Oct 242020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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After a morning of downpours, rags of blue sky and great anvil-topped thunderheads of cloud were contesting the heavens over the Chiltern Hills.

This part of south Buckinghamshire is gloriously rich in woodland, perfect for a walk among autumn scents and colours especially after rain, when the black earth of the forest floor smells rich and every turning leaf gleams as though polished up for parade.

Horses flicked raindrops from their tails in paddocks still wet and glistening. Green lanes and hedge paths led us through the beech woods where squirrels leaped among the twigs, shaking down showers of raindrops. We walked pathways paved with fallen beech leaves, gold and lemon.

Two big woods, Common Wood and Penn Wood, are the particular pride of the neighbourhood. These are ancient woodlands, where Roman ironmakers collected wood for their furnaces, Saxons and medieval Londoners hunted deer, and Georgian chair-makers and wheelwrights harvested the beech-wood for their specialist trades.

Now they lie open for walkers, crisscrossed with permissive paths dedicated by Penn Estate. In Common Wood hornbeam and hazel, holly and oak made variegated patterns among the predominant beech, against a sky where thunder grumbled and rain showers came pattering by. We found tiny creamy fungi on stout black stalks, with gills as delicate and transparent as mother of pearl.

The path branched north towards Penn Wood past the rough pasture of Farther Barn Field, where a bunch of British White cattle with shiny black noses lay chewing the cud on the dry patches of ground they had reserved when the rain began. One cow had a pair of magpies perched on her back; she seemed entirely at ease with them.

Up in Penn Wood a patchy blue sky was breaking overhead as we turned for home. By the path a purple leaf beech, encased in a stout tree guard, carried a plaque. It had been donated by Prince Charles and planted in 2000 by Earl Howe, to commemorate the successful campaign waged by determined locals to prevent the wood being ‘developed’ as a golf course.

A strange and welcome irony, since it was Earl Howe’s ancestor who had enclosed the common here in 1855 and deprived the local commoners of their immemorial rights.

Start: Winchmore Hill, Bucks HP7 0PH (OS ref SU 933949)

Getting there: Bus 73 (Amersham)
Road: Winchmore Hill is signed off A404 between High Wycombe and Amersham

Walk (5½ miles, woodland paths, OS Explorer 172): From left corner of playground on village green, follow ‘Chiltern Way’/CW. In 300m cross road (929949); follow CW among trees. In 500m, left along tarmac road (927945); in 300m, on left bend (926942), CW forks right. Leave trees; anticlockwise round field edge, down to road (923939). Right; left up Noaks Lane; in 40m, right (922939, CW) along Penn Bottom. In 300m, right off CW up field (918940); through Brook Wood; cross road (919946) into Common Wood. Left along wide ride, forking right in 250m (‘Penn & Common Wood Long Trai). In 1 mile, in clearing with slatted ‘Common Wood’ notice board 50m on left, right downhill (904953, red stripe post) through Gravelly Way Plantation. Cross road (906959) into Penn Wood past gate (info board on right). Follow broad ride east for 1 mile to junction (921959); right to road; left into Penn Street. At junction, ahead (‘Amersham’); in 30m, left by The Cottages (923957, fingerpost); follow yellow arrows for ¾ mile across fields, through Priestlands Wood to Winchmore Hill.

Lunch/Accommodation: Potters Arms, Winchmore Hill HP7 0PH (01494-726222, pottersarms.co.uk) – lunch booking advisable

Info: High Wycombe TIC (01296-382415); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:19
Oct 172020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A bright, windy morning after overnight rain in this finger of land where Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire eye each other across a muddle of county boundaries. ‘Loggerheads’ is an old country word for ‘idiots’ – something to ponder as we set out from the village into the ancient thickets of Burnt Wood.

Here a tuberculosis sanatorium once stood. The patients were often wheeled outside in their beds to breathe the fresh air of the forest that was thought to alleviate their symptoms.

It was a peaceful stroll under the old oaks with their tangled understorey of holly. Patches of heath, flushed purple with heather, gave way to a brackeny track bordered by silver birch and richly golden gorse.

A stony lane led south out of the trees, between pastures where rams had marked the rumps of dozens of fat ewes with orange and blue raddle. Over in Wales the abrupt, wave-like peaks of the Berwyn ridge rose on the western skyline, an eye-catching counterpoint to the gentle roll of the Staffordshire countryside.

At Park Springs Farm three guinea fowl took fright at our approach. With a volley of unearthly whirring screeches they ducked their heads and scuttled off like a gaggle of old ladies in bulky grey cloaks.

A deep-sunk lane buttressed with great slabs of sandstone led past The Nook farm. The barns bore diamond patterns in their gables, some anonymous bricklayer’s careful work in a previous generation. Red-bodied darters hovered and settled on the wooden paddock fence, and the last of this year’s swallows went zigzagging above the lane, fuelling up for the long migration flight to Africa.

In the wooded dell of Lloyd Drumble there was a trickle of water under the sycamores. Along the lane to Hales the hedges were full of rosehips the size and lustre of cherry tomatoes. Over a gate we caught a glimpse of the slope where a Romano-British villa once stood, with a view of trees and far hills that can’t have changed greatly in 1500 years.

From the little hamlet of Hales, Flash Lane led north past Blore Farm, its red brick ornamented with black corners. The path wound back to Loggerheads via the outskirts of Burnt Wood, where plump black sloes hung in the hedge and crab apples bobbed at the end of laden boughs.

Start: Loggerheads PH, Loggerheads, Market Drayton, Staffs TF9 4PD (OS ref SJ 738359)

Getting there: Bus 164 (Market Drayton – Hanley)
Road – Loggerheads is on A53 (Market Drayton – Stoke-on-Trent)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 243): Left along A53; in 70m, left (Kestrel Drive). In 500m, left (Woodpecker Drive, 735355); on into wood. In 150m, over crossways. In 300m, left at junction (734349). In 700m, at 8-way junction (739351), take second track on right. In ¼ mile, ahead through bushes to stony track (742349). Right. In ¾ mile, leave trees over stile (739339); in 75m, left over stile; along hedge. At field bottom, through gate (738336); ahead to gate; left along track. In 300m at Knowleswood (737332), right up track. In 250m, left (734332); in 350m, right (734329) passing The Nook (732329) and Keeper’s Lodge (727334). In 1¼ miles in Hales (719338), right up Flash Lane. In ½ mile, keep right of Blore Farm buildings (721346, ‘Short Walk’). In 200m, left through hedge (723347, stile, ‘Newcastle Way’) for 1 mile to A53 (736359). Right to Loggerheads pub.

Lunch: Loggerheads PH (01630-296118, theloggerheadspub.co.uk) – the Loggerheads PH advises booking.

Accommodation: Four Alls Inn, Market Drayton TF9 2AG (01630-652995, thefouralls.com)

Info: Market Drayton TIC (01630-653114); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:34
Oct 102020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The village of Dent is wholly charming, all cobbled streets, narrow ways, stone-built houses and cosy, welcoming pubs. Sunk in its green dale below the Cumbrian fells, it’s a natural magnet for walkers on the long-distance Dales Way and the field paths and walled lanes that swoop up and down the hillsides.

A road past whitewashed cottages led us to the village green and the foot of Flinter Gill. A stony lane rose steeply under trees, its stream bouncing down to sluice across the Dancing Flags. This pavement of square flagstones was set in the streambed by the village weavers of times past; they would lay out their cloth here and stamp it to thicken the fabric.

Just above stood the twisted hollow trunk of a wishing tree – three times ‘deiseal’ or clockwise through the hole and you would gain your heart’s desire, but woe betide anyone foolish enough to pass through ‘widdershins’, the other way about.

Higher up, the lane passed High Ground Barn. Here in the cool and quiet of the old barn we found a collection of venerable farm and household implements – chaff cutter, horse rake, tilt cart, mangold slicer. Alongside hung black and white photos of the backbreaking work of the old-time farms – forking hay, washing and shearing sheep, stone walling, peat cutting.

Up at the crest of the fell we joined Occupation Lane, a perfect example of a Pennine walled lane, its rutted course ribboning up and down across the fellsides. From here we had a majestic view – across Dentdale to the great dun-coloured whaleback of Aye Gill Pike, the valley rising gently in beautiful lowland green pasture to the flattened pyramid of Great Knoutberry closing the eastern sky line.

Ahead rose the long back of Middleton Fell. A thousand feet higher than us, a shepherd on a quad bike steered for the ridge. As we neared the Barbondale road we could hear him yelping commands to his dog, high and clear on the windy air.

We descended a field track past Combe House with its carefully tended garden, then on down to the Dales Way in the dale bottom. Following it back to Dent, we saw a kingfisher streak along the water, a momentary scintillation of blue and orange above the peat-brown river.

Start: St Andrew’s Church, Dent LA10 5QL (OS ref SD 705870)

Getting there: Bus S1, S3, S4, S5 (Dent-Sedburgh); westerndalesbus.co.uk
Road: Dent is signed from Sedbergh, on A684 (M6, Jct 37)

Walk (7 miles, field paths and hill tracks, OS Explorer OL2): From south door of church, ahead down alley. Pass George & Dragon on your left; opposite Mill Cottage, right to village green. Left (704869, ‘Flinter Gill’) up lane. In ¾ mile pass bench; right (698859, ‘Keldishaw’) along Occupation Lane walled lane. In 1½ miles, right along road (680862); in ¼ mile, left (683864, ‘Underwood’) on green track across fields (occasional yellow arrows/YA). In 2nd field, path swings left to run below trees. On past Combe House (681875); follow YAs across beck to Tofts farm (682879). Down drive. In 200m, where concrete gives way to stone, sharp left (685879, YA below). Diagonally down field past ruin; down track to field bottom and road at Raw Bank (684883). Left; in ¼ mile, right (681885, ‘Dales Way’); right along river on Dales Way for 2¼ miles to Church Bridge (707872); right into Dent.

Conditions: Dales Way slippery and stumbly with tree roots in places.

Lunch/Accommodation: George & Dragon, Dent LA10 5QL (01539-625256, georgeanddragondent.co.uk) – cosy, friendly village inn.

Info: Kendal TIC (01539-735891); visitcumbria.com
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:00
Sep 262020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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When Sir Henry Seymour of Marwell Hall, flushed with Protestant zeal at the Reformation, found that the priest of St Andrew’s Church at Owslebury had been saying Latin Mass, he had the man arrested. The priest escaped, returned to the church, and was shot at the altar. It didn’t pay to cross Henry Seymour – he counted King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell as his brothers-in-law.

Rough times at Owslebury back then; but not today, with apples ripening in the village gardens and the old houses trim under their thatched roofs. Beyond the churchyard we picked up the Monarch’s Way path, and followed it along green lanes through steeply rolling countryside of corn stubbles, cattle pasture and scattered woods.

A young roe deer was feeding on the stubble near Austin’s Copse, raising its head every few seconds to flap the flies out of its ears. At Woodlock’s Down Farm a beautiful young horse, black and glossy, galloped across his paddock, snorting with sheer joie de vivre.

The paths around pretty brick-and-flint Upham were bounded with old hedges coming into fruit for autumn – scarlet haws, shiny purple elderberries, greeny-black clusters of guilder rose berries, and quadripartite spindle berries beginning to pink up.

Turning west, we crossed a field where Jane spotted an unnaturally regular shape among the stones. It was a flint scraper, four inches long, its edges scalloped, its business end chipped to a blade-shape, an artful hollow in one side in which the thumb fell precisely where its pressure could be best applied. A tool still fit for purpose after lying in the earth for who knows how long. Ten thousand years? Twenty?

We crossed a Roman road, present on the map but smoothed out of existence by the ploughing of millennia. The homeward path skirted Marwell House, then headed north across the roll and dip of harvest fields and horse paddocks towards Owslebury, where the rooks were beginning to gather for their evening rituals.

Start: Ship Inn, Owslebury, Hants SO21 1LT (OS ref SU 511233)

Getting there: Bus 63 from Winchester
Road – Owslebury is signed from B2177 (Bishop’s Waltham-Winchester), 1 mile from Fisher’s Pond on B3354.

Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 132): From Ship Inn, left along road (‘Petersfield’). In 300m, right through churchyard; right (515234, fingerpost/FP) along lane (‘Monarch’s Way’/MW). In 400m, through barrier (517230); left along track for ½ mile to cross Lower Baybridge Lane (521226). Up Phillips Farmhouse drive; in 350m, left at deer gate (521222) along edge of Austin’s Copse.

In 350m, left along Greenhill Lane track (524221). In 400m, right (529223, yellow arrow/YA, ‘Footpath Only’) along hedge. Follow YAs and FPs for ½ mile to pass Woodlock’s Down Farm (533217). In 100m, left (532216, 3-finger FP); follow FPs and YAs to road at White Hill (538209). Right into Upham; in 200m, left at grass triangle to pass Brushmakers Arms PH (540206). Right at phone box. Past church, right (538206, ‘Owslebury’); in 100m, left (‘MW’, FP).

Follow MW for 1¼ miles to cross Red Lane (521214). Ahead (YA) through neck of Sladford’s Copse. Along field edge with hedge on left. In 400m, left through hedge gap (517214, YA); right with hedge on right; in 100m, right (stile, YA). Follow fence on right (stiles, YAs). In 150m, right through gates (515214); over stiles then right (513214, stile, YA) up fenced path to Whaddon Lane (512216).

Right; in 200m, right (512217) up Lower Baybridge Lane. In 550m left (517220, wicket gate, FP) up 2 fields with hedge on left; down to cross valley to stile (514228) and fenced path to Owslebury.

Lunch: Ship Inn, Owslebury (01962-777756, owslebury.org.uk); Brushmakers Arms, Upham (01489-860231, thebrushmakersarms.com) – booking advisable at both

Accommodation: Crown Inn, Bishop’s Waltham SO32 1AF (01489-893350, crowninnbishopswaltham.co.uk)

Info: Winchester TIC (01962-840500)
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:34
Sep 192020

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After days of wild weather and whitened seas along the Sussex coast, a quieter morning dawned over the South Downs. In the hamlet of Walderton, master thatcher Chris Tomkins had his straw bundles and pegs laid out along the gutters of a flint and brick cottage, all handy for the day’s work.

Small clouds went jostling like sheep along the wooded skyline. Our path led east beside stubble fields, sheltered in that characteristic Sussex Downs landscape of dip and rise, every curve of the chalky land pleasing to the eye and heart.

We scanned the furrows as we walked, looking for the bevelled edges and teardrop shapes of Neolithic flint tools lost or left behind by our distant ancestors.

Down behind the neat cottages and carefully tended gardens of Stoughton stood St Mary’s Church, already here when the Normans landed, a blocky building with narrow windows high up. Inside under a simple beam roof a tapestry round the walls depicted the thousand-year story of the downland village in its cradle of woods and slopes.

Beside the flinty lane that led away from Stoughton stood a plain granite pillar. In the adjacent field 23-year-old Pilot Officer Boleslaw Własnowolski – ‘Vodka’ to the other chaps in the mess of 213 Squadron at Tangmere – died in November 1940 when his Hurricane fighter was shot down by a Messerschmitt Me-109. The Polish flag that swathes the pillar, and the poppy wreaths at its foot, show how this young foreign flyer is still remembered here.

The lane ran up to the crest of the downs, where the little grassy domes of the Devil’s Humps lay in line astern. From these Bronze Age burial mounds we had a stunning view south over the glinting inlets of Chichester Harbour, where the spire of Chichester Cathedral lanced into the cloudy sky against a backdrop of trees, creeks and the dull silver plain of the sea.

Flint-cobbled tracks led us south, skirting the scrubby slopes of Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, a marjoram-scented heaven of wild flowers and butterflies.

We turned for home along a downland highway past the brooding wreck of a great flint barn, and on through woods of oak and beech where the wind whistled and loose leaves pattered earthwards like multi-coloured rain.

Start: Barley Mow Inn, Walderton, Chichester PO18 9ED (OS ref SU 790106). Open again. Please ask permission to park, and give pub your custom!

Getting there: Bus 54 (Chichester-Petersfield)
Road – Walderton is on B2146 (signed from Westbourne, off A27 Portsmouth-Chichester)

Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL8): Right along road. In 50m, right across bridges; grass path to road. Right; in 50m, left (788107, fingerpost); right along field edges. Cross road (792110); on (occasional ‘Monarch’s Way’/MW signs). In 400m, path forks (796113); keep ahead across field to trees (796116). Inside trees, right (MW, ‘bridleway’/BW); immediately keep ahead downhill to road in Stoughton (801114).

Sharp left to church; return to road; right for 150m. By Tythe Barn House, left (801113, BW) up lane. In 350m pass war memorial (804111); on up to top of rise. Forward to 3-finger post (812106, BW); left along track. In ½ mile pass Devil’s Humps (819110); in another ½ mile, right (824115, white arrow in blue circle/WABC) up path; in 150m, right (blue arrow/BA) up stony bridleway.

In 250m cross bridleway (825113, 4-finger post); on downhill. In 550m pass Kingley Vale signs (827108, KV); on down for 500m, right at 4-finger post (828103). In 550m pass KV gate (824100) and on (BW). In 150m, fork right uphill at edge of trees. In 650m, at KV gate on right, fork left (819102, WABC). In ¼ mile, entering yew grow, fork left at 3-finger BW post (815104).

In 650m, at edge of trees, don’t fork left downhill, but keep ahead (809104) into open. In ½ mile, right at ruined barn (800104); inside trees, left along track. In 650m, fork right (794105) downhill past Walderton Down notice to road (792107); left to pub.

Lunch: Barley Mow, Walderton (02393-631321, thebarleymow.pub) – booking advised. Take-away service also available.

Accommodation: Coach & Horses, Compton PO18 9HA (02392-631228, coachandhorsescompton.co.uk) – open and Covid-compliant.

Info: Chichester TIC (01243-775888, visitsoutheastengland.com); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:10
Sep 122020

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September, and that first definite nip of autumn in the breeze. We stood in the circular churchyard at Braunston-in-Rutland, admiring the stumpy charms of the Braunston goddess. Imagine the surprise that workmen got in the 1920s when, relaying the church doorstep, they turned it over to discover this extraordinary pagan idol carved on the reverse, mouth and eyes agape, little round breasts outthrust.

Our path lay west across rough pastures where we stumbled up and down the furrows of medieval agriculture, still printed in these fields. Big billowy clouds went blustering about the sky, at one moment dipping us into shivery shade, the next bathing us in hot sunshine. Goldfinches twittered in the hedge where our approach had driven them from their feast of thistle seeds.

In the recently harvested wheatfields, straw bales the shape of giant cotton reels lay among the stubble like an Andy Goldsworthy installation. A ploughman drew furrows of earth behind his tractor, the soil rich and dark with minerals, while a red kite and a swoop of herring gulls homed in on the worms and insects thrown up by the plough.

We dropped into a green lane, the hedges thick with wild fruit – elderberries, hips, haws, milky white hazelnuts and blackberries green, red and polished jet. Beyond lay Withcote Hall Farm, the stables and big house of beautiful gold stone falling into dereliction.

At Launde Abbey we stopped for tea and cakes. The magnificent Tudor house built by Thomas Cromwell’s beloved son Gregory looked out on a bowl of parkland and sheep pasture, as peaceful and soothing as could be.

The way home lay along the valley of the wriggling River Chater, diminished to a streamlet after the long hot summer. In the green grassy bridleway near Leigh Lodge we met a couple hastening along, bearing plastic bags bulging with ripe blackberries. ‘Blackberry wine!’ they beamed.

A flock of linnets bounced and chirruped in the hedge. The shadows of sheep lengthened across the pastures as the sun dipped, bringing a wash of late afternoon gold to this quiet corner of English countryside.

Start: Blue Ball, Braunston-in-Rutland, LE15 8QS (OS ref SK 833066)

Getting there:
Braunston is 2 miles SW of Oakham (A606)

Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorers 234, 233): From west side of church tower, through gate (yellow arrow/YA); on, parallel with hedge on right. In 3rd field fork left (825065) along left-hand hedge and on (YAs, yellow-topped posts/YTP). In 3rd field beyond South Lodge Farm, half left (814057, YA) to far top corner (812056, YTP). On to hedge gap (810054, YTP). Right, then right along green lane. At road, left (809060, stile, YA) across 2 fields to lane (805060). Dogleg right/left; on (YTPs) to Withcote Hall Farm (798058). Left around barn; at gate with YTP, left along fence (‘Leicestershire Round’/LR). At Dutch barn 798056, gate, YTP) ahead over hill, following YTPs to road at Launde Abbey (796044).

Left; in 150m, right (fingerpost, ‘Belton’) following LR (YTPs). In 1¼ miles, LR turns right (815044), but keep ahead/east for 1 mile. Opposite Leigh Lodge, half left (828041, stile, YA, ‘Rutland Round’) across field to lane (825045, stile, YTP). Right to corner; fork right; keep ahead up west side of Priors Coppice. On to road (831059); right to Braunston.

Lunch: Blue Ball, Braunston (01572-722135, theblueballbraunstone.co.uk). Pop in for drinks, or book ahead for 2-hour dining slot (text/WhatsApp 07377-954176)

Accommodation: Admiral Hornblower, High Street, Oakham LE15 6AS (01572-723004, hornblowerhotel.co.uk)

Info: Rutland Water TIC (01780-686800)
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 00:43
Sep 052020

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Harlech Castle is a lowering presence, there’s no getting away from it. The great turreted stronghold, one of the seven ‘Ring of Iron’ fortresses sited around north Wales in the 1280s by King Edward I, was planted on its rock above the Dwyryd Estuary to dominate and subdue the rebellious locals.

Dark and ominous-looking, the castle frowned down on us as we left Harlech railway station. Soon enough the Wales Coast Path signs pointed us away across the pasture of Morfa Harlech where shiny brown cattle munched, muzzle to grass.

The seaward view was obscured by a line of woodland, but once past the tattered farm of Glan-y-mor the path rose to a most sensational view. Ahead stood the rugged outliers of southern Snowdonia, all scoops and hollows and sharp ridges. Off in the west the mountains declined to the tumbled hills of the Lleyn peninsula lying out on the sea horizon. Sunlight chased dark blue shadows across this dramatic landscape.

The prospect across the Dwyryd estuary was even better. It was the turn of low tide, the river no more than a glinting coil through wide sandbanks. Just opposite rose the fantasy village of Portmeirion, architect Clough Williams Ellis’s dream collection of towers, turrets, cupolas and campaniles, their pinks and blues thrown into prominence by the backdrop of dark woods.

Far beyond, perfectly placed by celestial hands, the tall grey cone of Snowdon’s peak lifted into a blue sky scudding with clouds. A sensational view to all quarters.

We sat and shared an orange and stared our fill, then went on around the lumpy hill of Ynys Llanfihangel-y-Traethau, the ‘Isle of St Michael on the Shore.’ Round on the far side we found the neat little church of St Michael, Victorian in appearance, but actually built more than a century before Harlech Castle, when this hill was a tidal island and horsemen rode across the sands to worship here.

The Wales Coast Path led on towards Llandecwyn Station, dipping down to run north beside the slowly filling marsh creeks through drifts of pale pink thrift. A farmer sheared his ewes under the sea wall, and a sandpiper alighted on the black slate rocks for a moment before dipping its white breast and skimming off on scimitar wings.

Start: Harlech Station, LL46 2UL (OS ref SH 581314)

Getting there: Rail to Harlech. Bus 38, 39 (Dolgellau-Porthmadog)
Road – Harlech station is on A496, just below Harlech Castle. Car park behind station (‘No Through Road’).

Walk (6¾ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL18): From station, right along A496. In 600m, left (582320, ‘Wales Coast Path’/WCP fingerpost) on path to gate. Left along side of housing estate; follow WCP signs. In ½ mile, half left (WCP, 580327); through 3 gates to edge of wood (578332), Right, following WCP. In ¾ mile, approaching Glan-y-mor Farm, half-left across fields to gate by farmhouse (580345). Right along WCP. In 1½ miles at Llanfihangel y Traethau church (595354), anticlockwise round churchyard wall to gate, then right along wall to gate with WCP. Follow WCP to cross road (599355); in 300m, left across watercourse (603353); follow WCP on seawall path for 1¾ miles to cross railway (617373). Left round base of Bryn Glâs hill; in 300m, right through gate (618376, WCP), past cottages, down drive to road (620376); left to Llandecwyn station. Return by train to Harlech.

Lunch: Old Cheese Market, Harlech (07483-316228)

Accommodation: Crown Lodge, Ffordd Isaf, Harlech, Gwynedd LL46 2PR (01745-817289, thecrownlodge.uk) – characterful stopover with tremendous views.

Info: visitwales.com; walescoastpath.gov.uk

Harlech Castle: cadw.gov.wales; harlech.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:13
Aug 152020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Before monks, adventurers and immigrant Dutchmen drained the fenland of East Anglia for agriculture, Ely was an island in a miasmic fen swamp. The town clings to a gentle swell of raised ground. Planted square across the summit of the hill above the surrounding flatlands, the graceful yet lopsided bulk of Ely Cathedral, the ‘Ship of the Fens’, draws the eye from ten miles off.

Seen from close up, the cathedral is a mighty essay in stonework superbly carved and finished, topped with an elaborate medieval lantern of wood, a unique and cunning replacement for the central tower that came crashing down in ruins in 1322.

Viewed from the banks of the River Great Ouse to the south, the building seems endearingly asymmetrical. On this afternoon of scorching summer heat, the towers and walls wavered as they sailed dusty seas of ripe barley.

Hops hung in the hedges, their jointed flowers not yet bloomed into that sticky, heady savour that Victorian rural writer Richard Jefferies likened to the ‘dreamy fragrance of the fabled haschish.’ The towpath alongside the slow-flowing Great Ouse had been cracked by the short, intense heatwave, and in the fields the sun-swollen barley ears hung low and full, awaiting the harvester.

We crossed the side arm of Braham Dock where the narrowboat Sun lay moored up under a limply flapping red flag. At Little Thetford half a dozen tyro rowers were roasting in their singlets, splashing and scooping the glittering water of the river under the barked instructions of their trainer. It looked a lot of effort on such a breathless afternoon, and we were glad to flop down in the shade of a willow for a drink and a nice long stare over the baking fields.

Above the barley the dark slim shape of a marsh harrier went cruising, slowly flapping its long vee of a wingspan as it searched the dusty rows for anything edible in this lean season.

In the distance a red and silver train bellowed like some fantastic beast. Dragonflies chased each other, and the tiny black silhouette of a hobby skimmed the trees on the lookout for dragonflies.

We followed the grassy track of Holt Fen Drove up to Little Thetford, and then the riverbank north again towards Ely and the high-perched Ship of the Fens as she rode the heatwave and the barley seas.
Start: Fore Hill car park, Ely CB7 4AF (OS ref TL 543801)

Getting there: Train to Ely. Bus 9 (Cambridge-Chatteris).
Road – A142 (Newmarket-Chatteris) or A10 (Cambridge-Downham Market).

Walk (9½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 226): From top right corner of car park, alley to Fore Hill. Left; ahead along High Street. At end, left along Minster Place past Ely Cathedral west end (540803). On along The Gallery. In 200m, left through monastic archway (540800). Ahead through The Park; cross Broad Street (543799); through Jubilee Gardens to river (544709). Right (south) on west bank of River Great Ouse for 3¾ miles. Pass marina at confluence with River Cam (534746); just beyond railway bridge, right across river path and follow Holt Fen Drove to road in Little Thetford (534760). Left; in 100m, right (‘Cawdle Fen Way’). Follow path beside Thetford and Grunty Fen Catchwater drains back to river at Braham Dock (540774). Left for 2¼ miles to Ely.

Short walk (4¼ miles): Little Thetford – Braham Dock – Great Ouse – Holt Fen Bridge

Lunch: Picnic by the river

Accommodation: Royal Standard, 24 Fore Hill, Ely CB7 4AF (01353-645104, theroyalstandardely.com)

Info: Ely TIC (01353-662062); elycathedral.org
Ships of Heaven by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday)
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:02
Aug 082020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Only just upriver from London, Eton – like the past – is Another Country. The town and its famous college occupy the nub end of a flat, sprawling island between the Jubilee River and the River Thames. Enormous meadows, hayfields and commons occupy most of this ground, with the Thames a whispering, reedy presence along the south side of the island.

Disembarking at Windsor & Eton Riverside station, we saw the great Round Tower of Windsor Castle looming large on the southern skyline. Once across the Thames and out into The Brocas – the first of Eton’s meadows – we looked back to see the castle in all its magnificence, one of the classic views of tourist England.

The honk and gabble of Canada geese and the rude quacking laughter of mallard drakes came from the river as we walked the Thames Path west among hikers, wanderers and dog strollers. Soon these fell behind, and we went on through a level landscape as evocative of agriculture as of leisure, where farmers were baling and carting hay from the meadows.

A poignant memorial stone by the river recorded Hiatt C Baker’s gift of this stretch of the bank to Eton College in memory of his son John, a member of the college killed in a flying accident in 1917. ‘A brilliant swimmer,’ recorded the proud father, ‘who spent here many of the happiest hours of his boyhood.’

At Boveney Lock the lock keeper was on duty outside his charming cottage in its meticulously kept garden. Beyond we found the Church of St Mary Magdalene, now in the care of the nicely named ‘Friends of Friendless Churches’. This modest chapel, built of clunch and flint, was founded for the use of Thames bargemen, and the rough simplicity of its interior woodwork seems to fit the place and function perfectly.

We turned back past The Old Place, a house of mellow red brick and twisty chimneys, and followed paths over Dorney Common and North Field towards Eton. Along the neat and tidy High Street were handsome ornate gateways, lovely old houses, boys and masters in white ties and tails, and a wonderful chapel and college library fit – literally – for a prince.

Start: Windsor & Eton Riverside station car park, Datchet Rd, Windsor SL4 1QG (OS ref SU 969774)

Getting there: Rail to Windsor & Eton Riverside
Road – station is on B470, signed off A308 in Windsor (M4, Jct 6)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 160): Cross Thames on footbridge. Follow Thames Path west. In 2 miles pass Boveney Lock (945778); in 500m, at chapel, right inland (940777). At road (939778), right past Old Place; in 100m, left (fingerpost). At top left corner of field bear right (939783); in 100m, left across Cress Brook footbridge (940783). Half right across Dorney Common. Cross road at cattle grid (943786); on with stream on right to gate and cycleway (943791). Right; in 400m, pass end of footbridge (947791); in another 400m, right (951792, fingerpost, kissing gate) across field, aiming left of phone mast to cross road (954791). On across paddocks (stiles) to North Field (956789). Right; anticlockwise round field to road embankment (959785). Dogleg right/left under road; right along field edge; under railway (962783). Ahead on tarmac road, following ‘Eton Walkway’ to Eton High Street (966780). Right to Thames footbridge and station.

Lunch: Boatman PH, Thames Side, Windsor SL4 1QN (01753-620010, boatmanwindsor.com)

Accommodation: George Inn, 77 High St, Eton SL4 6AF (01753-861797, georgeinn-eton.co.uk)

Info: Windsor TIC (01753-743900); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:26
Aug 012020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The painted saints contemplated one another from their rood screen panels in the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Holne. Looking at their long, expressive faces and richly coloured robes, we wondered what could have persuaded an artist of such talent to come in Tudor times to this obscure village church under the eastern rim of Dartmoor. Whoever he was, he left a remarkable legacy here.

Holne lies sunk in a hollow above the young River Dart. A green churchyard path led out of the village, and soon we were descending the narrow road to Michelcombe under a hot afternoon sun. Cooper the golden retriever bounced out of a house to bark us on our way up a clinking stony lane that climbed towards the moor.

Sheep lay panting on a heap of soil in a gateway, their chins pressed deep into the cool earth. The views broadened all the way, south and east over steep pastureland to where the sea lay beneath a grey haze in Tor Bay.

A gate led out onto the open moor. We crossed the granite bars of an ancient cattle grid over Wheal Emma Leat, once the power source for the tin mines of this area, now a low ditch half hidden among sedges.

A path wound through the bracken, heading northeast, its dry peat surface stamped with the prints of sheep’s hooves and pony shoes. Soon it made rendezvous with a moor road that ran between banks of devil’s-bit scabious and wild thyme.

A dozen moor ponies were hanging out in the car park at Venford Reservoir, moodily swishing their long tails as they waited for tourist sandwiches. We made for the flat granite boulders of Bench Tor, a grandstand from which to admire the giant view and to spy out the homeward path.

A precipitous scramble down beside a stone wall into the depths of the River Dart’s gorge, a delicious cool plunge in the peat-dark waters of Sharrah Pool, and we were heading back to Holne on the riverside track through oak woods where the declining sun dappled tree trunks, pathway and the shallows of the river in the quiet valley.

Start: Village car park, Holne, Newton Abbott TQ13 7SL (OS ref SX 706695)

Getting there: Holne is signposted off B3357 Two Bridges road, west of Ashburton (A38)

Walk (7½ miles, moderate/strenuous, OS Explorer OL28): From west end of church, left through hedge gap; right (fingerpost/FP) across field. Cross road (705694); on to Michelcombe. Right at junction (697690), follow ‘Bridleway’ up stony track. In ½ mile, ahead through gate (687690) onto Access Land; same direction to cross stone bars over Wheal Emma Leat (685691). In 150m, right on grass track (685692); in 500m, meet and follow wall (687697); in 400m, join stony road (690698). Cross stream (692699); in 150m, sharp right at junction (691700) to road (694701). Left to Venford Reservoir car park (688709). Aim across moor to Bench Tor (692716); then southeast to corner of stone wall (692715). Keep wall on right; in 300m, follow it left (695713), very steeply down beside wall through woods to River Dart (697715). Left along track to Sharrah Pool (696717). Return along track and on. In 1¾ miles hairpin sharp right (711703, FP on right) up Two Moors Way back to Holne.

Conditions: Very steep descent to River Dart – for surefooted people! Unwaymarked paths across the moor.

Picnic: On Bench Tor, or down by the River Dart

Info: Totnes TIC (01803-411183); visitsouthdevon.co.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:17