) from the road at Low Redford Bridge (081310). Turn right along road here to cross Aisford Beck; in 80m, left through car park (080309, ‘public footpath’ fingerpost) and follow Riverside Walk back to Visitor Centre.

Conditions: well surfaced, well waymarked trails. Trail maps available from Visitor Centre.

Lunch: Hamsterley Café, Visitor Centre.

Info: Hamsterley Forest Visitor Centre (01388-488312,;;

 Posted by at 01:48
Oct 122019

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Swallow were skimming low over the buttercup meadows of Peatlands Park, fuelling up on insect food as they strove to put on fat before their great flight south to African winter quarters. The flies and midges, in great abundance here on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, had been forced almost to ground level by low pressure over Northern Ireland. Rain clouds and sun bursts chased each other, blowing in across County Armagh from the west over the grey misty hummocks of the Sperrin Hills.

We stood watching the swallows for a while, before following the path through woods of oak and wych elm where a little narrow-gauge railway track snaked among the trees. Before Peatlands Park was formed as a recreational area, this was a bog extensively cut for peat which was trundled away by the diminutive railway for processing.

Beyond the trees the purple heather moorland of Derryhubbert Bog stretched away, dotted with tattered Scots pines. Three hundred men worked here early in the 20th century, cutting, drying, loading and shifting the turf for livestock bedding and vegetable packing.

First World War soldiers had their wounds packed with sphagnum collected from Derryhubbert Bog. The soft material, known as ‘bog moss’, is capable of absorbing up to twenty times its own volume of liquid – blood and corrupt tissue – and also contains an antiseptic agent.

We passed bog pools as black as polished marble. A dip in the ground, juicily wet and full of hazels and willow, showed where Annagarriff Lake once lay. The landowning Verney family used it for fishing, for wild fowling and as a supply of water for their Big House nearby. The Verneys preserved these woods for chasing the deer, and some of the trees are splendidly old.

A rain shower hissed across, polishing every blade of grass and bringing fruity, rooty smells from the bog. We took to a boardwalk path, and soon had glimpses between the willows of the grey waters of Derryadd Lough, a big open expanse fringed with reedbeds.

The boardwalk encircled the lough, its margins bright with purple buttons of devil’s-bit scabious. Bees hummed between the flowers, laden with pale gold saddlebags of pollen. Meadowsweet stood thick with seeds ready to drop. Gaps in the reeds gave views over the lake to the far reedbeds where a fleet of wigeon bobbed in the wind-furrowed water.

The return route brought us along a squelching track through bracken and birch scrub. A patch of bog had been laid out to show the process of old-fashioned turf cutting. Such labour, such strength and energy, to harvest that versatile material from the bed where it had lain for thousands of years.

Start: Peatlands Park, near Portadown, Co Armagh, BT17 6NW (OSNI ref H897603)

Getting there: Signposted from Jct 13, M1

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OSNI Discoverer 19; downloadable map and instructions at From car park ahead through gate; left along tarmac path with fence on left; follow red arrow waymarks of Peatlands Walk. In 3½ miles, near Derryadd car park, left onto boardwalk of Lake Walk (blue waymarks) anticlockwise round Derryadd Lake. Back on Peatlands Walk boardwalk, right (red arrow), retracing route for 400m. Left over footbridge (red arrow) to return to car park.

Conditions: Surfaced paths and boardwalks

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Armagh City Hotel, 2 Friary Rd, Armagh BT60 4FR (028-3751-8888,

Peatlands Park: 028-3839-9195;

Info: Armagh Visitor Information Centre (028-3752-1800);;;

 Posted by at 01:57
Sep 282019

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A cock crowed from a farmyard and wood pigeons cooed in The Rookery as we walked out of Eartham. The distant calls bestowed a sense of peace on this breezy midday after weeks of summer heat.

This corner of West Sussex countryside dips and rolls from cornfields to woods. The clouds in a grey and silver sky pressed down, sealing in pockets of heat among the recently harvested fields. I followed the outer row of stubbles for the pleasure of hearing the dry stems swish and crackle against my boots.

A path in the cool shade of Nore Wood led north in a subaqueous green light to Stane Street, one flinty holloway among many converging under the beeches. Out across the open landscape of the downs we followed this 2,000-year-old way, built by the Romans soon after their invasion as a thoroughfare between their coast port of Noviomagus (Chichester) and Londinium. The raised ridge of the agger or road embankment, metalled with flints and mounded between ditches, still stood man-height, a seam of rabbit-burrowed earth and stones running northeast in a ruler-straight line.

We walked in the shelter of a clump of whitebeam, their green fruits swelling among the crinkly leaves. Some of these old trees were huge; I stepped out round the skirt of one enormous low-growing veteran and reckoned a circumference of at least 200 feet.

From Gumber Corner, another meeting place of ancient tracks, we went south over Great Down on a ridged, grassy path between fields of dark Zwartble lambs sporting white tail tufts. The Sussex coast spread out ahead, from the snout of the Isle of Wight on a blue-grey sea to the white miniature alps of the sunshades at Bognor’s Butlins.

Shady green Butt Lane was floating with thistledown parachutes. We passed derelict Downe’s Barn, a handsome old brick and flint building for which the National Trust have great plans after repair – bat and owl boxes, wildlife ponds and outdoor adventures.

Past Courthill Farm, where writer Hilaire Belloc found escape from his high-pressure London life in the early 1900s, and past a large triumphal arch perched on Nore Hill, a folly conceived as a picnic shelter by Anne, Countess of Newburgh, to give employment to local men out of work after the Peninsular Wars.

We came down to Eartham towards evening, the declining sun polishing the harvest patterns in the stubble fields and turning the empty flower cups of knapweed into a sprinkle of reciprocal suns among the grasses.

Start: George Inn, Eartham, West Sussex PO18 0LT (OS ref SU 939094) – please ask permission to park, and give The George your custom.

Getting there: Bus 99 (Petworth-Chichester)
Road – Eartham is signed off A285 (Petworth-Chichester)

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 121): From inn, right along road; round left bend (‘Slindon’); on next right bend, fork left down lane (fingerpost/FP; yellow arrow/YA; pink arrow/PA). In 700m, ahead across field (947094); inside wood, left (949095, FP ‘bridleway’/BW). North through Nore Wood, following PA and blue arrows/BA. In ⅔ mile, at post with YA and BA (952102), sharp left (BA) downhill. At bottom of slope, The Plain, go across track (951105; ignore BAs pointing left and right). Ahead up forest ride for ⅔ mile to 6-way meeting of tracks at bench (952114, 6-finger post).

Follow Stane Street/Monarch’s Way/MW (3rd right, ‘Bignor’) NE for 1¼ miles. At bench and 4-finger post, go through gate (967126); right (MW, PA, BW); in 150m, right at Gumber Corner (BW) to follow BW south across Great Down. In 1⅔ miles, just before gate, right (967101, FP, BA); in 40m, through gate; left (FP) along track. In 700m pass BW turning on right (965095); in another 250m fork right (965092, FP); in 30m, FP points left, but fork right to pass Downe’s Barn in 100m (965091).

In ½ mile, right at road (960086); in 100m, right (‘Bignor Hill’); just before Courthill Farm buildings, left up stony lane (960088). In ½ mile pass Row’s Barn (953091); in 200m, round right bend; in 30m, left along edge of trees (951092). At top of slope, enter trees (949092); right up green lane (BA); in 200m, left (FP) across field and back to Eartham.

Lunch: George Inn, Eartham (01249-814340,

Accommodation: Blackmill Spinney, Blackmill Lane, Norton, Nr Chichester PO18 0JU (01243-543603,

Info: Chichester TIC (01243-775888);;;

 Posted by at 01:40
Sep 212019

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The Isle of Stronsay sails on the eastern edge of the archipelago of Orkney, a long island flattened on a sea that glinted like black obsidian this sunny morning. Sandstone farmsteads lay low, straddling the island’s low green ridges.

Two great skuas were bullying a gannet, trying to make it disgorge the fish it had just caught, as we steamed into Stronsay. Formalities at Whitehall harbour are at a minimum – you just walk off the ferry, collect your hire cycle and head off along the straight and narrow island roads. Brown and black cattle glanced at us through their long eyelashes as they munched a salad of grass, buttercups and clover.

Down on the rugged east coast the cliffs stepped seaward, footed on dark plates of sandstone. Fulmars eyed us from their nests in cracks and crevices of the rocks above slit-like inlets where a copper-coloured sea rose, hissed and fell away. There was a salt edge to the wind, and a great sense of being far from anywhere on a wide sea.

The path rounded the Vat of Kirbuster, a deep dark chasm of a blowhole, the entrance spanned by a sway-backed rock arch, its layered walls spattered with white blooms of sea campion. Beyond rose the green-capped rock stacks of Two Castles, where early Christian hermits somehow contrived to eke out existence in absolute solitude.

We crossed a stream trickling down through a rushy grassland bright with yellow cross-shaped flowers of tormentil, tiny white eyebright and the stout purple-pink heads of northern marsh orchids. At Carlin Geo a disgorged pellet of feathers, bones and two webbed feet lay on the grass, while a great black-backed gull on the rocks below snapped its beak in satisfied remembrance of this grisly feast.

The green promontory of Lamb Head curved seawards, its neck guarded by the stone-built round base of a Pictish broch, a defensive tower perhaps two thousand years old. In the centre a stone slab had been slid aside from a square-mouthed entrance, revealing a pitch-black chamber below.

Beyond in the Bay of Houseby, the beach of orange kelp and flat rocks seemed to writhe and undulate. It was a mighty haul-out of grey seals, shifting their blubberous bodies towards the water and watching us with solemn round eyes. As we followed the flicker of a wheatear’s white rump inland, a mournful hooting like a convocation of tuneful foghorns broke out behind us – the tideline singing of Stronsay’s seals.

Start: Vat of Kirbuster parking place, Isle of Stronsay, Orkney, KW17 2AG (OS ref HY 681241)

Getting there: Car or passenger ferry from Kirkwall to Whitehall harbour, Stronsay ( Bike (free) from Ebenezer Stores, Whitehall (01857-616339); head south on B9060 to Kirbuster parking (signed).
Taxi – 01857-616335.

Walk (7½ miles, easy/moderate, OS Explorer 465): From info board head east on track to coast. Right/south along cliffs for 4 miles to Bay of Houseby. At The Pow (677221), right/inland up concrete farm track. Follow road for nearly 1½ miles past Mid House (670228), South Schoolhouse (668232), Eastbank (672237) and Roadside (675241) to T-junction at Everbay (673246). Right (‘Vat of Kirbuster’); in 600m, right (679250) to start.

Conditions: Unguarded cliff-top paths, beach, quiet lanes

Lunch/Accommodation: Stronsay Hotel, Whitehall (01857-616213,; Storehouse B&B (01857-616263), Stronsay Fishmart (01856-616401)

Tea/cakes/info: Craftship Enterprise Café & Craft shop, Mallet on B9060 between Whitehall and Kirbuster (01857-616249,


 Posted by at 01:55
Sep 142019

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Trawden lies in a narrow dale – the name signifies a trough-like valley – between the old mill towns of Nelson and Colne and the high empty moors of the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. We left this cheerful, friendly village gearing up for a festival with stalls and silver bands, and climbed a cobbled lane south towards the open country under a blue sky.

Out in the fields, well-tended gritstone walls divided the large square pastures. The cockerels and dogs of Trawden made Sunday music far below, their cries fading under the sharp alarm calls of curlew in the sedge clumps as we gained height towards the twin Coldwell reservoirs. The water sparkled in little sandy bays where oystercatcher parents piped their fledgling chicks in line astern along the shore.

An old moor lane led east at the foot of the rough slopes of Boulsworth Hill. Rutted and walled, paved with slabs deeply indented by boots, hooves and cart wheels, it gave superb views north over the walled fields and farmsteads of the Forest of Trawden, a Saxon hunting forest gradually overtaken by farming, milling and mining. Back west rose the shapely bulk of Pendle Hill, burdened with legends of witches and evil spells, today just a beautiful hill in plain sunshine.

Deep brackeny cloughs brought hill streams twisting down from the heights to the south. We crossed Turnhole Clough and followed the Brontë Way down to the sprawling shell of Wycoller Hall, Charlotte Brontë’s model in Jane Eyre for Mr Rochester’s lonely house of Ferndean Hall. A melancholy ruin – blank windows, chilly stone halls – in a gorgeous leafy dell.

A glass of pink lemonade, cold and refreshing, in the little tearoom at Wycoller, and we found the homeward path through fields where sheep lay panting in the shade of upright gritstone slabs that served for fencing.

The pale blue shoulder of Pendle Hill rose on the far skyline as an aiming point, and from down in Trawden the thump and blare of a silver band came in atmospheric blasts across the still, sun-scorched fields.

Start: Trawden Arms PH, Trawden, Lancs BB8 8RU (OS ref SD 912388)

Getting there: Bus M3, Trawden-Accrington
Road – Trawden (B6250) is signed off A6068 in Colne.

Walk (8 miles, field paths and moorland tracks, OS Explorer OL21): Fork left off B6250 at Trawden Arms, up lane. In 450m cross road (912384); path to right of Trawden Literary Institute, past garages (fingerpost) into fields (911383). Ahead uphill beside wall; past radio mast (909378). At Pasture Springs Farm dogleg right/left (908377). At Moss Barn, right along front of house (907374); through gate (yellow arrow/YA); cross field to stile into plantation (YA).

Left; in 30m, ahead (YA); follow path through trees. At wall (906372) bear right through plantation to stile/footbridge onto moor (905370, YA). Half right, aiming a little left of wind turbine, to ladder stile overlooking Lower Coldwell Reservoir (903367). Ahead to gate onto road (903364); left for 350m; left onto bridleway (903361, fingerpost), following ‘Pennine Bridleway’ and ‘Wycoller’. After 3 miles, cross Turnhole Clough (941379); in 300m, left (943381, ‘Brontë Way, Wycoller’) for 1 mile to Wycoller.

Pass Wycoller Hall ruin (933392) and packhorse bridge; follow Trawden road out of village across road bridge. In 200m on right bend, go through wooden gate on right of farm track (930394, fingerpost). Diagonally across field to stile; on with fence on left; through metal gate, and fork left uphill (928393, YA) past Bracken Hill Farm. On west across fields (YAs, ‘Trawden’ fingerposts), aiming for Pendle Hill ahead.

In ¾ mile cross farm track at Higher Stunstead (916390) and on along lane down to Trawden. At B6250 (912389), left to Trawden Arms.

Lunch: Trawden Arms (01282-337055, – cheerful, popular village pub.

Tea: Wycoller Tearoom.

Accommodation: Old Stone Trough, Kelbrook, Barnoldswick BB18 6XY (01282-844844, – convenient, great value.


 Posted by at 01:45
Sep 072019

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We’d plotted the tides as well as we could, so it was a relief to descend New Quay’s steep streets to the harbour and find the beach section of the Wales Coast Path still passable. We skirted the slippery rock promontory that makes a barrier to walkers at high tide, and went on round the classic curve of sand that rims New Quay Bay.

Looking back from the far point, the prospect of New Quay was of parallel streets running across the lower slopes of a fine green hill. Those straight horizontal streets were once interleaved with ropewalks where cables for ships were laid and braided. The days are long gone when the little town on the southern curve of Cardigan Bay was a ship-building centre and a bustling port; these days it’s the holidaymakers who bring life and colour to these streets.

Pale grey cliffs banded with extravagantly squeezed and distorted strata formed a backdrop to the beach. Tiny fingernails of fractured shells paved the sand. Beyond the headland a stream trickled out of the woods, and we sat by the stepping stones to watch pied wagtails flitting and hovering above the water to snatch their insect feast mid-air.

Halfway along the stony beach of Little Quay Bay we found steps leading up from the shore. A glance back at the kayak paddlers in the shallows, and we climbed a shady lane through the woods. In a garden at the top lay a venerable railway carriage, now with a second lease of life as a summerhouse.

The Wales Coast Path ran through steep pastures with the sea sighing low on our left hand. Jackdaws swooped and played over the slopes, and in the woodland sections speckled wood butterflies basked on the path with open wings, milk chocolate in colour with pale lemon spots.

Ahead the great curve of Cardigan Bay was clouded and hazy, the distant finger of the Lleyn Peninsula lying on the sea like a bar of mist. Down in the cleft of Oernant a stream came sparkling down through falls and spillways it had carved in the rocks, Clumps of pink thrift and white sea campion danced alongside in the sharp wind.

Down to cross stream clefts by wooden bridges; up again to breast the next brackeny hill. Finally a view from a summit gate over Aberaeron, planned shipbuilding and trading port, laid out in Georgian elegance around its harbour on a grey stone shore. We dropped down the hill and crunched over the pebbles, making for a well-earned cup of tea.

Start: Church Road car park, New Quay, Ceredigion SA45 9PB (OS ref SN 387599)

Getting there: Bus T5 (Cardigan-Aberystwyth)
Road – New Quay is signed off A487 (Aberystwyth-Cardigan) between Llanarth and Plwmp.

Walk (6½ miles, moderate coast path, OS Explorer 198): Down Church Street to the harbour. If high tide means beach impassable, continue up Glanmor Terrace road to B4342 (388597). Left; in ¼ mile left down Brongwyn Lane (390596) to shore. If beach passable – walk round curve of New Quay Bay to the far point (405599). Continue along beach for 400m to Cei Bach road end (409597). Up steps; right up road; just past caravan park, left up drive (409595, ‘Coast Path’/CP. In 100m, left before farm building: through gate (‘CP’): follow well-marked CP along coast to Aberaeron.
Return by bus T5.

Lunch/Accommodation: Harbour Master Hotel, Pencei, Aberaeron, Ceredigion SA46 0BT (01545-570755, – stylish, friendly, bustling place.

Info: Aberaeron TIC (01545-570602,;;;;

 Posted by at 01:50
Sep 052019

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Famous figures from British history lined the arcades inside St Mary’s Church, Chidham – Sir Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, The Beatles in their round-collared suits. Each little doll had a teasel for a head. Sunday School is obviously a lot of fun for the children of Chidham.

What a charmed place they live in, too. The Chidham Peninsula, in profile like a horse’s head, bulges southward from the inner shoreline of Chichester Harbour. This flat salient of land, its cornfields bounded by hedges and its margins bright with wild flowers, lies among countless mudbanks and creeks where the whirr and screech of seabirds is heard all day long.

From the church we followed country lanes and the margins of stubble fields to the eastern shore, where the pale mauve rays of sea aster and bushy purple heads of sea lavender smeared the saltmarshes with colour.

Across the ebbing tide stream of Bosham Channel the stumpy church spire and red brick houses of Bosham rose beyond gleaming mudflats draped with brilliant green weed. There was a pungent whiff of salty mud drying into cracked squares, and a distant chink of halyards and flap of sails as a squadron of children put out from Cobnor Hard in a flock of tiny dinghies.

The seawall path led south, dividing the marshy tideway from the dull gold of the Chidham Peninsula’s wheatfields. Away to the north, the darkening woods of summer rode the long ridge of the South Downs. This was West Sussex encapsulated – swelling downs, rich farmland and a level coast deeply indented by the creeping sea.

Down at the southern end of the peninsula the path rounded Cobnor Point. A line of gnarled old oak trees, stunted by salt, leaned arthritic limbs towards the sea. The view opened out towards the still invisible mouth of Chichester Harbour, where the ebbing water scudded with yachts and home-made sailing boats – a vigorous, active, outdoorsy scene.

A stiff south-westerly breeze caused all the boats to heel as one. It caught the skirts of our coats and sailed us up the western flank of the Chidham Peninsula, wind-tossed and heading for harbour in the Old House At Home inn.

Start: Old House At Home Inn, Cot Lane, Chidham, West Sussex PO18 8SU (OS ref SV 787040)

Getting there: Train to Nutbourne Station (787058 – 1 mile). Road – A27 to Chichester; A259 Havant road to Chidham; left at Barleycorn Inn down Cot Lane; Old House At Home, 1 mile on right.

Walk (5½ miles from Old House At Home, 7½ from Nutbourne Station; easy; OS Explorer 120): Leaving Old House At Home, right past church; on along road. At corner of Cot Lane and Chidham Lane (791040), ahead (fingerpost/FP) on grassy verge past glasshouses. Field edge path to road (794041). Turn left; in 50m, right (FP, ‘Pedestrians Only’) along private road. At end of road, hedged path (FP) to shore (799040). Right for 3¾ miles to Chidham Point on west side of peninsula (779042). Here coast path turns inland and rejoins the newer inland floodbank path. In another 200m, right at 3-finger post (781046); follow field edge path to Cot Lane (788044); right to Old House At Home.

Conditions: Coast path on west side of peninsula can be flooded at top of tide. Tide times:

Lunch: Old House At Home, Chidham (01243-572477,

Accommodation: The Bosham B&B, Main Road, Bosham PO18 8EH (01243-572572,

Info: Chichester TIC (01243-775888);;;

 Posted by at 16:23
Aug 102019

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Neat, self-contained and well provided, the little country town of Epworth stands on the clay hump of the Isle of Axholme in the north-west corner of Lincolnshire. Epworth is only a hundred feet above sea level, but descending the slight slope into the flat lands west of the town feels like launching oneself from a comfortable haven into a vast gold and green sea of corn and root crops.

When Cornelis Vermuyden and his Flemish engineers drained the great fens and swamps around Axholme in the 1620s, the locals hated it. The ‘thick, fatt water’ of the winter floods, full of river silt, declined to a ‘thin, hungry, starveing water’, and the marshmen lost the reed cutting, wildfowling and common grazing that constituted their living. What replaced the floody fens was some of the best arable farmland in the country.

Ranks of tall hedge poplars made verticals in the horizontal landscape as we walked the boundaries of barley and beet fields. A detour round the perimeter of Epworth Turbary nature reserve gave a glimpse into the vanished landscape – bog pools, silver birch thickets, dragonflies and sedgy grazing where locals would cut peat to dry for their fires.

Beside a long straight drive road beyond the Turbary we saw a pile of lunch bags embellished with Polish brand names. At the far side of the field their owners bent and straightened among lines of sugar beet and lettuces, calling to each other in high voices like birds.

From this regulated, highly productive landscape we turned east along the green leafy paths of Haxey Turbary, another nature reserve. Beyond on a ridge stood the houses of Haxey, the setting for a January frolic called the ‘Haxey Hood’. A couple of hundred muddy persons push and shove for hours, trying to force the Hood – a stuffed leather tube – into one or other of the village pubs. This scene of cheerful mayhem has been enacted each Twelfth Night since who knows when – certainly for hundreds of years.

I can’t image John Wesley would have approved of the Haxey Hood with its drinking, profanities and raucous behaviour. The handsome brick-built old rectory where the founder of the Methodist movement grew up with his brother Charles stands at the southern edge of Epworth; a landmark to aim at as we crossed a golden river of corn to journey’s end on the banks of Axholme.

Start: Church Street car park, Epworth, Lincs DN9 1ER (OS ref SE 784039)

Getting there: Bus 291, 399 (Doncaster-Scunthorpe)
Road: Epworth is on A161 Gainsborough road (M180, Jct 2)

Walk (12 miles, easy, OS Explorer 280): Pass Willows Beauty Salon to cross Market Place by Red Lion Inn. Up Queen Street, then Blow Row to cross A161 (781033). Lane opposite (fingerpost/FP) past cemetery. In 500m dogleg left/right (776034) along field edges, under old railway (772034) and on. In another ¾ mile, at corner of Turbary Road, cross road to gate of Epworth Turbary Reserve (758036); walk circuit of reserve and hides, back to gate.

Right along road. In ½ mile, left (747038, FP bridleway) down drove road. In ½ mile, tarmac ends at Harvest Farm entrance on left (746029); in another ½ mile, left at split oak on left (744019, unwaymarked) along path in tunnel of trees. In 200m, past metal barrier and sun. In 700m pass another metal barrier by Lupine Woods field centre (753018) and on along dirt road.

In 500m pass Fir Tree Lodge on left; in 100m, right (758014, FP, yellow arrows/YAs) along field edges past Haslams Farm (756009) to T-junction (758005). Left (FP) to cross road at Cherry Orchard Farm (766004) and on to road in Haxey (771002). Left; just before A161, left (772003) along Axholme Line local nature reserve railway path. In 1⅓ miles cross Burnham Beck with fancy guard rails; pass metal barrier, and turn right (772025) on field path. In 100m fork right, following Restricted Byway for 700m to cross A161 (780022).

Down road opposite past phone box, in 100m fork left past Walnut Farm. On along track for 700m, passing Holy Well (785021) to left bend (787021); north on field track for ¾ mile to road (786035, opposite Wesley’s Old Rectory). Left; right along Albion Hill, right at Red Lion to car park.

Refreshments: Red Lion, Epworth (01427-872208,

Accommodation: Double Tree by Hilton, Ermine St, Broughton, Lincs DN20 0AQ (01652-650770, – comfortable golf hotel.

Epworth Old Rectory: 01427-872268,


 Posted by at 00:42
Aug 032019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Polruan’s streets and houses fall steeply away to the narrow mouth of the Fowey estuary, mirroring the avalanche-like tumble of the grey and white houses of Fowey directly opposite. It’s an iconic Cornish prospect, and as we climbed the stepways and lanes of the village towards the cliff path we stopped often to look back and savour the view.

A young blackbird as yet uncertain of his flying powers squatted under a sprig of willowherb in Battery Lane, keeping stock still, hoping not to be noticed. We sidled round him and went on to where the village lanes gave way to a skein of narrow paths running east along the cliffs.

A kestrel streaked upriver, displaying its russet back and long slim tail. On the cliffs the wild grasses grew ungrazed, each seed-head darkened and weighted by the morning’s rain. A new shower came drifting through from the southwest in a flurry of milky air, lining every blade of grass with a row of pearls.

No matter how many times you walk these Cornish cliffs, the long views never fail to stun. Looking back into the west the bays curved away to the red and white striped tower on Gribbin Head, to the long dark arm of Dodman Point, and in the far distance a hint of the Lizard Peninsula. To the east the cliffs advanced seaward, lowering long grey arms of rock into lacy cuffs of white foam.

Every few steps we came to a halt, entranced by the wild flowers – yellow petals and crimson fruits of sweet amber, pale flax with a tiny brilliant blue stamen spot, buttery bird’s-foot trefoil, the soft pink of musk mallow’s large clustered flowers, the dusky pink bonnets of tuberous pea and little clumps of pungent-smelling wild thyme. Wrens chattered in the bracken, and stonechats with black caps and apricot chests perched on the highest sprigs of gorse they could find to give out their abrupt little calls: whist-tchik-tchik!

Beyond Sandheap Point we crossed a stream bouncing down the combe from Lansallos, and followed it uphill in a leafy dell to the church of St Ildierna, ‘of whom little is known’. Whomever he or she was, St Ildierna’s Church is as large as a rural cathedral, splendid both inside and out, and furnished with finely carved bench ends – a good place to linger after this lovely walk as you wait for the bus to Polruan.

Start: Polruan Quay, PL23 1PA (SX 126510) or Polruan main car park, St Saviours Hill PL23 1PZ

Getting there: Ferry from Fowey.
Polruan Bus from Looe (01726-870719,
Road: Polruan is reached by minor road from A387 at Polperro, or B3359 at Pelynt or Lanreath.

Walk (5 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer 107): From jetty, past Lugger Inn and climb Garrett Steps. Right at top. In 400m, left up Battery Lane (‘Coast Path’). Follow CP signs past main car park, coastguard lookout and Polruan Academy, to reach open cliffs at Furze Park (CP is poorly waymarked here – keep to lower path). Follow CP for 3½ miles. Beyond Sandheap Point, descend to cross stone stile, then stream from Lansallos at West Combe. In 50m, through next gate (pink arrow on reverse); left here (166513) up path. In 150m CP crosses (‘Polruan’, ‘Polperro’); but keep ahead through 2 gates, up woodland path (occasional yellow arrow) to Lansallos Church and bus stop (173516). Return by bus (see above), or taxi (07870-280114).

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Hormond House, 55 Fore Street, Fowey PL23 1PH (01726-870853,

Info: Fowey TIC (01726-833616);;;

 Posted by at 02:27
Jul 272019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Flamborough Head, a great chalk thumb poking out from the Yorkshire coast into the North Sea, is a windy and lonely place. The resident seabirds don’t mind; they swoop and wheel around the narrow cliff ledges of the headland, bringing food back to their precarious roosts and contributing a certain metallic fishy whiff to this walk.

St Oswald’s Church stands in the fishing village of Flamborough at the heart of the headland. It contains several memorials to fishermen and lifeboat men, and a wonderful carousel of paintings by local amateur artist Alfred Cracroft honouring the men and women of Flamborough whose work in services from the Home Guard and the WAAF to the Royal Observer Corps and nursing helped to win the Second World War.

Church Lane leads to a grassy path running to the southern cliffs of the headland. The view curved away south past Bridlington’s chalk cliffs and the fast-eroding East Yorkshire coastline to the faint double hummock of Spurn Head on the horizon.

We followed the cliff path past cornfields where skylarks spiralled and sang, through forests of grasses and thistles, with fishing boats cutting the glittering sea to our right. At South Landing the Flamborough lifeboat, a big orange rib, was away from its home shed for repairs. ‘Scraped its bottom rescuing a fellow stuck in a cave,’ explained the volunteer on duty.

Flamborough Head is a treacherous place, a magnet for swirling tides and cross currents that eat caves and arches out of the chalk cliffs. As we rounded the easterly nose of the headland a great shrieking and gibbering of seabirds, along with a fishy stench, arose from their favoured nesting cliffs on the north side.

It’s a staggering sight and sound, so many seabirds in one place. Cormorants and gulls occupied the lower rocks; sharp-billed guillemots and black-coated razorbills with smart white markings lined the middle ledges, and kittiwakes wheeled round the upper storeys of the cliffs with their incessant ‘ee-wake! ee-wake!’

Along at North Landing lay the cobles Prosperity and Summer Rose, fishing boats with pointed bows and stems, a designed unchanged for over 1,000 years. Just beyond we turned inland for Flamborough, blown by wind, burned by sun and with the echoing calls of the kittiwakes still in our ears.

Start: Two Brothers memorial, Tower Street, Flamborough, Nr Bridlington, N. Yorks YO15 1PD (OS ref TA 227706)

Getting there: Bus 14 from Bridlington
Road – Flamborough (B1255) is signposted from A165/A1038 in Bridlington.

Walk (9¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 301): South down Tower Street to St Oswald’s Church (226702). Through churchyard to south gate; right along Church Lane; in 150m, round right bend. In 100m, left (226700) down Beacon Farm drive to cliffs (225693). Left, and follow cliff path/’Headland Way’ for 500m to South Landing (231693). At lighthouse sculpture 200m beyond (233693), fork right (‘Flamborough Head’, yellow arrow/YA) for 2½ miles to Flamborough Head. Pass in front of lighthouse (255706); pass green with benches; at cresset, follow path (YA) along cliff-tops. In 2½ miles pass Thornwick Bay café (232723); in another ½ mile, left on North Cliff (224726, fingerpost, YA) on path south for 1 mile to T-junction (226710). Left (‘Flamborough’) to road at Craikwell (227708); right to Two Brothers memorial.

Conditions: Several flights of uneven steps; unguarded cliff edges.

Lunch: Seabirds Inn, Tower Street, Flamborough (01262-850242,

Accommodation: Premier Inn, Albion Terrace, Bridlington YO15 2PJ (01262-411642;

Info: Bridlington TIC (01482-391634);;;

Yorkshire Coast Path by Andrew Vine (

 Posted by at 01:01