Sep 232017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The great chalk horse of Hackpen Hill shone out in blinding white under a scudding blue sky. Once we’d left the runners and cyclists on the Ridgeway, and ducked off along the edge of Wick Down, we saw nobody else.

These downlands of northern Wiltshire are exceptionally beautiful. We walked at the lip of the escarpment, looking south over a roadless bowl of a valley, its curves shaped by weathering, its white chalk ploughlands contrasting with the green pastures in a harmonious subtlety of colour that called out for the paintbrush of Paul Nash or Eric Ravilious. Skylarks overhead drew generously on their bottomless wells of song, and a brown hare paused in its skyline lolloping to sit very upright and inspect us for signs of danger.

On the slope of Rockley Down we turned north into a great bowl of downland where the horse gallops of a training stable formed a straggling oval along the slopes of Ogbourne Maizey Down. A greedy, panicky screeching broke out among the gallops. Crows were bullying a pack of black-backed gulls, and the gulls were taking it out on the worms that had risen to the surface of the ground after last night’s rain.

We left the birds to their squabbling and feasting, and headed up the slope of the down. A brief struggle with a patch of nettles and brambles, and we were out again on the roof of the downs, walking the ruts and jumping the puddles of another of Wiltshire’s ancient roadways towards the low hummocks of Barbury Castle hillfort.

Whatever provoked the attack that marauding Saxons made on Barbury Castle in 550 AD, it was disastrous for the defending Britons. Several were slaughtered, and their fortifications were destroyed. As we strolled a circuit of the double ramparts, it was hard to picture the bloodshed and screams. Common blue butterflies busied themselves among the harebells and scabious, and dogs scampered the earthworks that have crowned Barbury Hill for the best part of 3,000 years.

We left the fort by its western gate and descended the rutted track of the Ridgeway, an upland road that was already ancient when Barbury hillfort was built. Flocks of cyclists and coveys of walkers were out along the old trackway, and we followed its white ribbon back to Hackpen Hill under the bluest of skies.
Start: Hackpen Hill car park, near Swindon, SN4 9NR approx. (OS ref SU 129747)

Getting there: On minor road between Broad Hinton (M4 Jct 16, A4361) and Marlborough (M4 Jct 15, A346)

Walk (7¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 157): Left (Marlborough direction) along road. In 300m, right through gate on left of driveway (132745); right along field edge with fence on right. In 100m bear left along escarpment edge. In 1 mile, on Rockley Down, left up tarmac driveway (147734) to cross road (150738).

Along broad concrete track. In 300m, ahead (yellow arrow/YA) past ‘Private Road’ notice to T-junction at ‘Barbury International’ notice (153745). Left; in 200m, bear right (152747) and follow clockwise along perimeter of horse gallop. In 300m, bear a little left off stony track (155747; pond shown on map, not really distinguishable on ground), leaving trees on your right (YAs on fence to left). Keep ahead beside grassy ride, passing ‘Stonehenge’ installation, for ½ mile.

150m before a crossing fence, turn left uphill. Cross stile (161742); on uphill for 150m. At top fence post, above square enclosure on right, turn left (162743). In 150m, through deer gate (162744), chained but not locked; on between hedges. In 50m bear half right between hedges; in 100m right again between hedges. In 200m, path bends left (164747) through scrub trees and undergrowth. In 200m, through gate on right (164748); up fence to stile onto broad trackway (165748). Left; in a little over a mile, at ‘Neil King Ridgeway Racing’ sign at Upper Herdswick Farm (157760), left through gate (‘Barbury Country Park’). Follow Ridgeway through Barbury Castle Hill Fort (147763) and on south-west for 1½ miles to Hackpen Hill car park.

Lunch: Barbury Inn, Broad Hinton, SN4 9PF (01793-731510,, or The Crown, Broad Hinton (see below)

Accommodation: The Crown, Broad Hinton SN4 9PA (01793-731302, the

Info: Swindon TIC (01793-466454);;

 Posted by at 01:50
Sep 162017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A glorious day over north Cornwall, and where better to walk than the ‘Poldark Coast’ of rocky cliffs and great smooth sands between Holywell and Perranporth? We saw no bare-chested horsemen galloping through the surf of Holywell Bay (‘Warleggan Beach’ to Poldarkians), but wet-suited surfers were riding the creamy waves. We left them to it, and turned up the coast path that hurdles the neighbouring headlands of Penhale Point and Ligger Point.

From a knife-edge promontory over the sea came a wild, chittering scream. It was a peregrine falcon, slate of back and barred of tail, mantling over her kill, a broken-necked pigeon, while fulmars streaked challengingly close overhead on stiff pointed wings.

The path teetered between cliff and sea before descending to the long two miles of Perran Beach where a mass of round transparent jellyfish had stranded at the top of the tide. We walked among them, avoiding the occasional purple blob of a (mildly) poisonous moon jellyfish, before scrambling steeply up the crumbly face of Penhale Sands.

These enormous sandhills stand 300 feet tall, a billowing inland sea of green and gold dunes. Sandy paths led us inland to the humble stone oratory built some 1500 years ago by the Irish missionary Piran. He was a giant in stature, and a jolly one too, it seems, fond of a drop of the honey-based hooch called metheglin. Adrift in the dunes beyond St Piran’s cell we found an ancient three-holed granite cross and the foundations of a 12th-century church, reminders that this barren spot was once a staging post on the medieval pilgrim route to Compostela.

Under lark song we made our way south by tangled paths across the dunes to a country road. A bend in the lane brought us to the path back to Holywell, a green way over granite stiles. The stream that shadowed the path at the smuggling hamlet of Ellenglaze was formed from a witch’s tears, so legend says. If so, her sins must have been forgiven, for the brook runs as clean and sweet as any innocent water.

Start: NT car park, Holywell, Cornwall TR8 5DD (OS ref SW 767589)

Getting there: Holywell is signposted from A392 between Newquay and Goonhavern.

Walk (8 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 104): From car park follow SW Coast Path south via Penhale Point and Ligger Point to Perran Beach. ¾ mile along beach, pass metal beacon in dunes, then fence and white ‘danger’ notice (762565). In 150m, turn inland up dune path through obvious gap (761563). Aim for rock outcrop, then keep same line up to skyline. Pass post with white panels; ahead on path, through hollow and up left side of far slope. Through gate (766564); ahead (east) with fence close on left (ignoring tall stone cross 200m on right) for 200m to St Piran’s Oratory (769564).

Keep ahead, bearing a little to right away from fence, to bear left (east) along wide track in a hollow. Pass waymark post (771564) to reach ancient stone cross on skyline (772564) and foundations of St Piran’s Church in hollow (600m east of Oratory). From here, keep ahead (east) with fence on left. In 200m, bear right (south) with fence and follow clear grassy path. In 300m (774563) bear half right across a wide open common. In 300m join a footpath marked with white stones; bear a little left with fence on left, following waymark arrow posts. At 2nd ‘acorn’ post, fork left (posts, white stones) to road at junction (775553).

Left along road for 1 mile. Descend to right bend (783566) where 2 adjacent lanes fork left. Take right-hand lane of these two; in 15m, fork right to go through gate (yellow arrow/YA). Path runs north-west along right edge of wide common with trees on right. In 600m, at far right corner of common (781572), path keeps ahead through undergrowth into hedge to pass black arrow on post. Right through kissing gate; boardwalk path through wetland patch, then across footbridge (782573). Uphill to go through gate at hamlet (782574). Left (‘Holywell’, YA); follow YAs across fields for ⅓ mile to Ellenglaze. Ahead along road (776577, YA), round left bend. In 200m, right (YA) on well marked green lane path, then holiday village road, for 1 mile to Holywell.

Conditions: Vertiginous path on Ligger Point; steep climb on loose sand from Perran Beach. Compass/GPS useful among dunes of Penhale Sands.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Holywell Bay B&B, Inshallah, Rhubarb Hill, Holywell TR8 5PT (01637-830938, – immaculate B&B.


 Posted by at 01:06
Sep 092017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A hot day, and the north-eastern corner of the Cotswolds lay in glorious sunshine. On the grass verge in Chadlington a girl in a red T-shirt patiently sat a stout white pony as it lifted its dripping muzzle from the brook and smacked its hairy lips over the savour of cool water.

Chadlington is a sprawling village, a place of rills and springs. In one of the brook meadows an old man went blithely singing through the docks and thistles, and we followed him down towards the fishing lake at Greenend. The fields beyond the shallow dip of the River Evenlode’s valley shone dull gold under the sun, mown and harvested, but not yet gathered. The woods on the ridge lay black and impenetrable in the dark dress of late summer.

Trout plopped in the olive-green lake under weeping willows. We followed a broad stony lane, thick with the scent of new-mown hay, west to Pudlicote and the banks of the Evenlode. The river wriggled like an agitated centipede between pale meadows freshly cut, and rustling fields of elephant grass destined for immolation in some green power station.

Swallows were fuelling up for their imminent southward flights. They flicked and zoomed like miniature fighter planes low over the stubbles, picking off insects by the thousand, snatching and swallowing as many as possible before the long, improbable journey to their African wintering grounds. We couldn’t help but admire their panache, while feeling a shiver of anxiety for their vulnerability and a pang of sadness at these last rites of summer.

We chose a crumbly seat of earth under an enormous old oak and sat for a gulp of water, looking out over the green and gold valley of the Evenlode and up overhead at a jigsaw tessellation of oak leaves against the blue and white sky. Then we took the homeward path across Dean Common, where the Wychwood Project is turning old gravel pits and worked-out ground into flowery wetland and butterfly-friendly grassland.

Back in Chadlington, high on the outside of St Nicholas’s Church, I spotted my old chum the Green Man, carved a-gape with jovial menace, his knotted brow crowned with leaves in all the vigour of summer.

Start: Tite Inn, Chadlington, Oxfordshire OX7 3NY (OS ref SP 324225)

Getting there: Bus X9, Witney-Chipping Norton.
Road – Chadlington is signed off A361, 2 miles south of Chipping Norton.

Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 191): From Tite PH car park, left up road. In 15m, right (kissing gate/KG, ‘Brook End’) on path beside brook. In 200m, through gate (324222); bear right up bank (YA) across field. Over stile; left (YA) along hedge. Across Cross’s Lane (322219, fingerpost/FP) and on (YAs) to cross road (324214) at Greenend. Down ‘No Through Road’ opposite.

Just before Lower Court Farm, right (‘Bridleway, Pudlicote’); follow farm track west for 1 mile to Pudlicote House. At road, left (314205); in 200m, left (‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW). Follow OW east for 1 mile to cross Catsham Lane (331208) and on. In 700m, at NE corner of Greenhill Copse (337212), don’t turn right, but keep ahead for 100m into trees. At Wychwood Project info board, OW turns right; but keep ahead (east) on path across Dean Common. In 350m cross Grove Lane (341213); on down slope. At bottom, before entering woodland, left/north (344214) along fence. At field end, dogleg left over stile (343216); continue north beside Coldron Brook for 3 fields to road (343220).

Right (take care – nasty bend!); in 50m, left along Dean Mill drive (there is a right of way for walkers). In 30m, left across footbridge (YA on far end); follow path between paddock and hedge, then across field to stile into road (341222). Right, in 100m, sharp left (FP) past No.1, Dean Bank. Right round end of house, through gate ahead; pass stables and cross stile (340224). Half left across field, sloping down to bottom right corner (339223). Cross stream (2 gates) and follow hedge (now on unmarked Wychwood Way). Over stile at top; on along lane to road (336221).

Right, soon on pavement, through Eastend. Pass St Nicholas’s Church, cross Church Road, and just before right bend, go right (332219, KG, FP), clockwise around recreation field. At top left corner, through gateway (330221); half right across field to road (327222). Right; opposite Church Road, go left over stile (326224, FP). At path end, through gate; left along fence. In 100m, through gate into garden. Aim just left of house to cross stone stile; right beside wall to road and Tite Inn.

Lunch: Tite Inn, Chadlington (01608-676910,

Accommodation: Bull Inn, Charlbury OX7 3RR (01608-810689,

Info: Banbury TIC (01295-753752);;

 Posted by at 01:22
Sep 022017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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In the low-rolling landscape of north-west Cambridgeshire sits Ufford, a wholly charming estate village built of the local pale grey limestone. There’s plenty of green ground and plenty of trees at the heart of Ufford, overlooked by the ridge where its church perches high and handsome.

A wren whirred among the sycamores in the grounds of Ufford Hall, where stout parties in white sweaters were assembling for a cricket match in the most leisurely style imaginable. Along the fields of stubble and plough furrows the elm hedges were thick with plump hips and haws. Barnack’s stocky Saxon church tower, silvered by the sun among boiling clouds, beckoned beyond thick dark woodlands.

On the far side of Barnack lie the remarkable ‘Hills and Holes’, the remnants of a vast quarry opened during the Roman occupation and worked until Tudor times. Peterborough, Ely and other great cathedrals were built of ‘Barnack rag’, a durable and workable stone from the great seam of oolitic limestone that snakes from south to north through the geological body of England.

Five centuries of disuse have smothered the old quarry with a rich grassy sward studded with wild flowers. We wandered the miniature hills and dales of the reserve among harebells and parasitic broomrapes, sprigs of deep blue clustered bellflower and the just-emerging purple blooms of autumn gentian. What a beautiful spot, peaceful and remote, sensitively preserved and managed by Natural England.

Just west of the Romans’ quarry runs their great thoroughfare of Ermine Street. We found it under the name of Hereward Way, a broad greenway running straight as a die along the wall of Walcot Park – a superb piece of masonry in its own right, capped with carefully graded stones and pierced with imposing gateways.

At Southorpe the road was lined with old farmhouses in glowing stone – Stud Farm, Bottom Farm, Grange Farm, Hall Farm. A quick circuit round the medieval ridge-and-furrow of Southorpe Meadow nature reserve (all cut and baled already) and we set course for Ufford under telephone wires a-twitter with Africa-bound swallows.

I plucked a single tempting blackberry from the hedge, and beguiled the homeward path by sucking seeds from between my teeth. The White Hart had hove in sight by the time I got the last one unstuck.

Start: White Hart, Ufford, Cambs PE9 3BH (OS ref TF 094041)

Getting there: Bus service – call 0845-263-8153.
Road – Ufford is signed from Barnack (signed from A1, Stamford-Peterborough)

Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 225, 227): From White Hart, along Walcot Road. On left bend, right (091041, fingerpost/FP); in 100m, left (stile, yellow arrow/YA), and follow YAs round field edges. At southwest corner of Ufford Oaks (085043), right on grassy track. In 500m, left at T-junction with bench (085048). Into trees (082047); pass pond; path bears right, then left with hedge on right. In 200m, right (080046, YA) along Church Lane (green lane) to road opposite Barnack Church.

Left; round dogleg; left (077050) along Main Street. Cross Walcot Road; along Wittering Road; in 100m, left up steps (075049) into Barnack Hills & Holes NNR. Ahead over humpy ground; in 100m, right through gate and follow orange ‘Limestone Trail’ arrows anticlockwise through reserve. At south edge, bear right along path to SW edge of reserve (074043); on for 450m to road (070041). Left here (‘public bridleway’, blue arrow) beside Walcot Park wall, then along grassy drive (‘Hereward Way’) to road at Grange Farm (081026).

Left along road. In 600m, right beside ‘The Meadows’ (082031, FP) to make a circuit of Southorpe Meadow nature reserve. Continue up road; at right bend, left over stile (082035, FP); follow YAs across 2 fields to Walcot Road (083040). Right; round right bend, past left turn to Ufford; in 50m, left over stile (085039, FP), under arch and on along track. In 250m, right by Ufford Oaks (085043); retrace steps to Ufford.

Lunch/Accommodation: White Hart, Ufford (01780-740250,

Barnack Hills & Holes NNR: 01780-444704,

John Clare Living Landscape:

Info: Peterborough TIC (01733-452336)

Sheffield Walking Festival: 9-17 September (;;

 Posted by at 02:12
Aug 262017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Holly Bush Inn at Greenhaugh is one of a very rare breed – an old drovers’ inn, long, low and full of character, in a hamlet tucked into a fold of the Northumberland National Park. They welcome you here in a no-nonsense way, no matter where you’re from.

We followed the rough lane to Boughthill between fields of cut hay and pastures grazed by blackfaced sheep. ‘A fair lambing this year,’ said the farmer, stopping his old Land Rover to find out if we were lost. ‘Not a good summer so far, though. But if farmers weren’t complaining about that, it’d be something else, eh?’

Past the grey stone barns at High Boughthill we turned up the hill road to Thorneyburn. The verges were spattered with colour – pink campion, purple heads of knapweed, sharp yellow of meadow vetchling, and the brilliant scarlet of rowan berries, hanging in bunches and dripping with the last of the afternoon’s rain.

High Thorneyburn farm lay on its lonely hillside in a protective collar of shelter trees, looking out over sedgy fields across the North Tyne valley to the rise of Snabdaugh Moor and the ripples of rocky crags beyond. These upland farms, beautiful though their aspect is, are tough places, demanding practical ingenuity from those who work them. The sheep dip and pens beside the lane were a marvel of clever construction, with little gates, lath fences and runways to direct the animals exactly where the shepherd wanted them to go.

Beyond High Thorneyburn we scrambled round the flooded spillway of Slaty Ford, and climbed a path knee-deep in heather up over the shoulder of Thorneyburn Fell. At the entrance to the forest of Sidwood a pack of siskins went flitting through the birch tops with a flash of yellow and a thin burst of twittering.

The wind rushed with a sea-like murmuring through the pine tops as we followed the forest track down to the valley of the Tarset Burn. The moorland path led home by way of the stark stone ruin of a pele tower, built back in the dark days of raiders and reivers when all these hills and valleys were dangerous, debateable land.

Start: Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh, near Bellingham NE48 1PW, (OS ref NY 795873)

Getting there: Greenhaugh is signposted off B6320 between Otterburn (A68) and Bellingham.

Walk (8 miles, some boggy sections, OS Explorer OL42): From Holly Bush Inn, right along road. In 200m, right (fingerpost, ‘High Boughthill’) down drive. In 500m cross Tarset Burn by footbridge (793867). On to turn right through Boughthill farmyard (2 gates) and up track (occasional yellow arrows/YA). Pass Higher Boughthill barns (789867); ahead with wall on right through trees. Through gate (787867); left along back of plantation and on to road (785862).

Turn right. In 350m, fork right through gate (782864) and on along moor road. In 1¼ miles, at turning on left at High Thorneyburn farm (766872), ahead through gate along track to Slaty Ford (767874). Scramble round to the right to avoid the stream. 50m beyond, through gate; in 70m, right (‘Sidwood, 1½’ fingerpost), on clear track to cross Thorney Burn, then NE up well-trodden path through grass and heather over Thorneyburn Common for 700m to a gate beside wall opposite Stank Well (765881, blue arrow/BA).

Ahead into Sidwood. Keep ahead on broad track. In 600m cross a forest road (770885, BA); continue on path, descending among trees for 600m to cross forest road (775889, BA). Ahead on path among trees to road in valley (776890). Right along road. In ⅔ mile pass Redheugh (784885); in another 500m, right (‘Thorneyburn’) to Thorneyburn church (786877).

Just past church, left through gateway, down west wall of churchyard. On through garden; out into a field. Head half-right (YA), steeply down a rough slope, to cross burn by footbridge (786875, YA). Climb far bank; head half left across open moor, aiming for low ruin of pele tower (787872). Ahead to stile in fence – don’t cross, but turn left (YA), keeping fence on right, to bottom of field (790868). Right through gate; left through gateway (YA); ahead to waymark post (YA). From here aim ahead, steeply down bank to cross burn (791867). Steeply up far bank to waymark post at top (YA); down track to Boughthill farm and retrace route to Greenhaugh.

Conditions: Route over Thorneyburn Common faintly marked in places; Slaty Ford wet and slippery.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh (01434-240391, open Mon-Fri from 4 pm, weekends from noon.

Info: Bellingham TIC (01670-620450); Kielder Forest TIC (01434-250209)

3 September: 50th Rossendale Round-the-Hills Walk, Rawtenstall, Lancs (;;

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

 Posted by at 02:12
Aug 122017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A pure blue-sky morning, a dreich drizzly afternoon, and in between whiles, one of the classic walks of coastal Suffolk. Senior citizens perambulated the village green in Orford between mellow red brick cottages whose windows peeped out among rambling roses. Down on the quay, fresh-landed skate had just hit the slab in Brinkley’s shed.

Orford is a pure delight, a self-sufficient coastal village at the end of a long road. Not that Orford faces the bracing tides of the North Sea directly – the monstrous shingle spit of Orford Ness, ten miles long and still growing, cut the village off from the open sea hundreds of years ago.

The strange pagoda shapes of long-abandoned MOD nuclear laboratories straddled the pebbly spine of Orford Ness. We turned downstream along the flood banks of the River Ore, looking back to see the red roofs of Orford bookended by the village church and the octagonal tower of Orford Castle. The garrison of the castle in medieval times, it was said, once hung a captured merman upside down in their dungeon when he refused to speak. He got the better of them in the end, though, slipping away and back to the sea when no-one was looking.

Hares scampered in the meadows under the seawall, and a tern dive-bombed a shoal of fish in the incoming tide of the Ore. We made inland for the dusty road to Gedgrave Hall, where the breeze carried beautiful tarry whiff from Pinney’s fish smokery near Butley Ferry.

‘Smallest ferry in Europe’, said Roy the ferryman, skilfully balancing the forces of wind and tide as he rowed us across the Butley River in his little muddy dinghy. ‘We don’t like to drown too many, though.’

We crossed the back of Burrow Hill, at 50 feet high a mountain hereabouts, and followed broad flowery lanes inland for miles to Chillesford. It was slow, heavenly walking in calm clear air through a seductively beautiful coastal landscape.

In Sudbourne Park on the homeward stretch, cricketers in their whites were preparing for their Sunday match. Bowlers pounded the nets, batsmen practised immaculate strokes they’d never execute, and as the umpires emerged from the pavilion the first spits of rain were felt on the wind, in true traditional style.

Start: Orford Quay car park, Orford, Suffolk IP12 2NU (OS ref TM 425496)

Getting there: B1084 from Woodbridge, B1078 from Wickham Market, both off A12 north of Ipswich.

Walk (10 miles, easy, OS Explorer 212): From quay, right along seawall for 1½ miles, passing Chantry Point. At tide gauge where River Ore bend south-west, bear right off sea wall path, through gate (416485, ‘Suffolk Coast Path, Orford Loop’/SCP/OL). Up grassy lane for ½ a mile to road (409490). Left; 500m past Gedgrave Hall, right (401483, ‘Butley Ferry’) past Pinney’s fish smokery (397485), following SCP to Butley Ferry (393482). Cross Butley River; ahead through gate; in 150m, right through gate (390482, SCP); follow well-marked SCP for 2½ miles via Burrow Hill (389485), Coulton Farm (382498) and South Chapel (380496) to road at Butley Mills (383515). Right to B1084 in Chillesford (386522); right past Froize Restaurant. In another 100m, right (391522, SCP/OL, ‘Orford 2¼’); follow marked SCP back to Orford.

Conditions: NB This is a weekend walk. Butley Ferry runs 11 am-4 pm Sat, Sun, BH, Easter-end October; £2 (07913-672499,

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Crown & Castle, Orford, Woodbridge, IP12 2LJ (01394-450205, – wonderfully friendly and classy village inn.

Info: Ipswich TIC (01473-432017);;;

 Posted by at 01:56
Aug 052017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Solway Plain, leading north to the vast tideway of the Solway Firth that separates England and Scotland, is a most extraordinary landscape. Squelching with juicy peat and water, teeming with wildlife, dotted with remote farmsteads and rimmed with giant saltmarshes, sands and mudflats, it is as lonely and windswept as any lover of wild places and enormous skies could want.

We set out from the Solway Wetlands Centre to follow the RSPB’s Red Trail around Campfield Marsh on the northern edge of the Solway Plain. Cumulus clouds blew around the blue sky like ships in a gale, and a beautiful rich smell of sun-warmed heather and spicy bog myrtle wafted to us from the moss, as Cumbrians call their bogs.

The trail led past a field of fodder radish, specially planted to attract butterflies and birds, the pink and white flowers fluttering with peacock, painted lady, large white and red admiral. Beyond the crop we traversed a piece of wet birchwood, the tree trunks rising from bog pools as still and black as looking-glass.

Out on the wild expanse of Bowness Common a duckboard trail led across the wet moss, aiming for the dramatic silhouettes of the Lake District’s northern fells outlined in pale grey on the southern horizon, Skiddaw rising like a king over all. Tiny green and gold lizards basked on the edge of the duckboards, flicking away and out of sight in the blink of an eye. We stopped to watch a wheatear on a post, laterally striped in brown and pale olive, its white tail flashing as it darted away across the bog.

Turning off the trail, we made for the isolated farm buildings of Rogersceugh, perched conspicuously on a low drumlin mound. From here the view was sensational, out across a dozen miles of green and purple moss to the Lakeland fells, the southern Scottish hills across the Solway, and away in the east the big mountain hummock of Criffel.

Back at the Wetlands Centre, we took a stroll west along the coast road. A thousand oystercatchers stood head to wind on the strand, the fleets and sandbanks of the Solway lay in glinting lines, and across the firth Criffel rose from the Scottish shore in a stately curve, with evening light pouring from behind it.
Start: Solway Wetlands Centre, RSPB Campfield Marsh, North Plain Farm, Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria CA7 5AG (OS ref NY 198615)

Getting there: M6 Jct 46; Bowness-on-Solway is signed from A689 western Carlisle bypass. From Bowness, minor coast road towards Cardurnock; Campfield Marsh RSPB is signposted on left in 1½ miles.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 314; map/guide available at Solway Wetlands’ Centre. Online maps, more walks at From car park, walk between stone gateposts. Follow Discovery Zone path; turn right through gateway and follow Red Trail arrows clockwise. In 1⅓ miles, beside giant wooden compass carving and post with red ring (206600), turn left on boardwalk trail to Rogersceugh Farm viewpoint (214597). Back to compass carving; complete Red Trail. Through entrance onto road; left for ½ a mile to left bend for superb view across Solway Firth; return to car park.

Conditions: Boardwalk or damp grass paths; wear waterproof footwear.

Lunch: Picnic; hot drinks at Solway Wetlands Centre; or Highland Laddie PH, Glasson CA7 5DT (01697-341839;

Accommodation: Midtown Farm, Easton, Drumburgh, Wigton CA7 5DL (01228-576550, – really friendly, excellent B&B.

Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve (01697-351330, Always open. Solway Wetlands Centre open daily 10-4; manned at weekends.;;

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

 Posted by at 01:00
Jul 292017

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

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

Info: Leamington Spa TIC (01926-742762);;

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
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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 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, – luxury golf hotel, stunning lake views.

Info: Enniskillen TIC (028-6632-3110);,

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
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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, – lively, very popular pub with great food. Booking advised!

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

Info: Chichester TIC (01243-775888);;

 Posted by at 01:56