May 112024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Monarch's Way in Hidcote Combe 1 Monarch's Way in Hidcote Combe 2 Buttercup pasture near Upper Quinton 1 Buttercup pasture near Upper Quinton 2 near Meon Hill looking to Upper Quinton from slopes of Meon Hill path beside oilseed rape crop

The three neighbouring counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire butt up against one another near Mickleton, and today’s walk would be shared between the latter two.

The houses of Mickleton stood in beautiful Cotswold stone, more cream than gold in colour. In the high wall of the manor house a line of musketry loopholes bore witness to the invasion fears of 1940.

In the buttercup pastures beyond St Lawrence’s Church, newly shorn ewes bleated in phlegmy voices for their fat-legged lambs. Steep green parkland slopes led us east below the Italianate red tiled roofs of Kiftsgate Court. The treble atonal humming of a swarm of bees, invisible but close overhead, made us duck as they flew by like a cloud of djinns.

From the footpath alongside Hidcote Manor’s gardens we glimpsed visitors in bright summer clothes strolling by flowerbeds and borders of every artful hue and design. Then it was out across the sloping fields of Hidcote Combe, following the Monarch’s Way above Marchfont Brook. Sheep snoozed and grazed under a cloudless sky where a vintage single-engined aeroplane purred like a throaty old cat – the sound of a warm summer’s afternoon.

Hidcote Combe is a sharp extremity of Gloucestershire, a finger rudely poking the backside of Warwickshire. At Admington Lane we crossed the county border and began to traverse the lower slopes of Meon Hill. This flat-topped hummock is laden with stories and superstitions ranging from witchcraft murders to the red-eared hell hounds of King Arawyn, Lord of the Netherworld.

All seemed as peaceful and rooted as could be on this day of glorious views across the Vale of Evesham. Yellowhammers wheezed among the hawthorns. We sat on a field headland for the pleasure of staring across many miles of sunlit countryside, down over acres of buttercup fields to the pale spire of Lower Quinton church backed by a distant line of low green hills.

Up and on at last across fields corrugated into ridge and furrow by medieval farmers. The long whaleback of Bredon Hill and the pale blue silhouette of the Malverns came into view as we followed the margin of a ploughed field sown with pumpkins, their varieties recorded on golden labels – Mellow Yellow, Gladiator, Hot Chocolate, Chucky. What would a literate ploughman of the Middle Ages have made of that?

How hard is it? 6¾ miles; easy; field paths

Start: St Lawrence’s Church, Mickleton, Glos GL55 6RZ (OS ref SP162435)

Getting there: Bus 21/22 (Stratford-Moreton-in-Marsh)
Road – B4632 (Stratford-Broadway)

Walk: Below church, through gate (‘Heart of England Way’/HEW); follow bridleway. In next field, gate (164434, blue arrow/BA, HEW); path with hedge on right. At next gate HEW goes right across stream (166431), but keep ahead, following BAs for ½ mile to road at gate (173430). Right for 40m; left (gate, fingerpost); fork left uphill (yellow arrows, kissing gate/KG) to cross top of Hidcote car park (177430). Left through gate; follow Monarch’s Way/MW (posts, waymarks) for 1⅓ mile to Admington Lane (187447). Right along road – take care! In ¼ mile, at Admington Road Farm, left (191446, stile); follow MW and Centenary Way/CW for ⅔ mile to road (185454) at Homeleigh. Dogleg right/left; follow MW/CW for ¾ mile to road in Upper Quinton (178462). Left; from ‘The Orchard’ follow HEW across fields (KGs). In ½ mile with wooden gate (‘Permissive Access’) ahead (122458), turn left through KG (white arrow). Right along hedge and on. In ⅓ mile, through woodland. On emerging (171452), right downhill; through KG (170451). Left along hedge; follow HEW to Mickleton.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Three Ways House Hotel, Chapel Lane, Mickleton GL55 6SB (01386-438429, threewayshousehotel.com)

Info: Chipping Campden TIC (01386-841206)

 Posted by at 02:08
May 042024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The path across Barningham Moor 1 The Grey Stones Rabbit-dropping counters on an ancient gaming board? The path across Barningham Moor 2 Stone wall guide across Barningham Moor golden plover on alert

At a cattle-grid just outside Barningham we were scratching our heads over which way to go when the farmer pulled up on his quad. While his border collie watched us with deep suspicion from the passenger seat, he not only pointed out the way over Barningham Moor, but gave us chapter and verse on local lore – ancient mounds in the fields, solstice alignments, old trackways, drove roads.

A contented man with an enquiring mind. We left him shaking feed nuts out of a sack, surrounded by Swaledale ewes. A narrow road ribboned away across the green landscape. Barningham Moor is famous for its nesting birds, and today the cloudy sky was alive with curlews, lapwings and golden plover circling and calling, their haunting cries the very sound of springtime in the northern hills.

A cuckoo called from a clump of trees, then flew across us to perch in a thorn bush and resume its communication. Four tiny curlew chicks scampered among the heather shoots as their mother flew a circuit and piped to summon them together.

Lines of grouse butts stood among the heather and bilberry, but this moor is just as much about the conservation of wild birds as it is about shooting. It’s a place of long association with human activity, too. Not far from the road stood the Grey Stones, a monument constructed during Romano-British times, a circular embankment some forty metres across with big stones erected around the rim.

Just beyond the enclosure a large grey boulder held ancient carvings, four wedge-shaped incisions in a line, and six circular holes or cups at one corner, their triangular pattern suggesting the gaming board of some long-forgotten pastime. We left a rabbit dropping in each cup in case some spectral gambler from antiquity should happen by.

Opposite Haythwaite Farm a stony track led away into the heart of Barningham Moor. We followed it for miles under the cold grey sky, circling back towards Barningham with crunching stones underfoot. A path along the beautifully maintained stone wall of Barningham Park, then a track through quiet grassy parkland to pass handsome old Barningham Hall and rejoin the neat street and immaculate front gardens of the village once more.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; moorland road and tracks. No dogs, please (ground-nesting birds).

Start: Barningham village street, near Barnard Castle, Co Durham DL11 7DW (OS ref NZ 086103)

Getting there: Bus 79 (Richmond-Barnard Castle) – 1 a day.
Road: signed from A66 at Smallways between Scotch Corner and Barnard Castle.

Walk (OS Explorer OL30): Walk west up village street. At top of hill, right bend; in 150m fork left over cattle grid (079100). Follow road for 1½ miles to Haythwaite Farm (058090). Opposite house, left on stony track for 1¼ miles to gate at fork (066077). Left here, keeping wall on right. In 1 mile pass railway wagon and grouse butts (077087); keep to wall to go through gate at far corner (081091). Down along wall to next gate; down to gate in wall at trees (085093). Right; left over stile to bypass Park House farm sheds. Half left to gate in dip (086095); follow wall past black shed, round corner and on. In 500m wall bends left (093096); follow it down to cross stile. On beside wall. In 250m, left through kissing gate (093098). Ahead on grass track to turn left through park wall at far corner (091100, yellow arrow). Through plantation, past Barningham Hall, down drive to Barningham.

Lunch/Accommodation: Milbank Arms, Barningham DL11 7DW (01833-621955, themilbankarms.com)

Info: barninghamvillage.co.uk

 Posted by at 01:09
Apr 272024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Springtime landscape near Benington 1 Springtime landscape near Benington 2 Springtime landscape near Benington 3 Springtime landscape near Benington 4 Springtime landscape near Benington 5 Springtime landscape near Benington 6 Springtime landscape near Benington 7 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 1 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 2 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 3 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 4 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 5 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 6 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 7 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 8 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 8a Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 9 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 10 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 11 Gargoyles and grotesques at Benington Church 12

The two renovators were busy lime-washing the chancel of Benington’s Church of St Peter, but they courteously moved their buckets and twitched back their plastic sheeting to let us wander around. Extraordinary stone carvings abound in St Peter’s – a pair of Green Men supporting the chancel arch, a gurning friar, face howling in terror, and the effigy of a king either plunging a sword into his own guts or trying to pluck it out.

No such dramas in the churchyard, overgrown or rewilded according to your point of view, the gravestones half drowned in cow parsley, buttercups and miniature cranesbill.

The whole village of medieval timber framed houses seemed awash with greenery this spring morning, and the elderly gardener leaning on his fork at the gate of Town Lane had all the time in the world to expound on the life and times of Benington. Lucky for us that the famed gardens of Benington Lordship hadn’t opened yet, or we would never have got away from this delightful spot.

A scribble of blackcap song, loud and melodic, followed us along the nettly verge of a barley field. Skylarks sang over the fields each side of the broad flinty track of Cotton Lane as it curled up and over the back of Great Brookfield Common.

A short stretch of High Elms Lane, a ridge road lined with pale pink campion and Jack-by-the-hedge, and we were following a shady green lane where enormous poplars trembled their ace-of-spade leaves in the wind.

A reviving sandwich and immaculately kept pint at the Lordship Arms on the crossroads in Burn’s Green, and we went on east past a dimple of ponds, walking a wide track through hay meadows waist-high with grass awaiting its first cut of the year.

The bridleway through Benington Park made a pale parting among the sombre blue-green of wheatfields. Here I picked up a big solid flint shaped and scalloped, perhaps a palaeolithic hand axe.

In a sea of silky green barley a fragment of hedge, thickly powdered with may blossom, showed where a country lane had once run. We crossed the fields to find Duck Lane, and turned homewards between banks of periwinkles spreading their royal blue petals like windmill sails.

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; field paths and green lanes

Start: St Peter’s Church, Benington, Herts SG2 7LH (OS ref TL 297236)

Getting there: Bus 384 (Hertford-Stevenage)
Road – signed from A602 between Stevenage and Watton-at-Stone

Walk (OS Explorer 193): Up lane to junction; right (‘Ware, Hertford’). Just past bus shelter, right (303235, kissing gate) on permissive path. In ½ mile at arrow post, ahead (299229); in 100m, join sunken lane on left. In 300m, by brick hut (296228), fork left uphill on Cotton Lane. In ¾ mile, left up road (298215). In 500m, fork left (301217, ‘Benington’) up track. In ¾ mile cross road at Lordship Arms PH (309226). In 300m at Pond Cottage, fork right along track (312228). In 100m fork left (blue arrow/BA). Follow BAs, descending into valley. In 500m, left (318230, BA post). In 500m at far corner of Home Covert, bear right (312230, BA) through trees and across field. Cross Benington Park house drive; right (BA) onto hill top by 4-finger post (308234). Left up hedge for 30m; right on path across field, then on left of hedges. At bottom of slope, left (309240, BA); in 250m, left (306241) along green lane, then Duck Lane to Benington.

Lunch: Lordship Arms, Burn’s Green (01438-869665, lordshiparms.com) – superb real ale pub.

Accommodation: Roebuck Inn, London Rd, Stevenage SG2 8DS (01438-365445, roebuckinn.co.uk

Info: Benington Lordship Gardens – beningtonlordship.co.uk

 Posted by at 01:28
Apr 202024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 2 Ogmore River 1 Portobello House by the Ogmore River Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 3 Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 4 Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 1 Sand dune path, Merthyr-Mawr 5

A hazy, breezy day on the Glamorgan Coast, and a Sunday buzz in the car park at Candleston Castle.

Merthyr-Mawr National Nature Reserve lies at the mouth of the Ogmore River. It boasts the tallest dunes in Wales, a great spread of sandhills that covers 840 acres of coast. The dunes sit on top of a shelf of limestone, hence their great height and also their remarkable fertility. Here you can find a dozen species of orchid, rare liverworts in damp patches, and delicately beautiful dune pansies from spring into autumn.

We climbed a slope of naked sand speckled with fragments of shell, past deep valleys dotted with sulphur-yellow hawkbit and bushy hollows where strawberry flowers spattered white across the mossy turf.

Down beside the ebbing Ogmore River, a flat littoral of saltmarsh lay strewn with the whitened trunks of trees washed out of the river banks in winter floods. We climbed a dune through scratchy marram grass to where the seaward view opened – galloping horses on the wide beach, and the pale rise of the Exmoor hills far across the grey-green Bristol Channel.

Between a shingle bar and the sandhills someone had built a charming little hut into a dune, its driftwood roof and carefully laid stone walls so seductive to the inner child that we were sorely tempted to play houses there all afternoon.

Soon the path ran up into the dunes again, crossing swards of violets and tiny pink cranesbills. We stopped to listen to an invisible bird singing with a silvery little trill, then headed east on sandy paths through an enchanting coppice of wind-stunted hazel where bluebells and wood anemones splashed the undergrowth with colour.

Late afternoon sunshine lay on distant hills, inland and across the sea. Our homeward path lay along a rubbly lane where an ivied angle of stone wall was all that remained of Candleston Castle, a fortified house 700 years old. Most of the strongholds along this coast were buried or choked out of existence by catastrophic sandstorms late in the 14th century – but Candleston on its limestone ledge had been built just high enough to escape that deadly tsunami of sand.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy; sand dunes, beach and woodland paths.

Start: Candleston Castle car park, near Bridgend CF32 0LR (OS ref SS 872771) – 
£5 all day.

Getting there: Merthyr-Mawr signposted from A48 Bypass Road between Bridgend and Porthcawl. In ½ mile dogleg right/left; follow road to car park at end.

Walk (OS Explorer 151): With your back to road, take downhill path (red, yellow arrows); cross stream; ahead up dune slope. At prominent tree stump bear left. In hollow, pass blue arrow, ‘To The Beach’. When you reach a fence, follow it to go through gate. With fence on right, head for beach. Right along beach for ¾ mile. Opposite Black Rocks, Wales Coast Path/WCP sign points to dune path along fence (855767). In 200m fence bends inland, but keep ahead here. In 250m, at 2nd WCP post beyond fence, turn right inland (850770) on wide sandy track. Follow path inland for 400m to junction (851774); right on broad path. At fork, left (post with both waymarks missing); follow path for 1 mile, passing four gates with ‘Newton & Candleston Circular Walk’ signs. At stone wall, right on farm road (866778). In ⅓ mile drive bends left, then right to Candleston Farm. Hairpin right here (870779) down stony lane for ½ mile to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Ewenny Farm Guesthouse, St Brides Road, Bridgend CF35 5AX (01656-658438, ewennyfarmguesthouse.co.uk)

Info: visitwales.com; first-nature.com/waleswildlife

 Posted by at 04:45
Apr 062024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Oak and bluebells, Rotherley Wood apple blossom, Tollard Royal track above Munday's Pond spring greenery and blossom above Tollard Royal Skulls information pillar by General Pitt-Rivers's excavations, Rotherley Down view from Ox Drove Track descending to Ashcombe Bottom Track descending through bluebell woods to Ashcombe Bottom Bluebells by the track to Ashcombe Bottom King John Inn, Tollard Royal track in Ashcombe Bottom

A cloudy, murky morning over Cranborne Chase. The views from Win Green were all melted into muted greys. The topograph on the saddle of high ground hinted at the prospect: fifteen miles northeast to Salisbury, twice that to the Isle of Wight down in the southeast.

Children skipped and tumbled down the steep slope towards the wooded Ashcombe valley. The sharp spring wind was soon shut away, and calm descended on the deep green cleft where the path ran edged with primroses, violets and pungent wild garlic in full flower.

These woods of the Ashcombe Estate are a prime example of careful management and discreet signage. The vast hunting forest of Cranborne Chase, on whose borders they lie, was once a different affair – a tangled tract of deep forest where outlaws skulked and wild locals in straw helmets beat up gamekeepers and poached the deer.

Down in Tollard Royal all was peachy, the snugly thatched cottages of flint and clunch, the gossipers on the benches round the village pond, all in a Sunday morning peace under steep valley slopes.

We climbed over a ridge where spring lambs were busy butting milk out of their mothers’ udders. In the cleft below the rains of late winter were drying, leaving Munday’s Pond a soggy circle of nettles.

Our path lay uphill, breasting a slope beside the old hazel coppice of Rotherley Wood. A marvellous sentinel oak, twisted, split and bow-backed, stood with its feet in a flood of bluebells, and the hazel stools themselves were circled by the sharp evergreen leaves of butcher’s broom, another indicator of ancient woodland.

Up on the back of Rotherley Down lumps and bumps in the turf showed where a Romano-British settlement was excavated in 1886-7 by local landowner General Augustus Pitt Rivers. ‘Skulls’, says the inscription on a modest pillar. ‘1 was brachycephalic, 3 were mesaticephalic, 6 were dolichocephalic, 3 were hyperdoliocephalic, one was uncertain’. The General, father of modern British archaeology, remained an educator to his fingertips.

Beyond the settlement site we turned along the chalky white track of the old Ox Drove ridge road towards Win Green. The clouds had cleared, and the Isle of Wight lay blue and humped on an invisible sea far in the southeast, a view familiar to those residents of Rotherley Down two thousand years ago.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; downland and woodland tracks

Start: Win Green car park, near Tollard Royal, SP7 0ES (OS ref ST 924204)

Getting there: Tollard Royal (B3081) signed from A350 (Shaftesbury-Blandford Forum). At top of hill before Tollard Royal, follow ‘Donheads’, then ‘Win Green’.

Walk: Through gate at top of car park; follow path along fence and downhill. Follow ‘Wessex Ridgeway’/WR and ‘Footpath’ signs through Ashcombe valley. In 1¾ miles, hairpin back left (937185, ‘Tollard Royal’ fingerpost); in 50m right through 2 gates (WR); follow path with fence on right. In ¾ mile, just before Tollard Royal pond (945178), left over stile. (NB for King John Inn, right at road). From stile climb bank, at top, on through gate (arrow) along fenced path to stile (949181). Diagonally left down to gate (940184, Munday’s Pond on left). Ahead on grassy track up slope beside Rotherley Wood. In ⅔ mile track enters wood; ahead through gate onto open down; Pitt-Rivers information pillar and excavations to right (950194). Opposite pillar, left through gate; right up middle of fields (arrows) to Ox Drove road (949205). Left; in ½ mile fork left (938206, ‘Cranborne Droves Way’), then right on chalk trackway. In ¾ mile, beside NT ‘Win Green’ sign, left (928207) up grass path to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: King John Inn, Tollard Royal SP5 5PS (01725-516207, kingjohninn.co.uk)

Info: cranbornechase.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:16
Mar 232024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
on Cold Moor Urra Farm old mine tips above Urra Farm paved course of Cleveland Way from Carr Ridge looking across Vale of Mowbray to Roseberry Topping Wain Stones Looking towards Wain Stones from Garfit Gap looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 4 looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 3 looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 2 looking towards Cold Moor from Urra 1

Bikers were out for a burn-up on the bendy road to Stokesley. We soon left them behind as we climbed to Carr Ridge up the Cleveland Way. This long-distance path, paved and pitched with stone, loops round the outlying hills of the North York Moors with grandstand views all the way.

Up on top it was cold and cloudy over the moors. The sharp shark-fin of Roseberry Topping stood out to the north, its western face a concave scoop showing where half the hill had once slid away in a massive landslip.

The flat flagstones of the Cleveland Way carried us dry-shod over bog and slutch. The stone slabs had once floored textile mills, and were brought here after the factories closed – a fine example of recycling. Blackfaced sheep dashed away and drew up to swivel round and stare madly at us before resuming their precise, selective nibbling among the bracken and sedge.

A side path left the Cleveland Way and headed across the moor to where pale heaps of spoil marked the sites of long-abandoned jet and alum mines. We picked our way between them, dropping down the hillside towards the red roofs of the farming hamlet of Urra in broad green Bilsdale below.

Here the landscape changed to cattle pastures and plentiful trees. We followed field paths down and up again, heading out of the sheltered valley and up a gritty track towards the aptly named Cold Moor. It was exhilarating to stride the northward ridge with a sharp wind in the face and a good firm track underfoot.

Down in the pass of Garfit Gap we met the Cleveland Way again and turned east for the stepped climb up to the sandstone outcrop of the Wain Stones. Blackened and sculpted by weathering, they stood proud of the ridge end, their Easter Island profiles and tall faces packed tight in a jumble of rocks.

We sat on a fallen boulder and took in the view under a clearing sky. Skeletal cranes and smoking chimneys of Teesside, the great patchwork lowland of Mowbray Vale, a distant suggestion of the Pennine hills against the clouds in the southwest. And sailing high in the north the outline of Roseberry Topping once more, less of a shark fin from this perspective and more like a giant ploughshare abandoned on the ridge by some mythical tiller of the moors, perhaps one of the giants of the Wain Stones themselves.

How hard is it? 7 miles; moderate/strenuous; cobbled/paved moorland paths; a little scrambling at Wain Stones.

Start: Clay Bank car park, near Great Broughton (NZ 573035)

Getting there:
Road: Car park on B1257 between Great Broughton and Chop Gate

Walk (OS Explorer OL26): Left up road. In 200m pass ‘Bilsdale’ sign; left up stone flagged path (‘Cleveland Way’). Follow CW; at top of climb, fork right (579030, ‘Bridleway’). In ⅓ mile (occasional posts), path bears right across slab bridge (583021). In ½ mile right (576018, ‘Bridleway’) to road in Urra (572018). Right; in 100m, left (‘Urra Farm’); then stile (yellow arrow/YA), gate, stile; field path down to footbridge and road (564018). Dogleg right/left (stile); up bank to gate at Broadfield Farm (562019). Left (fingerpost, gate); right (fingerpost, wall gap); up field to gate (560019); up to track. Right; in 100m, left up steep path. Follow it for ⅔ mile to meet Cleveland Way at Garfit Gap (554034). Right up to Wain Stones (559035); round them or scramble up through them to flagged path; CW to road (513033). Left to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Wainstones Hotel, Great Broughton TS9 7EW (01642-712268, wainstoneshotel.co.uk)

Info: nationaltrail.co.uk; northyorkmoors.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:09
Mar 162024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
bees on the prunus blossom in Througham 1 bees on the prunus blossom in Througham 2 bees on the prunus blossom in Througham 3 Througham Througham 2 roe deer in line astern leaping a fence lane from Miserden to Througham the way through Dillay Brook valley

The south Cotswold village of Miserden seems to have it all – shop, post office, school, dentist, craftspeople, (occasional) bus, and a cosy and welcoming pub. In addition it’s a pretty place of mellow limestone houses, barns and field walls.

Do rural Edens like this harbour serpents? Impossible to believe it as we passed a posse of happily babbling village toddlers on their morning constitutional and set out along an old country lane. Hock-deep mud and a surface abraded to stumbly rubble by winter’s floods soon brought us back to earth.

Two worlds intersected along the route from Miserden to Througham. The byway, evolved to suit man’s objectives, led purposefully between the two settlements, while claw-scraped mudslides in the banks marked the passage of animal highways crossing the man-made track on the way to and from unknowable destinations.

A grey squirrel scampered across the lane in front of me, so intent on its course that it darted right over the toe of my boot. The sunken track, more stream than lane, rose to Througham under hazels festooned with catkins and minuscule female flowers, tufty and scarlet.

We passed the handsome old country house of Througham Court, its gables pierced with dove holes. A high wall concealed a garden laid out by the owner according to mathematical formulae, medical principles and cosmic theory. Less abstruse but just as wonderful, a prunus on a grass triangle by the road stood covered with pink blossom, loudly humming with a smother of bees hard at work.

Another stony lane led to a pasture where seven roe deer ran in line across our path, each creature rising in turn to spring over a fence, easy grace personified.

In High Wood off-roaders had trenched the byway with ruts too deep and flooded to walk in. We teetered along the muddy margins before plunging down a hillside path to the hidden valley of the Dillay Brook. An upward slog, a tangle of storm-toppled trees to negotiate like a giant’s game of spillikins, and a last stretch through sheep pastures under a sky milky with late winter sunlight and jingling with the early spring twittering of skylarks.

How hard is it? 7 miles; moderate; muddy and wet in parts, especially in High Wood.

Start: Carpenter’s Arms, Miserden GL6 7JA (OS ref SO 937088).

Getting there: Off B4070 (Birdlip-Stroud)

Walk (OS Explorer 179); Leaving pub, right; at T-jct, right; in 200m, left (933086, ‘Restricted Byway’). In 400m, fork left (930085); follow lane to Througham. In ¾ mile where tarmac begins, left (921081). 50m past Througham Court, ahead off right bend (921078) along lane. In 300m fork right at sheds (921075). Green lane, then field paths to road (914074). Left; fork right; at T-jct, right (912073). In 450m cross road (908076), then 3 fields to lane (905079). Left (very muddy!). In ½ mile lane bends sharp right (899081); descend on side path with wall on right. In 150m fork downhill. At bottom, cross track (899085); up path opposite. In 350m at top of rise fork right past house (901087). In 200m, ahead (blue arrow) for ⅔ mile (some fallen trees to negotiate) to gate into field (912086). Path to cross 2 roads (914087, 916087); on down to Honeycombe Farm. Path (left side of silage clamp) to road; right (ignore ‘Private’ sign). At gate, left-hand of 2 stiles (923090); path uphill (gate, yellow arrow) across 3 fields to road (931090). On across field to road (933089); right into Miserden.

Lunch: Carpenter’s Arms, Miserden (01285-821283, thecarps-miserden.co.uk)

Accommodation: Falcon Inn, Painswick GL6 6UN (01452-222820, thefalconpainswick.com)

Info: Nailsworth TIC (01453-839222)

 Posted by at 01:19
Mar 092024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Georgian folly designed by James Wyatt on Temple Island 1 Hambleden Weirs rushing and roaring serenity at Mill End Georgian folly designed by James Wyatt on Temple Island 2 Warm and characterful Flower Pot hotel at Aston Tranquillity on the banks of the Thames opposite Aston

A cold cloudy morning where the Chiltern Hills meet the boundaries of Bucks, Berks and Oxon. Not that the red kites were inclined to respect the county borders – they soared and wheeled indifferently over the bare woods and rain-sodden fields.

At Mill End the River Thames had forsaken its measured pace through the green meadows. The river, swollen by a whole night’s rainfall, came rushing and roaring, pushing a solid skein of sinewy grey-green water through the sluices. ‘She’s risen six inches higher than we expected,’ said the lock keeper as he pulled the sluice gate cable. ‘In for some flooding tomorrow, I should think.’

How did Thomas Caleb Gould, lock keeper here from 1777-1832, cope in similar conditions with no modern technology to help him? Gould was a celebrity in his day, famous for his many-buttoned coat and his daily diet of onion porridge. What his wife thought of that went unrecorded, but it kept him in good fettle till the age of ninety-two.

Heads reeling with the sound and energy of the seething water, we turned along the river bank and were instantly doused in peace and plenty. The Thames formed a broad, graceful bend, the water slow and wind-stippled as it slid smoothly past riverfront villas and their ornate wooden boathouses. Kempt lawns studded with fine cedars sloped up to Greenlands, a white wedding cake of a residence, built in 1853 for stationery mogul WH Smith.

A great crested grebe bobbed in the midriver flow, cautiously observing a nearby tufted duck with straggly crest and brilliant golden eyes. Black-headed gulls still sporting their white winter hoods screamed and squabbled over titbits, and a grey heron emitted a mournful shriek as it skimmed the water like a ragged umbrella on the loose.

At Upper Thames Rowing Club’s handsome premises we left the river and followed a snowdrop-spattered path to join up with the Chiltern Way that led across the winter wheatfields to Aston. From this elevated stance the Thames lay hidden by a fold of ground as though it had ceased to exist.

The Flower Pot Hotel at Aston exuded good smells of log fires. A venison pie (with juniper berries) and a golden pint of Boondoggle bitter here; then the final stroll beside the racing Thames towards the rumble and tumult of Hambleden weirs.

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

Start: Mill End car park, Hambleden, Bucks RG9 6TL (OS ref SU 786854)

Getting there: Bus 800 (High Wycombe – Reading)
Road: Follow ‘Hambleden’ from A4155 (Henley-on-Thames to Marlow) at Mill End. In ¼ mile, left into car park.

Walk (OS Explorer 171): Right along road (pavement). Dogleg right/left across A4155 (786850); follow footpath signs (‘Wokingham Way’) across River Thames via Hambleden Weirs. Cross Hambleden Lock (783851); right on riverbank Thames Path for 1¾ miles. Beside flagpole of Upper Thames Rowing Club (767836), left through car park to Remenham Lane. Right; in 50m, fork left (768835, fingerpost). In 50m, left (fingerpost, ‘Permitted Path); in 150m, left on Chiltern Way, Berkshire Loop (770834, fingerpost). In 400m left on Remenham Church Lane (774837); in 200m, right (773839, kissing gate, fingerpost) on Chiltern Way. In ½ mile, just before wooden gate across path, left (782840, ‘Permitted Path’) down to road (783842). Right into Aston. At Flower Pot Hotel (785842), left down Ferry Lane. At river, left (787845, ‘Thames Path’) to recross Hambleden Weirs and return to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Flower Pot Hotel, Aston RG9 3DG (01491-574721, flowerpothotel.com)

Info: Henley-on-Thames TIC (01491-576982)

 Posted by at 05:57
Mar 022024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Eas Mor waterfall above Glenbrittle, looking to the Black Cuillin Black Cuillin from Glenbrittle 1 Black Cuillin from Glenbrittle 2 mountain view from Glenbrittle Black Cuillin from Glenbrittle 3 Loch Brittle Approaching Corrie Lagan, Black Cuillins Eas Mor waterfall above Glenbrittle, backed by the Black Cuillin

As we drove the narrow twisty road down Glenbrittle after a stormy night, it was a relief and a thrill to see the sharp silhouettes of the Black Cuillin mountains stamped against the sky.

We started up a broad steep grass slope towards Skye’s most magnificent backdrop, the Cuillin Ridge, standing dark and dramatic with clouds drifting among its razor-toothed peaks. The view back south was of dark blue waves riding in from Loch Brittle to cream on a long sandy beach.

Heather, moor grass and white crustose lichen clung to the peat that covered the underlying rock, grey knobbly gabbro from which the sun struck a cheerful sparkle. Violets were rebeginning to struggle out among the clumps, and curlews had already begun their haunting territorial calls.

The well-made path trickled with runnels as the rain-sodden slopes disgorged their surfeit of water. We paused for a breather and a look back over Loch Brittle to where the Cocktail Isles had slid into view – flat-backed Canna, mountainous Rhum and the volcanic prow of Eigg.

A posse of climbers heading for the ridge swung past us, belts a-clink with multicoloured clips. I felt my customary twinge of envy for their careless athleticism and daring, then bent my efforts once more to the upward climb.

Now the sunshine fell behind and we were forging up the cleft of Coire Lagan in the shadow of the Cuillin ridge. A short sharp scramble up a jumbled staircase of rocks with a stream hissing down beside the path. Then the reward at the top of the climb, the still black pool of Loch Coire Lagan under tremendous upthrusts of black gabbro, with the shark fin of Sgùrr Thearlaich rising dramatically to the 992-metre pyramid of Sgùrr Alasdair, highest peak in the islands.

Descending past Loch an Fhir-bhallaich towards Eas Mòr’s horse-tail plume of falling water, we stopped for a last look at the high black rock spires of the Cuillin Ridge. The clouds were already drifting back, and against their grey backdrop a magnificent golden eagle, monarch of the range, was slowly wheeling away.

How hard is it? 5¼ miles; strenuous; mountain paths; one short, steep ascent with a little scrambling. For experienced, sure-footed walkers. Wear hill-walking gear; take map/GPS; consult weather forecast (mwis.org.uk)

Start: Car parking area near Glen Brittle campsite, IV47 8TA (OS ref NG 410205)

Getting there: From Skye Bridge, A87 north to Sligachan. Left on A863 (‘Dunvegan’). In 5 miles, left on B8009 (‘Glenbrittle, Carbost’). In 1.6 miles, sharp left at Merkadale for 8 miles (narrow road) to Glenbrittle.

Walk (OS Explorer 411): From car park area at end of road, continue along track. Pass to left of campsite toilet block (pitched corrugated roof); through kissing gate; up path. In a few metres fork left on path. In 600m ignore path that heads to right (421203) across small burn and waterfall; keep ahead uphill here. In ¾ mile ignore a left fork (434206), and another in 400m with a big cairn (438206), both these paths leading past Loch an Fhir-bhallaich; instead, keep ahead up main path. In another 200m path steepens beside Coire Lagan burn on your right, leading up a rocky ‘staircase’ to Loch Coire Lagan (444209). Return down same path; in ½ mile, near large boulder on right (438206), fork right at big cairn on path for 2 miles, passing Loch an Fhir-bhallaich (432208) and later Eas Mòr waterfall (420214) to descend to road at Glenbrittle House (412214). Left along road for ⅔ mile to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Sligachan Hotel, IV47 8SW (01478-650204, sligachan.co.uk)

Info: walkhighlands.co.uk; visitscotland.com

 Posted by at 02:41
Feb 242024
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Lavenham - medieval houses lean together in the High Street Lavenham Church - demonic lion guards the west door Lavenham Church tower from Park Road Lavenham Church tower from Park Road 2 Lavenham Church tower across the plough 1 Lavenham Walk - the muddy old railway path Balsdon Hall isolated among its trees sugar beet mountain near Peek Lane Lavenham Church tower across the plough 2 Lavenham Church tower across the plough 3

Lavenham is ridiculously pretty, its High Street an unbroken run of delectable medieval buildings, each one more cranky, crooked and colour-washed than the last. No wonder the young American flyers of 487th Bomb Group, stationed nearby during the Second World War, came to walk its fairytale byways and drink and yarn in the impossibly beamy and lopsided old Swan Inn. Here the graffiti and signatures they scribbled on the wall plaster are lovingly preserved under glass.

Medieval Lavenham grew rich on the wool trade, a prosperity witnessed in its wonderful houses, guildhalls and great cathedral of a church. And it was a massive economic slump in Tud
or times, caused by competition from cheaper and better cloth produced elsewhere, that fixed Lavenham’s buildings in aspic. The impoverished townsfolk couldn’t afford to modernise or demolish them, so in their early medieval glory they remained through the succeeding centuries.

A cold west wind blew out of a wintry sky as we followed the trackbed of the old Long Melford branch railway out of the town. Arable land lay on either hand, the heavy dark soil sliced by recent ploughing into long gleaming furrows. We watched a trail of seagulls following a distant tractor, each new furrow no sooner opened than lined with screeching, squabbling birds.

Spring was beginning to knock on winter’s door. Hazel catkins trembled in the wind, daffodil spears were pushing up along the hedge roots, and over the open fields the first skylarks of the year poured out their continuous, ecstatic song. But winter was not done yet. Grey-headed fieldfares, overwintering from Scandinavia, flocked round a stark concrete wartime pillbox, crowds of goldfinches twittered in the treetops, and the mud of the winter rains lay black and stodgy underfoot.

Beyond the bare skeletons of beech and oak in ancient Lineage Wood we traversed fields of river-rolled pebbles to cross a tangle of old moats at Balsdon Hall farm. The yellow-faced 17th-century farmhouse lay tucked away behind trees, a remote setting among the fields. A characteristic rural Suffolk landscape, agricultural and unsmartened. Sugar beets lay heaped in roadside ramparts ten feet tall, and the great flint tower of Lavenham church rose across the waves of ploughed earth like a landlocked lighthouse.

How hard is it? 5¾ miles; easy; field and old railway paths

Start: High Street, Lavenham CO10 9QA (OS ref TL 915491)

Getting there: Bus 753 (Bury St Edmunds – Sudbury)
Road: Lavenham is signed off A134 (Bury St Edmunds – Sudbury)

Walk (OS Explorer 196): Up High Street, over ridge and down. In ⅓ mile fork left (017496, ‘Lavenham Walk’). In 100m, left along old railway. In 100m, right (‘Dyehouse Field Wood’). In 200m right by bench (914497, ‘St Edmund Way’) across field. Left along hedge. At Park Road, left (908497); in 300m, right along old railway (911494). In 1⅓ miles, Paradise Wood ends on left (893484); in another 300m, left (891481, arrow post) on field track. At Balsdon Hall Farm, follow farm drive between buildings (898484) to 3-arrow post at fork, with Balsdon Hall on right (900484). Ahead across fields to road (906476). Left; in 400m, left up Harwood Place (808480). In 50m, right (‘Byway’) along Peek Lane for ½ mile to road (909487). Left; in 200m, right (907487, fingerpost) on field path to road (913490). Right to Lavenham Church. Leaving south door, left along south side of church, then north side of graveyard to kissing gate. Follow tree avenue and walled path to Hall Road (914492); right to High Street.

Lunch/Accommodation: Swan Hotel, High Street, Lavenham CO10 9QA (01787-247477, theswanatlavenham.co.uk)

Info: Lavenham Information Point (01787-247983)

 Posted by at 01:42