Sep 162023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
view north from top of Warningore Bostal 1 the ridgeway track 1 the ridgeway track 2 looking back from the top of Plumpton Bostal 1 looking back from the top of Plumpton Bostal 2 curves of the downs from Warningore Bostal looking back from the top of Plumpton Bostal 3 near Warningore Farm scene near Warningore Farm

The white rails of Plumpton Racecourse curved away, pointing southward like skeletal fingers towards the olive-coloured rampart of the South Downs. A brisk cold wind blew from those hills, with a hint of silver underbelly on the clouds beyond from the gleam of the invisible sea.

A long straight path led between pasture and crops, crossing rain-swollen brooks in tangled dells, drawing ever nearer to the downs. This is horse country. A white mare poked her nose over a fence to have it stroked by a couple of passing girls. Suddenly she took a sly nip, provoking shrieks and cascades of giggles.

Cheerful chatter and tempting cooking smells came wafting from the Half Moon Inn as I crossed the Ditchling road and started up the steep downland track called Plumpton Bostal – a name reminiscent of fictional correspondents to Private Eye. The rubbly old track curved and climbed to the ridgeway along the crest of the hills. Wonderful views opened out, northwards across the wooded Sussex Weald toward the loom of the far-off North Downs, south across deep chalk valleys to the snub-nosed Seven Sisters cliffs and the ice-blue sea.

A kestrel rode the wind, head down, eyes fixed, sideslipping along above the almost imperceptible hummocks of Bronze Age bowl barrows. Soon another old holloway, Warningore Bostal, left the ridge track and slalomed down the hillside. The steady push of the south wind, now blocked by the wall of downland at my back, vanished as though a fan had been clicked off. I skittered down the rain-glazed chalk that floored the bostal, and set out north across pasture and arable ground once more.

At Warningore Farm the farmer was digging silage out of the clamp for his cattle. I passed the shed where they stood patiently in an emanation of sweet breath and a gentle rustle of movement.

On across the fields where horses in heavy tarpaulin raincoats were cropping the grass. A pint of delicious dark Bluebell Best in the Jolly Sportsman at East Chiltington, and then the homeward stretch by the hamlet’s ancient flint church, beautiful in its simplicity, too obscure even to have a dedication to its name.

How hard is it? 7¾ miles starting at station, 6½ miles starting at Plumpton; moderate.

Start: Train – Plumpton Station (NB no parking)
Road: Half Moon PH, Ditchling Road, Plumpton BN7 3AF (364132). Please ask permission, and give pub your custom! In addition, parking for 6-7 cars in lane above car park.

Getting there: Bus: 166 (Lewes-Haywards Heath)
Road: Plumpton is on B2116

Walk (OS Explorer 122): From station, path south besides racecourse. At south end, right (362153); in 40m, left down lane. In 1¼ miles, pass Agricultural College; 150m past last buildings, left (360133, gates); half right over field into trees. At B2116, left past Half Moon PH (364132). (NB Directions starting from PH begin here). Cross B2116; Plumpton Bostal (‘Bridleway’), steeply up. At top (357126), left; in 1 mile, through gate (370125); left down holloway. In ½ mile at path crossing, left (376127, arrow post). Cross B2116 (374130); bridleway opposite. Keep right of Warningore Farm Cottages (376137); on (north) along bridleway. In ¾ mile, gate into green lane (381147); in 50m, left (fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA) across 2 fields to lane (378150). Left; cross road by postbox (375150, stile, YA). Fork right across field to lane (373152). Left past Jolly Sportsman. At church, right down stony bridleway (371151). Cross Plumpton Lane (364153); in 150m, at racecourse entrance, right (362153) to Plumpton station.

Lunch: Half Moon, Plumpton (01273-890253,

Accommodation: Jolly Sportsman, East Chiltington BN7 3BA (01273-890400,


Walking the Bones of Britain – a 3 Billion Year Journey by Christopher Somerville is published by Doubleday.

 Posted by at 04:27
Sep 092023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Lamaload Reservoir looking back to Valeroyal Farm Progress Haymaker, by Bamfords of Uttoxeter Gritstone Trail nearing Hordern Farm steep country near Rainow farm lane to Rainow

At eight in the morning Lamaload Reservoir lay mirror-still, curled into the interstices of its surrounding hills. A faint vapour drifted across the water where fifty greylag geese drifted gently together. All looked as natural as could be in the early light, and it was hard to credit that the reservoir had been in existence for only 60 years.

A stony track shadowed the northern shore through thickets of foxgloves. I clambered over a wall by way of a stone step stile, the first of many, and dropped down a hillside where drowsy cattle were browsing the dewy grass. A fingerpost at Snipe House Farm beyond pointed helpfully to ‘This Way’, ‘That Way’ and ‘The Other Way’, but I only had to look down the slope to see the walled lane I was aiming for.

This hilly corner of northeast Cheshire is all tumbled sheep-farming country, its steep little valleys cutting deep into rounded gritstone hills. The farm lane to Rainow couldn’t be more typical of these old cart tracks if it tried – neatly walled, overspread with sycamores and carrying a Mohican crest of grass along its central strip.

Guarding the southern entrance to the former coalmining and textile milling village of Rainow stands a folly tower. Shaped like a clutch of chimneys arising from a fat square stack, it’s a thing not of beauty but of mystery, since no-one seems to know the why and wherefore of its existence.

No such intrigue about White Nancy on the ridge beyond. This plump bottle-shaped monument was put up in 1817 to celebrate Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo. Whitewashed, Nancy shone tiny but clear against the clouds as I climbed the Gritstone Trail’s shallow track south past conifer plantations, thorn trees and stone-walled sheep pastures scattered with hanks of wool.

Above Valeroyal Farm a gap in a tumbled wall had been plugged with a superannuated piece of farm machinery, a ‘Progress Haymaker, by Bamfords of Uttoxeter’ according to the maker’s label. Half a century must have passed since its wooden arms last turned to fluff up the cut grass. Nowadays the thin spokes of its cast-iron wheels make handy scratching posts for sheep, and a picnic seat today for this homeward-bound walker.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; moderate (several stone step stiles)

Start: Lamaload Reservoir car park, near Rainow SK10 5XJ (OS ref SJ 976753)

Getting there: Signed ‘Saltersford, Goyt Valley’ from A537 between Walker Barn and A54 junction. Reservoir car park 1 mile on left.

Walk (OS Explorer OL24): Pass metal gates; right along track (fingerpost/FP). In ¼ mile, 30m beyond right bend, left (972754, stone step stile/SSS) down field to bottom left. Through kissing gate/KG, then left up service road (967755). At Snipe House, right (960753, SSS, FP), down to walled lane past farm (957754, yellow arrows/YA). In ⅓ mile at top of rise, lower fork left (953754) to B5470 (950758). Right for Rainow and Robin Hood Inn; left to continue on pavement. In 200m, opposite Folly Tower, left (948758, ‘Gritstone Trail’/GT). Follow GT. In ¾ mile, where GT turns right (952747), fork half right (fenced path) to Hordern Farm. Through farmyard; past last building, ahead (953744) through gates on grassy track. In 300m at wall corner (955742), ahead along hillside. In 350m cross stream (957740), then drive; left (KG, YA) on above Valeroyal. In ⅔ mile cross Low Wickinford drive (966742), then footbridge (968743). In next field don’t fork left, but follow wall. Descend to track (973745); right to road (976742); left to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Robin Hood Inn, Rainow SK10 5AE (01625-574060,


Walking the Bones of Britain – a 3 Billion Year Journey by Christopher Somerville is published by Doubleday.

 Posted by at 01:34
Aug 262023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
looking north from Esgair Hill 1 looking back down Cwm Hir from top of Monks Way dog rose looking north from Esgair Hill 2 looking up the Monks Way in Cwm Hir 1 looking up the Monks Way in Cwm Hir descending towards Abbeycwmhir from Esgair Hill

I hadn’t been to Abbeycwmhir since 1979, the year I walked the newly opened Glyndŵr’s Way long-distance path with my Dad. The stages were long, the waymarking abysmal, the flies persistent. What a treat it was on that long-ago summer evening to trudge on sore feet up the long steep valley, past the abbey ruins and in at the door of the Happy Union Inn.

Nowadays Glyndŵr’s Way is a lot better waymarked. The Happy Union is open in the evenings only, and the tiny village tucked away in its forested cleft in the Radnorshire hills has a few new builds to add to its tally of old stone cottages. The Abbey Cwmhir Heritage Trust is very active, and has laid out a network of colour-coded walks based on the village. I chose the orange circuit, and set out under a windy sky that tossed grey and silver clouds about a field of china blue.

The Cistercian monks who built the abbey in the 1170s in this remote fastness picked a perfect site for the contemplative life – secluded, well wooded and watered, with beautiful hills on every hand. Today the valley road was edged with pink and white dog roses in hedges alive with noisy chaffinches.

I turned off the road onto a stony track that rose gradually to the crest of the hills – the Monks Way, an old highway from Abbeycwmhir to its sister abbey of Strata Florida away to the west. At the top I crossed a broad undulating upland of pastures where the sheep sprinted towards me in vain hopes of a hand-out.

Up in the spruce forest of Cefn-crin the air was hot, dark and heavy among the trees. The wind sighed among a million pine needles, and countless insects hummed their great discordant chorus. Coming out the other side of the trees I found myself on the crest of the hills with miles of rolling and tumbling green country ahead and behind.

Here I hooked up again with Glyndŵr’s Way and followed it back down to Abbeycwmhir, marvelling at the improvement in its waymarking and relishing the dip of the path among knee-high grasses and in among the trees again for a last cool mile into the village.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; moderate; well waymarked paths

Start: Phillips Hall (village hall), Abbeycwmhir, Llandrindod Wells LD1 6PH (OS ref SO 054712)

Getting there: Abbeycwmhir is signed off A483 (Llandrindod Wells – Newtown) between Crossgates and Llandewi Ystradenni

Walk (OS Explorer 214; downloadable map/instructions at From Phillips Hall, right along road. Left at fork (049708, orange arrow/OA, ‘Rhayader’). In ⅔ mile opposite red brick Cwmhir Cottages, fork right (039705, kissing gate/KG, fingerpost); follow track. By blue container keep ahead through gate (OA, yellow arrow/YA). At Upper Cwmhir house, track bears left, then through right-hand gate of two (031713, OA). In ½ mile at top of Monks Way lane, through gate (025716, OA), along fence; left-hand gate of two (OA); ahead over hill; stile into woodland (022717, OA). Path to forest road; dogleg right/left across (OA); path to road junction (018719). Fork right uphill for ½ mile (tarmac becoming gravel) into Cefn-crin forest (017728). At far edge of trees, on hairpin right bend, ahead (021734, gate, OA) on hillside track. 100m beyond next gate, right (025740, yellow topped post, ‘Glyndŵr’s Way’/GW) between tree clump (left) and fence (right). Follow well-marked GW for 3 miles back to Abbeycwmhir.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Ty Morgans, East Street, Rhayader LD6 5BH (01597-811666,


Walking the Bones of Britain – a 3 Billion Year Journey by Christopher Somerville is published by Doubleday.

 Posted by at 03:26
Aug 192023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
looking down from Priestcliffe Lees towards Millers Dale 1 Upland fields between Millers Dale and High Dale looking from Priestcliffe Lees towards Millers Dale lead mining cleft at Priestcliffe Lees lead mining hollow at Priestcliffe Lees Approaching High Dale in the hayfields approaching High Dale 3 in the hayfields approaching High Dale 2 in the hayfields approaching High Dale 1 fragrant orchid at Priestclife Lees dark green fritillary on scabious productive and coral fossils in a limestone field wall in High Dale sunny uplands near Lydgate Farm upland fields near Lydgate Farm field path and stone wall near High Dale looking back across High Dale

I don’t walk with my geologist godson Andy Harrison as often as I’d like, but when I do it’s like opening a window onto a hidden but wonderful world. On this hot summer’s day in the White Peak it was all about limestone, that pale rock that accrued infinitely slowly as sediment in the warm tropical sea that covered this region some 350 million years ago.

A lung-busting flight of steps lifted us through the trees and out of Millers Dale into an upland of cattle grazing and stone walls. ‘Look at that,’ Andy said, pointing to the wall of Lydgate farmhouse. The edges of fossil shells stood slightly proud of the stone like dark straggles of string. ‘That’s a productid, a creature with a hinged shell that lived buried in the seabed mud and let its feeding tendrils trail out to grab any food that passed.’ I ran my fingers across the shell and tried to imagine the immensities of time and circumstance between that form of life and my own.

We crossed the walled fields to walk between the grassy jaws of High Dale, a little narrow valley between high folds of ground. Hawkbit, lady’s bedstraw and kidney vetch grew in profusion, and a butterfly hatch of small blues made the most of the sunny afternoon. What formed this deep cleft, Andy? ‘A stream underground excavated a cave in the porous limestone, digging away till the roof collapsed into the bottom.’

There were fan-shaped corals and masses of curved productid shells in the field walls of High Dale. Up beyond among the old lead mine workings of Priestcliffe Lees we found a songthrush searching for snails in a rock garden of fragrant orchids exuding scents of pepper and cloves.

A steep path led down to the old railway path in the shadows of Millers Dale. On a cutting wall I put my hand on an enormous dark stain splashing the red and white limestone. Andy traced its outline. ‘That’s what happens when giant land masses collide and the seabed gets ripped apart. Superheated magma came gushing out into the cold water and cooled instantly into this tongue of volcanic rock. It happened maybe 350 million years ago, and it’s still here.’

What a remarkable thought to carry away from this really magical walk.

How hard is it? 5 miles; moderate, with one steep climb on steps; field paths, old railway path

Start: Millers Dale car park, Wormhill, Buxton SK17 8SN (OS ref SK 138732)

Getting there: Bus 65 from Tideswell
Road: Millers Dale car park is on B6049, signed from A6 (Buxton-Taddington). NB At weekends, get there early – very popular!

Walk (OS Explorer 149): From car park entrance, right under railway bridge. Right on B6049; in 50m, left up path (137731, fingerpost); in 100m, right up steep steps to gate at top (138728). Across fields; walled lane (139726) to Lydgate Farm (140721). Left (‘Brushfield); in 40m, fork right by cottage (gate). At T-junction left (142721); in 100m, right (wall stile, yellow arrow/YA) across fields and through High Dale. In 1 mile at southeast end of dale, through gate (156715); fork left uphill on road. At Brushfield follow ‘Priestcliffe’ and ‘Millers Dale’. Follow stony lane for ¾ mile to T-junction (152724); right (‘Priestcliffe Lees Nature Reserve’, YA). Across field; bear left down steep path into Millers Dale. Left along Monsal Trail (158729). In 1 mile, just before viaduct, fingerpost (142732, ‘Lime kilns’) points to lime kilns. Return to Monsal Trail; left across viaduct to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Anglers Rest, Millers Dale SK17 8SN (01298-871323,


Walking the Bones of Britain – A 3 Billion Year Journey from Outer Hebrides to Thames Estuary by Christopher Somerville (£25, Doubleday) is out on 24 August

 Posted by at 01:31
Aug 122023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Purple loosestrife on the Kennet & Avon Canal Meadowsweet on the Kennet & Avon Canal Greenham Common fuel store, now wildlife ponds 1 Greenham Common fuel store, now wildlife ponds 2 Greenham Common - where USAF nuclear bombers once taxied lock on the Kennet & Avon Canal contented cattle near Thatcham Reedbeds 1 contented cattle near Thatcham Reedbeds 2 On Greenham Common, centaury as pink as a starlet's lips

A harsh scolding call sounded from dense foliage as we followed a path through the watery jungle of Thatcham reedbeds. The crisscross striping of reed stems, of leaves and the shadows of leaves, made it impossible to spot the little sedge warbler in its subtle camouflage of brown and grey.

They have been digging gravel out of the Kennet valley for a long time now, and what’s left is a string of ‘lakes’ (flooded gravel pits) and extensive reedbeds where reed buntings and warblers nest each year. The feathery reed heads swung in today’s stiff west wind, and there was a constant dreamy susurration from millions of willow leaves.

We crossed a bridge over untroubled water, a clear stream above a gravel bed, then the turbid olive channel of the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bull’s Lock. Beyond the canal a crunchy lane ran south past a meadow of contented cattle, chin deep in grass, and came to Bury Bank Lane on the boundary of Greenham Common.

Greenham Common used to be a USAF airbase, and Cruise missiles with nuclear warheads were housed here from 1983 onwards. The Peace Women’s movement established camps around the perimeter in protest, scaled the fences, danced on the missile silos and otherwise kept their cause in the headlines until long after the nuclear weapons were shipped out in 1991.

Walking the gravelly paths and climbing the former control tower for a high-level view across the common today, the contrast between then and now is astonishing. The great runways for the bombers lie beneath heathland full of flowers – lady’s bedstraw, centaury, viper’s bugloss in vivid shades of yellow, pink and blue. The empty missile silos under their grassy domes resemble the tombs of long-gone warriors. And the massive leaky fuel tanks have been transformed into green-skinned lakelets.

We turned off the common into a tree-hung green lane which ran north to cross the dimpling River Kennet. Back on the Kennet & Avon Canal, we strolled homeward among sickly-smelling meadowsweet and tall spikes of purple loosestrife, signifiers of high summer.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; gravel tracks and lanes.

Start: Nature Discovery Centre, Lower Way, Thatcham RG19 3FU (OS ref: SU 506670)

Getting there: Rail to Thatcham, then ½ mile walk along canal.
Bus stop on Lower Way
Road: signposted off A4 in Thatcham.

Walk (OS Explorer 158): Follow path on right of lake. At foot of lake, right (506667, ‘Reedbed Trail;/RT). In 250m, where track bends left, keep ahead on path (503667, RT), following RT signs. In ½ mile at canal, right across long bridge (500666) past Bull’s Lock; in 150m, left across canal. Left on road; under railway (499666); follow ‘footpath’ fingerposts. In 400m through gate by Lower Farm Cottages (500663), on for ½ mile to cross Bury Bank Road (502654 – take care!). Up path opposite to gate onto Greenham Common. Right; in 300m, pass large grey shed, then gate (501651); fork right on path to Control Tower (500650). From tower take main path south, through gate; left along wide gravel track for ¾ mile. 100m past banded waymark post, fork left (511647). Through trees, past lakes. At waymark post with double band, left (518650, gate) across road. Gravel track opposite; at T-junction, left (521654) to cross River Kennet (521655), then canal (522661). Left on towpath to Widmead Lock (509662). 50m beyond, right (banded post, gate, RT). In ⅓ mile cross railway (506666); ahead to car park.

Lunch: Cafés at Discovery Centre and Control Tower

Accommodation: Regency Park Hotel, Bowling Green Road, Thatcham RG18 3RP (01635-871555,


 Posted by at 04:28
Aug 052023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat Salisbury Crags - sandstone layers squashed by intrusive dolerite rim of Salisbury Crags dolerite rampart of Salisbury Crags Northern marsh orchid growing in the wet ground below Whinny Hill looking from Whinny Hill to Leith, Firth of Forth and the Fife hills volcanic summit of Arthur's Seat

A spatter of rain and a good strong wind over Edinburgh, but that wasn’t going to spoil our fun. Nor was the closure of Radical Road below the iconic ramparts of Salisbury Crags. ‘There’ll be another route up Arthur’s Seat,’ said Dave Richardson, botanist, musician and long-time friend. We put away the mandolins on which we’d been bashing through ‘The Steamboat’ hornpipe at his kitchen table, donned the boots and set out for Holyrood Park.

Lucky citizens of Edinburgh, to have this great wild upthrust in their midst, more of a wedge of unspoiled highland and wildlife than anything resembling a city park. Rock falls in 2018 saw Radical Road closed off to the public, and it hasn’t reopened since. But we found a stony path that led up along the rim of Salisbury Crags and gave memorable if head-spinning views down and along this volcanic curtain of dolerite that was squeezed up and out of the depths some 325 million year ago.

‘Wood sage, heath bedstraw, bloody cranesbill,’ enumerated Dave as we passed scatters of wild flowers in white and purple. At the apex of the crags the main spectacle of the park rose ahead, a double hump of high ground composing the striking miniature mountain of Arthur’s Seat. We dipped down into a saddle of ground where many paths met, then set our faces and feet to the steep and rocky climb. Greenfinches gave out their sneezy calls from scrub bushes beside the path, whose slippery rock steps had been polished green and red by countless footfalls.

Arthur’s Seat itself is a pluton, the top of a column of basalt that punched up from below into the crater of a massive volcano, long eroded away. Standing up there in the blasting wind we were lords of one of the world’s most remarkable cityscapes – Edinburgh Castle and the jumble of monuments on Calton Hill riding their volcanic crags, petrified lava flows shaping the nearby slopes. the Pentland Hills away to the south, and northwards a glimpse of the red cantilevers of the famous railway bridge stepping across the Firth of Forth towards the hills of Fife.

How we ended up sliding on our backsides down Whinny Hill’s prickly slopes is another tale entirely. But we landed back at Dave’s in time to give ‘The Steamboat’ another run-around.

How hard is it? 3½ miles; strenuous; cliff-top path, some slippery rock underfoot, short steep climb.

Start: Holyrood car park, Queen’s Drive, Edinburgh EH8 8AZ (OS ref NT 271737)

Getting there: Train to Waverley Station; right on Princes Street; first right (Calton Road); in 800m, right on Horse Wynd, then Queen’s Drive.

Walk (OS Explorer 350; many route maps online, e.g. From roundabout next to car park, left along Queen’s Drive. In 50m, fork right uphill; in 100m, right again up stony path along top of Salisbury Crags (unguarded edge). In ¾ mile, opposite Arthur’s Seat, descend to meeting of paths in valley on left (273728). Bear left uphill under Arthur’s Seat; steeply up rock steps to saddle below peak (276731). Sharp right and follow path to foot of stone steps (277730) up to summit. Return to foot of steps; ahead, down and then up across Whinny Hill, bearing north for ⅔ mile, down to Queen’s Drive (279740). Left to St Margaret’s Loch (277739); clockwise along shore to south end (275737), then path along Queen’s Drive to car park.

Lunch: The Pakora Bar, 111 Holyrood Road EH8 8AU (0131-202-5200,

Accommodation: The Scott, 18 Holyrood Park Road EH16 5AY (0131-651-2007,

Info: ‘Discovering Edinburgh’s Volcano’ (;;

Walking the Bones of Britain – A 3 Billion Year Journey from Outer Hebrides to Thames Estuary by Christopher Somerville (£25, Doubleday) is out on 24 August

 Posted by at 02:53
Jul 292023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
hot weather cornfield country near Bramdean 1 two tracks cross near Bramdean hot weather cornfield country near Bramdean 2 hot weather cornfield country near Bramdean 3 What the blue blistering blazes is this?? shady green lane near Bramdean Fox Inn, Bramdean hot weather cornfield country near Bramdean 4

The wide grassy ride through the beeches of Cheriton Wood was lined with silverweed, royal blue viper’s bugloss and acid yellow wild parsnip. All was quiet and peaceful on this summer morning in the Hampshire Weald. If the shadows under the coppiced hazel seemed a little black and cold, that was down to the account I’d been reading of a desperate Civil War battle that took place in March 1644, in and around this wood.

Parliamentarian forces under Sir William Waller were in possession of Cheriton Wood. The Royalists under Sir Ralph Horton pushed them out, and were on the brink of victory. But an impetuous Royalist officer, Sir Henry Bard, had a sudden rush of blood to the head and launched his foot soldiers against much stronger and better armoured Parliamentarian cavalry, the ‘London Lobsters’. The Royalists were slaughtered, the survivors put to ignominious flight. It was the beginning of the end for King Charles I and the Royalist cause.

We left the wood and its ominous aura, and went westward in a rolling landscape of flinty soil, through fields of barley as yet unharvested. The country to the south was a bowl of pale gold cornfields where the foliage of hedges and thickets had assumed that tar-black hue so characteristic of hot dry summers.

The hunched, intent form of a whippet suddenly flashed by. It went streaking at full speed after a leaping roe deer till whistles and curses from its owner called it to heel.

This Wealden landscape is crisscrossed with ancient green lanes, and we followed one down past Hinton Ampner and its splendid Georgian house and gardens. In the church a monument to Katherine Stewkeley (d. 1679) lamented her fate of being misunderstood by ‘the Vulgar’. Poor Katherine was a target of ‘the Ignorance of the meanest of women’, said the inscription. How one would love to know that back story!

Another tangle of green lanes led us on to Bramdean and the friendly Fox Inn. Then along the homeward path through acres of dried-up beans adorned with the pink-and-white parasols of bindweed, and wheatfields where a huge green Klaas harvester went whining and winking along the rows, veiled in dust and beeping like a Martian.

How hard is it? 6½ miles; easy; field paths and green lanes

Start: Bramdean Common, near Petersfield, SO24 0JL approx. (OS ref SU 626294)

Getting there: Bus 67 (Petersfield-Winchester) to Fox Inn, Bramdean
Bramdean Common is 1½ miles north of Bramdean (A272), up Wood Lane.

Walk (OS Explorer OL32): Follow gravel bridleway (‘Restricted Byway’) west into Old Park Wood (623294). Continue for 900m to cross track into Cheriton Wood (615297). Keep same direction for 1 mile to cross lane (601290); on along field edge to Broad Lane green lane (595287). Left to cross A272 (597280). Up lane (‘Hinton Ampner’); at bend, ahead (597276) past gates. Opposite church, left through gate; right (fingerpost, ‘Wayfarers Walk’). In 400m at double kissing gate, left (597272) along lane. Cross road (598270) and on. At road, ahead (606267); just past New Pond Cottages, left up field edge. In 800m through hedge (608275). Cross field to hedge; right (609276). Through next hedge (611276, stile). Half left across field; follow footpath to lane; left to A272 at Fox Inn. Left; just past Littledean, right (612280, fingerpost) up walled lane. On through fields, passing Marriners Farm (619296). In another 600m, stile into Old Park Wood (622295); right to Bramdean Common.

Lunch: Fox Inn, Bramdean SO24 0LP (01962-771363,

Accommodation: Thomas Lord Inn, West Meon GU32 1LN (01730-829244,

Info: Petersfield TIC (01730-264182);

 Posted by at 04:29
Jul 152023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
in Buddington Bottom looking seaward from the track to Buddington Bottom in Buddington Bottom 2 Chanctonbury Chanctonbury Ring looking across wild parsnip to Cissbury Ring and the sea Chanctonbury Ring 2 upland track near Chanctonbury Ring chalk hill blue butterfly view to Cissbury Ring hill fort round-headed rampion

The blackcap that scribbled out its song from an ash tree by the South Downs Way was singing for a perfect summer’s day. I couldn’t believe the profusion of wild flowers and blue butterflies that bordered the ancient ridgeway as it climbed towards the roof of the West Sussex downs.

Wild marjoram, thyme and spearmint scented my fingers. Kidney vetch and knapweed vied for the attention of common and chalkhill blue butterflies that had congregated after a spectacular hatch. Yellow froth of lady’s bedstraw, nail-polish pink of centaury, harebells and hawkbit, St John’s Wort and yellowwort, and the rich blue globular flowerheads of round-headed rampion, the ‘Pride of Sussex’, a nationally scarce flower of this chalk grassland habitat.

The South Downs Way rose as the view opened northwards across a patchwork of pale gold, unharvested cornfields and dark summer woods, south to where the bird’s beak of the Isle of Wight dipped to the sea. Soon another flinty track swung off southwest, a long and gradual descent between fields of wheat and barley, flanked by brilliant yellow sprigs of wild parsnip. Out of the crop fields ahead rose the multiple ramparts of Cissbury Ring, one of the Iron Age hill forts that command this countryside.

Down in the valley bottom I passed the Pest House, a modest cottage of brick and flint with an ominous name. In this lonely place in medieval times stood an isolation house where sufferers from plague, cholera, smallpox and other deadly communicable diseases were banged up to recover or die, one or the other.

A grassy track led up the wooded valley of Buddington Bottom, to reach the South Downs Way. Just west the early Iron Age hill fort of Chanctonbury Ring topped the hill, the circular rampart reinforced with a fine double circle of beech trees. The space under them is as dark as night. This is a place with enormous atmosphere, the world spread out at your feet from the sea to the Sussex Weald.

The Ring was made by the Devil, local stories say, and he will appear to you if you run thrice widdershins around the rampart. There’s a fiendish bargain on offer, of course: a bowl of demonic soup in exchange for your soul. Don’t run round the Ring when you’re feeling hungry, is my advice.

How hard is it? 5½ miles, easy, downland tracks.

Start: Chanctonbury car park, near Washington BN44 3DR (OS ref TQ 125121)

Getting there: Bus 23 (Worthing – Crawley)
Road: At Washington Roundabout on A24 (Worthing-Horsham), take A283. Right down Washington Bostal past Frankland Arms. In ¾ mile, just before A24, sharp left up rough road to car park.

Walk (OS Explorer 121): Uphill on South Downs Way/SDW. In ¾ mile at large grass triangle, right (130117, ‘Restricted Byway’) downhill. In 1 mile at cross-tracks, left (121104, 4-finger post, ‘Wiston Estate Winery’ notice). In ⅔ mile, opposite barns at New Barn, fork left, then immediately right (130100). In 150 m, where track meets lane, fork left through gate (fingerpost, blue arrow/BA); immediately left (BA). In 400m at far corner of vineyard, through gate (133104); on up path through Buddington Bottom valley for 1 mile. At top of climb, left on SDW (145113) past Chanctonbury Ring (139120). In 500m at cattle grid, fork right (134119, gate, BA) on path past dewpond. In 500m descend to gate (129121); down through old chalk pit (slippery!) to rejoin SDW (125121); right to car park.

Lunch: Frankland Arms, Washington RH20 4AL (01903-891405,

Accommodation: Village House Coaching Inn, Findon BN14 0TE (01903-873350,


 Posted by at 01:43
Jul 082023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
gravel pit lake on the River Trent near Anchor Church meadows along River Trent near Ingleby 4 meadows along River Trent near Ingleby 3 meadows along River Trent near Ingleby 2 meadows along River Trent near Ingleby 1 reedy pond near Seven Spouts Farm Anchor Church track beyond Anchor Church

Peerless, unbroken blue sky and a brisk northeast wind over the Trent Valley. A black bull in a field at Ingleby roared without hope of recompense at the cows lined up along the hedge across the road.

The fields along the flood shelf above the river shimmered with well-grown grasses, among which a holly blue butterfly went skittering. Gold of buttercups and fox-red of wild rocket enhanced the sunlit green of the meadows. A narrow path high over the Trent led down to the shore of a backwater and an extraordinary nest of caves known as the Anchor Church.

The river burrowed out these hollows in its pebbly cliffs, then changed course to leave them high and dry. Floored and roofed with solid sandstone, supported by natural pillars of rock, they made a safe retreat for Eardwulf, deposed King of Northumbria, when he sought refuge here early in the 9th century AD as an anchorite or hermit.

The path ran through buttercup fields and on to Foremarke Hall with its Palladian frontage and pepperpot domes. The house is a school these days. We passed through the grounds, a dusty track leading us on among the pink rhododendron blooms of Heath Wood. Here invading Vikings buried dozens of their comrades slain in battle – the only known Viking cremation site in Britain.

At Seven Spouts Farm beyond, water trickled and fish rose in a reedy pond, making concentric rings on the surface as they gobbled the afternoon hatch of midges. Woodland tracks beyond snaked among the pines, oaks and hazels of Robin Wood.

In the early 19th century Sir Francis Burdett of Foremarke Hall was a Member of Parliament and a noted champion of votes for every man, at a time when such a stance was thought close to treason. It earned him a fine of £40,000, obliging him to fell the fine old oaks of Robin Wood and sell them off for timber. He’d be pleased to see his wood as we saw it this evening, once again a living network of tall trees and flowery undergrowth where a greater whitethroat enchanted us with its mellifluous dribbles of song.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; field and woodland paths.

Start: John Thompson Inn, Ingleby, Derby DE73 7HW (OS ref SK 354269)

Getting there: Ingleby is signed from A514 (Derby-Swadlincote)

Walk (OS Explorer 245): Right along road (take care!). In ½ mile round left bend; right (347270, ‘Anchor Church’). In 100m right (stile; yellow arrow/YA; ‘Trent Valley Way’/TVW). Narrow path (take care!) above river passes Anchor Church caves (339272); ahead to cross road (331269; ‘Repton Prep’). On down drive; in 350m left (331266, yellow topped post/YTP, ‘Repton Prep’). Opposite Foremarke Hall, ahead (333266, ‘Kitchen Yard’); follow drive, then track through Heath Wood to cross road (346257). At Seven Spouts Farm, left (348255, YTP, blue arrow/BA); in 300m, right (350257, YTP) across top of pond. In 150m through gate; ahead. In ⅓ mile through gate (351254, BA); left, keeping fence on left; in 250m left (354253, gate, BA); cross field and on into Robin Wood (356253). In ¼ mile at T-junction, right (360252); in 100m, before striped barrier, left (361251) on path at edge of wood. In ⅓ mile at post with YA, right (364254) across footbridge; turn left along outside of woods for ⅔ mile to lane (364263). Left past house and on; in ½ mile, right along road (356264); in 200m, left (356265, TVW) to road (352268); right to inn.

Lunch/Accommodation: John Thompson Inn (01332-862469,


 Posted by at 03:45
Jul 012023

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

The Brecon Beacons may have changed their name to Bannau Brycheiniog, ‘the peaks of Brychan’s Kingdom’, but the allure of these sharply profiled Welsh mountain remains, as it always was, irresistible to walkers. The wedge-shaped summit of Pen y fan, tallest of the range, was bristling with tiny figures on this warm summer afternoon. Nearer at hand, the gentle green dome of Pen y Bryn, a north-easterly outlier, held only a scattered flock of Welsh mountain ewes and lambs, very wary of intruders onto their hill.

The church of St Meugan stood among trees in a dip of ground above the village of Pencelli. In the cool, musty interior a wall plaque commemorated John Jones (1875-1942), a much-travelled cleric, ‘priest and missionary to the Natives of Australia’. Outside, the windowless north wall of the tower was used in times past as a goal by Pencelli’s handball players. Other locals would gather round the nearby cockpit, nowadays a bushy dingle, to wager and bicker as their game birds battled it out.

Beyond the church we crossed fields where the hazel hedges sheltered lines of sheep as yet unshorn, all panting in the heat. A green lane led away uphill, a grassy track indented in the ground that steepened past twisted thorn trees.

On the southwest skyline the canted top of Pen y fan stood tall and shadowed, lord of steep ridges and valleys. Below the path a stream was flowing underground, its subterranean trickling a guide for our footsteps as we neared the top of Pen y Bryn. A side turning over trackless ground and we were standing by the summit cairn with a magnificent panorama opening north and east, the long snouts of the Black Mountain ridges descending to green patchwork farmlands.

With views like these, who would ever want to take the downward path? Eventually we did, scooting down across a long grass upland towards the oakwoods of Allt Feigan, where cuckoos were calling. A shady track beside a mossy wall; then a long descent on a dusty red cart road under enormous, bulbous old oaks, looking out across newly mown meadows where the River Usk glinted and curved in extravagant bends like a monster eel caught in a trap.

How hard is it? 6 miles; moderate hill walk; some upland paths faintly marked on ground. Avoid in mist.

Start: Pencelli, near Talybont-on-Usk LD3 7LX (OS ref SO 092250)

Getting there: Signed from Talybont-on-Usk (A40, Crickhowell-Brecon). At entrance to village, left (‘Plas Pencelli’) to parking place by canal bridge.

Walk (OS Explorer OL12): Up lane opposite (‘Llanfeigan Church’). In ½ mile at parking place, fork right for church (087245), left to continue walk. Right at Ty’r Eglwys; steps down to footbridge (086245); up under trees, then across 2 fields (yellow arrows/YAs) to road (083246). Left; in 300m, right up green lane (081244, YAs, yellow-topped post). In ½ mile, where ground levels off (074238 approx), fork left off stony path onto grassy one. Continue climb on clear path for ¾ miles till ground levels again at top of climb (070227 approx). Left over open ground to summit cairn of Pen y Bryn (073227). From here descend ENE for 1½ miles on clear path across open grassland, at first aiming for left edge of forestry, then for angle where coniferous and broadleaved woodlands meet. Left here over stile (094237); follow track beside wall. In 500m fork left downhill (099237), following Usk Valley Walk back to Pencelli.

Lunch: Royal Oak, Pencelli (01874-665396,

Accommodation: Peterstone Court, Llanhamlach, Brecon LD3 7YB (01874-665387, – comfortable, friendly stopover


 Posted by at 02:43