Jul 142018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

As we crossed Stowford Bridge on the northern outskirts of Ivybridge in proper summer sunshine, the slopes of Dartmoor rose to the north under a blue sky. A stony lane brought us up there, climbing between hedges thick with bedstraw and foxgloves, among which the velvety wings of small heath butterflies flicked open and shut.

Out on the moor cattle and sheep grazed, muzzles all down. Two contrasting landscapes lay in view – harsh green and brown slopes of bare moorland ahead, with a white scab of china clay workings to the west, and the broad stretch of the South Hams of Devon behind us, a patchwork of hedges, woodland, green pastures and the yellow squares of meadows just cut for silage.

Extracting china clay was one of the most important Dartmoor industries in bygone times. In 1911 a narrow-gauge tramway was built from Ivybridge to the Redlake works in the middle of the moor. We followed its snaking course along the flanks of Weatherdon Hill, across stream trickles where dragonflies with biplane wings and electric blue bodies hunted the sodden green jungles of moss.

Beyond the piled granite boulders of Hangershell Rock a stone row crossed the old tramway. No-one knows when this monument of stubby, shin-high standing stones was erected – perhaps 4,000 years ago – but here it still stands, defying time and weather.

A harras* of moor ponies was gathered round a pond, their manes and tails streaming like the steeds of pre-Raphaelite knights. Nearby stood Spurrell’s Cross, weather-beaten and stumpy, a marker of pink granite sparkling with mica, raised by medieval monks to mark the meeting place of two of their routes across the moor. Here we sat, munching chocolate eggs (nutritious, no – delicious, yes) and gazing north-east over thirty miles of tumbled lowlands.

From Spurrell’s Cross we headed south towards Wrangaton along the old monks’ road, a groove in the heather and grass worn by countless boots and hooves. We dropped down to cross Lud Brook at a ford of pink granite rubble. At the foot of Western Beacon we found the old tramway once more, and turned along it for home with half of south Devon spread out gloriously before us in the late afternoon sun.

*Please retain this word – it’s the correct term for a group of these wild ponies!
Start: Stowford Bridge, Cole Road, Ivybridge, PL21 0EY approx. (OS ref SX 641567)

Getting there: Rail to Ivybridge (half mile footpath to Stowford Bridge)
Bus 20A (Plymouth – Macandrew Walk, Ivybridge)
Road – Ivybridge is signed off A38 Exeter-Plymouth. Parking spaces on Cole Road near Stowford Bridge.

Walk (7 miles, easy underfoot, OS Explorer OL28): Cross Stowford Bridge (‘Harford’). In 300m, right opposite Stowford Farm (642570, ‘2 Moors Way’/2MW) up lane. In ½ mile, through gate onto moor (645576); half right on 2MW. In ½ mile, left along tramway track (651583). In 1½ miles, right at pond (658599) for 150m to Spurrell’s Cross. From here, south on broad grass track, keeping Ugborough Beacon on left. In ⅔ mile (663589 approx), keep stream valley close on right, descending to ford Lud Brook (662587). Left along right bank; in 400m through gate (661583); down grass path to gate (661579, ‘Private Property’). Right along edge of Access Land; in 100m, through gate; bear left on grass path round lower slopes of Western Beacon. In ½ mile (658572), right along tramway track. In ¾ mile, left (649575) to moor gate; return to start.

Conditions: Best avoided in mist.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Anchor Inn, Ugborough, PL21 0NG (01752-690388, anchorinnugborough.co.uk) – excellent, comfortable village inn.

visitdartmoor.co.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 09:30
Jul 072018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

A cool damp afternoon in the flat river country of the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Pale sprigs of mugwort and purple-flowered teasels grew with royal blue viper’s bugloss in the verges of Moor Drove East, and the banks of the Little Ouse River and its tributary drains were bright yellow with ragwort and lady’s bedstraw. This is not all soulless prairie farming country, but a complex maze of water channels and lush grassy banks.

Beyond the tall twin gates of Little Ouse sluices and a brief roaring strip of road, we turned aside into the ‘otherworld’ of the RSPB’s nature reserve at Lakenheath Fen. Ditches lay spread with waterweed, marsh woundwort raised stout pink flowerheads, and outside the picture window of the visitor centre a kingfisher perched in all its bronze and cerulean glory beside a pond that plopped with fish.

‘Used to be carrot fields,’ said the warden, ‘very intensively farmed. We dug it out, replanted it with fen species and let the water in – controlled it carefully. Now we’ve otters, bitterns, water voles, marsh orchids, even nesting cranes – just about everything that was here before the Dutch drained the Fens nearly 400 years ago. Isn’t that something special?’

Lakenheath Fen is special, all right. We followed the main trail west on paths of grass and gravel, ducking aside into strategically placed hides to watch great crested grebes preening themselves and swallows zipping low over the meres. With ping and a whistle a flock of bearded tits came skimming through the reed heads – endearing little birds with fine black Fu Manchu moustaches.

From the viewing point at Joist Fen we saw a male marsh harrier pounce into the reedbed in a flurry of large pale wings, while his dark-hued mate perched in an elder bush, turning her gold-crowned head from side to side.

Following the flood banks of the Little River Ouse back to Hockwold, we passed scattered herds of cattle, surely the most contented beasts in Fenland, up to their hocks in the green swamp and chewing lush grass with all the appreciative deliberation of connoisseurs.
Start: Red Lion, Hockwold-cum-Wilton, Norfolk IP26 4NB (OS ref TL 735880)

Getting there: Bus 40 (Thetford-King’s Lynn)
Road: Hockwold-cum-Wilton is on B1112 between Lakenheath and Feltwell (A11 to Mildenhall)

Walk (7¾ miles, easy, OS Explorer 228): Pass church; on down Church Lane. In 500m fork right (734876) along Moor Drove East. At river bank, left (729873); right across sluice (731870); bear right along riverbank to B1112 (724868). Left (grass verge – take care!); in 300m, right into Lakenheath Fen nature reserve (724866). Roadway to Visitor Centre (718863). Follow Main Circular Trail/MCT (white arrows/WA). In 900m fork right (712860, 2 WAs), following MCT. In 50m detour right to New Fen viewpoint and back; in 650m, left (704861) to Mere Hide and back. In 200m take left fork (702861) on gravel, not grassy path; in another 500m, right (697860) past Joist Fen viewpoint. At T-junction with fingerpost (698861), left for 100m; right up river bank, through kissing gate; right along river bank (Hereward Way) for 2 miles back to B1112 (724866). Left (take care!); retrace steps to Hockwold.

Conditions: Paths can be wet and muddy

Lunch: Red Lion, Hockwold-cum-Wilton (01842-829728) – decent village pub

Accommodation: Bridge Hotel, 79 High Street, Brandon, Suffolk IP27 0AX (01842-338228, bridgehotelbrandon.com)

Lakenheath Fen nature reserve, IP27 9AD (01842-863400, rspb.org.uk) – RSPB members park free, others £4. Very helpful staff

visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

The Times Britain’s Best Walks by Christopher Somerville (£16.99, HarperCollins) is now out in paperback

 Posted by at 01:27
Jun 302018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

The Surrey Weald, a great thickly wooded lens of land, lies on a band of ironstone in the shadow of the North Downs. Once it was a smoky, noisy, clangorous industrial hub, part of the medieval iron-making centre of England. You’d never know it now, though, so snug and quiet lie the villages tucked into valley bottoms along the tortuously winding lanes that thread the woods.

Coldharbour is no more than a scatter of cottages loosely based on the Plough Inn. We started off north along Wolvens Lane, a sun-dappled holloway under sweet chestnuts and knobbly pollarded beeches whose roots hung at the rim of the lane, half in earth, and half in air. Flickers of grey and tan betrayed the movement of horse riders down parallel tracks, moving quietly and all but unseen through the woods.

A path dark with hollies and yews led west, down to the fast water race of the Tilling Bourne in its valley-bottom bed, and to the beautiful mill pond at Friday Street. In the quiet beech woods along Abinger Bottom the tree roots grasped the earth like many-knuckled grey fingers.

A quick sandwich in the Stephan Langton Inn, named after the former Archbishop of Canterbury – a local boy, he led the push to force King John to sign Magna Carta in 1215. Then on through quiet beech woods along Abinger Bottom where the tree roots grasped the earth like many-knuckled grey fingers.

On the slopes of Leith Hill, the highest point in Surrey, we broke clear of the trees and stood between pine trees looking out from the greensand ridge, many miles across the wooded Vale of Surrey and north Sussex, a smoky grey and blue prospect over the Wealden landscape. Up on the viewing platform at the top of nearby Leith Tower the panorama sprang outwards, further and further, south to the South Downs around Goodwood and the trees on Chanctonbury Ring 25 miles off, north to a pale grey smear that might have been the Dunstable Downs a full fifty miles away, and the dream-like spectral towers of the London skyline.

In 1765 Richard Hull of Leith Hill Place built the brick-and-ironstone tower sixty feet tall in order to claim a thousand-foot summit for Surrey. He lies buried here, not arrogantly at the apex of his creation, but humbly beneath its foundations, with the world climbing upon his back to enjoy the sensational view he opened for us all.

Start: Plough Inn, Coldharbour, near Dorking, Surrey RH5 6HD (OS ref TQ 151441)

Getting there: Bus service via Dorking railway station – 433 (Mon, Thur); 50 (Tue, Fri).
Road – Plough Inn is on Coldharbour Lane, 3½ miles south of A25 at Dorking.

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 146. NB: Detailed directions, online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Plough Inn, cross road; take lane to right of bench (‘Byway’). In ¾ mile pass Wolven Cottage Stables on right (145452); in 100m, left past metal barrier; path inside edge of wood. In 250m, fork left at wooden barrier (142451) and on for 500m, descending to gravel bridleway at Tilling Springs (139449). Right; in 100m, right along Greensand Way/GW. In ½ mile at Mare’s Nest, right along road (135457); fork immediately right and continue on GW. In ½ miles pass entrance to Mandrake House (nameplate); in another 100m, left (135465, stile, yellow arrow/YA) across field, then Tilling Bourne stream.

Up slope, across road (131462) and on past Wotton Estate notice. In 150m, over path crossing (130462, fingerpost/FP) and on. In 400m, steep descent to kissing gate and path crossing with bridge ahead (126462). Don’t cross bridge; turn left with stream on right for 450m to cross road by pond at Friday Street (128458). Ahead to pass Stephan Langton Inn.

At end of road, ahead through barrier and on south (‘public bridleway’). In 700m, left along road (127449). In 100m, fork right and on. In ½ mile (127440) fork right. Cross road above house; follow woodland track to road. Left to bend; left (128438, ‘Broadmoor’); immediately right (‘Bridleway’) on woodland track for ¾ mile to Leith Hill Tower (139432). Follow ‘Coldharbour Common Walk’/CCW signs north-east, descending to go through gate (141433, CCW). In 200m go over crossing path and on (142434, blue arrow/BA). In 300m, at meeting of paths, bear right ahead (144437, BA); in 200m, through gate (146438); on past cricket field for ½ mile to Plough Inn.

Lunch: Plough Inn, Coldharbour (01306-711793; ploughinn.com) or Stephan Langton Inn, Friday Street (01306-730775; stephanlangton.pub). Tea: Leith Hill Tower kiosk (10am-3pm)

Accommodation: Plough Inn, Coldharbour; or Henman Bunkhouse, Broadmoor RH5 6JZ (01306-712711, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/bunkhouse-henman-surrey)

Leith Hill Tower: open daily, 10-3

visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:24
Jun 232018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

The little train from Belfast came clacking into Cultra station, not more than five minutes late. On such a beautiful sunny morning as this, though, we didn’t give a hoot about the railway timetable.

At Carnalea we disembarked along with dozens of Sunday folk intent on walking, picnicking and just mucking about beside the sea on the outer shore of Belfast Lough. The coast of County Down is built up with leafy estates of fine houses hereabouts, but there was hardly a sign of them as we followed the North Down Coastal Path west towards Belfast.

The city lay hidden round the curve of the coast ahead, and a thick sea fret veiled the hills across the lough. Nearer at hand were rocky little bays floored with flat grey pebbles where we crunched across cockles and limpets and streamers of green and white seaweed. The coast path was busy with dog walkers, cyclists and earnest runners. A semicircle of rocks and pale gold sand enclosed Swineley Bay, where a black dog leaped joyfully in the shallows while another rolled and wriggled on its back in the bladderwrack with lolling tongue and grinning jaws, the very picture of abandon.

Most of the day visitors had congregated around Helen’s Bay, a good stretch of swimming beach. Here we watched three dark-haired sisters holding hands at the edge of the sea and jumping over each wave as it came ashore – an old-school image of seaside frolics from a railway poster. Families played cricket and shuttlecock on a sward spattered with daisies, and toddlers staggered about on the sands.

Beyond Grey Point the crowds thinned, and we had the coastal path almost to ourselves. Bird’s foot trefoil, scurvy grass, sea campion, scarlet pimpernel and thrift made a yellow, white, red and pink palette of the foreshore. A big Stena Line ferry slid free of the sea fret with a last moan of its foghorn. Within ten minutes the mist had dispersed, and we were staring across Belfast Lough at the grey block of Carrickfergus Castle and an undulating line of hills running south-west towards the city.

The gleaming black heads of two seals broke the surface of the lough. They touched their muzzles and rolled their gleaming bodies together in a private ecstasy. Rounding the last corner, we saw the cranes of Belfast’s docks ahead, and the sharply cut profiles of Divis Mountain and Cave Hill on guard above the city.
Start: Carnalea railway station, Bangor, Co. Down, BT19 1EZ (OS NI ref J 481823)

Finish: Cultra station, BT18 0BP (OS NI ref J 417805)

Getting there: Train from Belfast to Carnalea
Road: Cultra station and Ulster Folk & Transport Museum both signed from A2 Belfast-Bangor road.
Park at Transport Museum (NB: closes at 5 pm); signed footpath to Cultra station; train to Carnalea.

Walk (7 miles, easy, OS NI 1:50,000 Discoverer 15): From Carnalea station, right along lane; left down path between Springcarrie and Carnalea Golf Club; left/west along North Down Coastal Path/Ulster Way. In 6½ miles, at ‘Seafront Road’ sign on right where path joins road (413802), turn left uphill. At junction, left up Circular Road East to Cultra Station.

Lunch: Cultra Inn, next to Cultra station (028-9042-1066, hastingshotels.com)

Accommodation: Clayton Hotel, 22 Ormeau Avenue, Belfast BT2 8HS (028-9032-8511, claytonhotelbelfast.com) – large, comfortable city centre hotel.

Info: Bangor TIC (028-9127-0069)

discovernorthernireland.com; walkni.com; satmap.com

The Times Britain’s Best Walks by Christopher Somerville (£16.99, HarperCollins) is now out in paperback

 Posted by at 01:55
Jun 162018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

Cyclists flocked round the Durham Dales Centre in Stanhope, and curious tourists took photos of the village’s famous 250 million-year-old fossil tree in the churchyard wall. When a beautiful day like this one arrives over the moors and valleys of West Durham, everyone wants to be out and about. The chatter and fuss of the selfie-takers were soon overlaid by the quiet chuckle of Stanhope Burn as we walked up its narrowing dale against the flow.

The hillsides north of the village wore the velvety nap and lumpy complexion that betokens a lead-mining landscape. In the throat of the valley we found the pitch-black levels and abandoned buildings of old workings where local miners earned their crusts through hard and health-shattering labour.

Nowadays Stanhope Burn runs clean and sparkling. Grey wagtails flirted their yellow underbellies on the stones, and a dipper bobbed its white shirtfront mid-stream under a bridge.

Above the mine buildings we left the valley track and followed a narrow path across hillsides where swallows cut low arcs across the heather and sand martins went scooting along a line of nestholes in the crumbling stream bank. We forded and re-forded the shallow burn, and headed south across trackless moorland where agitated grouse scuttled off, scolding us: Back! Back! G’back!

A line of wind-tattered conifers on the skyline formed a handy aiming point. When we had come up with them we found ourselves by Park Plantation with its long encircling wall and swathes of grey and brown stumps of recently harvested trees. The sun blazed and the wind blew fiercely in our faces as we followed the wall south, leaping over boggy sikes or streams that wound through the heather to join Stanhope Burn.

Snipe were displaying over the moors, extending their tail feathers as they dived to produce an eerie, tremulous hooting noise. We turned off along a farm track by Mount Pleasant and Pease Mires, and dropped down to Stanhope through woods where late bluebells and early purple orchids glowed under beech trunks striped with sunlight.

Start: Durham Dales Centre, Stanhope, Co Durham DL13 2FJ (OS ref NY 996393)

Getting there: Bus service 101 (Stanhope-Bishop Auckland).
Road – Stanhope is on A689 (Bishop Auckland – Alston)

Walk (8¼ miles, rugged moorland walking, OS Explorer 307): from Durham Dales Centre, right along A689. In 200m, right up Garden Close. Dogleg right/left to Chapel Street; left; right up path (fingerpost) beside allotments. Through kissing gate/KG at top of lane; on up with hedge on left to a track (995396). Left (KG); follow track to cross B6278 (991400, fingerpost).

In 100m fork left along Stanhope Grange fence. Follow lane for 1¼ miles to derelict mine. After shed on right, and before last one on left, fork right off main lane (987413). Don’t fork immediately left, but keep ahead up stony path which curves left. In 200m through gate; yellow arrow/YA points right, but keep ahead, with Stanhope Burn on left, for ⅔ mile to derelict old cottage. Ford burn near here (987425), and recross just beyond, after left bend in burn. In 500m, at Access Land notice and gate with YA, recross burn (983431).

On south side, grassy track climbs bank. Follow its indented course, then a pathless route SSW across moor, aiming for line of pine trees on skyline. In ⅔ mile, cross stony track (977423), make for right corner of Park Plantation wall (975421). Left along track for 1 mile, keeping parallel with wall, skirting quarry hole (970414) and crossing Reahope Burn, Deep Sike and Isaac Sike to cross Stoneby Sike (966408). 450m beyond Stoneby Sike, left through gate (970404) along farm track past Mount Pleasant (972405) and Pease Mires (979407) to road (982406).

Right; in 450m, left (982402) down drive to Widley Field (984402). Half right here across field to far right corner; over ladder stile (986401). Left; in 50m, left over stile; ahead through trees for 20m, then right along woodland path for ½ mile to A689. Left to car park.

Conditions: For confident walkers with map/compass/GPS. Inadvisable in mist.

Lunch: Durham Dales Centre tearoom.

Accommodation: Stanhope Old Hall, Stanhope DL13 2PF (01388-529036, stanhopeoldhall.co.uk)

Info: Durham Dales Centre (01388-527650, durhamdalescentre.co.uk); thisisdurham.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:57
Jun 092018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

The thatched and red-tiled roofs of Vernham Dean lie low in a billowing landscape of green and white, the slopes of the cornfields, pastures and copses chequerboarded with chalky patches of clay soil newly ploughed for seeding with pheasant-friendly plants.

We were heading up and away onto the roof of this hidden corner of the Hampshire/Wiltshire border. If it weren’t such a dreadful cliché, ‘best-kept secret’ would fit this secluded notch of countryside very well. The chalk is cut by dry valleys that swing and curve as though modelled by a sculptor. You rarely see anyone along the flinty old tracks crisscrossing the downs, or on the paths that plunge down slopes too steep ever to have been touched by arable farming.

At the rim of Conholt Hill we paused to look down along the sinuous valley that leads to lonely Hippenscombe Farm. Then we descended the narrow path into Conholt Bottom down a slope spattered with yellow rattle, horseshoe vetch, fat seedheads of cowslip, and the pink busby-shaped flowers of common spotted orchid.

During the ‘Swing Riots’ of 1830, a mob of three hundred poverty-stricken farm labourers, hungry and angry, marched to Hippenscombe Farm on 22 November. They were intent on smashing Farmer Fulbrook’s thrashing machine, one of the new labour-saving agricultural inventions that were putting such men out of work. Twenty of them broke into the barricaded house, and someone stole a tea caddy and a tablecloth.

When they were caught, the ringleaders were sentenced to transportation for life to New South Wales. They were lucky to escape with their necks intact, and some of them made good Down Under, once their crimes had been expiated.

From Hippenscombe and its hoarsely barking dogs we climbed again to the hilltops where the folded landscape wheeled off in green clefts to all quarters. On Fosbury Camp hill fort we saw no-one as we circled round the great Neolithic enclosure inside its Iron Age ramparts. Bumble bees investigated the velvety purple heads of musk thistle, and a kestrel hung dark and intent, head down in the wind.

We passed a giant old beech tree clamped by bulbous roots to the ramparts, and went bowling downhill toward the roofs of Vernham Dean, huddled under a racing grey sky in their hollow under the steep green downs.

Start: George Inn, Vernham Dean, near Andover, Hants SP11 0JY (OS ref SU 341566)

Getting there: A343 north from Andover; at Hurstbourne Tarrant, left to Ibthorpe, Upton and Vernham Dean.

Walk (6¼ miles, field paths, OS Explorer 131): From George Inn, right along road. In 200m, left (fingerpost) up flinty lane. In 150m, right (339564, ‘footpath’) up edge of Boats Copse. In ½ mile at top of slope, right (331558, ‘footpath’) into trees. Follow arrows through trees, out onto hillside; up hedge for 400m to road (327554).

Right; in 100m sharp right; in 100m, left (stile), slanting down hillside to valley bottom (321558). Left along road for ¾ mile to Hippenscombe Farm. Through road gate (311561); in 20m, right by cottage on farmyard road between barns. In 150m fork right beside last shed (breeze block) on flint track. In 100m keep ahead (ignore left fork). In 750m, at crossing at top of slope (309569), right on flint track to Fosbury Farm (314571).

Cross drive in front of gates; onward into woods for 800m to stile onto Knolls Down (320566). Bear right to trees; left (anticlockwise) round ramparts of Fosbury Camp hill fort. Just past giant beech tree, right at rampart gap (322565, pond on left) down field slope with trees on left for ⅔ mile to road at Woodside Cottages (332565). Right; in 30m, left (‘footpath’, kissing gate). At far end of field (kissing gate), right along road. In 300m, at entrance to Vernham Dean, fork left (338566) to George Inn.

Lunch: George Inn, Vernham Dean (01264-737279, thegeorgeatvernhamdean.co.uk) – excellent, unpretentious village pub.

Accommodation: Hatchet Inn, Lower Chute SP11 9DX (01264-730229, thehatchetinn.com) – 4 miles

Info: visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk
Thanks to Henry Salmon for finding this walk for us!

 Posted by at 00:31
Jun 022018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

A heavenly morning of warm sun and cooling breezes over the Yorkshire Dales. The soft blue sky was streaked with mare’s tails of cloud, betokening a change in the weather. But just now, setting out along the shores of Malham Tarn, we were living in the moment and the day.

The wind-rippled tarn was exactly the colour of blued steel. Beyond the water, Malham Tarn house sat handsomely among its trees under the long grey-white cliffs of Highfolds Scar. This is all prime limestone country, weathered into rugged cliffs or scars that fall to pastures of rough grazing.

The wide pastures of West Great Close and East Great Close were the site of a great fair in times past, where thousands of Scottish cattle would be sold and driven on south to be fattened for the markets of southern England. The old drover’s vocation is long gone, but black cattle still fatten in these grassy pastures.

Above Middle House Farm we came into an upland of eroded limestone pavement where the wind blustered and the sun picked out brilliant blobs of colour in the wind-bitten grasses – buttery yellow mountain pansies, stout early purple orchids, spatters of mountain violets, and the intense pink flowers of bird’s-eye primroses. Tucked down in the grykes or hollows of the limestone was a woodland flora, bizarrely flourishing in this open, treeless terrain – wood anemones, dog’s mercury and lush ferns.

From the watershed we dropped down a long hillside, looking forward to a grand sweep of fellside – Malham Moor and Fountains Fell cradling the long valley of Darnbrook Dale. Down at Darnbrook House the farmer and his son were busy in a farmyard loud with the yammering of ewes and lambs.

We followed the sinuating dale road past barns and pastures until the straight track of the Pennine Way cut across, leading us along a fellside of wide slopes, lonely barns, and a tangle of stone walls. Round the shore of Malham Tarn once more, through pastures where slow-moving cattle browsed the lake margins in the last of the afternoon’s sunshine.

Start: Water Sinks car park, Malham Tarn, N. Yorks BD23 4DJ (OS ref SD 894658)

Getting there: Malham Tarn Shuttle Bus 881 (dalesbus.org/malhamshuttle)
Road – Malham Tarn is signed from Malham (follow ‘Airton’, ‘Kirkby Malham’ from Gargrave on A65 Skipton-Settle road).

Walk (8½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL2): From car park follow Pennine Way/PW (signed) north, skirting shore of Malham Tarn. In 700m meet white stone track (897663); don’t go through gate, but bear right with a wall on left and a round walled plantation up on right. Pass Great Close Plantation, then left (904663, ‘Arncliffe’) up farm track. At entrance to Middle House Farm, left over stile (907676, ‘Arncliffe’), up to skyline gate. Follow stony track to pass Middle House ruin; fork left at fingerpost (907684); on for 1 mile over Middle House Hill, descending to go through wall gap (900696). Right to ruined wall; left along it, down to cross Cowside Beck (899701). Field path to road at Darnbrook House (898705); left along road; in 1¼ miles meet PW (884691). Left on well way-marked PW for 1¼ miles to road (888673); left on PW, clockwise round Malham Tarn to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Malham Youth Hostel, Malham BD23 4DB (0345-371-9529, yha.org.uk/hostel/malham); also Lister Arms, Malham (01729-830444, thwaites.co.uk) and Buck Inn, Malham (01729-830317, thebuckmalham.co.uk)

Info: Malham National Park Centre (01729-833200; yorkshiredales.org.uk); yorkshire.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

The Times Britain’s Best Walks by Christopher Somerville (£16.99, HarperCollins) is now out in paperback

 Posted by at 01:26
May 262018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

Mist was rolling high on the Dorset downs as we came down a steep green valley into Plush. The little collection of houses lay under mossy thatch along their lane. A few cheerful drinkers looked out of the windows at the Brace of Pheasants and shook their heads over the weather. ‘Going out walking? You won’t see a thing!’

In the chalky holloway that lifted us to the heights of Church Hill grew primroses and violets, bluebells and pink campion. All had burst out together last week at the first hint of spring warmth. Today the birds seemed subdued by the cold hand of the mist, but a blackcap suddenly produced a mellifluous solo among the oaks, short but sweet.

As we reached the gaunt old barn at the top of the climb a roe deer went bounding away, leaping high over crops and fences. We followed the rutted course of the Wessex Ridgeway, an ancient drove road running east-west along the nape of the hills. The old cottage at Folly was once a drover’s inn, where the hardy drovers in their felt hats, stocking feet soaped against blisters, would stop in for refreshment while their flocks cropped the wide verges of the ridgeway.

We passed through woods of oak and ash where bluebells made a hazy sky of the undergrowth, and dropped down a long flinty lane into Higher Melcombe. Lumps and bumps in the fields were all that remained of the medieval village deserted by its people after the Black Death deprived them of their feudal livings. But the handsome old manor house was still there, its chapel walls striped in stone and flint.

Blackbirds sang, and a tractor whined as it trimmed the first grass of the year. We climbed away up a hedge towards a wood, invisible in the hill mist, that roared softly and mightily, a sea-like cadence. Primroses and cowslips spattered the banks of the hollow lane, and among them a hybrid of the two plants raised its dark yellow multiform head on a slender talk.

We skirted the plunging slopes of Lyscombe Bottom, farmed with no pesticides or artificial fertilisers, and descended another deep-sunk old green road into Plush. ‘See anything?’ asked the regulars in the Brace of Pheasants. ‘No, not a thing,’ we replied.

Start: Brace of Pheasants Inn, Plush, Piddletrenthide, Dorset DT2 7RQ (OS ref ST714022)

Getting there: Plush is signposted from Piddletrenthide on B3143 (off A35 at Puddletown).

Walk (8 miles, trackways and farm paths, OS Explorer 117): From Brace of Pheasants, right along road; in 100m, right (‘Church Hill’ fingerpost/FP) up bridleway for 1 mile to Wessex Ridgeway/WR (707035). Right (east) along WR to cross road at Folly (728032). In 300m fork left uphill (733030, bridleway fingerpost/BFP); in 100m fork left (BFP). In 400m through gate, turn left (737028, BFP) across field.

Pass telephone pole, then breeze-block shed; ahead in same direction (WR) across field and through double gateway (740030, WR). Keep ahead; in 50m, fork right down grassy holloway, through gate into wood (741031). WR forks left, but keep ahead downhill (‘Higher Melcombe’) for ⅔ mile to road (751025). Right through Higher Melcombe.

In ¼ mile, just before Higher Melcombe Farm, left (747025, blue arrow/BA, FP in hedge) on track. In 70m, right (gate, BA) up field edge. In 250m through gate (745025, BA); left up hedge, then sunken lane. In 600m at top of rise, through gate; right on gravel track (742021, ‘Nettlecombe Tout’) with hedge on right. In 500m fork left (740025) across field to go through gate by Lyscombe Farm notice (739026).

Fork left away from fence, but keep it close on your right, following same contour across lumpy ground. In 900m at 4-finger post on right (730024), right through gate; left (‘Doles Ash Farm’) along hedge. In 300m at end of trees, left across fence (728021); right past trig pillar. On beside fence, then across field, for ½ mile to corner of triangular copse (721018). Bear right (WNW) across open field (perhaps through crops) for 300m to hedge gap with arrow (718019). Ahead to stile (717020); downhill to road (717022); left into Plush.

Lunch/Accommodation: Brace of Pheasants, Plush (01300-348357, braceofpheasants.co.uk) – cosy, friendly village inn.

Info: Dorchester TIC (01305-267992); visit-dorset.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:09
May 192018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

The Preseli Hills march east to west across the heart of West Pembrokeshire, and the Golden Road marches with them – an ancient drove road and highway that hurdles their peaks. Out at the western end of the range the Golden Road climbs gently up the flanks of Foel Eryr, the Eagle’s Peak, and we climbed with it, peat and soakwater squelching underfoot.

By the summit cairn a topograph specified places in view and their distances, but these cold facts and figures could never catch the splendours of this extraordinary view. Lundy lying like a sleeping sea-dog 50 miles off in the south, with a faint hint of the North Devon coast beyond Exmoor’s long spine; the shadowy shapes of the Cambrian mountains far to the north; west to Skomer and Ramsey islands; and in the east the dragon humps of Worm’s Head promontory.

We stood and marvelled, while the mountain ponies of Foel Eryr cropped the grass nearby and nibbled the itches out of one another’s necks. Then it was down over sedgy ground to the lonely farm of Pen-lan-wynt, where wind-bent thorn trees lined the hedges.

This is the land of small farms and smallholdings – Pentrisil, where the fine rich savour of a freshly opened silage clamp wafted across the lane; the stone cottage of Gernos Fawr in a watery dell full of runner ducks; the hillside farm of Gernos Fach, where a young sheepdog leaped gymnastically between the high bars of a gate to fawn on us and lick our hands in welcome.

Beyond the farm a moorland track led away, the cold cloudy sky reflected in its peaty pools. A little way off the track, standing stones stood in the heather – a hip-high pair sloping close together, and a short distance away a fine solo stone of man height, crusted with lichens, upright in a little circular moat of water. A posy of wild flowers had been laid at its foot.

We crossed the road and climbed a boggy old path that snaked up the wet hillside of Rhwngyddwyffordd. Ponies with tangled manes moved reluctantly off the track as we followed it to the saddle. Here we turned for a final stare over bog and hillside, coasts, islands and distant mountains, before a last homeward stretch along the miry ridgeway of the Golden Road.

Start: Bwlch-gwynt car park, near Tafarn-y-Bwlch, Pembrokeshire SA66 7RB approx. (OS ref SN 075322)

Getting there: Bwlch-gwynt car park is on B4329 (Cardigan-Haverfordwest), between Tafarn-y-bwlch and Tufton

Walk (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL35): Cross B4329; path to Foel Eryr summit (066321). Keep same line descending. At fingerpost with arrow (061321), right on path. In 300m at another fingerpost with arrow (061324) fork left, soon bearing downhill to wall. Right to 4-finger post (060327); follow wall to Pen-lan-wynt farm (058330). Follow blue arrows/BA to track (057333), then road (055337). Right; 250m beyond Pentrisil, right (062342, ‘Tafarn Bwlch, Pembrokeshire Trail’). Follow track past Gernos-Fawr (069341, BAs); up green lane to gate (069344); right (bridleway fingerpost) to Gernos Fach (075343). Right (fingerpost) on track to B4329 (084337). Right; in 350m, fork left (082333, BA) up hill track for ¾ mile to fence at Bwlch Pennant (085321). Don’t go through gate; turn right along fence to car park.

Conditions: Very wet and boggy in parts

Lunch: Tafarn Sinc, Rosebush SA66 7QU (01437-532214, tafarnsinc.co.uk) – 3 miles

Accommodation: The Harp Inn, Letterston SA62 5UA (01348-840061, theharpatletterston.co.uk)

Info: Fishguard TIC (01437-776636), visitwales.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:10
May 122018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

A beautiful, bitterly cold late spring morning of blue sky in the southern skirts of the Peak District. Carsington Water lay glittering in the sunshine, early joggers already limbering up by the Visitor Centre. Once we’d crossed the Wirksworth road, though, we met no-one on the field paths except sheep.

Young lambs with wriggling tails dived under their mothers’ fleeces to butt and tug at the maternal udder. Around Overtown Farm the corrugations of ancient ridge-and-furrow undulated beneath the grass, a sign that these dandelion-spattered fields have remained unploughed pasture since medieval times.

Hedge roots were lost in a blue blur of forget-me-nots, and trees still scarcely in leaf rang with spring bird calls, chiffchaffs in blurting phrases and lesser whitethroats in ecstatic scribbles of song.

At the Church of St Bartholomew at Hognaston we came across a sign from even more distant ancestors – an 800-year-old image, carved in the tympanum over the south door, of a shepherd, crook in hand, guarding the Lamb of God from the attentions of a wolf, a wild boar and a bushy-tailed fox. Overhead an eagle, having seized its chance, is making off with a long-beaked fowl in its clutches.

Silver-bellied clouds were beginning to sail across the blue sky as we climbed the lane to Atlow Winn. A Jacob ewe with four horns and a fleece of white and tarry brown stared flintily at the two trespassers in its pastures. Four tiny lambs squirmed out of their pen to sniff my hands, attracted by the woolly texture of my fingerless mittens.

As we climbed the steep pastures the backward view widened over the gunmetal grey sheet of Carsington Water in its cradle of hills. At the ridge of Madge Hill a superb forward prospect opened westward across a billowing green landscape to the sharply peaked cliffs of The Roaches, rising above the Staffordshire moorlands fifteen miles off.

A wintry shower rushed out of the west, blowing pellets of snow around us. Winter was not quite done with this countryside, it seemed. We headed back towards Hognaston over fields thick with dandelions, every golden head still turned towards where the sun had been pouring out its springtime warmth and light only moments before.

Start: Carsington Water Visitor Centre, near Wirksworth, Derbyshire DE6 1ST (OS ref SK 241517)

Getting there: Bus 111 (Ashbourne-Matlock). Road: signposted off B5035 (Ashbourne-Wirksworth).

Walk (5¾ miles, easy, OS Explorers OL24, 259): Return to car park entrance; left along cycle/footpath (red trail marker, ‘Carsington Water Circular Route’). In 150m, right (fingerpost) through trees to cross B5035 (239515). Up hedge; in 80m, left through wicket gate/WG. Cross fields through successive gates (yellow arrows/YA). In 2nd field, aim for bottom left corner and squeeze stile (SS) into green lane (237512). Left; in 200m, right through 2 WGs (YA) into field. Left along hedge to SS and on to Green Cottage (WGs) and road (236507).

Ahead up road; left at Hognaston church (235506). In 100m, right at bus shelter through drive gate of Old Hall (footpath post). Follow right-hand wall, through 2 WGs (YA). In field beyond house, follow middle of 3 paths, half left down to WG/SS in bottom left corner (234502). At 2nd WG/SS, keep ahead to cross footbridge, then duckboards (SS, white arrow/WA). Keep same line through succession of SS (WAs). Approach mill buildings, bear left across stream to cross lane (232495). On along left bank to lane at Highfields Farm (232490).

Right; in 100m, right up Winn Lane (‘Unsuitable for Motors’). In 100m fork right (‘The Shaws’). In 600m through ‘Shaws’ entrance gate (224493, WA). Before house, right through gate; half left to cross stile on skyline. Right (WA), heading half left to gate into Atlow Winn farmyard (222494). Left between house and barn; through gate (YA); ahead to stile (YA); half left across field to waymark post by wall gap (221497). Cross step stile; up field edge with wall on right; in 100m, right (YA), bearing half right across ridge to step stile into lane (219498).

Right. In 400m, opposite old metal WG on left, turn right up steps (219503, YA), through trees to cross drive. Through metal WG (fingerpost); half left across field, aiming not for WG, but for metal gate to its left (222504, YA). Descend across fields for 500m to gravel track (228505). Left; in 400m, approaching Hognaston, fork right, descending to village street (234507). Right to church; retrace outward route to car park.

Lunch: Red Lion, Hognaston (01335-370396, redlionhognaston.uk)

Accommodation: Breach Farm, Carsington DE4 4DD (01629-540265, breachfarm.co.uk) – immaculate, delightful B&B

Carsington Water Visitor Centre: 01629-540696, visitcarsington.co.uk
Info: visitpeakdistrict.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:30