john

Feb 042017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A cold wind from the South Yorkshire moors was roaring in the pine trees around Langsett Reservoir. We followed a woodland path along the north shore, watching wind-driven wavelets racing along with slate-grey peaks and silver troughs. On the far side of the water crouched Hingcliff Common and Stanny Common, low hummocks of moorland under a brisk whipping sky.

We crossed the tail of the reservoir over Brookhouse Bridge, a handsome span built at the turn of the 20th century. The stones were rustically dressed, with that meticulous attention to detail that the water boards displayed when they designed the huge reservoirs that supplied the industrial cities of Sheffield and Barnsley. Half a dozen farms were put out of business when Langsett Reservoir flooded their land around 190. Brookhouse Farm was one, an ancient foundation whose rent in the year of the Spanish Armada was rather romantically set at ‘a red rose at Christmas, and a snowball at midsummer.’

It felt as though there might be a midsummer rent to be collected up on the moors today. An icy wind sliced at us and the temperature fell as we trudged south along the old droving track of Cut Gate, its rubbly surface trodden to pale gold by the boots of walkers. It ran between banks of heather and green bilberry shoots where red grouse cackled ‘Go back, go back, g’-back-back-back!’ as they skimmed off low across the moor. Rosettes of cloudberry leaves lay in the heather, shining and leathery.

In the deep clough of Mickleden there were remnants of broken field walls and farm buildings in the velvety turf. We skirted the cleft, looking down on the sinuations of Mickleden Beck. Then we put our backs to the wind and tramped the homeward path across the edge of Stanny Common as a shower pattered on our shoulders and shot silver tracers of rain that smacked into the heather.

Above Langsett Reservoir lay the lonely ruins of North America Farm, the title symbolising uttermost remoteness and isolation to those who named the place. We passed its broken walls and found a path above the water, where beyond the lapping of the waves we could hear the bubble of curlews coming faintly from the moors.

Start: Langsett Barn car park, S36 4GY (OS ref SE 211004)
Getting there: Bus 20A (Barnsley)
Road – car park is signed off A616 in Langsett, between Stocksbridge and New Mill (M1, Jct 35a)
Walk (5 miles, moderate – slippery and rocky in places – OS Explorer OL1. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Through lower wall of car park, down to reservoir wall; right and follow path. At west end of reservoir, left across Brookhouse Bridge (198006). Left through gate and follow clear Cut Gate track south. In ½ a mile keep ahead at arrow post (198000, ‘Kinder Loop’ bridleway). In another mile, left past green sign ‘Langsett and Penistone’ (192987); follow path north-east. In 1 mile, with North America Farm ruins through gate on left, bear right (203997) along track above south side of reservoir. In 650m, through gate (208994); ahead past ‘Langsett At War’ info board along reservoir wall (‘Permissive Path’ arrow) through trees. In ¾ of a mile, left along road (216001), across dam wall. At far end, left (‘Bridleway’) to car park.

Lunch: Waggon & Horses, Langsett (01226-763147, langsettinn.com)
Bank View Café, Langsett (01226-762337, bankviewcafe.co.uk)

Accommodation: Cubley Hall Hotel, Mortimer Rd, Penistone S36 9DF (01226-766086, cubleyhallhotel.co.uk)

Info: Info panel in car park
bradfield-walkers.org.uk; yorkshire.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

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

 Posted by at 01:54
Jan 212017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The little train from London rattled through the low-lying countryside of easternmost Essex. Burnham-on-Crouch lies almost at the end of the line, a small self-contained town for sailors and oyster-eaters, tucked into the mud and saltmarsh on the north bank of the sea-going River Crouch. The great days of fishing-smack fleets and smuggling ketches may be gone, but Burnham on a day like this, under a blue sky with a brisk east wind blustering in from the North Sea, is a salty town you want to linger in.

We put our backs to the breeze and headed upriver away from Burnham marina where the yacht halyards were screaming softly in the wind. Black-headed gulls in white winter hoods were tossed about the sky, too intent on staying aloft to make their usual fishwife screeching. The wind ruffled the estuary into white horses and slapped the waves against the wrinkled mud banks. Across the Crouch came more faint banshee wailing from the yacht rigging in a distant marina, and the iron clank of a crane unloading timber from a dark blue freighter tied up at Baltic Wharf – evocative name.

It was wonderfully exhilarating, walking the narrow seawall path above hissing reedbeds and long hanks of bladder wrack flying from posts and railings like a mermaid’s washing. Seaweed lay far up the road at the tiny enclave of Creeksea, testament to the power of East Coast tides at the full.

We passed duckboard jetties and plank causeways over the marsh, unfathomable posts in the water, and lines of black stakes squaring off the muddy beaches into long-abandoned oyster beds. To the north the ground rose into a clearly defined ridge of clay farmland topped with small woods and houses; southward across the river it looked flatter and moodier, a compelling landscape spreading into the long creek-divided wastes of Bridgemarsh Island, where brent geese were feeding.

The navigable channel past the marsh island was marked with stakes, each thin rod topped with a warning triangle. A stranger in these shallow, murky waters would find it all too easy to go aground on an unsuspected mudbank.

Egrets rose out of the creeks, snow-white against the dun marshes. The wind puts its hand in our backs and shoved us along, mile after zigzag mile, until Fambridge’s little quay hove in sight, with a row of sea kayaks like a rack of giant kippers hung up to dry in the wind and sun.

Start: Burnham-on-Crouch station, Essex, CM0 8BQ (OS ref TQ 948965)

Getting there: Rail to Burnham-on-Crouch.
Road: M25 Jct 29; A127 to Wickford, A132 to South Woodham Ferrers; B1012, B1010 to Burnham-on-Crouch station car park.

Walk (9½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 176.): Down station approach, right; first right along Foundry Lane. In 600m, fork left (944963) on footpath across rough ground to marina. Cross car park, down steps (942961); cross north end of marina; left down far side; right/west (940956) along sea wall. In ⅔ of a mile at Creeksea (932957) follow road; in 300m on right bend, left (fingerpost) on field path to another gate (928961); follow sea wall path west for 6 miles. 400m short of Fambridge Quay, turn inland (857965, waymark) on path northward past Blue House Farm for ½ a mile to road (855973). Ahead to North Fambridge station (856978). Return by rail to Burnham-on-Crouch.

Lunch: Ferry Boat Inn, North Fambridge CM3 6LR (01621-740208, ferryboatinn.net)

Accommodation: Oyster Smack Inn, 112 Station Road, Burnham-on-Crouch CM0 8HR (01621-782141; theoystersmackinn.co.uk)

Information: Southend-on-Sea TIC (01702-618747)

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

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

 Posted by at 01:29
Jan 142017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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It was a brilliantly sunny winter’s afternoon, and as blowy as hell on the hillside above Clovelly. This stretch of the North Devon coast was always notorious for the lack of shelter it afforded to seafarers and fishermen in the days of sail, and the waves were dashing against the tall black cliffs as though they would grind heaven and earth to pieces. In the woods the wind roared softly, and as we walked the coast path westward we had glimpses between the leafless oaks of the sea whipping itself into cream on the pebbly beaches far below.

The constant sea wind has streamlined these clifftop woods into a smooth curve that bends inland with hardly a twig breaking the continuous line of the treetops. In the shelter of the trees spring was coming early to North Devon, with shoots of bluebells and sprigs of primrose leaves already showing.

The view back from Gallantry Bower showed the eastward run of the coast to the estuary of Taw and Torridge, then on towards the ghost of Baggy Point in a haze of spray. The cliffs around Mouthmill Beach were full of fantastic geological contortions, the rocks bent into acute angles by tremendous upheavals below the surface hundreds of millions of years ago.

We dropped steeply down to lonely Mouthmill Beach with its abandoned limekiln. In Victorian times the Welsh limestone boats would dump great stone blocks here to be burned to quicklime and spread as fertilizer on the acid local land. Steeply up again to Brownsham Cliff, where we left the coast path to follow the fields to the ancient farming community of Brownsham.

Down in the ferny depths of Brownsham Wood we sat on a mossy wall to hear the wind make a roaring sea of the treetops. Then up and on through the parkland of Clovelly Court, and a steep descent on a path of cobbled steps into Clovelly.

The early 20th century chatelaine of Clovelly Court, Christine Hamlyn, was a bit of a tyrant, and she certainly ran an extremely tight ship. Everything in Clovelly had to be kept just so, with never a whiff of ‘tripper’. What she left for posterity is a village about as perfect as you could wish for, a photogenic tumble of cottages down a ludicrously steep cobbled street. As we climbed the roadway back to the car park, a full moon sailed across the bay and spread a sheen of silver across the restless sea, a scene so beautiful it was hard to believe it was real.
Start: Clovelly car park, North Devon EX39 5TL (OS ref SS 315249)

Getting there: Bus 319 from Barnstaple. Road – Clovelly is signed from A39 between Bideford and Bude.

Walk (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 126): Through Visitor Centre, down to roadway. Left (‘Coast Path/CP, Brownsham’). In 100m, left through gate (CP) into field. In 50m, fork right (CP) parallel to road. Follow CP for 2¼ miles. On Brownsham Cliff, where CP turns right down steps, keep ahead (290264, ‘Brownsham ¾’). In 200m, stile (red arrow/RA) into trees. Follow RA/’Brownsham’ to Brownsham car park (286260). Right through car park; left down steps; left (CP) along drive. Past shed, turn right (‘Mouth Mill’, Bridleway).

Follow bridleway track through woods. In ¾ mile, at fork keep right (ahead) across stream (297259). Left at junction (‘bridleway’); in 50m, right up stony track (blue arrow/BA). Through gate (299259); ahead along wood edge; through gate (BA). Half right up field slope to meet track at top right corner of wood ahead (302256, arrow on post). Left along track for ½ mile, through Court Farm to Clovelly Court. Right in front of church (309251); left at road. Keep left where cars fork right for car park (313250). In 300m, right at T-junction (316250); in 50m, left down woodland path, then steep cobbled steps into Clovelly. Left down village street (318248) to harbour; return up street to top (316247); right to car park.

Conditions: Slippery cobbles, muddy paths, unguarded cliffs; steep climb from Mouth Mill.

Lunch/Accommodation: Red Lion, The Quay (01237-431237) or New Inn (01237-431303); both stayatclovelly.co.uk

Info: Clovelly Visitors Centre (01237-431781); clovelly.co.uk; visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

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

 Posted by at 01:05
Jan 072017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Rye Harbour is a strange old place. The ivy-strangled Martello tower and the grim Second World War bunkers tells you that this is a coast that has lain under constant threat of invasion. And the enormous expanse of flint pebbles, spreading inland for more than a mile, betokens the incursions of thousands of tons of shingle, dumped here by the restless sea.

This is moody country on a cold morning. A whistling east wind drove us along the beach. Lesser black-backed gulls sulked on the sandbanks, and redshank foraged fastidiously with jerky steps in the pools of Rye Harbour nature reserve on the inland side of the sea bank.

A pair of human figures patrolled the tideline, probing the beach with long rods as they sucked out lugworms for fishing bait. I set off to find out what they were doing, and sank without warning up to my knees in glutinous mud that I had mistaken for sand. I struggled out, mud-splattered all over. ‘See you found a mud hole!’ grinned a passing man in a van. ‘Lucky you didn’t go in over your head, eh!’

King Henry VIII built Camber Castle as a coastal stronghold to keep the French at bay. Now, five centuries later, the stark grey fortress stands more than a mile inland among wide fields where a thin skin of grass overlies a wilderness of pebbles. We walked a circuit of the eroded bastion walls, then made for a hide on the shores of Castle Water where green-headed shoveller drakes swept the water with heavy spatulate bills. Elegant terns hung over the water on crooked wings, and the big black outline of a marsh harrier ghosted quietly across the reed beds.

Back on the shore we found the gaunt blocky shed from which a crew of Rye Harbour men launched the lifeboat Mary Stanford on a bitter November morning in 1928. She was lost with all hands; 17 men from one tiny village. The lifeboat house has remained locked and unused ever since – a downbeat memorial to bravery and death on an unforgiving shore.

Start: Rye Harbour car park, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7TU (OS ref TQ 942190)

Getting there: Bus 313 (Northiam-Rye Harbour)
Road – Rye Harbour is signed off A259 between Rye and Winchelsea.

Walk (8¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 125): From car park follow sea wall past Lime Kiln Cottage info centre (946186) to river mouth (949181). Right along beach or coast road. In 1 mile pass old lifeboat shed (932172); in another 650m, right inland on path past info board (928168) over 2 crossings (925171 and 921173) for ¾ of a mile to road (917175). Right; just past Castle Farm, fork left (920176) to Camber Castle (922185). Clockwise round castle; on east side, path along fence to wooden gate (924185) leading to bird hide. Return to gate; left through metal gate; field edge south. Left across end of Castle Water to junction (925179); right; in 400m, left through gate no. 9 (923177). On past Camber Cottage (921174); through gate, then left for ½ a mile to shore road (928168). Left to lifeboat house; in 300m, left on gravel track (934174). In 300m, through left-hand of two gates (934176); ahead to junction (931178); right on gravel track for 1 mile to road (939191); right to car park.

Lunch: Inkerman Arms (01797-222464) or William the Conqueror PH (01797-223315), Rye Harbour

Accommodation: Ship Inn, Rye TN31 7DB (01797-222233, theshipinnrye.co.uk) – friendly, fun atmosphere.

Lime Kiln Cottage info centre; open 10-4 (wildrye.info); visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122

 Posted by at 01:09
Dec 242016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Seatown lies tucked into a crack in the Dorset coast, right at the heart of a spectacular run of crumbling cliffs that stretches west from Chesil Beach to well beyond Lyme Regis. This is walking country so superb that it came as a surprise, even on a weekday morning in mid winter, to find ourselves climbing away westward from Seatown’s cosy old smugglers’ pub, the Anchor Inn, with only a handful of walkers to share the South West Coast Path with us.

The weather matched the landscape for magnificence, a cloudless blue bowl of sky, upturned over a coast of close-cropped pasture fields and tall bitten-off cliff faces. The whaleback of Golden Cap is the highest piece of land along the Dorset Coast. Up there, more than 600 feet above the sea, the view was sublime – east along the yellow wall of cliffs to the long curve of Chesil Beach and the distant wedge of the Isle of Portland, west over a great sloping rampart of rock steps smothered in scrub, to Charmouth and Lyme Regis sprinkled in white cubes down their valleys, and the tottering coast beyond.

This is one of the most dynamic coasts in Britain, the greensand and chalk toppings of the cliffs constantly slipping and sliding seaward on the treacherous layer of skiddy gault that underlies them. Rainfall and hidden springs lubricate the clay layer, making things even more wobbly. Falls are frequent, landslips commonplace. The angled flanks of the cliffs and the skirt of fallen material and rocks at their feet bear witness to their remarkable instability.

A young robin, emboldened by hunger, followed us down the steps from Golden Cap, pecking at fragments of chocolate that we let fall. We followed the Coast Path west along the shaky rim of the cliffs, looking down into the chaotic jumble of the undercliff where sedges, willows and brambles flourished in the untrodden ground.

At last we turned inland past lonely Westhay Farm, up to the ridge of Stonebarrow Hill and the homeward path. At Upcot Farm chickens roamed, the farmer dug his muckheap, and a handsome bull stood unmoving beside the stile, contemplating space and his own internal rumblings.

Down in a cleft below Golden Cap we found the broken walls of St Gabriel’s Chapel, built 800 years ago to serve a remote agricultural community in this isolated hollow. Most likely those medieval peasants never had the time or leisure, as we did, to drop down onto the beach at Seatown and watch the red ball of the winter sun sink below the horizon and leave a track of wrinkled gold across the sea.

Start: Anchor Inn, Seatown, Bridport, Dorset DT6 6JU (OS ref SY 420917)

Getting there: Seatown is signed off A35 Lyme Regis to Bridport road at Chideock.

Walk (6¾ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 116): From Anchor Inn, inland up road. In 250m, left (fingerpost/FP, ‘Coast Path’/CP’, ‘Golden Cap’) on path also marked ‘Monarch’s Way’. Follow CP for 2½ miles, over Golden Cap (407922) and three streams (398923, 389926, 386926). In field that follows 3rd stream, Westhay Water, bear right just below Westhay Farm at 3-finger post (385927, FP ‘Stonebarrow Hill’). 200m above farm, drive bends right; ahead here (382930, ‘NT car park’), up bridleway to car park (381932). Right on track along Stonebarrow Hill.

In ½ mile at next car park, fork right (390935, FP ‘Chardown Hill’). In 20m, through gate (‘St Gabriel’s’); fork right, diagonally downhill, path soon becoming a track, for ⅔ mile, to Upcot farm. Left (397930, FP ‘St Gabriel’s’); in 150m, right (FP, stile); follow hedge on right to bottom corner of field; right over stile (399927) into lane. Right, down to St Gabriel’s.

Opposite St Gabriel’s House, left (401924, FP ‘Seatown’) past chapel ruin (blue arrow) and on (‘Langdon Wood, Seatown’). In 250m, right (404925, FP ‘Langdon Wood’) up to 3-finger post (405924). ‘Langdon Wood’ points left, but bear half right uphill, following top hedge to gate (408924). Forward (FP ‘Langdon Hill’) to gate (410923). Forward (‘Seatown, Chideock’) along edge of Langdon Wood. In 300m, right (413923, FP, ‘Seatown’) down to CP (415921); left to Seatown.

Conditions: Some short steep climbs; unguarded cliff edges

Lunch/Accommodation: Anchor Inn, Seatown (01297-489215, theanchorinnseatown.co.uk) – friendly, comfortable, superbly situated.

Info: Lyme Regis TIC (01297-442138); visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122

 Posted by at 01:37
Dec 172016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Crag Inn at Wildboarclough lies tucked down in a quiet valley of easternmost Cheshire. The wild gritstone hills and moors of the Peak District rise all around. The farm buildings of the district are dark and solid, but the field walls sparkle with chips of mica on sunny afternoons such as this. Old stories say that the last wild boar in these hills was hunted down to death in this steep little valley. That might not be strictly true – but when were local legends ever the better for being plain, provable fact?

I followed a field path west along the flanks of the Clough Brook, then up the cleft below Oakenclough. Stopping to listen, I could not hear a single sound but the trickle of the brook. Over the damp shoulder of High Moor and down to the Hanging Gate Inn on its escarpment edge, with a most tremendous view out west over tumbled farmlands to the Cheshire plain stretching into misty distance.

The bare stone bluff of Tegg’s Nose lifted its dark grey hump ahead as I walked north along the waymarked Gritstone Trail that knits together a fine string of these coarse sandstone hills. Hawthorns were thick with scarlet berries, or ‘peggles’ as the great naturalist Richard Jefferies used to call them. I tested them with a squeeze of the fingers: still hard as rock, so that I wondered how the fieldfares and redwings of winter were going to gobble them down.

Ridgegate and Trentabank reservoirs gleamed dully between their pines and silver birch trees. A tremendously cheery party of U3A walkers met me on the way up to the moors, their cheerful chatter and rosy cheeks the perfect advertisement for the benefits of walking in one’s riper years.

I forged ahead across the sedgy uplands on a pitched path that led to a scramble up to the gritstone peak of Shutlingsloe, the ‘Matterhorn of Cheshire’. At the summit of this mini-mountain I was lord of a hundred-mile view from the Pennines to the Trent, the Long Mynd to the Clwydian Hills of Wales. A few minutes to stand and stare, and I was scrambling down for the homeward path to Wildboarclough.

Start: Craig Inn, Wildboarclough, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK11 0BD (OS ref SJ 981685)

Getting there: Wildboarclough is signed from A54 Congleton-Buxton road at Allgreave.

Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL24):
From Crag Inn car park, right along road. Immediately right through wicket gate (yellow arrow/YA). Bear left, parallel with road, and follow grassy path across 7 fields (gates, YAs, coloured circles). 2 fields beyond High Nabbs farm, path rises to angle of wall (970681). Right across stile (circles, YA); left along lane. In 600m, right at road (964685). In 300m at Greenway Bridge, right (963687, YA) along river. In 300m, cross Highmoor Brook by footbridge (963690). Follow YAs, then permissive path below Oakenclough house. Cross drive (961695); left through gate (YA), up by wall. Through gate at top; ahead on grassy track to corner of wall (959696). Ahead with wall on right; at end, right through gap; left over stile, down fenced track to cross road at Hanging Gate Inn (952696).

Down side of pub; right through kissing gate on path down to road (951698). Left for 150m; right over stile and follow Gritstone Trail/GT markers north for ¾ mile. Approaching Greenbarn, fork left (952710); in 100m, right through gate (GT). Skirt to left of house; through gate onto drive. Left; in 50m, GT on telephone pole points left, but fork right down through wicket gate. Left (YA) to cross footbridge; on up steps to path junction at Ridgegate Reservoir (952713).

Right (‘Shutlingsloe’); follow path along south edge of reservoir, then through woods to road (959711). Turn right on ‘Walkers Only’ path on right of road. In 200m pass Macclesfield Forest info board; in another 150m, bear right (963711, ‘Shutlingsloe’). In 100m fork right uphill. Follow ‘Shutlingsloe’ for 1½ miles through trees, then across moor to Shutlingsloe summit (977696 – short steep climb to top). Follow path to south end of summit; short steep scramble down and bear left; path across moor down to farm road (983691). Right to Crag Inn.

Conditions: Some boggy bits; steep ascent/descent of Shutlingsloe peak.

Lunch: Crag Inn, Wildboarclough (01260-227239, thecraginn.co.uk) or Hanging Gate Inn, Potlords (01260-400756, thehanginggate.co.uk) – both closed Mon/Tues

Accommodation: Stanley Arms, Bottom of the Oven, Macclesfield Forest SK11 0AR (01260-252414, stanleyarms.com) – warm, cheerful place; good food and welcome

Info: Macclesfield TIC (01625-378123); visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:52
Dec 102016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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At first acquaintance, Bedfordshire seems a rather nondescript county to walk in. It’s hard to get a grasp on the character of this low-rolling region with its large arable fields. But once you develop a taste for the many old copses and hedgerows, the slow-flowing brooks and sudden, unexpected viewpoints from ridges you hadn’t thought were there, Bedfordshire’s a place you find yourself looking forward to revisiting on foot.

An absolutely glorious afternoon helps, of course. The sun blazed down out of a clear blue sky on the cottages and dark ironstone church at Church End, the southerly node of the scattered village of Eversholt, on the eastern doorstep of Woburn Park. To balance the wintry nip in the air there were pictures of springtime in the village phone box, featuring improbably shaped lambs and unfeasibly yellow daffodils painted by the pupils of Eversholt Lower School.

We set out across a wide field of ploughland where we picked up shards of ancient pottery and a nacreous fragment of Roman glass. At Herne Green Farm a tractor ground along the furrows, turning dark soil like roughly broken chocolate and drawing a long white wake of gulls behind it.

An easterly wind began to rise, thrashing and hissing in the sycamores around Herne Green. A red kite circled the newly cut fields, looking for small creatures exposed by the plough. One of those unforeseen Bedfordshire views opened across a rolling plain to the north-east as we stumbled across crusty ploughlands down to the trees and half glimpsed house of Toddington Park.

Here handsome James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and by-blow of King Charles II, lived with his young lover Henrietta Wentworth, heiress to Toddington estate. Stories say they sold her property and jewels to fund the rebellion in 1685 that attempted to put Monmouth on the throne after the death of his father. It ended badly, with Charles’ brother James installed as King, and Monmouth himself sent ignominiously to the block.

Our homeward path lay across a succession of enormous fields, mostly of thick dark plough. There were old hedges of hips and haws, and a thread of a brook winding under elder bushes. The lichens that scabbed the elders glowed so incredibly yellow in the evening sun that it looked as though the young artists of Eversholt Lower School had been that way with their paint-boxes.

Start: Green Man PH, Church End, Eversholt, Beds, MK17 9DU (OS ref SP 983325)

Getting there: M1 Jct 12; A5120 into Toddington. Opposite church, right to Milton Bryan and Church End.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer): From Green Man, left along road. At crossroads, ahead through kissing gate/KG. Cross field to KG (984320, black arrow/BLA); up slope, to KG in a dip at far top corner of field (986317). Across rushy patch; through KG, then right through another KG into wood.

Bear left (yellow-topped post/YTP). In 100m cross grazing ride; in 100m cross another (BLA); leave wood at YTP (988314). Half left across field to hedge corner; ahead with hedge on left to stile (992309, BLA). Aim left of Herne Green Farm to double KG. Half right to stile; in 20m, left over stile, right along hedge, following ‘Monmouth Way’/MW signs. In ¼ mile, at farm drive (995302), aim across field towards double roof in valley below. Through gate by buildings (997299; YTP, MW); half right to KG (MW); half right across paddock to KG. Half right across drive to railing gap (998297, BLA). Cross large field, aiming between two electricity poles, to road on far side (003293, fingerpost/FP).

Right for 200m; left along track (FP); in 70m, right (BLA) across field, aiming for rails of footbridge (997293). Cross; aim to right of lone oak to cross Herne Grange drive (994295). Through gate (FP); across field to gate (BLA); across next field to gate under trees (989297). Follow right-hand hedge downhill for 2 fields to cross footbridge in valley bottom (984298, YTP). Right through KG; keep brook on right for 3 fields (YTP, BLA) to cross Park Road (984303).

Ahead with hedge on right. In 300m (985306), level with large oak at hedge end on opposite side of field, fork left and aim half right across field to hedge gap (BLA). Across next field to far corner (984310). Through hedge gap (YTP, BLA); follow path through plantation. In 250m fork left across field to post beside Palmer’s Shrubs wood (983313, BLA). Ahead through wood to KG (983317). Ahead across field past oak tree; down to KG (984320); cross field to Church End.

NB: Many arable fields to cross; lots of mud!

Lunch: Green Man, Church End (01525-288111, greenmaneversholt.com) – closed Mondays

Accommodation: Long’s Inn, Bedford St, Woburn MK17 9QB (01525-290219, longsinn.co.uk)

Info: Dunstable TIC (01582-891420); visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122

 Posted by at 01:45
Dec 032016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Walking through the pine trees towards the sandhills of Hadston Links, we could hear the sea pounding the sands of Druridge Bay. A big roaring wind was building in the south, and once we were through the dunes and heading down the beach we had a half gale in our faces and the whole enormous bay – give or take a handful of dog ball throwers – to ourselves.

Druridge Bay is designated a Heritage Coast and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This seven-mile curve of beach from Amble to Cresswell is totally unspoiled, a simple and grand arc of dull gold sand backed by flowery dunes, with crashing steel-grey waves coming in off the North Sea under huge overarching skies.

This is a beach for runners and kite-fliers, joggers and diggers, idlers and strollers. Black matchstick figures of men, women and dogs pushed hard into the wind. The sea rolled in, roaring softly on the sand and hissing up the beach in diminishing flounces of white foam. The air over the bay was laced with spray, lending a diffused pearly glow to the sky.

A flight of ringed plover went twinkling in black and white across the ribbed pools that had collected in the sands. On the landward side of each sandy ridge in every pool, a skin of gritty black had collected – tiny flecks of coal, sifted out of the low-lying hinterland behind the beach and filtered through the dunes by the trickling flow of tiny burns. The richness of the bird and flower life here, the windy solitude of the beach, make it easy to forget that this is coal-bearing country.

A couple of miles along the beach we cut inland through the dunes and past the wetlands and wildfowl lakes of Druridge Pools. Isolated in the fields beyond stands the lonely ruin of Low Chibburn Preceptory, a medieval chapel and hospital of the Knights of St John built on the ancient pilgrim route to Holy Island. The Hospitallers’ refuge has done duty in its time as a grand dower house, a cattle shed and a Second World War pillbox.

Before setting back for the beach and the return walk, we wandered slowly round the ruin, admiring its finely carved piscina, its arched windows and handsome stonework, survivors of changing fortunes over the course of seven hundred years in this remote corner of the Northumbrian coast.

Start: Druridge Bay Visitor Centre, near Amble, Northumberland NE61 5BX (OS ref NZ 272998)

Getting there: Visitor Centre signed off A1068, 2 miles south of Amble

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 325. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From car park, follow ‘Beach’. Path through trees, then dunes; down steps onto beach (273996). Turn right/south for 1½ miles. Where the dunes dip to a pool and Dunbar Burn, pass a pipe (broken in two) across the beach (277972). Continue along beach for 500m, then turn inland between tank blocks through gap in dunes (277965), past concrete blockhouse. Through fence gap (North Sea Trail ‘N’ waymark); right along road; in 200m, left between boulders (275966) on path (yellow arrow/YA) past Druridge Pools and on across 2 fields (YAs) to Low Chibburn Preceptory ruin (266965). Return same way. Nearing Visitor Centre, look for wooden steps up through dunes.

Lunch: Snacks at Visitor Centre café (open daily summer, weekends winter)

Accommodation: The Bridges B&B, 3 Togston Crescent, North Broomhill, near Amble NE65 9TP (01670-761989).

Druridge Info: northumberland.gov.uk, 01670-760968

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

Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122

 Posted by at 01:20
Nov 262016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The blowy blue afternoon sky over Berkshire was patchworked with vast silvery clouds backlit by the sun. Along the hedges in the broad valley of the River Pang wind-dried umbellifers stood as tall as a man, each papery seedpod holding the blood-red streak of a single seed.

This is understated countryside, with a faint dip and roll to it. The sun put a glossy green polish on the wooded ridges of the valley. A jay, disturbed by our passing, swore like a trooper from its hideout in a thicket, and high overhead a stunting plane growled among the clouds.

We trod a carpet of gold and silver willow leaves beside the slow-flowing Pang. The water rippled as clear as gin over a gravelly bed. An angler had snagged his line in an elder bush; with great patience and dexterity he freed it and drew a flapping brown trout from the water. Then he lay prone, cradling the fish in a wetted palm, and slipped it very carefully back into the river.

Bradfield was a gorgeous dream of mellow red brick houses, the shaven playing fields of its college still smelling faintly of cut grass. Here we crossed the Pang and climbed the gentle slope to the north, into woods where horse chestnuts shone a rich mahogany in the leaf litter, as though freshly polished.

At a point where the sigh of wind in the treetops was overlaid by the seashore roar of the M4, we turned away through the silver birch and tall pines of The Gravels. This is sand and gravel country, a place of old heathy commons now overgrown with woodland, from which we looked out across the Pang valley to a rainstorm gathering in the south.

A tawny owl hooted among the hazels at Nightingale Green as we dropped down to recross the Pang and take the path through sedgy pastures back to Stanford Dingley. In St Denys’s Church we found red ochre frescoes 800 years old, and a medieval tile on which the Lamb of God gambolled with shaggy legs as unco-ordinated as a puppy’s – an image that bridged the centuries with charm and humour.

Start: Bull Inn, Stanford Dingley, Berks RG7 6LS (OS ref SU 576716)

Getting there: Stanford Dingley is 2 miles north of Chapel Row, west of Theale (between Jcts 12 and 13, M4)

Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 159): From Bull Inn, left along road. At junction, left (fingerpost) on footpath (yellow arrows/YA) for nearly 1 mile to road (591719). Dogleg right/left across, and on (YAs) for 1 mile to road in Bradfield (604727).

Left; in 200m, left past ‘Private Road’ notice (603728; white arrow/WA; ‘Recreational Route’/RR). In 150m, right through gate (fingerpost). Aim half left across field to corner of hedge (599728); same line to gate through hedge, and on to cross road (596728). Up Greathouse Walk track (‘Bridleway’/BW). In ½ mile pass entrance to Great House Cottages (590734); in another 150m, at crossing of tracks, follow main track round to left (BW). In ⅓ mile, halfway up slope, left (585736, YA, RR) through ‘The Gravels’ wood. In 700m leave wood; forward to cross Scratchface Lane (577733).

Take path opposite (WA, RR); in 100m, right (WA, ‘Permitted Footpath’). Follow this path, ignoring side turnings. In 350m, at T-junction by post, left (574732, YA). Follow path (YAs) for ¼ mile; at wood bottom bear right (YA) to cross stile (574728). Down long field to lane (571727). Right; in 200m, opposite Mazelands Farm, left up track. In ¼ mile at 3 gates, right (567725; WA, RR, BW). In 200m, left through KG (YA), up fence and into House Leas wood (563725). Left (WA, RR), following wood edge south (‘Restrictive Byway’/RB) for ½ mile to Pangfield Farm (564719).

Skirt clockwise round buildings on marked ‘Preferred Pathway’, before turning left down drive. Cross road (566716); down track opposite. In ¼ mile, left at gate (569713, RB). Immediately left through gate (YA); half left across field to gate (571713, YA). Through trees; aim across field for St Denys’s Church; at road (575717), right to Bull Inn.

Lunch/Accommodation: Bull Inn, Stanford Dingley (0118-974-4582, thebullinnstanforddingley.co.uk) – cosy, stylish and friendly

Info: Newbury TIC (01635-30267);
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122

 Posted by at 01:51
Nov 192016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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On a lovely crisp morning we went up the narrow road from Bowden Bridge with Kinder Edge in our sights and old heroes on our minds. It was up this road that the Mass Trespassers came on an April morning in 1932, a righteous crowd of left-wing youngsters from Manchester and places around. Kinder was their aiming point, too, the great moorland plateau and its gritstone crags that had become symbols of exclusive privilege and the closing of upland country to ordinary folk.

The long path up to the moor led us above Kinder Reservoir through the heather and bilberries of White Brow, then steeply up the rocky cleft of William Clough where a beck came sluicing down over its boulders. The full sweep of Kinder Edge stood out to the east, a sharply cut skyline of dark rock outcrops traversed by diminutive figures of walkers. The flanks of William Clough opened out to shoulders of hillside, where in 1932 a line of keepers had waited with sticks to beat the trespassers back where they belonged.

These young men and women, many of them Communists, had had enough of staring up from the depression-hit, dirty and poverty-ridden cities of Manchester and Sheffield to the high open moors where grouse-shooting and water board interests forbade them to ramble. When they reached the higher slopes of William Clough the singing and chattering turned to angry shouting as they closed with the keepers. No heads were broken: some bumps and bruises were exchanged, and the trespassers broke through to rejoice as they reached the top at Ashop Head.

We pictured that excited, flush-faced crowd as we turned across the peat bog of Ashop Head and climbed to the start of the long escarpment of Kinder Edge. From here it was a question of following the edge for mile after mile, the wind nudging us, the gritstone crunching under our boots, looking out over a magnificent view to Manchester and the far hills of Wales. The rock outcrops had been cut and smoothed by wind and weather into multiple grotesques: chef hats, shark fins, dog heads, ogre noses.

We picnicked on a rock beside the trickling river at the head of the cleft of Kinder Downfall, and went on to where the Pennine Way fell away east towards its starting point at Edale. A good long stare down the delectable green Vale of Edale, and we were trudging westward down an endless lane home, thankful to those hearty lads and lasses from long ago whose bold law-breaking laid the foundations for today’s Right to Roam over all these high moorlands and mountains.

Start: Bowden Bridge car park, Hayfield, Derbyshire, SK22 2LH approx (OS ref SK 049870)

Getting there: Hayfield is at junction of A6015 from New Mills and A624 (Chapel-en-le-Frith to Glossop). Beside Packhorse PH, take Kinder Road; car park is 1 mile on left (£4.50 all day).

Walk: (9 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer OL1): Continue up road. At Booth Sheepwash cross river (051876); in 100m, ahead up path (yellow arrow, YA). In 250m, left across river; at reservoir gate, take cobbled bridleway on left (‘White Brow’). In 300m, by stone gateway, hairpin left (054882, metal ‘bridleway’ sign). Climb to gate; right (‘Snake Inn’, YA). Follow path for 1½ miles via White Brow and William Clough (steep near top) to meet Pennine Way/PW at Ashop Head (065900). Right along PW, following Kinder Edge, for 3½ miles. Beyond large outcrop of Edale Rocks (079867), descend to cairn at junction. Right on flagstone path; 150m short of junction on wide saddle, fork right off PW onto dirt track to junction (081861). Right through gate; follow lane for 2¾ miles down to Kinder Road and car park.

Conditions: Rugged hill walk, tricky underfoot – wear good boots!

Lunch/Accommodation: Sportsman Inn, Kinder Road SK22 2LE (01663-741565)

Kinder Scout mass trespass walk: nationaltrust.org.uk

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

 Posted by at 01:38