Dec 022023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Turville in its valley bottom 1 Path near Harecramp Cobstone Windmill 1 Turville in its valley bottom 2 King David harps in the Church of St Mary le Moor at Cadmore End St Bartholomew's Church, Fingest Cobstone Windmill 2 the holloway through Hanger Wood approaching Cadmore End

A misty, moisty morning in the Chiltern Hills, with a wintry nip in the air. A group of hikers were enjoying thermos coffee and tupperware cake in the porch of the Church of St Mary le Moor at Cadmore End. Inside, strong colours glowed from the Victorian glass in the lancet windows, and a statuette on the font cover depicted a mother offering up her baby to the country in its hour of need – a very poignant memorial to First World War patriotic sentiment.

Mist hung in the trees and puddles made obstacle courses of the chalk and gravel tracks through the hills. A flock of starlings skimmed round in close formation before settling on a field to pick insects and worms from the sodden furrows. The countryside was a palette of washy greens, oranges and browns, pale and insubstantial in the moisture-thickened air.

In the margins of Hanger Wood a squirrel leaped overhead, knocking raindrops down to rattle among the hazel leaves. Acorns carpeted the path, none so much as nibbled. Maybe squirrels dine on caviar in the Chilterns.

Down in the valley by Harecramp Cottages a fleet of Land Rovers bounced towards their day’s shooting. I followed an old green lane among hips and haws, then climbed a steep little path to emerge at the crest of Turville Hill beside the white smock and skeletal sails of Cobstone Windmill, cleverly sited to catch every available wind.

Down below, Turville stretched along the valley bottom, picture perfect in mellow red brick. Here played out the extraordinary story of farmhand’s daughter Ellen Sadler, who fell asleep at home in Turville in 1871, aged 11, and could not be woken. Doctors, clerics, newspaper reporters and nosy celebrities attended her bedside, expecting to catch her out as a fraud, but nothing disturbed her Sleeping Beauty slumber until she awoke naturally some nine years later at the age of twenty.

There’s a gruesome fascination in the village inn’s name, the Bull & Butcher. The signboard displays a manically grinning butcher, cleaver in hand, with an apprehensive bull looking on. The pub itself proved warm, beamy, brick-floored and full of dogs – just the place for a nice pint of Brakspear’s golden nectar before the homeward plod by way of charming Fingest and the hollow bridleway through Hanger Wood.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy; one short steep descent.

Start: Cadmore End car park, HP14 3PE (OS ref SU 786926)

Getting there: Car park is off B482 just east of Cadmore End school, between Stokenchurch and High Wycombe.

Walk (OS Explorer 171): cross road and green; left along lane. Opposite church (784925), right on track (‘Bridleway’). In 250m fork right by spinney (782925). In 450m at foot of slope, fork left into trees (778926, white arrow). In 700m cross road (773923); cross field to style (770925); left down lane. In valley bottom, left on green lane (767924). In ⅔ mile, nearing road, hairpin right (774917, yellow arrow/YA); in 50m fork left uphill to road (770915). Dogleg right/left past Cobstone Windmill; steeply down to Turville. 50m before road, left (769917), kissing gate/KG); half left to KG (771911); on to cross road (774910, ‘Chiltern Way’/CW). In 100m fork right (775911, YA, CW) to road (777910). Left; left up Chequers Lane; right by Sundawn * house (777911, fingerpost). In 100m fork right. In 250m, KG (780913); ahead up lane; in 300m fork left uphill (783914, blue arrow) to Cadmore End.

Lunch: Bull & Butcher, Turville RG9 6QU (01491-638283, or Chequers PH, Fingest RG9 6QD (01491-756330,

Accommodation: Chilterns Fox, Ibstone Rd, HP14 3XT (01494-504264,


 Posted by at 03:58
Nov 252023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Llyn Cynwch Cadair Idris from the Precipice Walk Foel Offrwm Iron Age fort wall at summit of Foel Offrwm resting bench looking west towards Afon Mawddach, on path to Foel Offrwm summit Precipice Walk, with Afon Mawddach below 1 Cadair Idris from the Precipice Walk 2 Llyn Cynwch 2 Precipice Walk, with Afon Mawddach below 2

The thrush seemed completely unafraid. It stood its ground under the silver birches on the forest path, its beak full of grubs, as I approached. It wasn’t until we were almost in touching distance of one another that it flew off among the trees. I watched it go, then moved on to where the steely flat waters of Llyn Cynwch made a dull mirror of the upland valley.

This portion of woodland, fellside and upland grazing a few miles north of Dolgellau belongs to the Nannau Estate. Since Victorian times the public has enjoyed the estate’s permission to wander a network of paths. I was setting out on this brisk day to explore the Precipice Walk high above the steep, glacier-scoured valley where the Afon Mawddach widens towards what George Borrow in his classic 1862 travel book Wild Wales termed its ‘disemboguement’ in Barmouth Bay.

A rocky path, clear on the ground but tricky to find footing on, led round the northern nose of a tall ridge before edging back along the brink of the precipice. The slope down to the river 700 feet below was steep and tree-hung, vertiginous in a couple of spots. But the views were quite sensational, out to the estuary below its headland, south to where Cadair Idris sprawled in full majesty of ridges, cliffs, corries and peaks against the clouds.

The Precipice Walk rounded the southern end of the ridge and fell away to the lake shore and a level stroll back to the car park. But I wasn’t quite satisfied. On the other side of the road rose Foel Offrwm, the ‘Hill of Sacrifice’, a tall knobbly eminence crowned with an Iron Age hill fort. The views from up there ought to be sensational too.

And so they were, once I had slogged up the zigzag path, past a tempting resting bench and on up to the tumble of stones that once formed a strong defensive wall for the ancient stronghold at the summit. By the curious square cairn I revolved slowly, taking in one of Snowdonia’s finest prospects – the lumpy Rhinogs and the serpentine Mawddach to the west, the Arans and Arennig to the east where I had climbed last year, the long tented back of Cadair Idris capturing the whole of the southern skyline, and away to the north a hint of the tall mountains that form the roof of Snowdonia.

How hard is it? 5½ miles in total. (Precipice Walk 3½ miles; Foel Offrwm 2 miles up-and-down). Precipice Walk mostly level, but rocky, stumbly path; Foel Offrwm a strenuous hill climb.

Start: Precipice Walk car park, near Dolgellau, LL40 2NG (OS ref SH 745211)

Getting there: Bus 33 (Dolgellau – Llanfachreth)
Road – On Llanfachreth road, signed off A494 between Dolgellau and Rhydymain.

Walk (OS Explorer OL23): Turn right along marked path at top of car park. In ½ mile through gate marked ‘Danger; Deep Drops’ (741212); in 100m uphill along wall. Follow it to right, then follow the obvious ‘Precipice Walk’ circuit. Watch your feet on this rocky path!
Back at car park, cross road and follow lower track parallel with road. In 250m, before gate, fork right (748212, ‘Foel Offrwm’ on marker stone) up side path, through gate and on. In 250m fork right up path (‘Copa Foel Offrwm’). In 100m bend right with the path, and keep climbing in same direction. At bench, fork back left (750213 approx) on path to summit cairn (750209). Return same way.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Afon Rhaiadr Country House, Rhaiadr Wnion, Dolgellau LL40 2AH (01341-450777, – very comfortable and welcoming B&B.


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

 Posted by at 01:14
Nov 182023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Brutalist concrete dam at Wimbleball Lake footbridge over River Haddeo in Hartford Bottom Wimbleball Lake from Haddon Hill 1 Exmoor pony on Haddon Hill with Wimbleball Lake beyond pink sandstone track on Haddon Hill steep green pastures beside Haddon Lane 1 steep green pastures beside Haddon Lane 2 packhorse bridge and ford at Bury in Hartford Bottom between Hartford and Bury

Unseasonably warm, unseasonably sunny – so said everyone in the car park as they prepared for their Sunday constitutionals across Haddon Hill, a fine double hump of sandstone standing proud on the south-eastern edge of Exmoor.

Once out on the open moor there were dark shaggy Exmoor ponies cropping the grass among the bracken, stonechats with black caps and white clerical collars calling wheesht-chip-chip! from the tips of gorse bushes, and a wonderful view north down to Wimbleball Lake lying as smooth as iced glass.

On top of the trig pillar at the summit of Haddon Hill sat a tiny boy clutching a woollen rabbit. His father teetered a-tiptoe behind him on the pillar, expounding on the remarkable view from the Exmoor outliers in the north to the craggy profile of distant Dartmoor away to the south.

I followed a rubbly track steeply down through a bronze sea of bracken towards the lake. Autumn seemed on the cusp of handing over to winter with the silver birch already bare, leaves of toffee and lemon hue lining the verges of the paths, and a robin giving out that sharp silvery burst of song so characteristic of woodland at the dead end of the year.

The dam wall and control house of Wimbleball Lake are an essay in stark brutalist concrete, in striking contrast to the naturalistic curves of water and woodland. A boy came riding his bike across the dam, wheelie-ing all the way and grinning like a prancing cowboy at a rodeo.

Down in the depths of Hartford Bottom, the densely wooded combe beyond, I trudged the muddy track from the few cottages of Hartford past the bubbling tanks of a fishery and on beside the meanders of the fast-rushing River Haddeo. A beautiful green cleft in the hills, mossy and full of the noise of lively water.

At Bury a car moved slowly between the trim stone cottages before inching across the village ford. I crossed the river alongside by way of a handsome old packhorse bridge with humpy back and pointed arches. Then it was a long winding climb from the sunny valley up to the open moor again under the overarching beeches of shaly, slippery Haddon Lane, half steep holloway, half trickling stream.

How hard is it? 6½ miles; moderate; bridleway road from reservoir dam down to Hartford is slippery; muddy between Hartford and Bury, and in Haddon Lane.

Start: Haddon Hill car park, near Dulverton TA4 2DS (OS ref SS 970284)

Getting there: Car park is off B3190 (Watchet-Bampton) between Ralegh’s Cross and Morebath.

Walk (OS Explorer OL9): Through gate at NW (top left) corner of car park. Bear right away from trees; follow main stony track gradually uphill to pass trig pillar (962286). Continue along track; in 300m fork right on grass path; in 150m sharp right (959286) on track heading for lake. In ½ mile fork left (967288) downhill past reservoir to road (969288). Left downhill to pass dam (965292). Continue downhill (‘Hartford ½’); at road, left (960294) through Hartford and on (‘Bury 2’). At Bury, left across bridge (945274). In 150m, just past Chilcotts house, left up Haddon Lane (‘Haddon Hill 1¼’). At Haddon Farm (955281) dogleg left/right onto track (‘Haddon Hill’). In 400m fork right through trees (958281, ‘Bridleway Upton’). In 100m into field; ahead through gate; half left up field slope to gate at far top left (962282). Forestry track to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Ralegh’s Cross Inn, Brendon Hill TA23 0LN (01984-640343,


 Posted by at 01:51
Nov 112023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Blawearie Farm ruin Ros Castle moor track to Blawearie 1 Blawearie Farm ruin 2 Blawearie Farm ruin 3 moor track to Blawearie 2 view from Ros Castle to the Cheviot `Hills Hepburn Bastle 1 paths up through the heather to Ros Castle view from Ros Castle to the Cheviot Hills 2

The bastle stood on its rise of ground, looking west over the turrets of Chillingham Castle towards the distant lumpy line of the Cheviot Hills. Everything about this 15th-century fortified farmhouse, its tall fractured walls of sandstone ten feet thick, spoke of hard and dangerous times along these borderlands in an era where might was right and the Hebburn family held sway on this spot.

We followed the Chillingham estate wall uphill, and at the crest turned off the road to climb a steep zigzag path to the crest of the thousand-foot knoll of Ros Castle, a stronghold through the millennia. From up here the view was stupendous, northward to the grey North Sea and the coastal castles of Lindisfarne, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh, west to the smooth dome of Hedgehope Hill and the dominant whaleback of The Cheviot itself, monarch of the Cheviot range.

Nearer at hand, I could just make out a bunch of the Chillingham herd of wild cattle browsing under the estate trees. These pale horned beasts have been grazing these borderlands for uncounted centuries. Unhandled, untamed, they live out their own natural lives in genetic isolation here.

Back on the moor road we put up a snipe that swerved jerkily away, piping its disapproval of being disturbed. At Botany Farm a trust-the-walker roadside freezer yielded an ice lolly apiece, a sugar-shock that propelled us past the storm-tattered trees of Halfcrownhall Plantation and out onto the open heath of Quarryhouse Moor.

A broad green bridleway led southwest across heather moorland where the rushy ditches reflected the sky in iridescent silver. Our planned return route via Hepburn Wood turned out to have been swallowed by the bracken, and we were glad to have the old cart track as a guide past Blawearie Farm, a lonely ruin among shelter trees hissing in the wind, abandoned now for nearly a century.

What a tough life it must have been at Blawearie, farming these hard acres of rocky moorland, walling in the nearby prehistoric stone circle to make a sheep pen, enduring the bitter winters with the nearest neighbours far across the hill and out of sight.

How hard is it? 9 miles; moderate, with one short steep ascent; moorland tracks and country roads. NB Option 2 (below) includes short section of woodland tangle and undefined path.

Start: Hepburn Wood car park, near Chillingham NE66 4EG (OS ref NU 073248)

Getting there: From A697 south of Wooler, follow ‘Chillingham’.

Walk (OS Explorer 340): From car park, right along road. In ⅔ mile at top of road, left (081249, ‘Access Land’) to Ros Castle summit (082252). Return to road; left. In ¾ mile pass Botany Farm (093248), then Halfcrownhall Plantation. In next dip, right (102245, fingerpost ‘Blawearie, Old Bewick’) for 3 miles, passing Blawearie ruin (085223) and continuing to Old Bewick (068215). Just before house, through gate.

Option 1 – continue past house to road; right; in 500m fork right (064219); in 1¾ miles take first turning on right by estate wall (061245); follow road past Hepburn Farm to car park.
Option 2 – from gate, right across field, aiming for Old Bewick church. Right along far field edge, through gate (069220); in 150m, left (stile, YA) into messy woodland. Right to footbridge (069222). Keep close to fence on left, uphill; pass gate (YA). Up field edge (hedge on left) to Bewick Folly (068226). Left to road (062226); right; then as Option 1 above.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Tankerville Arms, Wooler NE71 6AD (01668-281581,


 Posted by at 02:27
Nov 042023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
rustic waymark on the lane to Fishpond Bottom old crab apple tree, Lambert's Castle view over the Vale of Marshwood The Vale of Marshwood 1 The Vale of Marshwood 2 Holloway from Roughmoor ford Beechmast crunchers at Roughmoor

A grey and blowy day across the Dorset coast and the deep-sunk Vale of Marshwood. Up at Lambert’s Castle the beeches thrashed and hissed, shedding their leaves downwind like flocks of birds.

A steep path took me down the fields to Roughmoor, where a sow and her three pink-and-black piglets were blissfully crunching up the beechmast fallen from the trees. They snorted and grunted and raised their snouts hopefully as I leaned on their fence, but I had nothing in my pockets to add relish to their feast.

Marshwood gives the impression of great depth and remoteness, a green mosaic of woodland and sloping pastures that Thomas Hardy would recognise today. At Roughmoor Cottage a splashy ford led to a holloway rustling with bracken and hart’s tongue ferns.

Up at Higher Stonebarrow the wind roared in the beeches that held the hedge-banks together with the grip of their root tangles. A basso profundo moan came from the high tension cables that crossed the valley. But once down in the squelchy green lane beyond Sheepwash Farm I was walking far beneath the rumpus of the gale. At the ford below Little Coombe the swollen stream gushed freely among horsetails and filled my boots, one of the myriad waters that once filled the carp pools dug by medieval monks at Fishpond Bottom.

A network of old cart tracks threads through Marshwood Vale. I saw no-one as I followed the sunken path to Little Combe and Great Combe, isolated farmsteads on green slopes under the grey sky. A glimpse of the roofs of Charmouth lining their cliff gap to the south with a wedge of wind-whitened sea beyond. Then I turned up straggling Long Lane to cross the earthworks of Coney’s Castle.

Two Iron Age hill forts, orientated south-north, dominate the eastern flank of Fishpond Bottom – the modest rise of Coney’s Castle, and to the north the bigger stronghold of Lambert’s Castle on its long slim promontory.

I’d just finished re-reading Bernard Cornwell’s sword-slashing King Arthur trilogy, ‘The Warlord Chronicles’. Romantic fantasy was irresistible here on the windy ramparts. I strode them like a warrior, wolfskin cloak flying free, sword in hand, as I prepared to repel the Saxon hordes massing in Marshwood Vale below.

How hard is it? 5¼ miles; moderate. Some boggy green lanes, fords.

Start: Lambert’s Castle car park, near Lyme Regis EX13 5XL (OS ref SY 367987)

Getting there: Off B3165 between Marshwood and Raymond’s Hill (A35)

Walk (OS Explorer 116): Back along drive. In 100m, opposite gate on left, right down path. Cross B3165 (366988); down steps; kissing gate; half left down to gate (365989). Right down drive. At Roughmoor Cottage cross ford (363991); up holloway to Higher Stonebarrow. Left up drive; at start of road, left (357990; gate with red dog notice). Bridleway bounded by hedge, then walls to cross B3165 (360987). Stile. Down right edge of field to cables; follow them left to green lane (363983). Right; in 50m, left (stile); right along upper edge of woodland on right. In 250m at telephone pole (363980), sharp left down through trees to road (364981); right. 50m past Sheepwash Cottage, left (364977) along wet green lane to Little Coombe Farm. 100m beyond, right (369975) for ⅔ mile past Higher Coombe and Great Coombe farms to Long Lane road (373968). Left for ¾ mile to Peter’s Gore crossroads (371981). Ahead (‘Marshwood’); in 20m, right past Lambert’s Castle/Wessex Ridgeway signs. North across Lambert’s Castle for ½ mile; at northern edge (372991) turn back along western rim to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Hunter’s Lodge, Raymond’s Hill EX13 5SZ (01297-33286,


 Posted by at 02:53
Oct 282023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Looking west from the foot of the North Downs 1 Looking west from the foot of the North Downs 2 Looking west from the foot of the North Downs 3 Looking west from the foot of the North Downs 4 Looking west from the foot of the North Downs 5 Looking west from the foot of the North Downs 6 chalk crown commemorates 1902 coronation of King Edward VII homeward path through the stubble fields near Withersdane The Devil's Kneading Trough view from the North Downs Way over the Kentish Weald

What a perfect ideal of a village Wye encapsulates, with its charming red brick and whitewashed houses round the village green, its post office, sports field, pubs, shops, surgery and public conveniences, all tucked under a beautiful corner of the North Downs.

The Church of St Gregory and St Martin is a building of shreds and patches, odd corners and uneven walls that reflect its many collapses and rebuildings over the centuries. Beyond the church we found the North Downs Way arrowing through the fields towards the steep, tree-topped rampart of the Downs, where a huge chalk crown was cut high in the downland turf in 1902 by Wye College students to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII.

Hops still hung like pale green lanterns in the hedges, sticky to the fingers. A jay swore among the tangled hazels and clattered off, leaving one sky-blue feather to float gently to earth. We climbed a chalky path up through the trees to emerge at the top of the downs with a remarkable prospect spread out across the flat wooded Weald of Kent. To the south, distant views of Romney Marsh, Dungeness power station buildings and the tiny shapes of cargo ships in the English Channel; to the north a silver-grey strip of the Thames, with the Essex shore a knobbled blue line beyond.

We strolled the upland path, absorbed in this South Country panorama. A handily placed bench gave a vantage point over the steep sides and narrow flat bottom of the Devil’s Kneading Trough, a coombe carved out of the chalk downs by Ice Age freezing and melting of water.

The Devil seems to have taken quite a fancy to this part of the world. Following the homeward path through the stubble fields at the foot of the downs, we passed near the cottage at Withersdane where the holy well of St Eustace still whelms. A local woman swollen by an evil dropsy once drank its waters in hope of a cure. She immediately vomited forth a pair of black toads that changed into hellhounds, then demonic asses. When sprinkled with holy water from the well, they shot into the sky and disappeared.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; downland tracks and field paths.

Start: Wye village car park, Gregory Court, Wye TN25 5EG (OS ref TR 053468); or Wye railway station, Bridge Street TN25 5LB (048469)

Getting there: Train to Wye
Road: Wye is signposted from A28 (Canterbury – Ashford)

Walk (OS Explorer 137): Left along Bridge Street; in 100m, left along Churchfield Way. In 500m left through churchyard to NE corner (055469); up path by allotments. Cross road (056470), up Occupation Road (‘North Downs Way’/NDW). Follow NDW (road, then path) across road (066468), up hill into woods (069469). At top of climb (blue arrow on post points ahead) (070469), but fork right here. In 500m cross Crown Field (072466), then road (077457). Follow NDW through trees, then at edge of open downs. In ¼ mile pass Devil’s Kneading Trough coombe (078454); in 600m reach waymarked post with 2 arrows (081450). NDW keeps ahead, but go sharp right downhill through kissing gate. At bottom, right along road (072449); right at fork (075450, ‘Wye’); in 200m, left through hedge (074451, fingerpost) on path across fields. Cross road at Silks Farm (065460); at road near Withersdane Hall, ahead (060462); at next bend, ahead on path (060463). At road in Wye, ahead (055466, New Flying Horse inn to right), to station, or next right to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: King’s Head, Church Street, Wye TN25 5BN (01233-812418,


 Posted by at 01:10
Oct 142023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Corehead Farm with the Devil's Beef Tub beyond 1. rolling hills around the rim of the Devil's Beef Tub Grass of Parnassus in the damp woodland on the way up to the Devil's Beef Tub rim trees newly planted by the Borders Forest Trust Scotch argus butterfly Corehead Farm with the Devil's Beef Tub beyond 2 view down the Devil's Beef Tub steep billows of hill above the Devil's Beef Tub

From the car park at the end of the bumpy farm road from Moffat, a group of young volunteers from the Borders Forest Trust were setting out with spades and crowbars to plant trees on the slopes above Corehead. Young rowans, alders and silver birch are already flourishing on these steep lumpy hills, part of a drive to regenerate the native forest that once flourished here. The blackface sheep have already been banned from the slopes, so the saplings can grow ungrazed.

It was a long, steady climb through bracken and heather, then among the young trees along the Tweedhope Burn. Rowan berries glowed a deep burnt orange, and the indigo berries on recently planted juniper bushes gave a spicy tang of gin when crushed and sniffed.

Near at the top we heard the chink-chink of a hammer and glimpsed the youngsters hard at work on a new plantation. At the watershed, soggy and boggy, a neat elliptical cairn stood at the turning point of the Annandale Way, a rollercoaster path along the backs of Chalk Rig Edge, Great Hill and Annanhead Hill. Here we perched on a handily placed bench, looking down into the plum-coloured shadows of the Devil’s Beef Tub, source of the River Annan.

A stranger to the area three hundred years ago would never have happened upon this remote, tight and formidably steep-sided hollow, some five hundred feet deep, nearly sheer from rim to bottom. Here the cattle-raiding Johnstone family would graze the beasts they had stolen, confident that no-one would ever find them.

The secluded hideaway was also a refuge for the 17th-century religious dissenters known as Covenanters. One of them, John Hunter, was chased up the slopes by dragoons in August 1686 and shot like a dog when caught. In 1745 a Jacobite prisoner managed to get free from his captors while crossing the rim of the Devil’s Beef Tub, and escaped by rolling like a barrel down the plunging braeside while wrapped in his plaid.

We descended from Annanhead Hill and crossed the rushy bump of Ericstane Hill. Following the homeward path in bright evening sunshine, we looked back toward the darkly shadowed Devil’s Beef Tub, picturing the tumbling Jacobite – and, a more contemporary story from 2002, the woman who swerved her van off the road and all the way down into the hollow to crash land at the bottom. She survived, with a broken arm; the van still lies where it fell, wheels in the air, landmark and legend in one.

How hard is it? 7½ miles; strenuous moorland walk, boggy in places.

Start: Car parking space (OS ref NT 073117) on farm road between Ericstane (077116) and Corehead (073124).

Getting there: North through Moffat on A701; fork right along Beechgrove, then follow Old Edinburgh Road (‘No Through Road’). In 3½ miles at Ericstane, left across river (073109). Rough farm road towards Corehead; in ⅔ mile, car parking space on right (072118) by Borders Forest Trust sign.

Walk (OS Explorer 330): Bear right along grassy track. Follow Annandale Way (AW waymarks) for 1⅔ miles, gaining height beside Tweedhope Burn to reach cairn at watershed (084138). AW turns left with fence; follow it over hills for 2 miles to descend to A701 (056127). Left; in 400m, right (059124, AW) across Ericstane Hill to cross A701 (061115). Follow field track; in ½ mile on right bend, left off AW through gateway (065110). Follow track down to Ericstane (072109); left to car.

Lunch: Hugo’s Restaurant, 4 Bath Place, Moffat DG10 9HJ (01683-221606,

Accommodation: Annandale Arms Hotel, High Street, Moffat DG10 9HF (01683-220013,


 Posted by at 01:01
Oct 072023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Helmsley Moor track through the forest on Helmsley Moor track on Helmsley Moor Heather, bilberry and lone pine on Helmsley Moor sombre colours of Rievaulx Moor North York Moors near Rievaulx views to Cold Moor and Cringle Bank from the rim of Rievaulx Bank

Who’d have guessed it? – another in a succession of beautiful sunny days over the North York Moors, a breeze to cool our brows, and the prospect of sensational views from the edge of the moors.

In Newgate Bank forest the larches drooped in the sunshine and the silver birch leaves shivered in their millions. Forget-me-nots and speedwell dotted the grassy verges of this track with blue. Clover and yellow rattle showed where old hay meadows had been before the conifer plantations gobbled them up.

A gate led onto open moorland, a wide spread of heather whose sombre brown was just beginning to blush with purple. The unbroken blue of the sky fitted over Rievaulx Moor like a lid, the moor itself rimmed by the dark green of dense plantations.

Grouse butts stood in orderly ranks in the heather. A red grouse sprang up under our feet and clattered off with a panicky shriek, while her chick, an impossibly sweet-looking ball of fluff, went scuttling away into the shelter of the tough old heather sprigs.

Patches of heather had been burned to black wires, but in among the muted hues of the moor and its dark brown peat soil, bright green patches of bilberry and the nodding white heads of bog cotton made a cheerful contrast.

We turned aside across a shallow ravine at the edge of Helmsley Moor, where water scouring had unearthed the burnt orange colour of the iron-rich sandstone underlying peat and heather. Black wood ants went scurrying across the stony track, intent on unfathomable projects in their inscrutable way.

Now the path ran through more forest, its sandy surface glinting with mica between the banks of bracken and bilberry. Wrens gave out their whirring songs and goldcrests squeaked in the pine tops. There was a seductive humming of flies among the trees, soporific and redolent of a warm summer afternoon. Figwort with dark green leaves and solid purple stems of square section grew beside the forest track.

A moor road led north into open country again, with brown cattle grazing the pasture. Broom in full flower flecked the roadside with gold. At the crest of the road the land suddenly dropped and a view opened northwards to humpy hills lining the far horizon.

The homeward path took us along the northern brow of the moor, with a wide vista over farms and green farmland far below. Hasty Bank, Cringle Moor and Cold Moor stood out on the northern horizon in long whalebacks.

A big bird of prey went sailing out across the valley, its wingtips uptilted. A hen harrier, rarest raptor of the moors, turning and flashing in the afternoon sunlight.

How hard is it? 6¼ miles; easy; moorland tracks

Start: Newgate Bank forest car park, near Helmsley YO62 5LZ (OS ref SE 565889)

Getting there: Newgate Bank is signed off B1257 (Helmsley–Stokesley)

Walk (OS Explorer OL26): From parking space turn back towards road. Near entrance, left past barrier (fingerpost) up forest track. In ½ mile, through gate (570892); in 50m right on moorland track. In ¾ mile, just before track enters trees at wooden gateposts, left (580887) on track across valley, through plantation, out across moor and on into forest (586889). Left on forest road just inside trees. In a little over a mile, left along road (597891). In ¾ mile at summit (594903, benches), left on track past trig pillar (589905) and around moor edge for 2 miles to gate (570892) where you rejoin outward route to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: TBC – The Owl at Hawnby, near Helmsley YO62 5QS (01904-208000, is the preferred option, but may still not have its new landlord in place. Re-opening contact:


 Posted by at 01:15
Sep 302023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
lush greenery along the disused Wey & Arun Canal 1 lush greenery along the disused Wey & Arun Canal 2 old glassworking hollows in Sidney Wood pond near Sidney Wood Farm lush greenery along the disused Wey & Arun Canal 4 lush greenery along the disused Wey & Arun Canal 3 lush greenery along a bend of the disused Wey & Arun Canal milestone for the barges silver-washed fritillary??

With a brilliant blue flash of side feathers the jay we’d disturbed went screeching off among the trees of Sidney Wood. Raucous birds, jays: the sweary sentinels of the woods.

Squirrels had already stripped the hazels of their nuts, leaving eviscerated shells and rejected kernels all over the path. The wood was damp and green this afternoon under the cloudy skies stretched over south Surrey, and the abandoned channel of the Wey & Arun Canal exhaled a fine miasma of mud and stewed vegetation when we found it half-hidden under overarching oaks and wych elms.

The last of the three-petalled white flowers of arrowhead drooped among spearblade leaves in the damp old waterway. Greenery had triumphed in the cool shade of the wood, overwhelming the canal with reeds and grasses. All that stirred there today were late-hatching pearl bordered fritillaries, their large orange wings streaked with black like a jaguar’s coat.

It was hard to credit that this weed-choked waterway, fringed with spearmint, willow leaves carpeting its surface, was planned as a major route for goods travelling between the English Channel and London when war with Napoleonic France meant danger to cargo on the sea routes. Alas for the Wey & Arun – by the time it was opened in 1816 the war was over, and twenty years later the railways sneaked up and stole its trade away.

We followed the wide ditch of the canal through Sidney Wood, past the hollows and humps where in times past ‘forest glass’ was made using the local sand, chalk and timber. Glassworks, brickmakers, charcoal burners and potteries of these Wealden woods, the trees have advanced to swallow them all.

Five minutes munching apples on a fallen beech trunk dotted with tiny brilliant pink fungi, then we walked on out of the trees to Sidney Wood Farm where gangs of hens roamed their compound and a horse followed close at our heels as we crossed his paddock.

Soon we found ourselves rejoining the Wey & Arun once more – what a convoluted course it took! A last stretch of the old canal and we were treading the black earth of Sachelhill Lane, heading for home after this quiet afternoon’s walk through the Surrey woods and fields.

How hard is it? 4¾ miles, easy, woodland paths (can be muddy)

Start: Sidney Wood car park, near Alfold GU6 8HU (OS ref TQ 027350)

Getting there: From A271 (Guildford-Horsham), at Alfold Crossways follow ‘Dunsfold’. In ½ mile pass turning on bend, signed ‘Three Compasses’. In another ⅔ mile, just after sharp right bend, left (028352, unmarked; ‘Cobdens Farm’ sign visible immediately after turning). Fork left to car park.

Walk (OS Explorer 134): Return along drive. 20m from approach road entrance, hairpin left past ‘Sedgehurst’ sign (‘Wey South Path’/WSP). Keep ahead along drive (blue arrows/BA). In 250m, right (025349, fingerpost/FP, WSP). In ⅓ mile, pass metal gate, cross disused canal; left along right bank (021349). In 1 mile at road, WSP turns left (017338); but go straight over and on. In ½ mile, just past pond, left up gravel road (017331); at Sidneywood Farm gate, right down drive (021330). At Maple Farm, ahead (024326, FP) past cottage on right; through 2 gates; bear left along hedge. Across lane and on (025327, stiles) to meet WSP (027328, BA). In 200m, right over footbridge (026330). Ahead across 2 fields. Left by gate (031334, FP). In 500m cross Rosemary Lane (030337) on woodland path back to car park.

Lunch: Three Compasses PH, Dunsfold GU6 8HY (01483-279749)

Accommodation: Mucky Duck, Tisman’s Common, Rudgwick RH12 3BW (01403-822300,

Info: Guildford TIC (01483-444333)

 Posted by at 01:31
Sep 232023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
path by the River Gelt in Gelt Woods 1 River Gelt with flood stones near Greenwell view near Greenwell leafy lane near railway cutting 1 leafy lane near railway cutting 2 view to NE Lake District fells field path near Greenwell ancient sandstone quarry face above River Gelt path by the River Gelt in Gelt Woods 2 path by the River Gelt in Gelt Woods 3 path by the River Gelt in Gelt Woods 4 field path across Watch Hill skew viaduct across river at Middle Gelt sandstone quarry near Low Gelt Bridge

If the River Gelt got its name from the old Irish geilt, meaning ‘madman’, that wouldn’t be surprising. When swollen with rain, the Gelt roars and dashes itself against the confining rocks of its sandstone gorge like a wild thing as it hurtles down to meet the River Irthing near Brampton. Today, in a spell of settled weather, it went bubbling and twisting under Low Gelt Bridge.

The path skirted the edge of an enormous quarry, screened away behind gorse and broom. The air was full of the rich scent of sun-warmed bracken and the snap of broom pods releasing their seeds. Suddenly the trees thinned and the view opened westward across the peachy-orange sand diggings to a line of far-off low hills along the Scottish border.

A lovely afternoon was unfolding as we climbed the flank of Watch Hill, with sunlight striking down through the beech leaves. More westward prospects shaped themselves in the distance – a gleaming finger of water that was the Solway Firth with the blue hump of Criffel mountain beyond, and then a crumple of high country, the north-easternmost fells of the Lake District.

Two labradoodles came bounding up, grimy and ecstatic after a plunge in the stickiest, blackest bog they could find. Beyond Tow Top we crossed a railway in a deep cutting; then, reaching Greenwell, we reunited with the Gelt and turned back to follow it home.

On the steep grassy river bank we paused to munch green apples and look for dippers on the stones that the Gelt had mounded up in vigorous floods. Alder, rowan with scarlet berries and huge old crack willows grew along the banks. Once more we crossed the river at Middle Gelt in the shadow of a tall railway viaduct, built as long ago as 1835, one of the first skew or slanted bridges ever constructed. The contractor, John McKay, assembled a model made out of pieces of turnip, which he whittled and reshaped until he was certain the design would actually stand up.

We walked homeward at the river’s brink under cliffs of sandstone where ancient quarry faces stood a hundred feet tall. Roman soldiers excavating stone in 207 AD for repairs to nearby Hadrian’s Wall had left graffiti in the rocks, we’d been told – cartoon faces, and the name of their overseers, Agricola and Mercatius. We failed to find these imprints from the past, but enjoyed marvelling at the patterned incisions made by the saws and chisels of two millennia of sandstone quarrying above the ‘mad river’.

How hard is it? 6 miles; moderate; riverside paths. NB some slippery steps and stumbly tree roots in Gelt Woods, muddy in parts.

Start: Low Gelt Bridge car park, near Brampton, Cumbria CA8 1SZ approx. (OS ref NY 520591)

Getting there:
Road: From A69/A689 roundabout just south of Brampton, head south on A69. In ½ mile cross River Gelt; in 100m sharp left to Low Gelt Bridge. Right across river; right into car park.

Walk (OS Explorer 315): Back across bridge; left; in 150m left (521589, fingerpost ‘Tow Top’). Follow path and ‘Tow Top’ signs for 1½ miles to road at Tow Top (528571). Left; in 100m, right (‘bridleway, Greenwell’) across railway (530570). At road junction, ahead (532569, ‘No Through Road’). In ½ mile at Greenwell, left (536565, step stile/gate) on riverside path. In ½ mile at road (533572), right; under viaduct. Right across river; left (533573) on path beside river (fingerpost ‘Gelt Woods’) for 1⅔ miles back to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Howard Arms Hotel, Front Street, Brampton CA8 1NG (01697-742758,


 Posted by at 05:18