john

Jul 292017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

We woke in Leamington Spa on a gorgeous midsummer morning, still stiff and bleary after a night’s rock ‘n’ roll cavorting in the town’s St Patrick’s Club. Best way to shake the blues component of all that Rhythm ‘n’ Blues? A good stretch-out on foot, that’s what, in the company of our quick-striding daughter Mary. She’d keep our motors turning, for sure.

Leamington Spa is a truly beautiful town, the pride of Warwickshire, full of well-preserved Regency architecture and large, beautifully kept public parks and gardens. Mary led the way along the leafy pathways of Jephson’s Gardens, and then the Riverside Walk that shadows the slow-flowing River Leam westward out of town through Walches Meadows nature reserve.

At the end of Leam Fields, among head-high grasses, we stopped on a bridge over the Leam to watch a neat brown flycatcher zipping out from its alder-branch perch to snatch a morsel in mid-air. The bird sat perfectly still, an iridescent blue damselfly wing twitching on either side of its beak, observing us, until a tiny movement of my hand sent it flittering away into cover.

Down on the Grand Union Canal we turned east along the towpath. The great commercial waterway of former days was packed with freshwater admirals at the helms of brightly painted narrowboats this morning. Collapsible bicycles lay strapped neatly on deck, and terriers and Alsatians sat at attention on the cabin roofs, watching us go by with a fine proprietorial air.

A blood-red flood of poppies spattered the green wheatfields under the stumpy tower of Radford Semele church. Six striped mallard ducklings with yellow breasts followed their anxious mother in a flotilla under a humpback bridge, where a pair of swans picked loose down from their four fluffy grey cygnets. Flowering rush was out in the canal margins. Dog roses disseminated a smell sweeter than honeysuckle from the hedges. Walking by the greasily shining, milky waters of the Grand Union, reeling off the miles as morning leached into afternoon, it felt wonderful to be alive and outside.

We climbed past the Bascote flight of locks and left the canal for the lane into Long Itchington. There was a bus stop, a table outside the Harvester Inn, and a long cool drink to cap off this restorative walk.

Start: Leamington Spa railway station, Old Warwick Road, Leamington Spa CV31 3NS (OS ref SP 317653)

Getting there: Rail or bus to Leamington Spa. Road – M40, Jct 15.

Return from Long Itchington – Bus 64 to Leamington Spa

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorers 221, 222): From station exit, left through underpass; in 100m, right (‘Cycle Route/CR 41’) to cross road. Ahead along York Walk; in 200m, right over footbridge into gardens; right along river to cross road into Jephson’s Gardens. Follow path with river on right for ½ a mile through gardens to cross B4099. Follow ‘Riverside Walk’ for ¾ of a mile. Beside info board at end of Leam Fields Local Nature Reserve, right across river to A425. Left (‘CR41’); in 300m, right (‘CR41’) to turn left along north bank of Grand Union Canal. Follow this towpath for 4¾ miles, to Bascote Bridge, No 27 (407641). Leave canal here; turn right up Bascote Road into Long Itchington. At T-junction (411652), right to bus stop opposite Harvester Inn.

Lunch: Harvester Inn, Long Itchington CV47 9PE (01926-812698, theharvesterinn.co.uk)

Accommodation: Premier Inn, The Parade, Leamington Spa, CV32 4AE (01926-331850, premierinn.com)

Info: Leamington Spa TIC (01926-742762)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

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

 Posted by at 03:56
Jul 222017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

The prospect over Lower Lough Erne from the Cliffs of Magho is dumbfounding, a window suddenly opening across the whole slice of country where Fermanagh reaches into Donegal. The panorama swings from a chink of the Atlantic in the west, round through thirty miles towards the head of Lower Lough Erne in the east. We gazed out from the viewpoint over islands and inlets, out to the giant wedge of the far-off cliffs of Slieve League and the long pale backs of the Bluestack Mountains.

Glencreawan Lough lay becalmed in the lee of the ridge that forms the Cliffs of Magho. Just down the forest road we skirted its sister lough of Meenameen, another placid sheet of steel-blue water where fishermen hid among the reeds and cast for brown trout.

All round the loughs stood the sombre ranks of dark conifers that form Lough Navar Forest. There’s a strong but indefinable Grimm’s Fairytale frisson about the stygian blackness under such massed trees. But soon other colours began to claim attention – purple heather, crimson and acid green sphagnum moss, the silver splinters of felled trees and the pale milky green of the long beards of usnea lichen sported by the older trees – infallible sign of unpolluted air.

We passed between Lough Navar and Lough Naman – the former a gunmetal grey plate of water under low hills, the latter a little saucer of a lake half filled with reeds. The rough road turned east past the brown bog slopes of Glenasheevar, newly planted with forestry, then plunged back into the trees to wriggle its way below the outcrop of Melly’s Rock.

Hard against the little cliff we found a doorway three feet high. Crouching under the lintel, we crawled one after the other into the stone-walled interior – an ancient sweathouse, where sufferers from a range of ailments would be enclosed to bake in the heat and smoke of a peat fire before being extracted and plunged into cold water. Kill or cure, literally.

We paused on the bench outside to admire the gorgeous hilly prospect southward, then made for the homeward road by way of a circuit of beautiful Lough Achork, the loveliest forest lake of them all.

Start: Glencreawan Lough car park, Lough Navar Forest, near Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh, BT93 6AH approx. (OS NI ref H 033566)

Getting there: From Enniskillen, B81 to Derrygonnelly. Follow ‘Garrison via Glenasheevar’, then ‘Forest Drive’. Right into Lough Navar Forest (‘Scenic Drive’); follow forest road to Cliffs of Magho viewpoint. Return to junction; left to Meenameen Lough. Just before car park, bear right to reach Glencreawan Lough car park.

Walk (9 miles, easy, OSNI 1:50,000 Discoverer 17. Map downloadable at walkni.com): Return along road to Meenameen Lough car park (029561). Down steps, right along shore path (black arrow/BA). In ½ a mile, at road, left (025557, BA). After passing Lough Navar, left at junction (021544, BA). In 1¾ miles, at tarmac road, right (046545, ‘Ulster Way’/UW) along road. In ⅔ of a mile, on sharp bend, left up footpath (056544, ‘Sweathouse 450m’), following signs to sweathouse (054547). Return to road; right (retracing steps); in ⅔ of a mile, fork right (046545, BA). In ¾ of a mile detour left (044556) for circuit of Lough Achork. Back to road, left; at top of rise, fork left (047560, BA) for 1½ miles to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Lough Erne Resort, Belleek Rd, Enniskillen BT93 7ED (028-6632-3230, lougherneresort.com) – luxury golf hotel, stunning lake views.

Info: Enniskillen TIC (028-6632-3110);
discovernorthernireland.com satmap.com, walkni.com

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

 Posted by at 01:29
Jul 152017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

Walking the old holloways under the beeches on Henley Common, Jane and I looked out between the trees to see the dull green wall of the South Downs backlit with early light diffused by mist to an apricot glow.

Under recently coppiced sweet chestnuts the light fell cool and grey between the saw-edged leaves. The slender rods of the chestnut stems were footed in thick mosses. I pushed my finger in as far as the second knuckle, and still could not reach the trunk inside the soft moss jacket.

Woolbeding Common fell away from its high viewpoint in a great slump of land, bracken-strewn and thick with silver birch and gorse. Three dogs hared up and bounced around us, tremendously pleased to be lords of all this heathy open space. Lowland heaths are rare commodities these days, thanks to agricultural and housing development, but Woolbeding and Pound Commons are carefully managed by the National Trust for their ground-nesting nightjars, their adders and lizards, the dragonflies and the deadly little hobbies that hunt them.

An old horse came slowly up the track, picking its way very deliberately among the stones, pulling a light two-wheeled gig with a blond-haired woman and her son on board. At that moment it looked the nicest thing in the world, to be jogging at an idle pace behind a stout nag over a common of golden gorse, purple bell heather and fresh green bracken.

We followed the heathery pathways down past handsome Woolhouse Farm. ‘Hammer Wood,’ said the map. ‘Hammer Pond, Hammer Hanger, Hammer Lane.’ Reminders of medieval times when these Wealden woods, the heart of England’s iron-making industry, were loud and smoky with smelting and hammering.

Between the holly stems on Lord’s Common we glimpsed the sharply peaked gables and long red roofs of the King Edward VII Hospital. This great tuberculosis sanatorium, built with its Gertrude Jekyll-designed gardens at the turn of the 20th century, is undergoing conversion to state-of-the-art accommodation. The sanatorium’s star architect, Charles Holden, planned it so as to admit as much daylight and fresh air as possible to the patients – a revolutionary approach at that date.

The midday sun came in through the leaf canopy to brush our faces as we turned for home along hollowed ways tunnelled by badgers since long before these hills knew houses, hammerponds, or humans themselves.

Start: Duke of Cumberland PH, Henley, Midhurst, West Sussex GU27 3HQ (OS ref SU 894258)

Getting there: Bus 70, Guildford-Midhurst.
Road – Henley is signposted off A286, 4 miles north of Midhurst. Ample parking on road verge near pub.

Walk (8 miles, woodland paths and holloways, OS Explorer 133): From pub, right up road. In 200m, right across footbridge (fingerpost/FP, yellow arrow/YA, ‘Serpent trail’/ST), up bank. At drive, right (black arrow/BLA) up bank to cross A268 (893256, FP, ST) – please take care! Follow woodland path (BLA, ST) to Verdley Edge. Pass The Lodge (887260) and turn left (ST). In 30m, fork right (3-finger post, ST); in 100m, fork left uphill off track (ST). Follow ST for 500m to edge of wood (881258); right on track along wood edge.

At gateway into open field (879259), aim for roof in trees ahead, following right-hand edge of field (BLA) to gate. Pass to right of barn (875258); follow track into trees. At T-junction with a track on edge of common, turn right (873258, ‘New Lipchis Way’/NLW). In 250m, left (871260, FP) and follow NLW, ST downhill to cross car park, then lane to reach bench and viewpoint (869260).

Back to lane. Right for 100m, left up gravel track. In 30m fork right on grassy path across common. In 500m, right at track crossing (872255, FP, YA); follow west, soon with wall on right, along edge of common. Follow YA and NLW. In 600m straight across road (866254) and on. In 200m cross larger road and on (NLW). In another 400m, at 3-finger post (861251, NLW), keep ahead past Ivy Cottage and Woolhouse Farm. In 250m, fork right off roadway (862248, 3-finger post). In ⅔ mile NLW forks right (875241), but keep ahead. In 150m, opposite Ash House, bridleway forks right (blue arrow/BA), but keep ahead up path curving left (YA) out of woods.

At Tote Lane (862241), left past Woodgate Farm; in 100m, right (FP) up field edge. Keep hedge on right till track turns right through it; ahead here through woodland to cross road (868242). Ahead (FP, ‘Dene House’) on stony track across Pound Common. In 200m a path forks left (869243), but keep right (ahead). In 150m at crossing of tracks, keep ahead uphill. In 400m track forks (873247); keep to right-hand track (YA) at edge of trees, and cross track to Eastshaw Farm (874247).

On through woods, passing King Edward VII Sanatorium on your left (glimpses through trees). Track bends right (882247), passes a BLA, and in 100m you turn left/north (4-finger post). In 150m fork left, in 350m, at 4-finger post, dogleg left-right up left side of house/garden to cross road (885251). On through trees (FP). In 300m cross Madam’s Farm track (885255, stiles, FP); continue through trees for 500m to descend to Verdley Edge (887260). Turn right and retrace steps to Henley.

Lunch: Duke of Cumberland, Henley (01428-652280, dukeofcumberland.com) – lively, very popular pub with great food. Booking advised!

Accommodation: King’s Arms, Fernhurst GU27 3HA (01428-641165, kingsarmspub.co.uk) – 1 mile.

Info: Chichester TIC (01243-775888)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:56
Jul 082017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

Cheerful narrowboaters were drinking and chattering in the sunshine outside the Eagle & Sun at Hanbury Wharf. They lounged under the trees on the banks of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, their neat blue and red craft moored alongside.

The towpath led away north in a lacy froth of cow parsley. Large bees investigated the inroads of yellow flag flowers, making a soporific bumbling noise.

Reed buntings chattered on the reed stems that fringed the canal, and there was a soft clop-clop of bronze-brown water round the bows of ‘Golden Eagle’ as she negotiated the narrow chamber of Astwood Lock. The lock-keeper’s cottage garden was bright with hollyhocks and granny’s bonnets, old-fashioned cottage garden flowers, and there were roses round the door and gnomes among flowerpots.

From this Wind In The Willows dream of Olde Englande we moved east into fields of barley, wheat and blue-green oats. Webbhouse Farm straddled its low ridge in a huddle of deep-roofed old barns. This is good growing country, the dark red earth full of pebbles smoothed by some antediluvian river.

The sun struck into the glades of Piper’s Hill Wood as we followed a track among enormous old ash and oak trees. Piper’s Hill was once a wood pasture, carefully managed woodland where local commoners enjoyed the rights of pannage (feeding their pigs on acorns) and estover (collecting fallen boughs for firewood). Such uses fell away long ago, leaving a woodland full of mighty trees, ancient and splendidly distorted.

Emerging from Piper’s Hill Wood, we climbed a grassy path to a church perched at the summit. ‘St Mary The Virgin, Hanbury’ said the notice board, but we knew better. Generations of Archers from Ambridge have been married in front of BBC microphones within these crookedly sloping walls, and the bells of ‘St Stephen’s’ have rung out over the Radio 4 airwaves more times than even Joe Grundy can recall.

From the church on its knoll a path led across the broad acres of Hanbury Park. We passed the ornate oriental gates of Hanbury Hall (‘Lower Locksley Hall’ to Ambridge cognoscenti – not too near the edge of that roof, Nigel!) and walked homeward across hayfields full of the smell of new-mown grass.

Start: Eagle & Sun PH, Hanbury Wharf, Worcs, WR9 7DX (OS ref SO 922629)

Getting there: Bus 354 (Droitwich-Redditch).
Road – Hanbury Wharf is on B4090, just east of Droitwich (M5 Jct 5; A38)

Walk (6 miles, easy underfoot, OS Explorer 204): North along canal towpath for 1½ miles. 150m beyond Astwood Lock, right through kissing gate/KG (937651); follow ‘Hanbury Circular Walk’/HCW across field. Cross road (942652) and on. In ¾ mile, left across footbridge (951651); fork right along field edges to enter Piper’s Hill Wood (956649). At track, right (HCW). In 200m, bear right (956648) on broad track to Hanbury Church on hill (954644).

From churchyard gate, HCW points downhill. Right at junction; left (KG); across meadow, down oak avenue and on. Pass Hanbury Hall (945637); in next field, bear away from boundary wall/haha on right), keeping straight ahead across wide meadow to road (941632). Right (HCW) past pond, through trees, through KG. Right along hedge to waymark post; left along hedge; in 150 m, right through hedge to NE corner of Lady Wood (937633, HCW).

Diagonally right up field slope to skirt south end of pond on ridge (935634); same line down to KG; sunken lane down to drive (933636). Left; in 100m, right through gate (932635, HCW); down field edge to cross railway (929635); left along canal to Hanbury Wharf.

Lunch: Eagle & Sun, Hanbury Wharf (01905-799266, eagleandsundroitwich.com)

Accommodation: Vernon Hotel, Droitwich Road, Hanbury B60 4DB (01527-821236; thevernonhanbury.co.uk)

Walk guide: download at worcestershire.gov.uk/download

Hanbury Hall: nationaltrust.org.uk/hanbury-hall-and-gardens

Info: Droitwich TIC (01905-774312)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:27
Jul 012017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

Mither Tap draws the eye for many miles around. The 1,700-ft peak with its steep flanks and bare granite crown rises high over the low-rolling landscape inland of Aberdeen. It isn’t the highest point of its parent ridge of Bennachie – that honour belongs to the dome of Oxen Craig, a mile to the west and ten metres taller. But it’s the distinctive shape of Mither Tap which entices ramblers to walk the hilly circuit connecting these twin peaks.

We started up the forest path from Back o’ Bennachie on a breezy afternoon, and were soon up above the pines and mossy gullies. The tor-like peak of Craigshannoch, the Hill of the Foxes, rose on the skyline, its back against rushing grey clouds. A path of crunchy granite led up to the top of Oxen Craig through heather, bilberry and starry white flowers of chickweed wintergreen.

There was ominous howling from the stone shelter at the summit. It came from two dogs trying to blackmail biscuits from the picnickers there. The view encompassed at least 100 miles, from far out across the North Sea in the east to Lochnagar standing tall in the Cairngorm range, and the flanks of Cairngorm mountain itself, blurred and gleaming with snow some seventy miles to the west.

From Oxen Craig we turned eastward across the heathery ridge of Bennachie. Mountain hares feasting on young heather shoots had left round balls of dung among the bilberries, and foxes feasting on mountain hares had added their own pointed billets. The square grey crown of Mither Tap sank out of sight below the skyline, then rose dramatically as we drew near.

Just below the peak we found the tumbled walls of a Pictish fort 2,500 years old. Looking back to the slopes of Oxen Craig, we pictured the mighty force of 30,000 ‘Caledonians’ who opposed a Roman army of similar size at the Battle of Mons Graupius in 83AD. The Caledonians had the high ground – but the Romans wiped the floor with them, slaughtering one in three.

The north-west wind soon blasted us off the peak of Mither Tap. We followed the homeward path to the tors that crown Craigshannoch, and dropped down through Bennachie forest with ravens riding the wind above us like a cohort of ragged black witches.

Start: Back o’ Bennachie car park, near Pitcaple, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire AB52 6RH approx (OS ref NJ 662246)

Getting there: A96 from Inverurie towards Huntly; in 6 miles, left at Bridge of Carden on B9002. Half a mile beyond Oyne, left (‘Back o’ Bennachie’) to car park.

Walk (6 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer 421): From pay machine furthest from road, follow ‘Mither Tap Quarry Trail/MTQT’ signs south on steepening path. Follow MTQT for 3 miles via Little Oxen Craig (663232) and Oxen Craig (663227). Approaching Mither Tap, just beyond ‘Mither Tap’ sign immediately below crags, fork left (682224) and follow path clockwise to summit. Return through fort gateway to path junction (683225). Follow ‘Bennachie Rowan Tree’/BRT, ahead. In ½ a mile, in a hollow, left off BRT path (681231, ‘Craigshannoch’) uphill. Pass cairn on right; at next T-junction, right (MTQT, ‘Back o’ Bennachie’/BB). In 350m, fork right to summit of Craigshannoch (672232). Return to main route, turn right and follow MTQT, then BB, back to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Meldrum House Hotel, Oldmeldrum AB51 0EA (01651-872294, meldrumhouse.com) – large, comfortable country house hotel.

Info: Bennachie Centre, Chapel of Garioch, Inverurie AB51 5HX (01467-681470, bennachievisitorcentre.org.uk); bailiesofbennachie.co.uk

visitaberdeen.com; satmap.com, visitscotland.com

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

 Posted by at 01:27
Jun 242017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch: Picnic at The Roundabout

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

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

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

 Posted by at 02:24
Jun 172017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

Young lambs crying, ewes blaring, and a curlew emitting haunting cries from the slopes of Clougha as we skirted the stone stronghold of Cragg Farm. Sunlight slanted across the folded fells that climbed southward into the great upland wilderness of the Forest of Bowland. Nearer at hand, our aiming point of Clougha ran as a high line stretched against a pale blue summer sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions: Ascent boggy after rain. Inadvisable in mist.

Lunch: Picnic

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 02:11
Jun 102017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions: Many stiles!

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

Info: Hereford TIC (01432-268430)

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

 Posted by at 01:19
Jun 032017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch/tea: Castle Ward teashop

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

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

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

satmap.com, walkni.com

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

 Posted by at 01:56
May 272017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch: Picnic

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 02:56