Jan 162021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Across the Low Weald of Kent the sun was flooding paddocks and pastures with a rich wash of gold. It was one of those cold bright winter days when you can dream of spring, even though there isn’t a flower to be seen.

We set off from Dunk’s Green along footpaths dry and crunchy over the underlying greensand. Out in the fields it was a different matter. Brooks and ditches brimmed with winter rain, and every step brought a squelch and squirt underfoot.

On the outskirts of Plaxtol Spout a flock of siskins flirted among the alder cones they were feeding on. Beyond lay Old Soar Manor, a jumbled old structure with a very ancient building attached – a knight’s dwelling, built some seven hundred years ago by one of the local Culpeper family, of solid red ragstone with tiny arrow-slits in the walls.

Walking on, we wondered what this bowl of country might have looked like seven centuries ago. When did today’s immaculate apple and fruit orchards make their appearance, and when did money begin to lay out these manicured lawns and plant such immaculate hedges?

Up in Hurst Wood the ways were rutted and muddy, the views sublime. Winter had stripped away the leafy screens of the trees to reveal long wooded ridges in the distance, all painted in muted greys and blues by the low afternoon light.

We passed the smoke and small flames of a clearing where a forester was coppicing sweet chestnut, and descended green lanes to handsome red-and-white Yotes Court.

This lovely house was built in the last days of the Commonwealth by James Master, a gentleman whose expenses book still survives. What he spent his wealth on gives a good idea of who he was – a man of leisure, a hawker and rider, a gambler and cock fighter. A wide reader, too, and quite a dandy – his boot tops of sea-green silk were each embellished with a yard of costly lace.

The countryside where his house stands is embellished, too. Our homeward path lay past apple orchards and raspberry cages, shaven pastures and perfectly shaped hedges, among which the mellow brick farms and white-capped oasts sat ensconced like so many plump and satisfied judges after dinner.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; muddy in woods

Start: Kentish Rifleman, Dunk’s Green, Tonbridge, Kent TN11 9RU (OS ref TQ 613527)

Getting there: Bus 222 (Wrotham – Tunbridge Wells)
Road – M26, Jct 2a; A25 Borough Green; follow ‘Plaxtol’, then ‘Dunk’s Green’

Walk (OS Explorer 148): From pub, right along road. In 250m, left (615527, fingerpost/FP) to cross road (613433, FP). Bear left to stile/road (611534); right into Plaxtol Spout. Right (611537, ‘The Street’, ‘Crouch’). In 200m right (612538, FP). In 650m path approaches Old Soar; fork left (618541, arrow) to road (619540). Left; in 400m, right (‘West Peckham’); in 200m, left (624543, FP) into woods. In 200m, right (626543,); in 400m, right (628541); in 50m, left (white arrow). In 150m fork right (630540) to T-junction (631538). Left; in 150m, opposite gate, right (631540) down path, eastward for 1 mile to road (646539) in Swanton Valley. Dogleg left/right and on; just before Yotes Court, right at junction (650535) for ⅔ mile to road (641533). Right; in 15m fork left. In 400m fork left (636533). In 600m cross Gover Hill crossroads (631530); bridleway downhill to junction (630524); right, following Greensand Way for 1¼ miles to Dunk’s Green.

Lunch: Kentish Rifleman, Dunk’s Green (01732-810727, thekentishrifleman.co.uk) – takeaways available (ring to check).

Accommodation: Bull Hotel, Wrotham TN15 7RF (01732-789800, thebullhotel.com)

Info: visitsoutheastengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:01
Jan 092021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Berwickshire coast of south-east Scotland is a rugged one, all sharp-nosed headlands and lumpy sea stacks. On a windy January morning the promontory cliffs of St Abb’s Head looked bleak and exhilarating, just the place for a post-Christmas blow-through.

Yellow buds of winter aconite were struggling out under the trees at the National Nature Reserve car park. ‘And snowdrops, look!’ exclaimed our son George. Long-term resident of tropical Australia, he was revelling in the sights and sensations of this proper winter’s day.

Wrapped up to the eyes, we set out along the coast path above cliffs of volcanic rock so tumbled and jagged that the outcrops resembled shattered castle walls. A greenish wash of guano slathered the rocks, though the seabirds responsible were long gone to their winter quarters further south.

Grey seals had pupped on the secluded beaches of dusky red sand, and we caught glimpses of the adults offshore as they dived like fat Olympic swimmers after shoals of fish.

This was weather to make our expat son gasp and grin. The gale pushed and shoved us like an invisible thug. The dried sea pinks of last summer nodded wildly at the cliff edge, and cold blasts of wind feathered out the whitecaps on the sea into a heaving grey mass.

The path led into a sheltered green valley for a few minutes’ respite before climbing up the flank of Kirk Hill and into the wind again. Here on the slope in 643AD Aebbe – a Northumbria princess in flight from the unwanted attentions of King Penda of Mercia – founded a nunnery. When St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne came visiting, he spent his nights in prayerful immersion, up to his neck in the sea. A hard man for tough times.

Just below the summit stood a lighthouse and the whitewashed cottages where its keepers once lived through wind, sun and wild weather. The walled garden where they grew their greens lay abandoned beyond.

From the viewpoint above a magnificent view unfolded, west along mudstone cliffs stacked and folded towards the Firth of Forth and the distant hump of North Berwick Law, east over the fishing villages of St Abbs* and Eyemouth among their volcanic headlands.
*NB St Abb’s Head has an apostrophe, St Abbs village doesn’t.

George spread his arms and stood flapping like a scarecrow, delighting in the grey sea and wild sky, while I chased after the hat which the wind had snatched off my head and flung far away.

How hard is it? 5 miles, moderate; hilly coast path

Start: St Abb’s Head NNR Visitor Centre car park, St Abbs, near Eyemouth TD14 5PL (OS ref NT 913674) – £3

Getting there: Bus 235 from Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Road: A1 (Berwick – Haddington); B6438 at Reston to Coldingham and St Abbs.

Walk (OS Explorer 346): From Visitor Centre follow ‘Path to St Abb’s Head’ signs; then ‘Lighthouse Loop’ (purple arrows) to lighthouse (914692) and topograph beyond. Left along road. At north-west end of Mire Loch, left (908690) on Mire Loop (yellow arrows). At lower end of loch, right (913685) up stony track to road (912684). Ahead, following road back to car park. Left along B6438 to St Abbs harbour, and return to car park.

Lunch: Old School Café, Ebba Centre, St Abbs (01890-771413, @EbbaCentre) – excellent home cooking and baking, warm welcome all year round. Book ahead if in group of 5+

Accommodation: Home Arms, High St, Eyemouth TD14 5EY (01890-751316, thehomearms.com)

Info: St Abbs Visitor Centre (01890-771672, stabbsvisitorcentre.co.uk)
St Abb’s Head NNR Centre (01890-771443 nts.org.uk) – open 30 March–31 Oct.
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:00
Jan 022021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Where overnight rain had been sluicing through the Thames Valley, winter sunshine as clear and sweet as honey was now pouring across the grey and gold stone houses of Kelmscott.
William and Jane Morris spent their summers at Kelmscott Manor from 1871 onwards. William, the Father of the Arts & Crafts movement, found the obscure Oxfordshire backwater a balm for the soul. ‘Heaven on earth,’ he called Kelmscott. It became a rather more earthy paradise for Jane, who conducted a passionate affair at the manor with pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

We found the manor confined in a winter jacket of scaffolding. Sulphur-yellow quinces had dropped over the garden wall. They rolled along the lane we followed down to the rain-charged River Thames.
Rooks in their dozens went up cawing from the trees along the river, a broad highway of contrary tides whose main flow pushed downstream at running speed, while backwaters eddied and spun in opposing directions. On the graceful curve of Eaton footbridge we stopped to admire the strength and surging power of the water, then turned east through wide green meadows whose medieval furrows each held a miniature lakelet of rainwater.

The little church of St Michael & All Angels at Eaton Hastings benefited from the proximity of the Arts & Crafts powerhouse of Kelmscott Manor. We found a William Morris west window showing three ultra-romantic archangels with flowing locks and androgenous countenances. In the north chancel window Edward Burne-Jones created a stormy St Michael, heavy-eyed and morose, a striking characterisation.

The Thames lay distant as we walked on through the fields. The brimming ditches were lined with crack willows and ash trees distorted, bowed and twisted out of shape. A rowdy gang of winter thrushes roistered among the hawthorns, raucously exclaiming to one another as they stripped the branches of their crimson fruits.

A pair of sturdy old stone bridges spanned the bifurcated Thames at Radcot. A skirmish here in 1387 between the forces of King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke saw 800 men flee into the marshes and drown, but there were just three deaths by fighting – Sir Thomas Molyneux, a varlet, and a boy. History records that the knight was treacherously stabbed, but one would like to know more of the misfortunate varlet, not to mention that wretched child.

Such strife seemed far away as we strolled the Thames Path back towards Kelmscott. On the bank we passed a young woman in a bathing suit. She had been swimming in the cold and flooded river with the help of a stout rope and a strong companion. Pink from head to toe, she glowed with health and vigour. ‘The swans were scary,’ she confided through chattering teeth, ‘but I loved it!’

How hard is it? 7 miles, easy field and riverside paths.
Start: Plough Inn, Kelmscott, Lechlade GL7 3HG (OS ref SU 249991)
Getting there: Kelmscott is signed off A17 (Lechlade-Faringdon)
Walk (OS Explorer 170): Passing stump of cross and Plough Inn on your right, fork left along road. In 150m, right (250990, ‘Kelmscott Manor’). Ahead beside manor (‘Radcot Bridge’). In 150m, right on Thames Path (253988). In ½ mile, left across footbridge (247985). Through left-hand gate beyond cottage; left along field edges (National Trust green arrows) for 1 mile to road (263985). Ahead past Eaton Hastings church; follow D’Arcy Dalton Way east for 1¾ miles through fields (kissing gates, stiles) to A4095 at Radcot (286994). Left across 2 bridges; right (285995) on Thames Path for 3 miles to Kelmscott.
Lunch/accommodation: Plough Inn, Kelmscott (01367-253543, theploughinnkelmscott.com)
Info: sal.org.uk/kelmscott-manor; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:34
Dec 192020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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One dark night long ago the huntsman at Alfoxton Manor was eaten by his own hounds, so says the tale. He got up from his bed to quell a dogfight in the kennels, and they didn’t recognise him in his nightshirt.

Setting off from Holford on a glorious winter day of blue sky above the Quantock Hills, we stopped to admire the old dog pound beside the path to Alfoxton. What a pity those hungry hounds hadn’t been safely penned up behind its stout stone walls.

William and Dorothy Wordsworth came to roost at Alfoxton (then ‘Alfoxden’) in the summer of 1797. Nearby lived their new best friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
We passed the manor house, solid and white among beautiful beech and oak woods. Coleridge and the Wordsworths walked daily over the hills and through the deep wooded combes of Quantock, ‘three people, but one soul’, as Coleridge put it. Rumours spread that the three strangers were spies for Napoleon, and the Wordsworths had to leave their Eden in the Quantocks, never to return.

Along the drive missel thrushes with spotted throats were busy raiding the cherry trees whose scarlet fruits dangled at the end of long stalks. The birds darted from tree to tree with their characteristic muscular wing thrusts and direct, purposeful flight.

Red deer hinds went trotting springily across the paddocks among the horses. The Quantock Greenway path wound at the foot of the hills, with breathtaking views opening northwards over the Bristol Channel, its tides stained a milky mulberry hue by the mud of many estuaries. As we gained height we made out the upturned hull shape of Steep Holm island, the white lighthouse on neighbouring Flat Holm, the long spine of Mendip running inland, the far coast of Wales in a blur of distance – and on the shore below, the giant’s geometry set of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, still laboriously a-building.

Up on the top the wind blew cold. We followed wide grassy bridleways where hill ponies with ground-sweeping tails cropped the verges. A fantastically exhilarating ramble, east along the ancient green trackway evocatively titled The Great Road, then slanting steeply down to join the homeward path in the depths of Hodder’s Combe with its skein of rustling brooks and springs.

‘Upon smooth Quantock’s airy ridge we roved
Unchecked, or loitered ’mid her sylvan coombs*.’
*Wordsworth’s spelling.

That’s how Wordsworth remembered those happy Quantock days in ‘The Prelude’, and it neatly summed up our day, too.
How hard is it? 6 miles; moderate, some short climbs; moorland and valley tracks, some muddy; streams to ford
Start: Holford Bowling Green car park, Holford, Bridgwater TA5 1SA (OS ref ST 154410)
Getting there: At Holford (A39, Bridgwater-Minehead) follow lane by Plough Inn (brown sign ‘Combe House Hotel’) to car park.

Walk: Left along valley road. Follow ‘Quantock Greenway’/QG (green arrows), and ‘Coleridge Way’/CW (quill symbol) for 2 miles. Cross Smith’s Combe stream (132422, signposted); continue on QG, CW. Pass conifer plantation; in 150m, sharp left (129423, fingerpost, blue arrow/BA) up bridleway. In 450m at top of slope, left at track crossing (127420). Follow broad green bridleway south for 1 mile, keeping ahead over all track crossings, to Great Road trackway (132407, fire beaters). Left; in ⅔ mile, descend across widespread track crossing (141410); in 150m, fork right beside trees (BA, ‘No Vehicles’). In 300m cross track (145408); descend into Hodder’s Combe. Ford streams (144403); left along far bank for ¾ mile to car park.
Lunch: Plough Inn, Holford (01278-741652, holfordvillage.com)
Accommodation: Combe House Hotel, Holford TA5 1RZ (01278-741382, combehouse.co.uk)
Info: quantocks.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:27
Dec 122020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Railway, road and river all wriggle close together through the Ribble Valley at Long Preston. Lumpy fells flank the elongated village on the east, and we were headed up there on a peerless day of unbroken blue sky over the western fringes of the Yorkshire Dales.

We watched a train of thirty thundering goods wagons crawl its way through Long Preston station. Then we made for Scaleber Lane and a long, gentle climb northwards with the midday chimes sounding below. The stone walls along the lane were hip height, giving views over undulating pastures where somnolent cattle dozed out the day.

We crossed Long Preston Beck in its rocky bed and went upstream. A pair of scarlet crab claws lay unexplained on the bank – someone’s esoteric picnic, or a titbit let drop by a far-wandering gull? A kestrel floated overhead, pursued by a crowd of tiny birds; perhaps it would fancy a crab snack.

Stepping stones across Bookil Gill Beck brought us to Langber Lane, an old walled lane running confidently north. In Langber Plantation a tree creeper inched up a pine trunk, snicking insects out of their hiding places behind the pink bark scales. Stonechats and whinchats bobbed on the walls beyond, their heads ceaselessly turning, spying out the land for food or danger.

Pale knobbly ramparts of limestone appeared ahead, Warrendale Knotts and Attermire Scar. Below them Stockdale Beck cut through the outcropping strata, tumbling in long hissing tails of white water down tall steps of limestone in a water-delved gorge.

From the heights another walled way, Lambert Lane, ran south through sheep pastures to meet Edge Lane, the old hill road from Long Preston over to Settle. Today in warm sunshine the gritstone walls and the sandy track sparkled cheerfully. In proper old-time winter weather the bumpy and winding hill road must have been a fearsome prospect for drovers and benighted travellers.

Edge Lane rose to the heathery heights of Hunter Bark, highest point on the old road. We stood and stared round at the 50-mile view – Ingleborough flat-topped in the northwest, the long green stretch of the Craven lowlands running away west, and down in the southwest the hummocks of the Bowland Fells and the grey upturned hull of Pendle Hill, all under a sky of unblemished china blue.

Start: Long Preston railway station, near Settle BD23 4RY (OS ref SD 834579)

Getting there: Rail to Long Preston. Bus 580, 581, 582 (Settle).
Road – Long Preston is on A65 (Settle-Skipton)

Walk (8½ miles; easy; field paths, walled lanes; OS Explorer OL2): Up B6478; cross A65 into Church Street; left at church. In 200m, right (836583, ‘Langber Lane’) up Scalehaw Lane. In 700m cross Long Preston Beck (842586); left beside beck. Pass New Pasture Plantation; cross Bookil Gill Beck (840592). Don’t cross next footbridge, but fork right through gate and uphill, heading to right of skyline barn. In ¾ mile ford Bookil Gill Beck (847600); left on Langber Lane track for 1½ miles to road (841623). Left; in 200m, left at Scaleber Bridge through wicket gate (841626, ‘Scaleber Wood’) to view Scaleber Force. Back to road; left; in ½ mile, left (835630, ‘Pennine Bridleway’/PB, ‘Lambert Lane’). In ⅔ mile, left at road (828625, ‘PB Long Preston’). In 150m fork left beside wood (828624); follow Edge Lane for 2¾ miles to road in Long Preston (834583). Right; at A65, left. Right down Greenbank Terrace; left on footpath (834581) to B6478; right to station.

Lunch/Accommodation: Golden Lion, Duke Street, Settle BD24 9DU (01729-822203, goldenlionsettle.co.uk)

Info: Settle TIC (01729-825192, visityorkshire.com); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:52
Dec 052020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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It’s a short slope, but a steep one, up from the south Cotswold village of Uley to the hillfort of Uley Bury high above. But the puff is worth the effort.

Up there, walking a circuit of the ramparts on a cold, clear afternoon, it was a regal view. We looked down to Uley and Dursley tucked neatly under their wooded slopes, and out west across a patchwork of fields seven hundred feet below to the River Severn sweeping round a mighty bend, with the Forest of Dean, the pointed cone of the Sugar Loaf and the lumpy backs of the Welsh hills rising beyond.

This is what the Dobunni tribe might have been after when they built their great rectangular fort across the hill top some 2,000 years ago – a commanding prospect of the country from an impregnable position, guarded by slopes so steep that no enemy could steal up and rush them by surprise. We strolled and stared, looking west to the whaleback hill of Cam Long Down where we were headed.

The rubbly yellow track of the Cotswold Way carried us down through beechwoods where the leafless trees gripped the ferny banks with roots like talons, then swept up the grassy nape of Cam Long Down. From the crest of the hill we saw Gloucester some 20 miles to the north in a pool of sunlight, the Cathedral floating high over the city under an enormous tangled sky, a view John Constable would have caught majestically in a blur of blues and greens.

We roller-coasted on over the hummock of Peaked Down, then descended southward with a superb backdrop of three eminences in the landscape – the upturned bowl of Downham Hill, the humpy back of Cam Long Down, and the squared-off ramparts of Uley Bury coming into view.

At Wresden Farm a horse with two white socks grazed a lush meadow from which he lifted a muzzle green with grass juice to watch us go by. The lane that brought us back to Uley ran between thick old hedges, its surface floored with knobbly lumps of metal scattered among the stones, the leavings of some long-gone forge. Polished by the scouring of hooves and boot soles, they made the old track shine silver, like a pathway to an enchanted tower in some untold Cotswold fairy tale.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; moderate, some short steep sections

Start: Old Crown PH, Uley, near Dursley, GU11 5SN (OS ref ST 792986)

Getting there: Bus 65 (Stroud-Dursley)
Road – Uley is on B4066, between Dursley (A4135) and Stroud (A46/A419)

Walk (OS Explorer 167): Cross B4066; path beside church; in 100m, right (‘Cotswold Way Circular Walk’/CWCW) to kissing gate. Up slope, then left along wood edge to gate (789988, CWCW). Up through trees to gate; climb rampart of Uley Bury (788990), left/clockwise round hillfort for 1 mile. At north corner (788992), left to B4066; left onto Cotswold Way/CW. Descend and follow CW for 1¼ miles via Hodgecombe Farm (783992), then over Cam Long Down. On over Peaked Down; back along southern edge to rejoin CW (770992). South on CW for 300m to cross road (771988). On for ¾ mile past Coldharbour Farm (770986) to lane near Wresden Farm (774980). Left (east) via Newbrook Farm for ½ mile. At road by Angeston Grange (782982), ahead; on right bend, ahead on path (785982) to Uley.

Lunch/Accommodation: Old Crown, Uley (01453-860502, theoldcrownuley.co.uk) – great village pub; booking advisable.

Info: Nailsworth TIC (01453-839222)

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

 Posted by at 01:45
Nov 212020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Otter Estuary is a remarkable place. Long and thin, it penetrates the English Channel on the outskirts of Budleigh Salterton. This is a place for binoculars and sharp eyes, where wintering birds in their tens of thousands have arrived just now to feed on the invertebrate life of the muddy tideway and marshes.

On this wild, blustery and sunny day it was easy to see why there’s concern for this East Devon coast on account of climate change and rising sea levels. The sandstone cliffs with their sandwiched layers of ancient pebbles are crumbling, the estuaries of Otter and neighbouring Exe eroding.

The sea, flecked with wind-driven whitecaps, was stained a rich red by the sandy mud and rock it had sucked away. It was an extraordinary sight, and a salutary one.

We followed the coast path inland up the Otter Estuary, where the last of the pale blue sea asters starred the saltmarsh and sandpipers pattered fastidiously on the muddy banks. The path in its tunnel of bushes was spattered scarlet with rosehips, crimson with hawthorn peggles and indigo with over-ripe blackberries. A flock of linnets went skimming up the hedge. Inland the ground rose in those steep green slopes so characteristic of the south Devon landscape.

Bright gold buttons of tansy flanked the path into East Budleigh. You can hardly escape the village’s connection with its most celebrated son, Sir Walter Raleigh, born just down the lane. We found a fine statue of the poet-courtier-colonist in doublet and padded hose outside the church where his parents lie buried, and a fine pint of beer and sandwich in the pub that carries his name.

West of East Budleigh ramifies a network of old-style country lanes, high-banked, stony and thick-hedged. From the gate onto bracken-smothered Shortwood Common we had a superb view east along the red and white cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, round the great curve of Lyme Bay as far as the distant hump of the Isle of Portland.

A ferny stretch of old railway path, the swift transition of a golf course, and we were walking down to Budleigh Salterton in a clifftop tunnel of gorse. Before us the wind whistled on, rocking the gorse, clearing the sky to china blue, and whipping up a lacy surf on the red sea shallows.

Start: Lime Kiln car park, Granary Lane, Budleigh Salterton EX9 6JD (OS ref SY 073820)

Getting there: Bus 58 (Exeter)
Road: Budleigh Salterton is signed from A3052 (Exeter-Sidmouth)

Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 115): Up Otter Estuary on Coast Path. In ⅔ mile pass bridge (075830); in ½ mile, ahead at fork (075839, ‘Otterton’); in 250m through left-hand gate (077841, yellow arrow/YA) on raised path. In 450m cross track (074844, YA); on to road (072844). Left; in 300m cross B3178 (070844); up Lower Budleigh – Middle Street – High Street. Opposite Sir Walter Raleigh PH, down Hayes Lane (066848). In 450m, opposite electricity substation, left (062849) up stony lane. In 200m, on over crossroads (061846); downhill to Hayeswood Lane (062845). Right for ½ mile. 150m beyond right bend, left (054842, kissing gate, fingerpost) on path; in 200m, stile/YA (053840) onto Shortwood Common.

Turn right; don’t go further right, but keep ahead (YA) south across common for 300m, descending to Shortwood Lane (052837, ‘Country Road’). In 250m, at gate on left (052835), sharp right downhill. At road, left (049833). In 100m, right (049832, ‘Permissive Cycleway’). In 250m, right along old railway (047830). In 600m, pass below B3178 (045825); in 300m, under next bridge (043823); in 200m hairpin back left (042821, ‘Castles Lane’) to road (043823). Right; in 200m, fork left (044821); follow lane (‘West Down Beacon’). At golf course, keep ahead (white sticks, YAs, ‘Coastal Path’) for ⅓ mile to coast (045811). Left to Budleigh Salterton.

Lunch: Sir Walter Raleigh PH, East Budleigh (01395-442510)

Accommodation: The Long Range, Vales Rd, Budleigh Salterton EX9 6HS (01395-443321, thelongrangehotel.co.uk)

Info: pebblebedheaths.org.uk; visitsouthdevon.co.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:19
Nov 142020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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If I could just bottle a day like this and sell it, I’d be a millionaire and the lucky purchaser need never fear the onset of winter again. A sky of enamel blue lay over the Sussex Weald, and the views from the hilly lanes around Chelwood Common were twenty-mile prospects, out across the green and gold of the Wealden woods to the soft grey line of the South Downs clamped against the southern horizon.

Cyclamen made delicate pink half moons in the verges at Aggons Farm, and the holly hedges were thick with crimson berries and hung with scarlet necklaces of bryony.

The woods of Chelwood Common were running with water, their paths sodden, their rain-carved dells loud with the chatter of streams. Out in the open we passed Chelwood Farm, all red brick gables and tall chimney stacks, and in the fields beyond disturbed a herd of twenty-five roe deer feeding by Maskett’s Wood. They turned and fled into the trees, each animal’s movements mirrored by its companions as though one hundred-legged creature were scampering away.

Not so long ago Sheffield Forest was a hubbub of rural activities – charcoal burning, clay digging, coppicing, iron smelting in primitive bloomeries. If tree trunks were too heavy for horses to drag away to the sawmill, they’d be cut into planks on the spot in a hand-dug sawpit. A pair of sawyers would work with a great long saw between them, the upper man known as the ‘top dog,’ his colleague down in the sawpit as the ‘underdog.’ Searching for these old sawpits and bloomery hearths, we found only bumps and hollows – the forest had long swallowed them.

A snaking track led us down and across a damp valley, where the Annwood Brook flowed through a string of beautiful lakes.

Before taking the soft and squelchy homeward path we lingered under the trees at Sheffield Mill pond, watching the wind ripple the reflections of beech trees burnished gold and acid green by the declining sun of this perfect day.

Start: Coach & Horses Inn, School Lane, Danehill RH17 7JF (OS ref TQ 411287). Please ask permission to park, and give the pub your custom!

Getting there: Bus 270 (East Grinstead – Brighton)
Road: Coach & Horses is signed from Danehill on A275 (between Sheffield Park and Chelwood Gate)

Walk (7½ miles, woodland and field paths, OS Explorer 135): Up Coach Lane; cross road, on between gateposts. At Willowlands (418285) ahead through trees (yellow arrows/YA). In 400m, nearing Chelwood Farm, left (422286, stile, ‘Public Footpath’) across paddock. Follow YAs to lane (425286). Left; in 250m, just before road, right (electricity pole on left) across footbridge (427287), then through trees. In 200m, leave wood by stile (428286); left to cross stile without footboard. In 450m, opposite Maskett’s Farm, right on green lane (431283, stile, fingerpost). Follow YAs for ¾ mile to Bell Lane (430272).

Right; in 300m, right past barrier and ‘Sheffield Forest’ sign (429269). Follow forest road. In nearly 1 mile cross stream (421265); in 400m, cross another in valley bottom (421262); right at junction. In 250m on left bend, right downhill (419262) on grassy path. In 500m, fork right (416258, 3-finger post) across Sheffield Mill dam; up lane to road (409259). Right; in 250m fork right at Portmansford pond (409262); through gate to right of Rose Cottage. Follow squelchy path (YAs). In 600m pass between lakes (412267, YAs).

In 100m fork left; duckboard across stream; right to cross stile (422268). Keep right (YAs) along fence for 2 fields into wood (414271, stile, YA). Right to stile out of wood; left along field edge (YA) to stile next to gate (417272). At junction, ahead. In 200m at pond, ahead through gate (418274, YA) and on. In 600m pass Allins Farm (419278); in 700m, left over stile (419284, fingerpost, YA, ‘Paths to Progress’). Follow YAs across stream, up to lane (418285); left to Coach & Horses.

Conditions: Wet, muddy walk

Lunch: Coach & Horses (01825-740369, coachandhorses.co). Booking advised. – currently closed due to Covid

Accommodation: Griffin Inn, Fletching TN22 3SS (01825-722890, thegriffininn.co.uk) – fully Covid compliant

Info: Ashdown Forest Centre (01342-823583, ashdownforest.org)
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:03
Nov 072020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A strong cold breeze was blowing off the Durham moors down Weardale, and clouds jostled with blue sky on the skyline to north and south. We peeked in the windows of Westgate’s remarkable Methodist Chapel, its pews massed in a thicket of curlicued and painted ironwork. Primitive Methodism was a strongly held faith here in west Durham, whose lead miners and pack horsemen led rough and uncertain lives.

A footpath led north from the village up a steep-sided cleft where the Middlehope Burn came jumping and sparkling down over rocky steps and ledges. We followed upstream to a wide bend of the burn; here the remnants of Low Slitt* lead mine lay scattered.
*spelt variously Slitt or Slit – Slitt seems to be the most frequently used

A waterwheel pit for pumping out the mine, the great stone base where a hydraulic engine lifted buckets of lead ore from the workings, deadly little culverts you could fall into in a twinkling, and a washing floor on a promontory near the river, where little boys with heavy bucker hammers smashed rocks and sluiced the fragments to release the precious ore.

We scrambled up a steep bank to a round reservoir, and stood there looking across the old mine to the hush or gash in the fellside where great torrents of water were released to tear away the turf and expose the vein of lead beneath. Mine tips lay above at the edge of the moor, a fleet of green whalebacks grown grassy with a nap as sleek as velvet.

Today this is a scene as peaceful and lonely as can be – great sweeps of daleside, empty save for the dotted sheep, a couple of isolated farms, the ruin of a barn or two, all under an enormous sky.

We found a stony lane that led up to the walled fellside track of Springsike Road, boggy with dark mud and patches of rush. Sheep called, the wind blew, hidden streams trickled. Everything seemed simplified and straightforward up here between the dale pastures and the moors.

Wheatears flirted on the wall tops, their white rumps flashing as they flew away. Mountain pansies purple and white, wild thyme tussocks and autumn gentians grew by the way. A long walled bridleway brought us easily down into Weardale again and we sauntered back to Westgate beside the peaty River Wear, as clear and brown as molten toffee.

Start: Hare & Hounds, Westgate, Weardale DU3 1 RX (OS ref NY 908381).

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

Walk (6¼ miles, moderate hill walk, OS Explorer OL31): Left along A689; first right; in 200m, left (‘Slitt Wood’). Follow path north beside Middlehope Burn. In ½ mile at Slitt Mine site (906392), left up bank by info boards to dam/pool above (904392). Right around dam; at stile (904393) bear right on path with wall on left. In 250m cross stile (904396); in 300m, right over wall stile (905399). In 150m, left up rough rocky lane (904400). At top, right (901399) along Springsike Road walled lane. At road (893407), left uphill. In ½ mile road bends left (885405); in ¼ mile, left (882401, fingerpost) along walled bridleway. In 1 mile at road, left (886387); in 150m, right (888387, fingerpost), half right down to drive. Right to road (886385); left; in 400m, right between house and shed (889382). Cross River Wear (888381). Left on Weardale Way for 1½ miles; left across river (909380) into Westgate.

Conditions: Springsike Road can be wet/muddy

Lunch: Hare & Hounds, Westgate (01388-517212, hareandhoundswestgate.blogspot.com

Accommodation: Westgate Manor, Westgate DL13 1JT (01388-517371, westgatemanor.co.uk)

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

 Posted by at 02:19
Oct 312020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The first knockings of autumn were making themselves heard in the whistle of cold wind and rustle of falling leaves along the Wylye valley.

From the creeper-hung Royal Oak at Great Wishford we followed a flinty track up a downland spine between stubble fields, the view opening out over the steep scrubby slopes and curving valley of Penning Bottom. Tiny green and orange crab apples, as hard as marbles, lay across the path, and the banks of the sunken lane were scarred with pale grey chalky spoil and showers of white flints kicked out by burrowing rabbits.

Ahead on the ridge lay the long dark bar of Grovely Wood. Great Wishford’s relationship with this ancient piece of forest is long-standing. The village enjoys the right every 29 May, Oak Apple Day, to gather wood from Grovely, a custom that can only be upheld through a ritual entry of the villagers into Salisbury Cathedral for the purpose of shouting ‘Grovely, Grovely, Grovely … and all Grovely!’

Grovely is a beautiful wood of sweet chestnut, hazel, oak and handsome specimen conifers. Fine old beech trees, well spaced, form glades where little else grows, and there was a cool and solemn atmosphere as we traversed these green, cathedral-like spaces.

Two ancient ways twist through Grovely Wood – a ridgeway that might have been used as a thoroughfare for as long as 7,000 years, and Grim’s Ditch, a defensive earthwork built by Iron Age Britons. Norsemen, coming across the earthwork nearly 1,000 years after its creation, named it after Grimr, their conception of the Devil.

At a place where ancient ridgeway and demonic ditch entwined, we left Grovely Wood and descended into a valley of billowing ploughland, where yet another of Wiltshire’s ancient tracks, the Ox Drove, ran a snaking course. A much-weathered milestone in the verge bore witness to the importance of this old byway to riders and coach travellers of bygone days. We puzzled out its eroded lettering: ‘VI Miles from Sarum – 1759.’

We found a path between fences where stonechats perched, wheezing ‘wheesh-chat! wheesh-chat!’ Their dark heads and white canonical collars gave them a rather severe air, offset by their cheerful buff waistcoats.

Back through the murmuring trees of Grovely Wood, and down a long flint track towards Great Wishford, its thatched roofs and chequered flint-and-freestone walls cradled in a tree smother of red, gold and green.

Start: Royal Oak PH, Great Wishford, Salisbury SP2 0PD (OS ref SU 078355)

Getting there: Bus 2A (Devizes-Salisbury)
Great Wishford is signed from A36 (Salisbury-Warminster) at Stoford

Walk (6½ miles; easy, downland and woodland tracks; OS Explorer 130): From Royal Oak, under railway; right up track (‘Public Bridleway’). In ½ mile at gate (070353), ahead along fence. In ½ mile enter wood (062351), bear left along inner edge, follow track for ¾ mile to road (055344). Right; in ½ mile at edge of wood, fork left (048341, No Through Road, Monarch’s Way, blue arrow). In ½ mile at Grovely Farm, left (044335); fork immediately right along wood edge. In 600m leave trees (046329), ahead to valley bottom; left (047327) along Ox Drove track. In ⅔ mile at junction, left (057324, ‘Restricted Byway’); in 20m, left at milestone for 2½ miles – up fenced path, through Grovely Wood, down to Great Wishford. Under railway (080351), left; right down South Street to church (081355); left to Royal Oak.

Lunch: Royal Oak PH, Great Wishford (01722-790613, royaloakgreatwishford.com) – open all day, Thursday-Sunday

Accommodation: The Old Post House, Great Wishford SP2 0NN (01722-790211, theoldposthouse.co.uk) – cosy B&B, Covid compliant

Info: Salisbury TIC (01722-342860), visitwiltshire.co.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:07