Sep 182021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Arenig Fawr, ‘Great High Ground’, the summit of a curving ridge at 2,802 ft (854 m), stands at the eastern edge of the National Park, some way apart from the more celebrated peaks of Snowdonia.

Other than the beauty of Arenig Fawr’s own surroundings, the special attraction of the summit is that from it you can see an unbeatable panorama of the mountains of North Wales spread out all round you. First, though, you need a clear day on those tops, not so common in this part of the world.

Three times over the years we’d had Arenig Fawr in our sights, and three times we’d been rained off. Now here we were at the foot of the track on a beautiful morning. The well-found track led us across thistly hillsides to our first sighting of Llyn Arenig Fawr, a sheet of wind-stippled water, steel-blue in the shadow of a tall corrie of dark crags with pink screes chuting down towards the lake.

By the dam a little one-room bothy, immaculately clean, offered basic shelter – a wooden plank bed, a fireplace still warm from the previous night’s occupants, a kettle, a broom, a bottle of chilli sauce, and naturally The Bible in both English and Welsh. Judging by the ecstatic comments in the visitors’ book, walkers love this spartan refuge beside the lonely lake.

From the bothy the track steepened beside the corrie, a good old puff upwards on a path whose rocks sparkled in the sunshine. A couple of fences to hop and we were out into a wild upland, the path undulating through boggy patches and curving across slopes before turning up loose screes and rocky steps towards the ridge.

The slope of the climb hid the conical summit of Arenig Fawr till we were nearly there. Up at the trig pillar we found a stone-walled shelter and a poignant memorial to the eight-man crew of a USAF Flying Fortress bomber, killed when their plane crashed here on a night training flight in 1943.

The promised mountains stood clear and dramatic all round – the dinosaur spine of the Clwydian Hills and the four billows of the Berwyns to the east, Cadair Idris looming like a hunchbacked beast in the southwest, and away to the northwest the shoulders and pointed head of Snowdon just brushing the gathering cloud.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles there and back, 1720ft/530m climb. Strenuous mountain expedition for fit, sure-footed walkers, properly clothed and shod.

Start: Car parking space just east of Arenig, near Bala, LL23 7PA approx. (OS ref SH 846395)

Getting there: Arenig is signed off A4212 (Trawsfynydd-Bala). Drive through hamlet; car parking space is another ⅔ mile on left, opposite gate signed ‘Farmland’.

Walk (OS Explorer OL18): Through gate, follow track for 1½ miles to Llyn Arenig Fawr. Cross ladder stile by bothy (850379); follow path, gentle gradient at first, then a rocky and steep climb from 400m at bothy to 600m at fence (‘Y Castell’ on map). Cross fence (842373); up to cross second fence 40m beyond corner where you join it (839374). From here on, path rocky and stumbly – watch your step! Path bears right round rocky outcrops, then makes long leftward curve across slope. In ½ mile path bends right and climbs (832372), a few cairns mark it from here. Near the summit, aim for a prominent post above, then the trig pillar at 2,802ft/854m (827369).
Return same way.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Bothy at Llyn Arenig Fawr (; or Plas Yn Dre, 23 High St, Bala LL23 7LU (01678-521256,


 Posted by at 01:50
Sep 112021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Moreton-in-Marsh is a lovely place on the northern edge of the Cotswolds, an old wool town with a very wide sheep-straggle of a high street. On a hot afternoon we started under muggy grey clouds, passing allotments full of hollyhocks, cabbages and potatoes. Sunflowers stood tall, their face all turned towards a muted gleam in the southern sky.

Outside Moreton we crossed long fields of harvested barley and wheat. Cotton-reel bales of straw lay regularly spaced, as though giants had temporarily suspended some esoteric game and left all the pieces on the board.

The path led on through a superb wildflower meadow where the nodding dark heads of great burnet contrasted with white cushions of yarrow and the rusty iron aspect of docks in late summer. In the hedgerows stood huge old oaks, their ripe acorns sprouting galls like the tentacles of sea anemones. Rusty barns crowned low ridges from which far views opened across a rolling landscape of green and brown, with church towers and country house gables of that remarkable golden stone peeping out from their trees.

Near the wooded grounds of Batsford Arboretum a big red kite was manoeuvring over the trees, responsive to the whistling calls of an invisible handler at the neighbouring Cotswold Falconry Centre. Everything far and near seemed soaked in the heavy warmth and peace of classic English countryside at the turn of the season. We were jerked rudely from this mood on arrival in Bourton-on-the-Hill, a beautiful little sloping village of honey-coloured houses, as a bunch of inexcusably fast and noisy motorbikes went pelting down its narrow roadway.

South of Bourton-on-the-Hill we came on a slice of the Mughal empire set down in the Cotswolds. The extraordinary house of Sezincote was built in 1805 for Sir Charles Cockerell to the designs of his brother Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who incorporated Georgian, Muslim and Hindu architectural styles in a glorious, jolting mishmash of a building. We walked slowly along the fence at the foot of the slope leading up to the house, marvelling at the minarets, enormous curving orangery, cupolas and great green onion dome capping the whole thing off. George, Prince Regent, visited in 1807, and it’s pretty clear where the inspiration for tarting up his Marine Pavilion in Brighton came from.

A final delight to cap the walk – a hedge full of large plump bullace, fat as damsons and bitter as sloes. We picked them into a bag for a later date with gin and sugar, a heavenly marriage to be consummated in a Kilner jar just in time for next Christmas.

How hard is it? 7 miles; well-marked field and estate paths.

Start: High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0AX (SP 204322)

Getting there: Rail to Moreton-in-Marsh; Bus 817 (Stow-on-the-Wold)
Road – A44 (Evesham), A429 (Cirencester).

Walk (OS Explorer OL45): Down Corder’s Lane opposite Black Bear; on across fields, following waymarked Monarch’s Way and Heart of England Way/HEW for 2¼ miles to road (174337). Left; in ½ mile, left (169331, ‘Bridleway’). In 600m at driveway, left (173327) to A44 (174326). Left through Bourton-on-the-Hill. 100m past church, right; in 100m, right (HEW); in 50m, left (175324, HEW). In 1 mile at a road and cattle grid, left off HEW (175307), following driveway (yellow arrows/YA). Pass Upper Rye Farm; at Dutch barn, ahead (185310, YA) across field to gate (YA). On outside Thickleather Coppice to reach post with 2 YAs (189311). Half left here (not right!) to gate in far fence (YA); follow Monarch’s Way to Moreton.

Lunch/Accommodation: Bell Inn, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0AF (01608-651887,


 Posted by at 01:38
Sep 042021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A cool day of smoky cloud over southern Northumberland. The houses and church at Slaley glowed in green-grey stone as we left the windy ridgetop village and headed west past a string of farms – Palm Strothers, East and Middle Dukesfield.

This is all upland grazing country with long views to purple heather moors, sheep and cattle amicably sharing the same fields, farmsteads of longhouses with byres attached, and sturdily built stone barns that would be snapped up as desirable residences if they were situated 400 miles south of here.

Under the rolling green fields and massed ranks of conifers lie the seams of lead that sustained a major lead mining and processing industry from medieval times till the 19th century. At Dukesfield we passed the handsome 3-storey house of Dukesfield Hall where the mine agent lived, and down in the deep valley of the Devil’s Water beyond we found the two tall Gothic arches by which a stone flue carried the noxious lead fumes away from the smelting mill that once worked day and night here.

Imagination and a couple of helpful information boards had to supply the background of noise, heat, furnace roar, clanging and banging. Devil’s Water nowadays couldn’t be more quiet and beautiful. We picnicked by the river to the splash of clear water over miniature cascades, watching out for dippers and for tiny brown trout that rose to flip the surface with their snouts.

A bracken path lead south past Redlead Mill to a quiet road where the aptly named Viewley Farm commanded a wonderful westward prospect from its ridge, over a wide green valley of scattered grey farms to brown and purple fells far beyond.

At the farm gate the road declined to a broad sandy track that rose through the dark conifers of Slaley Forest. Fly agaric fungi as tempting as sweeties with their white-spotted scarlet caps lay in wait among the heather for passing witches and the unwary stepchildren of woodcutters’ wives.

Beyond the forest wide uplands spread north towards a distant hint of the Cheviot Hills. Fallen crab apples spattered the lanes, and the hedges winked scarlet with holly berries. We skirted a caravan park that was threating a takeover of the footpath, and followed the sheep pastures back up the hill to Slaley.

How hard is it? 8¾ miles; easy farm and forest tracks

Start: Rose & Crown, Slaley, near Hexham NE47 0AA (OS ref NY 975577). Please ask permission to park, and give pub your custom!

Getting there: Bus 689 (Consett-Hexham)
Road – Slaley is signed from B6306 (Hexham-Stanhope)

Walk (OS Explorer OL43): Left to cross B6306 (‘Byway’), follow ‘Palm Strothers, Dukesfield’ and blue arrows. In 1¼ miles pass Dukesfield Hall (944574); bear right (yellow arrow/YA) down through trees to arches (941580). Left beside Devil’s Water for ¾ mile to Redlead Mill (931573). Pass house, over stile (YA); ahead for ¾ mile to road (930560). Left; at Viewley Farm gate, ahead (933558) on sandy track through Slaley Forest for 1¼ miles to road (955554). Left; in 600m, right (956560, ‘Spring House’). In 250m at cottage (958560, ‘Private Road’), right; in 5m, left (stile, YA) through plantation, across drive, up grass track. In 400m cross track (963560); path ahead to stile; along wood edge to Cocklake (966561). Left through 2 gates; along drive; in 150m through gate (966563). Aim for left end of plantation; waymark/stile to drive (968565); left to Blue Gables (969568). Right to cross road (974569); down drive (‘Well House, Slaley’). Right round back of East Ridley Hall (974571); YAs to stile and footbridge (975573); up 2 fields to Slaley.

Lunch/Accommodation: Rose & Crown, Slaley (01434-673996,

Info: Hexham TIC (01434-652220),

 Posted by at 01:40
Aug 212021

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A peaceful morning in Ascott-under-Wychwood. ‘Walking round the village?’ panted the runner as she passed us. ‘Do go into the church and see the Martyrs’ Tapestry – wonderful piece of work – ‘ and she sped purposefully away.

Against the north wall of Holy Trinity a beautifully embroidered tapestry depicted the labours of 19th-century rural women – harvesting, corn stooking, hay forking, glove making. Not just any females, but the ‘Ascott Martyrs,’ sixteen women from this village sentenced to prison with hard labour (two with tiny children) in 1873 for the crime of dissuading local men from breaking a strike called by the newly formed National Union of Agricultural Workers.

The Martyrs were exonerated by Royal Pardon. Queen Victoria sent each woman five shillings and a red flannel petticoat; and the NUAW, not to be outdone, topped up the largesse with £5 and enough blue silk to make a dress apiece.

The Oxfordshire Way headed west out of the village, an old country lane that passed a low green castle motte on the banks of the River Evenlode before reaching Shipton-under-Wychwood, bright with morning sunshine beside the river.

Beyond Shipton the Oxfordshire Way ran among cornfields, golden wheat stubbles and silver barley as yet unharvested. Crows bounced among the furrows, snapping up leatherjackets, worms and spilt grain.

We passed the paddocks at Heath Farm where the horses twitched up their ears and flared their nostrils to see and scent us go by.

Bruerne Wood, a scrap of ancient woodland, lay cool and dark under the blowy blue sky. A chiffchaff, not yet departed for winter in west Africa, gave out its two-tone call. A muntjac stag was barking like a cross old dog among the trees as we followed a ride north towards the handsome 18th-century country house of Bruerne Abbey.

Beyond the house we picked up the D’Arcy Dalton Way, another of the proliferation of long distance paths in these parts. The route ghosted across a golf course, then rose to the roof of the countryside at the Iron Age hillfort of The Roundabout.

Before descending to the river and the homeward path, we sat savouring the view across the Evenlode Valley. Reaped fields, plough and stubble made a 21st century rural tapestry under the last of the afternoon sunshine.

How hard is it? 9½ miles; easy; waymarked trails across farmland

Start: Ascott-under-Wychwood village green, Oxon OX7 6AA (OS ref SP 301187)

Getting there Bus 210 from Witney
Road – Ascott-under-Wychwood signed from A361 (Burford to Shipton-under-Wychwood)

Walk (OS Explorers 180, OL45, 191): Left along main street. At T-junction, right (297183, ‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW). In 500m, OW crosses railway, but keep ahead (291184, ‘Circular Route’). In ½ mile, just before house, left (285184, kissing gate); half left across field to A361 (282182). Left across river; in 300m, right (279182, OW).

In 550m, just past Crown Nurseries, left (278187) along field edge. In 150m, right (276187); follow OW for 1¼ miles to road at Bruerne Abbey (264204). Right to cross railway (268206). In 50m, right (kissing gate, ‘D’Arcy Dalton Way/DDW’) across golf course (DDW waymarked); on to cross road in Lyneham (280205); on for 1¼ miles. At top of rise DDW goes left (296212); but keep ahead to cross A361 (299213). Down Pudlicote Lane; in 1 mile pass Pudlicote House (313205); in another 200m, right (316203) on OW. After ½ mile OW sign points left, but keep straight ahead to gate on far side of field; follow OW back to Ascott-under-Wychwood.

Lunch/Accommodation: Swan Inn, Ascott-under-Wychwood OX7 6AY (01993-832332,

Info: Witney TIC (01993-775802)

 Posted by at 03:42
Aug 142021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A hot sunny day in Half Moon Lane, the fair weather bringing ‘Good morning’ from cyclists passing through Redgrave. Lambs crouched panting in the shade of the hedges, and the stubble fields beyond the village glistened with reflected sun.

This stretch of north Suffolk is well wooded, a low landscape of corn and pasture whose long-established field paths run straight to their meetings with roads and farms. Moles had thrust up hundreds of miniature volcanoes of powdery dark earth along the edge of the old hornbeam coppice of Tanglewood.

A short detour led to St Mary’s Church, tall and stately on its tump – the parish church of Redgrave, nearly a mile outside the village. Green men clustered round the south door, and goggle-eyed gargoyles spewed viciously toothed water spouts. Opposite the church, Hall Farm makes tasty beer in its Star Wing Brewery – a treat we promised ourselves for after the walk, when we’d worked up a thirst.

Back on the path we passed the rusty old shed at Holly Farm and went north across a huge, hedgeless field towards the contrasting wild greenery of Redgrave and Lopham Fen National Nature Reserve in the valley below.

The infant River Waveney runs through this remarkable nature reserve, the largest valley fen in England. Considering how much water is extracted hereabouts by farms and houses, it’s a fantastic achievement to keep the water levels constant enough to nurture the snipe, the marsh orchids, the dragonflies and rare insects that thrive in this juicy green wilderness.

This summer’s exceptional heat, however, had dried up most of the pools and flashes of water, home to the reserve’s famed fen raft spiders with their yellow stripes and five-inch leg span. We’d have to return in rainier times to spot them, said the warden.

But we were happy enough walking the peaty paths through whispering thickets of reeds, watching orange comma butterflies among the thistles and tiny roe deer in the hedges. Through the green screen of willows there was the occasional glimpse of the hard dry arable fields beyond, an alien world that seemed shut outside and far away.

How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; farmland tracks and paths

Start: Redgrave Activities Centre car park, Redgrave IP22 1RL (OS ref TM 048780)

Getting there: Bus 304 (Bury St Edmunds)
Road – Redgrave is on B1113, between A143 (Bury St Edmunds-Diss) and A1066 (Thetford-Diss)

Walk (OS Explorer 230; Redgrave & Lopham Fen downloadable trail map, see below): Left into Redgrave; left (‘Bury St Edmunds’). In 200m, left down Half Moon Lane. After houses, along footpath (fingerpost). In 250m, right at fingerpost (053777, yellow arrow), then left for nearly 1 mile. At road, left (066779). In 150m, right up field edge to road (065784). Dog right/left, north for ¾ mile to road (064797). Left; in 300m, right (062797, fingerpost, ‘Angles Way’/AW). In 200m, cross footbridge, through gate into Redgrave & Lopham Fen NNR (062799). Left (‘Waveney Trail’/WT). In 300m through kissing gate/KG (060801); in 100m, left (KG, WT). In ½ mile, left opposite Visitor Centre (053802) on waymarked Spider Trail. In 600m, through KG (053796); right. In 500m Spider Trail turns left (050796), but keep ahead (WT). In ¼ mile, left across River Waveney (045794)’ in 150m, right at junction (046793, AW). In ½ mile cross road (043797); south for ½ mile to Churchway (046780); left to car park.

Lunch: Cross Keys, Redgrave (01379-779822,; Star Wing Brewery, Hall Farm, Redgrave IP22 1RJ (01379-890586,

Accommodation: Park Hotel, Diss IP22 4LE (01379-642244,

Info: Redgrave & Lopham Fen NNR (

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 Posted by at 01:25
Aug 072021

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A cool windy Staffordshire afternoon, and the Duncombe Arms in Ellastone was packed with sharp-dressed wedding guests. Out in the fields beyond St Peter’s Church, ewes and lambs stared at us as though they had never before seen human beings, before turning tail and flouncing off.

Clover, black medick, vetch and varied grasses made a pasture rich enough to tickle the most jaded ovine palate. The land dipped and rolled, trending away north-west to where the Weaver Hills rose in three green hummocks against a blue sky piled high with massive whipped-cream clouds.

Wootton Hall with its tall domed portico stood in parkland carefully groomed and preserved. Black lambs and sleek horses grazed under the lime trees. In 1766 Enlightenment philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau came to stay here as a refugee, having been hounded out of monarchical France for his dangerously progressive views. Rousseau’s ideas about personal freedom, partly crystallised in this quiet corner of Staffordshire, were to prove one of the main motivations for the French Revolution some 25 years later.

Coffee and a sticky treat apiece at Dalton’s Dairy Shop on the edge of Wootton gave us a burst of energy to climb the slopes of the Weaver Hills beyond. Up at the trig pillar a tremendous prospect unfolded round the compass, north to the limestone heights and clefts of the White Peak, south over the great Midland plain with its pastures, ploughlands and woods stretching away to a level horizon.

We followed a path east along the ridge, down towards the rough bracken-brown swell of Blake Low. Tiny calves stood staring beside their mothers, and a big brown hare ran pelting away in a panic. A lone barn under the hill, stone-built in Rousseau’s era, stood as neat and solid as a chapel.

At Stanton we got into Field Lane, a quiet narrow country road that brought us south by slow degrees to Ellastone. In a cottage garden at the bottom of a steep hollow lay the remnants of Ousley Cross, medieval waymark on an obscure pilgrim route to the shrine of St Bertram at Ilam.

The evening air was full of birdsong and lamb cries as we crossed the pastures towards St Peter’s Church, its rose-coloured stone walls lit by the sun declining in the western sky behind the Weaver Hills.

How hard is it? 7½ miles; moderate field paths, country lanes.

Start: Ellastone Parish Hall car park, Ellastone, Ashbourne DE6 2HB (OS ref SK116434)

Getting there: Bus SW1 (Uttoxeter-Derby)
Road: Ellastone is on B5032 (signed from A523, Ashbourne-Waterhouses, at Mayfield)

Walk (OS Explorer 259): Left up Church Lane. Right by Blenheim Cottage; follow path (stiles, yellow arrows/YAs) across fields for ¾ mile. At Wootton Hall Farm, kissing gate (115446); left to lane, right to Wootton. Follow ‘Green Hill’; at junction, ahead (105451, ‘Leek’). In 150m, right (104452) past Dalton Farm along Gidacre Lane, then footpath (stiles, YAs). In ⅔ mile pass ‘Public Footpath’ post (098458, ‘Wardlow’) to gate/stile (097461). Half right up to stile at top of wall (096464). Left to ladder stile, then to trig pillar (095464). North through gate; right over stile (096465, YA), right (east) on field path (stiles, YAs) for ½ mile to road (104463). Right; 50m after right bend, left (106462, ‘Weaver Walk’). Down three fields to cross stream (112463). Right along stream; in 350m, same direction (stiles) for ¾ mile to Field Lane at Stanton chapel (125459). Right; in 1½ miles, just past Northwood Farm, right (121438, stile, ‘Weaver Walk’) across fields to Ellastone Church.

Lunch/Accommodation: Duncombe Arms, Ellastone DE6 2GZ (01335-324275,


 Posted by at 07:35
Jul 312021

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Walking through West Dean on a sunny afternoon, we got a strong sensation of temps perdu – a curious, time-suspended village, many of its ancient brick and timber farm buildings tumbledown or in the embrace of weeds. A smell of newly mown grass hung about Church Farm, where two Hardyesque lovers, very young and bashful, sat against the fingerpost, close together, shyly grinning at their own feet.

Among the dark trees of Dean Copse the squirrels had emptied the hazels and acorns, leaving the husks, neatly snipped and hollowed, strewn across the path. Beyond the wood the path declined to a matter of guesswork, but we nosed our way across the rough pastures and padlocks around Keeper’s Cottage, and on into Bentley Wood.

The purple emperors, white admirals, Dukes of Burgundy and other nobly-named butterflies for which the wood is famous were lying low or gone into chrysalis accommodation. But we enjoyed wandering the path among distorted old oaks in thick jackets of moss that shone a brilliant green in the dappled afternoon light.

On the outskirts of East Grimstead a fabulous tree house sat high in the fork of a tree, some lucky child’s Dorothy-and-Toto fantasy. The village lay scattered along a road that led down to a cluster of bridges – humpbacks that crossed the River Dun and the dry bed of the long-forgotten Salisbury & Southampton Canal, and a plain brick span over the railway.

A long flinty track headed south for the ridge that overlooked the Dun valley. A young roe deer cantered ahead on wobbly legs, and a yellowhammer, startled by our approach, flung itself up and away out of the hedge with a swoop and flick of wings.

We climbed a chalky holloway to the crest of the down and set back towards West Dean along the ridge track. Under Dean Hill a labyrinth of chalk caverns once stored the munitions of the RN Armaments Department, nuclear weapons sometimes among them. That all seemed a world away from this peaceful evening prospect, with views open to north and south across a countryside harvested, neat and complete.

How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; field and woodland paths

Start: Dean Station, West Dean, Salisbury, Wilts SP5 1JF (OS ref SU 257271)

Getting there: Rail to Dean; Bus 37 (Salisbury circular)
Road – West Dean is signed off A27 between Romsey and Whiteparish

Walk (OS Explorer 131): From railway crossing, down right side of King George’s Hall. In 100m fork left; in 100m, left (256273, gate, yellow arrow/YA); follow fence on right, then footpath signs across fields, into west flank of Dean Copse (249279). In 200m, right up forest road; in 70 m, left (248282, YA) on path that leaves copse (247282). Keep same direction ahead across fields (stiles, YAs). Through gate into field opposite Keeper’s Cottage (242285); left to stile (241286), then more stiles across paddocks (YAs) into Bentley Wood (240284).

Follow public footpath through wood. In 300m at cross track, left for 10m (237281); right (‘No Horse Riding’) on path for 400m to leave wood past info board, then horse barrier (232280). Ahead for 500m to T-junction (226280, ‘Bugmore Lane’). Left; left by village noticeboard opposite pond (226278, fingerpost), through kissing gate/KG. Down right-hand hedge; at bottom, right through hedge (230276); half left to KG; along fence on right, then path (YAs) to road (225274), Left to bend; ahead up side road across canal, then railway (225271); on for ¾ mile to T-junction (228259). Right; in 150m, hairpin left (226259) up chalk track to ridge (229256). Left on gravel track. In 1¼ miles, left down Dean Hill road (249258); 20m beyond S-bend, right through hedge (253261); left along fence. At end, right along hedge (253263); through gate; left down hedge. At field bottom, left through hedge (254269); right to road; right to West Dean.

Conditions: Keep your eyes peeled for waymarks and stiles in field around Keeper’s Cottage!

Lunch: Black Horse, West Tytherley SP5 1NF (01794-340308)

Accommodation: Mill Arms, Barley Hill, Dunbridge, Romsey SO51 0LF (01794-340355,


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 Posted by at 01:36
Jul 242021

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Dove Stones, Yeoman Hey and Greenfield reservoirs lie linked in a graceful curve under Saddleworth Moor, with wild walks radiating out from them across the moors like spider threads.

A good flat path led us north beside Yeoman Hey and Greenfield reservoirs. Their waters rippled lightly as though the valley wind was chiselling millions of scallop shapes in shiny black slate.

We passed the tall grassy wall of Greenfield dam. There was fine Victorian attention to detail in the rusticated facings of sluices channelling moorland streams down to the reservoir. High above ran the black gritstone edges or cliffs of the valley rim, where tiny figures of early-bird walkers posed on rock tors sculpted by weather and time into crenellations and towers.

At the head of the valley we crossed a sluice and turned aside into Birchen Clough. Greenfield Brook came rushing down over boulders and rapids, a puzzle to get across. We teetered and hesitated, then hopped and flopped from rock to rock before climbing by hand and boot tip up the steep rough path on the other bank.

Past a waterfall, kinder gradients took over. We recrossed the brook with a splash and leap, and followed a squelchy trail of black peat up to Raven Stones Edge. Here, looking down the valley to the reservoir, I pictured in awe the sheer grinding power and weight of the glacier that carved these cliffs tens of thousands of years ago.

The more subtle ministrations of frost, rain and wind since then have shaped the rock piles into grotesque faces and tilted piles of pancakes. Chief totem among them, The Trinnacle stood out with its three great square towers, a narrow ‘drawbridge’ giving access to those foolhardy enough to want to be king of this perilous castle.

Rain clouds were massing in the west. The path led away across the moor to reach a sombre gritstone memorial cross to James Platt, MP for Oldham, who died in 1857 when his shooting companion Mayor Josiah Radcliff stumbled and accidentally shot him. A dark monument in a dark rocky wilderness, from which we descended towards the valley and the manmade lakes still brushed with sunlight far below.

How hard is it? 5¼ miles; strenuous; for fit, active walkers; some mild scrambling in Birchen Clough, boulder-hopping while fording stream. Avoid after heavy rain.

Start: Binn Green car park, Dove Stone Reservoir, Oldham OL3 7NN (OS ref SE 018044)

Getting there: Binn Green car park is signed off A635 (Mossley-Holmfirth) near Dove Stones Reservoir. NB – very popular car park; start early!

Walk (OS Explorer OL1): From lower car park, steps (‘Reservoirs & Trails’) descend to road. Left (‘Yeoman Hey’). Follow roadways along left banks of Yeoman Hey and Greenfield Reservoirs. 700m beyond Greenfield Reservoir, right across culvert (038050), up Birchen Clough, on right bank. After 100m choose place to cross (boulder hop – may be impassable in flood). On up left bank. 100m above waterfall, choose place to recross (040056) onto path slanting right up to Raven Stones (037048). Follow path along edge for 400m, then trending left from 033048 across moor for 400m, till Dove Stone Reservoir in view. Left (030047) on clear track up knoll; on past Memorial Cross (031044) and Ashway Stone outcrop (032042). In 150m, sharp right on lower path; in 150m, immediately below Ashway Stone, fork left (031042) on path downhill for ⅔ mile to cross Yeoman Hey dam (022046). Left to Binn Green.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Pickled Pheasant, Woodhead Road, W. Yorks HD9 2NQ (01484-687652,


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 Posted by at 01:29
Jul 172021

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A beautiful hot day in Cowdray Park, the last in a string of them, with thunder and brimstone forecast for tomorrow across the Sussex countryside. Under the gale-tattered old chestnut trees that lined The Race avenue, the humid air was stirred by the slightest of breezes.

Woodpigeons cooed throatily among the chestnut leaves, and the shady avenue was tiger-striped with bars of fierce sunlight as we stepped from cool to hot and back to cool.

Smatterings of Capability Brown’s landscaping subtleties showed in Cowdray Park’s curves and falls of perspective. A side path led up across a dusty harrowed wheat field, out over the lush shaven fairway of a golf course, and down a sandy path through a valley of bracken between huge plane trees with patchwork bark.

Modestly hidden behind Steward’s Pond (itself well camouflaged by bushes) we found a mighty veteran tree, The Queen Elizabeth oak might well have been standing here since before the Normans came to Britain. Its girth, 41 ft, is nearly twice its storm-truncated height. Warty and scaly, split and hollowed by lightning strikes and age, the tree had donned a green crown of leaves and acorns for the summer, as for every summer past for a thousand years.

By contrast the lime trees of the avenue that led us onward, planted for our own queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, were slim striplings scarcely six inches round the middle. How many of them will flourish till the next millennium?

In the shade of the coppiced hazels and sweet chestnuts of Heathend Copse we went south to cross the River Rother and enter the heath country of Todham Rough. Here conifer plantations alternated with broom and gorse. Labyrinth spiders had built funnels of webbing under the overhangs of the path margins. Our footsteps crunched on the stony tracks, and pheasant poults went racing ahead in panic, raising puffs of dust.

We crossed wheat stubbles and passed the tree-smothered mound of Midhurst’s Norman castle. A path over rough ground to reach the great ruin of Cowdray House, burned out long ago, and a final stretch beside the polo fields of Cowdray Park where teams of well drilled groundsmen were preparing for next Saturday’s match.

How hard is it? 7½ miles; easy; parkland and woodland paths

Start: Cowdray Park café car park, Easebourne, Midhurst GU29 0AJ (OS ref SU 895224)

Getting there: Bus 1 (Midhurst–Petworth)
Road: Signed off A272 at Easebourne

Walk (OS Explorer 133): Cross A272; follow Midhurst Way/MW (‘Permissive Footpath’) up The Race avenue. In 800m, opposite gate on left (902229) turn right (fingerpost/FP) across field, wood, and golf course (black arrows); follow direction of fingerposts. In ¾ mile, at bottom of dip, left through kissing gate (912226, yellow arrow/YA, MW). Past Steward Pond (Queen Elizabeth oak is behind pond at 913227); on up young lime avenue.

Through kissing gate (917228); bear left (YA) clockwise round top of field. Into trees; right (919229, FP, blue arrow/BA) for 600m to road (919223). Right; in 150m, ahead (919221, Restricted Byway’) to cross A272 (take care!). On down lane; in 700m cross River Rother (916212); right (FP) along river, then over field to road (912206). Left; at corner, right (913205, ‘Bridleway’). In 200m pass cottage (912204); in 250m, right (910201, BA). In 650m, left (905204, ‘Bridleway’ FP); in 250m, bend right onto New Lipchis Way/NLW (903202, ‘Bridleway’ FP) on broad forest road.

Follow NLW (waymarked arrows; if absent, follow ‘bridleway’ arrows) for ¾ mile to Selham Road (900211). Left across Costers brook; at crossroads, ahead (‘Kennels, Dairy’), following NLW. In ¾ mile bend right to cross bridge (890213). NLW goes left, but keep ahead (FP) and bear right (YA) between castle mound and river. Follow path across rough ground to cross river by castle ruins (890217). Left; in 150m, fork right on track to car park.

Lunch: Cowdray Park Café (01730-815152)

Accommodation: Angel Inn, North Street, Midhurst GU29 9DN (01730-812421,


 Posted by at 01:31
Jul 102021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Goyt Valley lies just west of Buxton, a north-south cleft in the moors, tree-shaded and floored with two long and gracefully shaped reservoirs. A skein of paths leads along the River Goyt and up to the moors that stretch away on either hand.

The humpback packhorse bridge that spans the river below Goyt’s Clough Quarry stands witness to the importance of the valley as a crossing point for goods in times gone by. Quarrying, milling, and gunpowder making – they all went on down here along the rushing Goyt, so quiet and peaceful nowadays in its brackeny dell.

We climbed a stony track that steepened beside a tumbledown wall, its stones sparkling with mica in the sunshine. Up at the crest a thoroughly trodden path led up to the summit of Shining Tor and a tremendous view – west over a hazy Manchester to vague mountain outlines towards the Clwydian Hills in Wales, east over waves of Peak District heights, further south to the sharp shark’s tooth of Shutlingslow.

Now came a couple of miles of heavenly ridge walking, going north along an airy saddleback by way of Cats Tor where the brilliantly coloured bow shapes of paraglider sails appeared suddenly from below as though magically conjured out of the hill. This was sheer exhilaration, a walker’s reward for sweating uphill.

At Pym Chair (named after a highwayman said to have lain in wait hereabouts for unwary wayfarers), we turned down the road and back into the Goyt Valley along the slopes of the Errwood Estate.

A tiny circular chapel below the path held a tiled picture of Christ as a child with his father, Joseph the carpenter. The shrine was built in 1889 as a memorial to Doña Dolores de Ybarquen, an impecunious Spanish aristocrat who acted as governess to the children of Errwood Hall in the valley below.

We descended the slopes, plucking and eating ripe bilberries till our hands were as red as a murderer’s. The ruin of Errwood Hall stood forlorn above a stream, a run of Italianate arches hinting at its former glories.

Here we picked a handful of wild strawberries, and savoured their sweet bursts of flavour one by one as we followed the riverside path back down the Goyt Valley.

How hard is it? 7½ miles; moderate; moorland and estate paths

Start: Goyt’s Clough Quarry car park, near Buxton, Derbs SK17 6TT approx (OS ref SK 011734)

Getting there: Goyt Valley is signed from A5004 Buxton-Whaley Bridge road.

Walk (OS Explorer OL24): From Goyt’s Clough Quarry/GCQ, right along road. In 150m, right past wooden barrier; bear left through old quarry on track above road. At 3-finger post, right (014730, ‘Stakeside’) through wood. Follow ‘Shining Tor’ signs up to stile at crest (000730). Right; in 250m, left (001731, fingerpost) to Shining Tor (995738). Right along ridge for nearly 2 miles to Pym Chair (996767). Right on path beside road. In ½ mile, right (002761, ‘Errwood’ fingerpost); follow ‘Errwood’ past chapel (002759) and on. In ¾ mile, right in valley (006749, ‘Errwood’), then left before bridge (‘Errwood Hall’). At Hall, follow path passing below ruin; in 50m, left down steps (008747); left along lower drive with river on right. In 400m pass metal barrier and ‘Errwood Hall’ sign (010748); right on cobbled path, following ‘GCQ’. In 650m cross road (011741); follow ‘Riverside Path’. In 750m path climbs to road (011735); left to GCQ.

Lunch: Picnic.

Accommodation: Lee Wood Hotel, Park Road, Buxton SK17 6TQ (01298-23002,

Info: Buxton TIC (01298-25106);

 Posted by at 02:13