Jul 042021

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A cloudy summer’s day across the Kentish Downs, with rain simmering not far away.
The remnant flint walls of Thurnham Castle couldn’t keep a mouse at bay these days.
From their shelter we admired a prospect over Wealden valleys tangled with thick
dark woods, then dropped down the castle mound to find the North Downs Way.
Pilgrims, packmen, rogues and vagabonds have been travelling this ancient trackway
for many millennia. It ribbons along the flanks of the downs, a pale line scribbled
through the woods and across chalk downlands where sheep nibble the rich
vegetation, a salad of herbs and wild flowers.
We looped round the head of a dry chalk valley, the olive-green turf bitten to a close
sward of smooth grass. A shower came rattling through Civiley Wood, polishing
leaves and stems. Nettle-leaved bell flowers glowed a milky blue in the shade of yew
trees whose knotty forms resembled limbs flayed back to muscle and bone.
Out in the open, the chalk grassland of Cat’s Mount lay washed with an astonishing
spatter of colour – yellow froth of lady’s bedstraw, gold twists of bird’s-foot trefoil,
sky blue powder-puffs of scabious, purple thistle tufts and white florets of yarrow. A
multi-hued haze of flowerheads that stretched ahead along downland flanks preserved
to maintain this precious and rare environment.
The North Downs Way ran on across the slopes. One or two bees were braving the
mizzly air to forage among the flowers, but the butterflies were all in shelter and
waiting for a peep of sun.
At Broad Street Hill we left the old trackway for the woodland paths of the Hucking
Estate. The Woodland Trust bought this 230 ha estate back in 1997 when only one-
third was under trees. Now it’s two-thirds wooded, a mix of ancient woodland and
new plantings, with broad paths mown through the trees and across the open grassland
that link the woods.
Much of the surrounding farmland of this part of Kent is tricky for walkers, with
neglected rights of way, a lack of waymarks and footpaths smothered under crops.
But at Hucking the Woodland Trust actively encourages walkers to wander and enjoy
this varied mosaic of landscapes.

At the peak of the hill stood a wooden sculpture of a shepherd in cap and baggy
jacket, one of the sturdy, silent men that spent their lives minding the downland
sheep. He seemed a fitting spirit for these wide hills and woods.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; downland and woodland tracks; easy, but NB several steep
flights of steps on NDW.
Start: White Horse Wood Country Park, Detling, Maidstone ME14 3JE (OS ref TQ
Getting there: Signed off A249 (Sittingbourne-Maidstone)
Walk (OS Explorer 148): From car park head south across grass; cross track; follow
‘Castle’ signs to cross road (808583). Fenced path to castle. Left across mound
opposite; path down to North Downs Way/NDW (809582). Left, and follow NDW for
2 miles to cross Broad Street Hill road (836571). In 100m, dogleg left/right
(‘Viewpoint’); follow Woodland Trust/WT arrows past shepherd sculpture (840569).
In 150m fork left (WT); in 100m left (843569, kissing gate/KG, WT); ahead on path
through wood. In 300m at bench, fork left; in 400m leave woodland (839574, KG).
Half right to go through KG opposite (WT sign); woodland path to Broad Street Hill
road (838577). Left for 800m to meet NDW (836571). Right; retrace route to car
Lunch/Accommodation: Black Horse Inn, Thurnham ME14 3LE (01622-737185,
Hucking Estate –
White Horse Wood Country Park – 01303-266327,
Maidstone TIC (01622-602169)

 Posted by at 08:20
Jun 262021

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A cold and brilliant Northumberland morning, the sky blue over West Allen Dale, the light as clear and sharp as glass. Fat lambs in the pastures by the Mohope Burn went bouncing around; so did the hares, jumping and lolloping in close company.

We climbed the lane past the old lead-mining hamlet of Keirsleywell Row, its grassed-over spoil heaps as prominent as Viking burial mounds, then on up toward Mohope Moor on a broad rubbly track between stone walls. All around the land lay open under the sun, green inbye fields striped with walls and dotted with handsome pale stone farms rising to darker moor tops that rolled away out of sight.

Sycamores flanked the lane. These trees, so often sad urban droopers full of blight and insect wounds, were properly grown out here, with limbs stretched to the full. From the sedgy fields came the calls of curlew. Their silvery trilling song, and the abrupt whistling alarm call cur-leek! cur-leek!, seem the very soul of these northern moors.

A cold wind blew out of the southwest into our faces as we reached an old sheep dip flanked by square stone sheep passes in the lane walls. A boggy track led away south across the long upland waste of Mohope Moor, its line indicated by waymark posts among the peat and moss.

The broken shell of a curlew egg, its olive surface scribbled with tarry streaks for camouflage, lay by the way. Nearby two large pellets, ejected by some raptor with a mixed diet, were a clotted mass of fur, feathers, small bones and fragments of marine shells.

At the black trickling stream of Low Blackish Clough we turned back towards the West Allen Valley, tramping through rushes and down a grassy walled lane to find the homeward path along the pebbly flood meadows of the Mohope Burn.

Beyond Malakoff Bridge flashes of silver showed along the river bank. Sand martins were flicking through the air like a shoal of eager fish, darting into and out of their nesting cavities in the overhang of the bank. Their young stood like impatient Deliveroo customers at the threshold of each hole, squeaking as they waited for the next beakful of nutritious insects to be delivered to their doorstep.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; moderate; some rough, boggy moorland walking. Take binoculars to spot waymark posts on Mohope Moor.

Start: Ninebanks Bridge, Chapel Bank, Hexham NE47 8DB (OS ref NY 782524)

Getting there: Ninebanks is signed off A686, Alston-Haydon Bridge. Half a mile beyond Ninebanks, fork right (‘Mohope’); park just beyond bridge.

Walk (OS Explorer OL 43, 31): Take road signed ‘Mohope’. In ¾ mile at left bend, keep ahead (774518, ‘Isaac’s Tea Trail, Long Cross’); climb stony lane for 1 mile to stile at sheep dip (763508, ‘Welcome to the Moor’ signboard). In 100m track bends right; keep ahead here, over stile, then follow waymarked posts (yellow arrows/YA) across moor. In ¾ mile, the sixth post (2 YAs) stands on far bank of Low Blackish Cleugh stream (759497); don’t cross stream, but turn left, aiming a little left of farm on distant slope. In 300m you’ll see line of posts ahead; follow to wall corner (765499); walled green lane to road at Fairplay (769506). Ahead; in 300m, sharp right (771510). In 450m on right bend, keep ahead (774507, ‘Redheugh, Malakoff Bridge’); follow waymarked path for 1 mile to Malakoff Bridge (782518); left on road to car.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Ninebanks Hostel, Keirsleywell Row, near Hexham NE47 8DQ (01434-345288,

Info: Hexham TIC (01670-620450);

 Posted by at 01:39
Jun 192021

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Sparrows were chirping in the reed-beds along the railway as we crossed the line by Penally station. The ominous rainclouds of early morning were blowing away eastward along the Pembrokeshire coast, and in the sand dunes every purple-pink pyramidal orchid and creamy yellow burnet rose held a spray of diamond drops.

Dogs raced joyfully along the pebble-strewn sands of South Beach. We walked the long strand, looking ahead to where the handsome colour-washed houses and hotels of Tenby stood at the rim of tall cliffs. Offshore the block-like stack of St Catherine’s Island carried its ‘Palmerston’s Folly’ of a fort, built in the 1870s to ward off a French invasion that never came.

If you had to show a Martian what a seaside resort was all about, Tenby with its colourful houses, steep and winding streets and curves of sandy beach would be the place. We climbed the green knoll of Castle Hill to pay our respects to Prince Albert, surveying the prospect in lordly fashion from his statue pedestal. Then we descended to skirt the sands of North Beach where children went trotting solemnly to the edge of the sea for a bucket of water for their sandcastle moat.

A flight of steps up the cliffs, and we were heading north along the Wales Coast Path, a sun-dappled way under ash and sycamore, flanked by ramrod foxgloves in the first flush of their velvet mauve bells.

The coast path formed the boundary between pastures and woodland. From Rowston Hill there was a wonderful view back to the tight multi-coloured curve of Tenby harbour and its houses, with the low green bar of Caldey Island lying beyond, then a forward vista eastward round the curve of the bay to the dragon humps of the Worms Head promontory running out into the sea from the toe-tip of the Gower Peninsula.

We picnicked under the oaks above Lodge Valley with the sea sighing on invisible rocks below. Punishment for many sins came after that in the shape of a cruel climb up a purgatorial run of steps. From there it was (mostly) downhill, coasting through the trees to Monkstone Beach, then on down to a slip of sand at the edge of Rhode Wood. A final stretch along the shore brought us wet-booted into Saundersfoot, and up to a fantastic view of the long and beautiful beach from the picture windows of the St Brides Bay Hotel where we had our well-earned lunch.

How hard is it? 6½ miles; moderate; a rugged coastal walk with some steep climbs and sharp drops

Start: Penally railway station, Tenby, Pembs SA70 7PS (OS ref: SS 118991)

Getting there: Train to Penally. Bus – 349 (Haverfordwest-Tenby)
Road: Penally station is on A4139 (Tenby-Pembroke)

Walk (OS Explorer OL36): Cross railway; follow path to South Beach (122988). Left to Tenby. Up cliff path (131001) along Esplanade and Paragon. Follow ‘Harbour’ signs; descend to harbour (136005), following walkway round bay. Beside café (133008), climb steps; right along The Croft cliff road. In 400m pass Park Hotel (133013); keep ahead up path (‘Wales Coast Path’/WCP, National Trail acorn symbol/NT). In 200m take right fork uphill (NT). Follow WCP and NT to Saundersfoot. Beach alternative (not at high tide) – below caravan park in Rhode Wood, turn right (141038), descending steps to beach; left to Saundersfoot.
Return to Tenby – bus 351 (Pendine-Tenby).

Lunch/Accommodation: St Brides Spa Hotel, St Brides Hill, Saundersfoot SA69 9NH (01834-812304, – very stylish and comfortable, with superb views. Booking for meals advisable.

Info: Tenby TIC (01437-775603);,

 Posted by at 03:19
Jun 122021

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Perspective is a strange commodity. When I was a child, and free to run about and play in the fields near my Gloucestershire home, the Red Lion Inn on the River Severn at Wainlode Hill seemed a sky-scraping palace, the river a mighty tideway.

Looking down from Wainlode’s heights today, I see a modest red brick pub on a bend of the Severn narrow enough to pole-vault across in two hops. Beyond stretches a yellow and green patchwork of hay meadows, cut and uncut, with the Malvern Hills standing like miniature mountains ten miles off on the northern skyline.

Walking north up the riverbank, I remember winters when King Severn would leave his lair and advance across the meadows to flood our village. On this windy summer day the grasses, enriched by the silt of Severn’s yearly incursions, ripple in different varieties – tufty sweet vernal, soft sprays of cat’s tail, a grey mist of Yorkshire fog. Big tree trunks, plucked out of Severn’s banks by last winter’s floods, wallow in the wind-roughened eddies of the river.

At Apperley’s pink-faced Coal House Inn I leave the river and make east up a green valley to a viewpoint that suddenly reveals itself, forward across wet meadows streaked with pools and fleets of water to the long sweep of the distant Cotswold Hills.

Coombe Hill Meadows is a nature reserve these days, treasured for its rare plants that thrive on regular inundation, for its orchids and ragged robin, for the wading birds, ducks and geese that throng its damp ground and carefully maintained pools, and for the marsh harriers and peregrines that hunt for frogs and water voles and small birds along its reedbeds and old abandoned canal.

As a child I knew very little of all that. I just tore about ecstatically in the great open spaces. Under enormous skies flickering with black-and-white lapwing flocks I plunged recklessly in the canal, ran as far and fast as I could, and was chased by cattle into ditches and up the pollarded willows. It was bliss.

Today I walk more soberly but just as delightedly through the squelchy meadows and along the canal where purple loosestrife grows tall and the willow leaves flick white and green in the wind. A wild and lonely place to wander, now as then.

How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; mostly level walking; squelchy in parts on Coombe Hill Meadows nature reserve

Start: Red Lion Inn, Wainlode Hill, Norton, Gloucester GL2 9LW (OS ref SO 848259)

Getting there: Wainlode Hill is signed from A38 at Norton (Gloucester-Tewkesbury)

Walk (OS Explorer 179): Right (north) along river bank for 2¼ miles to Coal House Inn (855284). Right along road; in 100m, right through gateway (855283, yellow arrow/YA). Through right-hand gate ahead (YA); up through fields (stiles) to road (862282). Right; take left fork past war memorial; in 100m, left (fingerpost) over stiles, past Willow Hill and down to B4213 (866278) by Farmers Arms. Across into Wick Lane; in 100m, left through gate (867278) into orchard; on over stile; downhill across field to track (870276). Left; through gate; half right to go through hedge gap. Left, and on through hedge gap (waymark post); ahead through next gate (875275); right to waymark post (874275, YA). Left, following YAs to canal bank (878271; YA, gate, info board). Right for 2 miles to road (850265); left to Wainlode Hill.

Lunch: Red Lion, Wainlode Hill (01452-730935, – open every day, booking advisable for weekend meals

Accommodation: Hatherley Manor Hotel, Down Hatherley Lane, Gloucester GL2 9QA (01452-730217,


 Posted by at 01:03
Jun 052021

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An afternoon of milky blue sky and sunshine over the North Cornwall coast. A couple of contented drinkers sipped their pints on the terrace of the Coombe Barton Inn, down in the heart of Crackington Haven. At the foot of the hamlet a stony shore ran down to a fingernail of sand between cliffs of sandstones and shales, contorted in folded layers as though a giant had squeezed them in his fist.

Up on the cliffs the coast path ran between thickets of alexanders with globular green heads, a tasty treat for knowledgeable consumers since the Romans introduced them to these islands. Gorse wafted coconut scents from its heavy gold flowers, and down at ground level the banks were spattered white with stitchwort and fleshy-leaved scurvy grass – all bearing witness of spring’s leap forward into summer.

A farmhouse lay slate-hung and snugged down against any weather the coast could hurl at it. We crossed footbridges over miniature ravines trickling with water, the coastline sagging seaward in the loose folds of landslips. A zigzag path brought us up under skylark song to the summit of Cambeak, a promontory with fantastic views along the coast – north to the harsh sheer cliffs around Morwenstow, south to the misty hump of Trevose Head near Padstow.

The wind-bitten turf of Cambeak was netted with the strap-like leaves and tiny blue flower stars of spring squill, a delicate and beautiful plant that has retreated to western coastal fastnesses. What a pleasure to find it here, thickly carpeting the headland.

Down through a sandy yellow undercliff, an old landslip exposing steeply canted rock strata, with the sea washing and sighing on the lonely beaches of Little Strand and The Strangles. Looking back, we saw a shore wrinkled with rock strata washed down to ridges by countess tides. A wave-cut arch of dark rock, the Northern Door, stood out from the cliffs among sea-smoothed purple boulders.

Above a tumble of cliffs and gullies we turned off the coast path and made inland for Pengold Farm, where lambs on springs leaped around their anxiously bleating mothers. Beyond lay a landscape of steep slopes curving down into hidden valleys, their flanks squared by thick hedgebanks into pastures too small and awkward for modern cultivation.

The field path dropped down into the tree-lined Ludon Valley, hidden until we were almost upon it. We turned for home along a green path under trees full of evening birdsong. Through the cleft rush a stream tangled with fallen trees, bubbling over a grey stony bed and curving through quiet dingles bright with the intense gold yolks of kingcups.

How hard is it? 4½ miles, strenuous, many cliff steps and slopes

Start: Crackington Haven car park, near Bude EX23 0JG (£3 for 4 hours, £5 all day – coins only) – OS ref SX 143968)

Getting there: Bus 95 (Bude)
Road – Crackington Haven is signed off A39 (Bude-Camelford) at Wainhouse Corner.

The Walk (OS Explorer 111): South along Coast Path for 2 miles. At ‘Trevigue’ post (133952), keep ahead; in 200m fork left (yellow arrow/YA) on Coast Path. In 300m at ‘Boscastle’ post (132949), fork let (YA, ‘To Road’). Cross road (134947); across field into dip (YA); up to top gate (136945, YA). Left to barn corner; diagonally across field, down to left of 2 gates (138947, YA). On with hedge bank on right, down into Ludon Valley. Cross stream and stile (140951); follow YAs and ‘Haven’ back to Crackington Haven.

Lunch/Accommodation: Coombe Barton Inn (01840-230345, Open 7 days; book ahead for meals

Info: Bude TIC (01288-354240)

 Posted by at 01:24
May 292021

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Thirty years ago only fools or psychogeographers would have set out to walk the coast of County Durham. This was ‘Get Carter’ country, a dozen miles of grim coastline massively polluted by coal mining and pit waste tipping.

After the last of Durham’s coastal pits closed in 1993, a remarkable operation named ‘Turning the Tide’ saw a clean-up of the cliffs, the beaches and the steep wooded valleys called ‘denes’. Following the clifftop path south from Seaham Harbour on a fine windy morning, we couldn’t believe this was the same colliery coast that we’d once known.

Down on Blast Beach the sea is slowly eroding the minestone. Blast Beach got its name from the blast furnaces of the adjacent ironworks which covered the beach with a thick layer of grease and sludge. Mixed with coal waste from Dawdon Colliery, this scab of industrial slag was dubbed ‘minestone’ by locals. It’s a remarkable sight, a flat shelf of pale grey and orange that extends seaward from the feet of the pale magnesian limestone cliffs, to form its own miniature cliff at the high water mark.

We walked Blast Beach, marvelling at the contrast between the barren layer of minestone and the rich flora that has developed under the cliffs – buttery yellow bird’s-foot trefoil, intensely purple bloody cranesbill. Fulmars planed along the cliffs, and nesting kittiwakes looked down on us with eyes as soft and black as pandas.

Up on the cliffs again, we strolled the grassy meadows where bee orchids grew in clumps. On the sheltered beach of Hawthorn Hive a man was collecting waste coal into a sack. ‘Sea coalers’ were a common phenomenon hereabouts when the collieries were in full swing, but there’s little sea coal left today.

Easington Colliery’s beach was once a wasteland where a gaunt gantry dropped a continuous stream of mine filth into a blackened sea. Now it’s a beautiful sweep of pale pebbles on which the waves break in white foam.

Horden Beach was a three-mile swathe of stones and sands, its minestone ledge now sea-nibbled halfway back to the cliffs. From here we struck up the path into Castle Eden Dene, and walked up into Peterlee through a green canopied cleft full of ferns and water-sculpted rocks. Goldcrests squeaked in the treetops, and the underworld below the trees was hazed and smoky with bluebells.

Start: Seaham Harbour, Co Durham SR7 7DR (OS ref NZ 431494)

Getting there: Bus X6, X7 (Peterlee-Sunderland)
Road: Seaham is on B1404, signed from A19, just south of Sunderland.
Chevron Taxis (Peterlee-Seaham, about £12): 0191-586-0222/0555.

Walk (10 miles, moderate coastal walk, OS Explorer 308): From Seaham Harbour walk south along coast path beside A182 (occasional brown ‘England Coast Path’ waymark). In 1 mile at Nose’s Point (437478), descend to Blast Beach (steep, slippery descent). Cross beach; steps up to coast path are beside the prominent rock stack near the far end (439469). In ⅔ mile at Hawthorn Dene (440461) either take steep steps down to cross beach, or cross railway line into woods and follow ‘Heritage Coast Footpath’ yellow arrows across dene and on.

In another 4¼ miles at Hartlepool Point, at foot of dene mouth with reedbeds (455407), pass end of path that goes inland past tank traps, and take next path from beach inland up Castle Eden Dene. Under railway (451405) and across A1086 (448405) ; on along footpath. In 1 mile, fork right after Garden of Eden bridge (438399), with Castle Eden Burn on right, up waymarked Yew Tree Trail for nearly 1 mile to Visitor Centre (427393). Ahead up Stanhope Chase to cross Durham Way; path ahead to edge of playing field (426397). Right for 150m, left up right side of playing field, then path ahead through North Blunts woodland to Peterlee bus station (428407).
Conditions: Paths in Castle Eden Dene can be slippery after rain.

Lunch: Picnic on the cliffs or beaches

Info: Castle Eden Dene Visitor Centre, SR8 1NJ (0191-586-0004)
Durham Heritage Coast (0300-026-8131,;

 Posted by at 07:00
May 222021

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Heddington lay in thatch and mellow brick, cradled by the Wiltshire downs, as pretty and sleepy as a summer photograph from long ago.

We passed the tiny half-timbered Ivy Inn and were soon walking through green pastures towards the hills.

At Harley Farm we crossed the neat garden and the cornfields beyond, to join the straight old track that leads as a deep chalky holloway due east up on to the crest of Morgan’s Hill. A crowd gathered here to see local man John Morgan hanged in 1720 for the murder of his uncle. Today the hill has a gentler reputation as a nature reserve with wonderful views to all quarters.

We sat in the sun and wind among wild thyme and common spotted orchids to eat macaroons like the Famous Five, gazing north over a landscape striped and chequerboarded in white chalk and green barley and beans. The wind moved the unripe barley in silky waves and brought us the sweetly pungent smell of the bean flowers.

The patchwork variety of the plants and creatures of the reserve came as a striking contrast to the shaven uniformity of golf course grass on the south slope of Morgan’s Hill. Soon we were down in a long valley that looked south towards Salisbury Plain, following the ancient Wessex Ridgeway between fields of oats and beans and barley, just as the old song names them.

Corn buntings are in severe decline across the UK, their habitat degraded and food sources diminished by pesticides. But now one of these chunky little birds with a striped chest and thick bill kept us company, flitting a little ahead and perching along the fence wire.

The way home ran past the Iron Age hill fort called Oliver’s Castle. Here on 13 July 1643 a Parliamentarian army suffered heavy defeat by Royalist forces. Many of the Roundhead casualties were troopers in flight; they rode in panic over the steep edge of the down and crashed to their deaths in a heap of men and horses.

On this sunny afternoon the banks of the ‘Bloody Ditch’ were thick with bee and lesser butterfly orchids. Wandering here, it was hard to give credence to the awful scenes of the long-ago disaster that gave this flowery cleft its ominous name.

How hard is it? 8¼ miles; easy; field paths and trackways

Start: St Andrew’s Church, Heddington, Calne, Wilts SN11 0PL (OS ref ST 999663)

Getting there: Bus 43 from Calne
Road: Heddington is signed off A3102 between Calne and Devizes

Walk (OS Explorers 156, 157): Stockley Road north out of Heddington. In ⅓ mile, opposite row of cottages, right (SU 001666, stile); follow field path (unwaymarked) for ⅓ mile east, then north-east to Harley Farm (006671). Through gate into garden (unwaymarked, but it’s a Right of Way); half right to stile. On across 2 fields to stony lane (006675). Right; in 300m, ahead at bend (009675). In ½ mile dogleg right/left across road (018673, ‘Byway’) and on.

In 500m, reach Morgan’s Hill Nature Reserve gate on right, with another gate/track on left (023672). Take middle track between them along north edge of reserve. In 500m, right (027672, gate, white arrow), diagonally across nature reserve. At top, through gate onto golf course (025671). Dogleg left/right down path through golf course; in 300m bear right (025668, arrows) to cross road near Club House (023667). On along Wessex Ridgeway. In 1¾ miles pass Plantation car park (015642); in 300m, right (013639, ‘Leipzig Plantation’) up road. In just under 1 mile, near Oliver’s Castle, dogleg left/right and on (005648). In ¼ mile, left through gate (003651); down steep cleft. In ¾ mile at bottom of hill, on left bend just after gates on right (992655), go right through hedge gap by wooden post. North along path; in 300m cross marked Byway and on (992658, ‘Restricted Byway’) to Heddington.

Lunch: Ivy Inn, Heddington SN11 0PL (01380-859652,

Accommodation: George & Dragon, High Street, Rowde, Devizes SN10 2PN (01380-723053,

Info: Calne TIC (01249-814000);;

 Posted by at 03:34
May 152021

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A fine afternoon of big blowy skies over Warwickshire. The cobbled lane of Town Yard led up from Brinklow’s aptly named Broad Street to the green mound of a Norman motte-and-bailey, with far views over a countryside of corn and cattle grazing.

Frisky young bullocks came crowding in the fields round Goodes Farm. We gave them a roar and a wave, and they went scampering off, pitching over the corrugations of medieval ridge-and-furrow farming like a squadron of little dinghies in a choppy sea.

A good clear path led across fields of wheat. A shiver among the stalks, and a brace of partridges burst from cover almost under our feet and panicked away low across the crop with a rattle of stiff wings and squawks of complaint.

Meadows of thick shiny grass awaited their first cut of the year. The wind drove a sharp fragrance from a field of beans, the black velvet eyes of the flowers winking at us as the breeze tossed them to and fro.

Beside the road at Newnham stood a derelict tower, its parent building of St Lawrence’s Church long demolished. Black slit windows gave back a hard blank stare. It was easy to see how the lone tower by the lane got its reputation as a haunted place. That ominous fame must have been enhanced when, during excavations in 1852, the corpse of a decapitated man was unearthed from the abandoned graveyard. Meticulously embroidered in black silk on his funerary chemise were the letters ‘TB’. Nothing else was known, or has ever yet been discovered, about this felon and his story.

Through the fields beyond snaked the tight bends of the Oxford Canal, so winding in its course that boatmen inching their slow way through the many bends were said to be able to hear Brinklow bells ringing for matins and evensong on the same day.

As we went homeward along the towpath, a narrow-boat went by, its stag party crew of jolly jack tars in full uniform saluting us with beer bottles in hand. At the same moment a steam locomotive went streaking by along the railway just beyond – ‘Mayflower’ in beautiful green paintwork, passing with a rush and a roar and a hoarse triumphant cheer from her fan club perched on the bridge overhead.

Start: Broad Street, Brinklow, Rugby, Warwicks CV23 0LN (OS ref SP 436795)

Getting there: Bus 585 (Rugby-Coventry)
Road: Brinklow is signed from A428 at Bretford, west of Rugby. Park near Raven PH.

Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 222): Up Town Yard beside Raven PH; path, then steps to motte-and-bailey (437795). Return to kissing gate/KG; left (‘Coventry Way’). In 40m, through KG; down right-hand hedge to gate onto B4455 (437791). Left across Easenhall Road; follow yellow-topped posts/YTP and KG across fields for 1 mile via corner of All Oaks Wood (443786) to cross road (446780). Field path for ½ mile (stiles, yellow arrows) to road at Newnham Tower (449772).

Turn left, then right down Kings Newnham Road. In 50m, left (KG, YTP) between ponds. Don’t turn right across bridge (451770), but follow YTPs to left up slope, to KG/YTP on right of sheds (453711). Diagonally across fields (KG/YTP) to cross road (457774). Diagonally across field; cross plank footbridge at corner (459777); diagonally across next field to corner (462777). Ahead on path skirting left of Fennis Fields Farm, to reach Oxford Canal at Walton’s Bridge (467782).

Left along towpath for 2 miles. At Bridge 34, up steps to road (443794); left (grass verges; take care!). In 350m cross Ell Lane (440794); ahead (YTP, KG) into field. Half right to fence (438795); left along route to retrace route to Brinklow.
Conditions: Cattle may be in fields; tall stile onto towpath at Walton Bridge; towpath rough in place

Lunch/Accommodation: Bull’s Head, Coventry Rd, Brinklow CV23 0NE (01788-832355,

Info: Rugby TIC (01788-533217);

 Posted by at 02:15
May 082021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The eccentricities embodied in the quiet villages of England are a constant source of revelation. Modest Goodmanham at the southern edge of the Yorkshire Wolds sees a welter of motley nags and jovial riders each March, taking part in a mad charge round the 4-mile course of the Kiplingcotes Derby. This muddy, foggy scramble of a race has been going on for 500 years; anyone can turn up on the day and have a go.

You learn this, and many more strange tidings, if you keep your ears open at the Goodmanham Arms, one of those Poppins-style pubs that are practically perfect in every way.

There’s definitely something magical in the air at Goodmanham, a village whose All Hallows Church stands on the site of a great temple to the chief of the Saxon gods, Woden. When local high priest Coifi decided to throw in his lot with Christianity rather than the old religion in 627AD, he signified the switch by hurling a war spear into the pagan temple, which his acolytes then burned to ashes.

A wild and whirling image to take with us into the placid, sunlit landscape of the East Riding. The Yorkshire Wolds Way led north from Goodmanham, a green lane edged with garlic mustard and white dead nettle. It ducked under the handsome brick bridge of a disused railway, then rose to run among cornfields and ploughlands of pale pink chalky soil.

There was an exhilarating sense of upland striding along the old lane, with skylarks singing their hearts out over the wheat and yellowhammers flirting their golden heads as they perched on the hedge tips.

Once across the roar and rattle of the Driffield road, we walked through the lush parkland of Londesborough Park among horse chestnuts in full candle. In their shade somnolent cattle watched us go by with supreme indifference. Forget-me-nots as blue as the sky and a mass of gold kingcups framed the ornamental lake, a little slice of man-made paradise.

The Wolds Way swung south again through barley fields to reach Market Weighton, busy and nondescript, the centre of a wide swathe of low-lying agricultural country. At a cross-roads stood a full-size statue of the town’s most famous son, William Bradley, (1787-1820) at 7 ft 9 inches the tallest Englishman in history. Born in an age when a small-town giant could expect merciless teasing and exploitation, by all accounts Bradley seems to have been a very pleasant and gentle giant indeed, and someone his home town still remembers with affection.

Start: Village car park, Goodmanham, Market Weighton, E. Yorks YO43 3JA (OS ref SE 888430)

Getting there: Bus X4, Hull-Market Weighton
Road: Goodmanham is signed off A614 (Market Weighton-Driffield) just north of Market Weighton.

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 294): From car park, left along the road. Left beyond the church (890431, Yorkshire Wolds Way/YWW, ‘Londesborough’). Follow YWW for 2 miles, crossing A614 at 897440, into Londesborough Park. Below Londesborough Park house, YWW forks (871453); bear left and follow YWW to road at a lodge (869448). Turn left; in 100m, turn right and follow YWW south for 1¾ miles, crossing A614 at Towthorpe Grange, to York Road in Market Weighton (872421). Turn left to pass the statue of the Market Weighton Giant (877418); turn left up Londesborough Road. In 200m, turn right along Hall Road (877420); continue along the Hudson Way railway path. In 1 mile, turn left at a road (900426) back to Goodmanham.

Lunch: Goodmanham Arms (01430-873849, – a delightful, peaceful pub


 Posted by at 01:28
May 012021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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This walk is a tale of two churches and one long ridge, starting in the high-perched village of Hough-on-the-Hill. Of course, ‘high’ and ‘hill’ are relative concepts in South Kesteven, the south-western corner of the Lincolnshire flatlands. But standing at the ‘sunset gate’ on Folly Lane, the westward view seemed to stretch out for ever.

You get great sunset views from this spot. But the bright morning prospect under a cloudless blue sky was pretty fine, too. This is corn and sheep country, the lowland striped in blue-green wheat and pale emerald pastures where ewes called phlegmily to their fat lambs with propeller ears and boot-button eyes.

Along the path in Gelston the stub of a medieval cross stood on the triangular village green. Beyond lay the carefully restored pinfold where, in times past, stray beasts would be impounded till their owners paid a fine.

Celandines, elm shoots and small-leaved lime bordered the lane back to Hough-on-the-Hill. The Norman motte-and-bailey earthworks that underpin All Saints Church were hard to make out, but the building itself stood out tall and proud on the ridge, a diminutive round Saxon tower clamped like a root of ivy to its square medieval successor.

The lych gate was beautifully carved, a Green Man at its northern apex, a cross-legged wood carver at the southern peak. Houses and gardens beyond looked immaculate. Hough is one of those villages about which people take great care, one way and another.

A long path through sheep pastures on the slope of the ridge led steadily north-east, the slender crocketed spire of St Vincent’s Church at Caythorpe beckoning us on. This is another of Lincolnshire’s remarkable village churches, banded in yellow ironstone and pale grey Ancaster limestone, its interior endearingly out of symmetry. A memorial slab commemorated Edmund Weaver, 18th-century astronomer, ‘A Tender Husband, an indulgent Father, A quiet Neighbour, a cheerful Companion.’ Could there be a fonder epitaph?

The homeward path lay along the edge of wheatfields, their broad margins heading for the pinnacles of All Saints tower at Hough-on-the-Hill that rose out of a collar of trees. A gentle wind blew in our faces, bringing the nagging cries of sheep from the higher pasture slopes where they lay like so many blobs of cloud swept from the blue sky.

Start: Brownlow Arms, Hough-on-the-Hill, Newark, Lincs NG32 2AZ (OS ref SK 922463)

Getting there: Hough-on-the-Hill is signed from A607 (Grantham-Lincoln) at Caythorpe

Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 272): From Brownlow Arms, cross road; down Folly Lane; way-marked path across fields for 1 mile to Gelston village green (913453). Left; in 100m, left on road. At Hough-on-the-Hill, left (923461), in 70m right (fingerpost) across field. At Carlton Road (926463), left; cross High Road; ahead on Lower Road for 150m; right (925466, fingerpost) along field path for 1¼ miles to outskirts of Caythorpe (937480). Left along Back Lane; at end (936484), right to High Street at Waggon & Horses (938484). Left to St Vincent’s Church; left along Church Lane; ahead where Waterloo Road bends right (937485). At T-junction, left (936485); in 150m, left across Wheatgrass Lane (936484), down Back Lane. Retrace field path to cross stile (936478); right along hedge/fence for 1 mile to stile into lane on edge of Hough-on-the-Hill (924467). Cross lane; ahead to road (924466); cross and climb path with white railing to church and Brownlow Arms.

Conditions: NB Dog owners – sheep in fields, many stiles

Food/accommodation: Brownlow Arms, Hough-on-the-Hill (01400-250234, – very friendly, comfortable stopover.

Info: Newark TIC (01636-655765);;;

 Posted by at 00:47