Nov 182017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Wall-to-wall blue sky over the north coast of Jersey – and an icy east wind, too, cutting across the rocky bay of Rozel. We leaned on the kiosk counter of the Hungry Man, munching bacon baps, fuel for a wintry walk along the cliffs.

Up on the coast path the wind snatched at the tree tops and shoved us brusquely along. A pale mauve haze hung in the north, softening the outlines of Alderney and Sark. A tangle of tide rips cut across the kingfisher-blue sea, a winter view in a million.

In Bouley Bay the gale tore at the sycamores and ilex trees overhanging the rubbly coast path, and the restless sea sucked at the granite cliffs with a curious jingling roar. Credulous folk once believed it was the sound of the Black Dog of Bouley, a monstrous mythic hound with eyes like cartwheels, dragging his chain around the Bouley cliffs. Better to stay indoors by night and not risk meeting the Black Dog – so said the smugglers, and the locals were happy to obey.

The Victorian fort of L’Etaquerel lay in a dramatic cliff-edge location. It was built in the 1830s to keep out the French. They never came, but a hundred years later the Germans invaded the Channel Islands. Round the far side of Bouley Bay, down in the sheltered cleft of Le Petit Port, we found a simple granite monument recorded the death of Captain Philip Ayton, a British commando killed during an Allied raid on the occupied island at Christmas 1943.

From the rock pinnacles on the headland of La Belle Hougue we looked back to see the haze lifting from Alderney. Soon we made out, far to the east, the lonely reef of Les Écréhous, studded with tiny fishermen’s huts, white cubes that seemed to float unsupported on the intense blue of the sea.

On a rock in the bay of Le Havre Giffard a cormorant stretched its neck skyward, attempting to gobble down a fish before a marauding black-backed gull could snatch it away. We passed the pepperpot turret of the promontory fort of La Crête, and headed downhill towards the sprinkled houses and grey cliffs of Bonne Nuit Bay. Here a merman once turned himself into a white stallion for love of a beautiful Jersey maid. So local stories say – and they never lie, do they?

Start: Hungry Man Kiosk, Rozel Bay, Jersey JE3 5BN (OS ref 696545)

Getting there: From St Helier – Bus 3, St Helier-Apple Cottage bus stop (5 mins walk to Rozel). Return: Bus 4 Bonne Nuit-St Helier.
Road: From St Helier, A6 to Maufant; B46 to Durrell Wildlife Park; left on B31; in 150m, right on Rue du Pot du Rocher, then La Route du Cotes du Nord to Rozel. Return, Bonne Nuit-Rozel – Bus 4 and 3, as above.

Walk (6½ miles; rugged coast path, many steps; Jersey Leisure 1:25,000 map): Head back along Rozel harbour. Up road. At Rozel Tea Room (694544), right up Rue du Câtel. In 600m, fork right (691545) to car park. Bear left (west) along coast path (690548). In 4 miles, below La Belle Hougue headland, path splits (656562); both paths leads to La Crête Fort (647560) and Bonne Nuit harbour (641561).

Lunch: Hungry Man Kiosk, Rozel Bay (01534-863227, facebook.com/thehungrymanjersey; NB closed Mondays in winter); Bonne Nuit Beach Café (01534-861656, bonnenuitbeachcafe.co.uk)

Accommodation: Atlantic Hotel, St Brelade, Jersey JE3 8HE (01534-744101, theatlantichotel.com) – extremely comfortable hotel with wonderful food.

Info: Jersey TIC (01534-859000); jersey.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:58
Nov 112017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Llandudno is a great traditional seaside resort, and proud of it. Giciante Ferrari and his Performing Birds and high diver Walter Beaumont share equal billing with Sir Malcolm Sargent and Matthew Arnold on a ‘Notable People Who’ve Stayed Here’ plaque on the promenade. The high Victorian hotels stand draw up in a long line around the curve of the bay, buttressed by the two bulbous headlands of Great and Little Orme and backed by the distant mountains of Snowdonia. It all made a fine setting for our walk to explore the rugged charms of Great Orme, where the National Trust own a major piece of land, Parc Farm, at the heart of the Great Orme Country Park.

The peace of a cold, cloudy morning lay over Happy Valley gardens as we climbed their pathways, then on up steps to the crest of a natural limestone amphitheatre. How proud those Victorian holidaymakers must have felt of their civilisation as they wandered the gardens among Scots pine, palm trees, rockeries and flower borders, looking down over the pier to the sparkling white arc of the town, and up to the mountainous Orme above, all ‘savage nature wild and rude’.

Great Orme is a giant lump of limestone, in profile like a barking dog with muzzle raised to the northwest. Paths and tracks crisscross it, legacy of leisure walking and of the quarrymen and copper miners who dug it for stone and ore since back in the Bronze Age. We set out on an anticlockwise circuit of the top in the teeth of a strengthening wind, past the farmhouse of Penmynydd Isa and Powell’s Well, down to St Tudno’s church perched above the sea. In the sprawling graveyard the names of Jones and Davies, Williams, Roberts and Evans adorn black slate slabs. Inside we found intricate medieval Celtic stonework, and a fine dragon snarling in the shadows above the chancel window.

We headed west from St Tudno’s towards the Orme’s seaward snout over a moor patched with limestone pavement and scattered with big erratic boulders left there by the retreating glaciers ten thousand years ago. The fat sheep of Parc Farm stood munching heads down in a walled beanfield. The wild goats of the headland were keeping out of sight today, but close under the cable car station at the summit we caught their pungent whiff.

On over the brow of Bishop’s Quarry where hundreds of lovers, rogues and wanderers have spelt out their names in white limestone fragments. A sensational view over the Conwy estuary to the packed mountains of Snowdonia, stamped on a stormy sky in flat grey-blue silhouettes as though cut in profile from the lead and slate they are founded on. And then the skeltering path of the Zig Zag Trail, steeply down through windblown heather, rocks and cliffs to the gentle pathways of Haulfre Gardens and Llandudno’s promenade once more.
Start: Happy Valley Road, Llandudno Promenade, LL30 2LR (OS ref SH 782828)

Getting there: Rail to Llandudno.
Road – Llandudno is signposted off A55 between Colwyn Bay and Conwy

Walk (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL17): Opposite Grand Hotel front door (782828), up Alex Munro Way to Happy Valley Gardens. Path up left side of lawns; follow Happy Valley Summit Trail (‘To Summit’/TS arrows, blue-ringed posts/BP) to top of gardens (780831). Up steps beside ski slope area; on across heath to Penmynydd Isa farmhouse (774834). On to St Tudno’s Church (770838). Up road towards summit; 100m beyond top of graveyard, fork right (TS, BP). In 150m (768836) right along gravel track, then grassy path, keeping wall on your left, for 1½ miles anti-clockwise to SE corner of wall (765831), just below summit station. Bear left to see pebble signatures and Bishop’s Quarry; return to wall corner; follow track past yellow-ringed post to brow of hill. Bear half right over ridge; aim half left for post near erratic boulder (769828). From here follow Zig Zag Trail (‘To Town’, black-ringed posts) steeply down to tarmac path by shelter near sea level (772823). Left via Haulfre Gardens to Promenade.

Lunch: Haulfre Tearooms, Haulfre Gardens LL30 2HT (01492-876731)

Accommodation: St George’s Hotel, The Promenade, Llandudno LL30 2LG (01492-877544, stgeorgeswales.co.uk) – welcoming, traditional seafront hotel.

Parc Farm: nationaltrust.org.uk/projects/wildlife-and-farming-on-the-great-orme

Great Orme: greatorme.org.uk; conwy.gov.uk/thegreatorme

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

 Posted by at 02:45
Nov 042017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Ill-fated, black-eyed little Anne Boleyn lived as a child in the north Norfolk countryside at Blickling Hall. But the Tudor mansion she knew is not the one we admired as we crunched down the grave drive – these pepper-pot turrets and huge central clock belong to the following century, as do the curly Dutch gables.

Blickling Hall is magnificent, and so are its widespread grounds. We followed a waymarked walk which skirted the inverted comma of the ornamental lake. Storm-splintered cedars spread their wide dark skirts in the pastures, and the carcases of dead oaks lay as pale and massive as elephant corpses among the long grasses.

We passed a signature beech, its smooth grey bark incised with lovers’ names and initials – SDF & Di, AW loves BW, Olly hearts Dolly. A cold west wind drove wavelets against the northern shoreline of the lake, where we took to well-trodden tracks among fields full of the glinting leaves of sugar beet.

Boardwalks spanned the squelching woodland of Moorgate Carrs. We crossed the dimpling water of the River Bure where whorled mint gave out a savour half minty, half sharp. The blackberries in the green lane hedge were sharp on the tongue, too.

In the corner of a field by a margin planted to please the palates of pheasants with goldenrod, mayweed and purple brassicas, we lay on our backs for half an hour for the pure pleasure of watching the sky. Then it was up and on, heading south through pastures grown tufty and lumpen. We recrossed the Bure, a skein of rushy watercourses dried to trickles in the grass where tangled curls of water plantain pushed up their flowers, each with its three pale blue petals.

From the southern skirts of Itteringham a dusty lane ran east between stubble fields. Pheasant poults went scurrying away up the rows, too flustered to feed, too young to fly. The wind rose and shoved at our backs, and we were glad to get into the shelter of Blickling Park’s Great Wood.

On a grassy ride in the middle of the wood we came on a bizarre structure, a sharply pointed pyramid as tall as a house. Over the eastern portal posed a fine stone stag, brandishing real antlers. Within this eccentric mausoleum John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckingham, lies alongside his two wives.

The plaque on the western face of the pyramid, topped by a great bull, seemed to suggest that the Earl had married his own daughter. Perhaps I misunderstood it. In any case, I can report that the north- and south-facing openings of the tomb make great echo chambers. They allow one to sing harmonies with oneself, to truly eerie effect.

Start: NT car park, Blickling Hall, Aylsham, Norfolk NR11 6NF (OS ref TG 176286)

Getting there: Blickling Hall is on B1354 Saxthorpe road, signed from Aylsham (A140 Norwich-Cromer)

Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 252): From car park walk down road to Blickling Hall. Down drive towards house; just before buildings on right, turn right through hedge, up steps. Keep right of Courtyard Bookshop; half right to map notice; from here follow waymarked Estate Walk (blue arrows). At top of lake (179295), left along gravel path. In 150m fork right (orange arrows). In 400m, right at 3-finger post (174295, ‘public footpath’).

In 500m, right on road at Moorgate (174300); in 100m, left (yellow arrow/YA). Boardwalk crosses Moorgate Carrs and River Bure (175301). In 250m path turns left along field edges (YA), and on to road at Fring Wood (174308). Left, in 700m, fork right (167308) up drive past White House Farm; on along field edge tracks westward for ½ mile. Descend through gate to broad green strip at The Rookery (152309). Don’t go through gate with YA opposite; bear left along wood edge; in 100m through gate, follow hedge on left southward for 2 long fields / ½ mile to cross several channels of River Bure and reach road opposite Orchard Farm (154299).

Left, in ½ mile on left bend (161297), ahead through Woodgate car park; past 5-bar gate, follow stony track on outskirts of wood (orange arrow). In 600m, sandy track on left (165292) leads to mausoleum (166295).

Lunch/Accommodation: Buckinghamshire Arms, Blickling NR11 6NF (01263-732133, bucksarms.co.uk)

Blickling Hall: nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate

visitnorthnorfolk.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:24
Oct 282017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A bunch of lads and girls were shouting cheerfully at one another as they punted a ball about the playing field at Rosliston Forestry Centre. Under a brisk sky they gave an upbeat flavour to the start of our walk through the young plantations along the National Forest Way.

What the National Forest has done for a great swath of the post-industrial Midlands is an unsung miracle. Across 200 square miles of countryside dug, delved and scooped into holes by coal mines and quarries, a green flood of trees is being released – 20 million of them. Dozens of small new woodlands, many linked to form wildlife corridors, lie scattered across the scarred landscapes of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire, their skein of footpaths beckoning to walkers.

The National Forest Way forms the spine of this network of paths. We followed the well-marked Way along the edge of Rosliston Wood until we left it for the farmland paths around Caldwell. A hundred starlings blackened the hedges at Longlands Farm, stripping the elderberries until our approach had them whirring off in a cloud like clockwork birds.

We crossed an old railway, a curve of thistles and thick grass in the corn stubble, and threaded our way along the footpath through Long Close Wood among oak, ash and wild cherry now thirty feet tall. Long Close Wood was planted twenty years ago as part of the ‘Woods on your Doorstep’ scheme, a far-thinking initiative that saw 250 new woods created to celebrate the Millennium.

In Top Wood the rowans hung thick with orange berries, the guelder rose bushes with crimson fruit. Hard green crab apples lay where they had tumbled onto the path. Every leaf shone in the sun, making a glitter of the patchwork of gold, green and scarlet. Near Park Farm a row of poplars stood tall as guardsmen with straight backbones and puffed out chests.

The trees of Penguin Wood, planted just ten years ago, stood only shoulder-high. But the ground around them was bright with late-blooming wild flowers – ragwort, plantain, meadowsweet and lady’s bedstraw. We left the young wood and followed the National Forest Way back to Rosliston, scarcely able to believe the transformation of what was, only a generation ago, a dark and derelict landscape.

Start: Rosliston Forestry Centre, Burton Rd, Rosliston, Derbs DE12 8JX (OS ref SK 243176)

Getting there: Bus 22 (not Sunday), Burton-Swadlincote.
Road – M42 (Jct 11), A444 towards Swadlincote, then follow ‘Linton’ and ‘Rosliston’.

Walk (6 miles, forest and field paths, OS Explorer 245): From ‘National Forest Way’/NFW notice at back of car park, go left and follow NFW arrow to right. In 100m cross playing field to bottom right corner. Left on gravel track. In 200m, right; follow NFW past lakes and across a long footbridge (247177). Right along forest edge. In ½ mile, reach a clearing with bench and crossing of tracks (250170). Leave NFW here, turning sharp left on grass path, passing ‘Cauldwell’ signpost. Along field edge to driveway; ahead to road in Caldwell (255173).

Right past Pegasus School. In ¼ mile on right bend, left through gateway (257170, fingerpost); half right across field to cross Cauldwell Road (259167, stiles, fingerposts). Half left across field, aiming for Longlands Farm (261164); left through 2 wicket gates; on along left side of shed. At far end, cross stile; half right across paddock to gate at far right corner. Left up field edge with hedge on left; through gateway; on with wood on left. Over stile; cross field, then old railway (267165). Cross next field; through hedge; half right, aiming left of white house on far side to reach road (270165).

Cross into Long Close Wood (signed). In 20m fork left along north edge of wood. In 150m, at info board, right along Public Right of Way. In 450m, cross old railway (272159) and on. At a clearing, fork left under electricity wires, past a stile (yellow arrow/YA) and on with poplar hedge on left. Enter Top Wood (271153, signed); in 70m, right (NFW) past Park Farm and on.

In 600m dogleg left/right across road (262156); on past ‘Penguin Wood’ sign across field with trees on right. In 150m turn right, then immediately left over stile into enclosure. Follow grass path to telegraph pole; fork left to cross lower stile; path to north edge of Penguin Wood (259159). Left; follow wood edge as it curves left. In 100m, right across plank bridge; right to footbridge (257159). Ahead (NFW) across large field, aiming to left of Blakenhall Farm. Between 2 oak trees; cross path (255162); past 2 trees beyond; ahead to cross Linton Road (253165).

Along drive, past Cinderlands Cattery (251166), then field edges and forestry outskirts (NFW). Just short of Calves Croft Farm, NFW turns right (249169); keep ahead here to ‘No Public Access’ notice. Left (footpath waymark) round field edge to stile (246170, YA). Right through Rosliston Wood on grass path, past wooden playground, to car park.

Lunch: The Hub Café, Rosliston Forestry Centre

Accommodation: Riverside Hotel, Branston, Staffs DE14 3EP (01283-511234, facebook.com/oldenglishinns)

Rosliston Forestry Centre: 01283-563483, www.roslistonforestrycentre.co.uk

Info: nationalforest.org
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

I would like to  draw your attention to the Isle of Wight Classic Buses, Beer and Walks Weekend taking place 14/15 October.   This is an annual event and travelling on classic buses – 101 in total – and is absolutely free.    People are encouraged to purchase a £6 programme which details all walks and pubs with maps and timetables, plus £40 worth of offers from participating pubs. 
 
Here’s a list of walks http://iwbeerandbuses.co.uk/walks.php.     

 Posted by at 02:33
Oct 212017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Beech leaves twinkled like gold coins in the cold autumn sunlight as they rained down from the trees of Buckhurst Park. It was just the day to be walking the well-tended and waymarked paths of this prosperous piece of parkland on the northern borders of Ashdown Forest. Cricket field, lake, sheep pastures, neat little estate cottages with red-tiled roofs and walls – Buckhurst is carefully looked after, and it shows.

On the ridge beside Coppice Wood we stood to admire the southward view over a shallow valley rolling upward to meet the fringe of Five Hundred Acre Wood – AA Milne’s ‘100 Aker Wood’, where Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear had their many cosy adventures. Christopher Robin Milne and his parents lived just across the hill at Cotchford Farm, and this billowing, thickly wooded countryside was their enchanted place, a gorgeous snapshot of a mythic England on this brisk autumn afternoon.

On the lane past Whitehouse Farm our boots scuffed drifts of oak leaves and crunched the acorns that the squirrels had not yet gathered for their winter hoards. A tang of woodsmoke hung round Friar’s Gate Farm with its gipsy caravan, shepherd’s hut and wheeled wooden henhouse.

In the fringe of Five Hundred Acre Wood old ponds lay rust-red with iron leached out of the underlying sandstone. We found enormous ancient oaks big enough to accommodate Wol and all his tribe, and carpets of beech mast and acorns that could have fed a thousand Piglets. No hoard of Hunny, though.

At Fisher’s Gate the estate cottages stood neatly in a row, looking back across the valley to the tall chimneys, great mullioned windows and Elizabethan gables of Buckhurst Place, carried aloft on a sea of gold and green treetops. On the lane back to Withyham the flailed hedges were dotted with brilliant autumn colours – scarlet rosehips, crimson haw peggles and spindle berries whose bright orange seeds had split their lipstick-pink cases and were pushing on outwards.

On the far side of Withyham we crossed the slow-flowing infant River Medway and looped back to the village along the Forest Trail railway path, a tunnel of pink elder leaves, roofed and floored with oaken gold.

Start: Dorset Arms, Withyham, Hartfield, E. Sussex TN7 4JD (OS ref TQ 496356)

Getting there: Bus 291 (East Grinstead – Tunbridge Wells)
Road – Withyham is on B2110 between Tunbridge Wells and Hartfield.

Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 135): Beside Dorset Arms take driveway (‘High Weald Landscape Trail’/HWLT). In ⅔ mile, 100m past lake, fork left (502350, HWLT). At gate in ⅓ mile, left over stile (506347, HWLT); half left up to corner of wood; half right between 2 trees, on down slope. In ¼ mile, left over stile (504342, HWLT); turn right downhill inside edge of wood to cross B2188 (503341).

Up road opposite. In 300m HWLT turns left (503338), but continue along lane. At right bend, fork left (502335) up farm drive. In 350m, on right bend leading to sewage works gate (501331), bear left over stile. Left up field edge past Friars Gate Farm buildings to drive (499329). Follow it to road (499325). Right (take care!) to B2188 (497331). Right; in 200m on sharp right bend, left along drive (‘Private Road’). In ½ mile, fork right (491336, yellow arrow); in 60m, fork right, and right again beside gate (‘Weald Way’/WW). Skirt a section of driveway to stile (490338) and follow WW north along drive for 1¼ miles to B2110 in Withyham (493356).

Left for 50m (take care!); right (stile, WW) across 2 fields. Cross Forest Way cycle track (491363, WW) and River Medway beyond. Continue on WW (stiles) for ¼ mile to driveway at building (495368); follow it to road (498366). Right; in 250m, right on Forest Way. In ½ mile, left (491363); WW back to B2110; left to Withyham.

Lunch/Accommodation: Dorset Arms, Withyham (01892-770278, dorset-arms.co.uk) – stylish place, great food.

Info: East Grinstead TIC (01342-410121)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 08:24
Oct 142017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Earl’s Palace frowns out over the Bay of Birsay, strong, stark and harsh, a fortress reflecting everything that’s known about the man who created it.
Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney and illegitimate son of King James V of Scotland, was a high-handed and brutal ruler of the Orkney isles. The great stronghold he built with forced labour in the 1570s stands in ruin at the outermost tip of Orkney Mainland, still massively impressive with its jagged gables and tall dark chimneys stacks.
Looking down from the green trackway behind the Earl’s Palace at the jumble of buildings and the crashing sea beyond, I pictured these wretched sprigs of the Stewart family tree. Nasty Earl Robert died in his bed, but his even nastier son Patrick – ‘Black Patie’ by nickname – and rather pathetic grandson Robert both came to bad ends at the hands of the king’s executioner. Those were wild times, and there were few places wilder than the Orkney archipelago, remote in its northern seas.
The trackway led up onto dark sandstone cliffs, where the wind whipped the short turf and whirled the fulmars past in stiff-winged flight. I put my head down and trudged north, with the Earl’s Palace looming inland.
Luckily Orkney has known better men than Black Patie and Earl Robert. Past the ruin of their citadel runs a newly opened pilgrimage route, St Magnus Way, a 55-mile trek that celebrates Orkney’s much-loved local saint and miracle worker. It was in Birsay’s ancient kirk that Magnus Erlendsson’s bones resided after his martyrdom 900 years ago. They were soon translated to their final resting place in Kirkwall’s St Magnus Cathedral, terminus of the new pilgrim path.
At the outer end of the road from Birsay lies the zigzag causeway to the tidal island of the Brough of Birsay. The sea was just receding from the isthmus as I crossed it, the ebbing water forming tiny sucking maelstroms beside the causeway.
The landward slope of the Brough of Birsay presents a fabulous jumble of stone walls, half-formed windows and house foundations. Pictish settlers were succeeded by Norse ones between 600 and 1200 AD, each wave of islanders building on top of its predecessors’ dwellings. Pictish round houses, Norse long ones and a tiny compact Romanesque church can all be made out.
I climbed the back of the island to the little castellated lighthouse, and looked out from the puffin-burrowed summit. Tall cliffs fell sheer into the sea on all sides, and on the northern horizon other islands floated in evening light, as grey and distant as breaching whales.
Start: Earl’s Palace car park, Birsay, Orkney Mainland KW17 2LX (HY248277)
Getting there: Bus 7 (Kirkwall-Birsay).
Road – From Kirkwall, A965 through Finstown; in 1 mile, right on A986 through Dounby; from Twatt, A967, A966 to Birsay.

Walk (4½ miles; easy; OS Explorer 463): From car park, left up road. Cross Burn of Boardhouse; follow road past Birsay Bay Tearoom, then grass track to cemetery and road (248268). Right; in 300m, at left bend, right (245268). Follow St Magnus Way (waymark) north down track to rejoin road (248275). Left, following road to causeway (242284). Cross to Brough of Birsay; walk round island; return across causeway.
Conditions: Causeway is open for 2 hours either side of low tide. Check times – magicseaweed.com
Lunch: Birsay Bay Tearooms (01856-721399; birsaybaytearooms.co.uk) – check for opening times
Accommodation: Ferry Inn, 10 John Street, Stromness KW16 3AD (01856-850280; ferryinn.com; 20 mins drive) – friendly, lively, clean
St Magnus Way: stmagnusway.com
Info: visitorkney.com
visitscotland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 08:30
Sep 302017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A hot afternoon of streaky blue sky over Cleeve Hill, with Cheltenham spread out 800 feet below like a town in a scale model. The sleek horses of the Wickland Stud champed their grassy paddocks as we followed the Cotswold Way, a powdery white track, along the northern edge of the great swath of common land that caps Cleeve Hill.

Golfers, walkers, joggers and kite flyers disport themselves on Cleeve Common these days, but this dome of flower-rich calcareous grassland has traditionally been a scene of hard work for graziers, arable farmers and quarrymen. Through a tumbled landscape of old quarry scoops and ledges we dropped down to the delectable dell where Postlip Hall raises its Jacobean gables on a wooded slope above a handsome medieval tithe barn.

There was a sleepy Mediterranean feel to Postlip, house and path simmering in the sunshine, only the crowing of a cock behind the high garden wall disturbing the soporific afternoon air. Sheep panted in the pastures, too sun-dazed to get up as we went by.

In a green dingle beyond Postlip a stream tinkled seductively under a footbridge. From here the Cotswold Way rose in stages – some of them pretty steep – through the intriguingly named Breakheart Plantation, with glimpse out north-east across the valley where the huddled houses of Winchcombe and the pale walls of Sudeley Castle lay and baked in the sun.

Out again on the wide Cotswold uplands we came to the sad ruin of Wontley Farm, barn roof in holes, buddleia sprouting from windows and doors, all silent and crumbling in a sea of nettles.

From Wontley a grassy track led back west to Cleeve Common. Along the rim of the escarpment young kestrels were playing chase in the updrafts. The Cotswold Way ran north through the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort to reach the topograph on Cleeve Hill. We stood and stared out west, over Cheltenham and May Hill, way beyond the Forest of Dean, across the Welsh border to where the Sugar Loaf raised a tiny peak nearly 50 miles away. A breath-taking panorama in the peachy light of evening.

Start: Quarry car park, Cleeve Hill, Cheltenham, Glos GL52 3PW (OS ref SO 989272)

Getting there: Bus service 606 (Cheltenham-Winchcombe) to Rising Sun Hotel (footpath links with walk).
Road: – Quarry car park is just beyond Cleeve Hill Golf Club clubhouse (signed from B4632 Cheltenham-Winchcombe road.

Walk (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 179): From car park, right along stony track. Follow well-waymarked Cotswold Way/CW clockwise for 2¾ miles via Postlip Hall (998267), footbridge below The Paddocks (006265), steep ascent in Breakheart Plantation (007255) and under power lines (009251) to farm track NE of Wontley Farm (011245). CW goes left here; but turn right to ruined Wontley Farm (008247). Right on Winchcombe Way. In ½ mile descend to gate (001247); ahead on grass path to radio masts (994248). Left along road; in 200m, right (993246, fingerpost). Don’t cross stile; fork left down edge of wood to reach CW (991246). Right along CW for 2 miles, following escarpment to Quarry car park.

Conditions: Steep paths in Breakheart Plantation; can be muddy, slippery.

Lunch: Cleeve Hill Golf Club (01242-672025, cleevehillgolfclub.co.uk)

Accommodation: Rising Sun, Cleeve Hill GL52 3PX (01242-676281, oldenglishinns.co.uk)

Info: cleevecommon.org.uk
More directions, maps and walks at christophersomerville.co.uk
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

Walk with Christopher: Christopher is appearing at Cheltenham Literature Festival (cheltenhamfestivals.com/literature) on 10 October, and will be walking on Cleeve Hill that afternoon with audience members. Please book walk places with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays at ramblersholidays.co.uk.

 Posted by at 09:15
Sep 232017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The great chalk horse of Hackpen Hill shone out in blinding white under a scudding blue sky. Once we’d left the runners and cyclists on the Ridgeway, and ducked off along the edge of Wick Down, we saw nobody else.

These downlands of northern Wiltshire are exceptionally beautiful. We walked at the lip of the escarpment, looking south over a roadless bowl of a valley, its curves shaped by weathering, its white chalk ploughlands contrasting with the green pastures in a harmonious subtlety of colour that called out for the paintbrush of Paul Nash or Eric Ravilious. Skylarks overhead drew generously on their bottomless wells of song, and a brown hare paused in its skyline lolloping to sit very upright and inspect us for signs of danger.

On the slope of Rockley Down we turned north into a great bowl of downland where the horse gallops of a training stable formed a straggling oval along the slopes of Ogbourne Maizey Down. A greedy, panicky screeching broke out among the gallops. Crows were bullying a pack of black-backed gulls, and the gulls were taking it out on the worms that had risen to the surface of the ground after last night’s rain.

We left the birds to their squabbling and feasting, and headed up the slope of the down. A brief struggle with a patch of nettles and brambles, and we were out again on the roof of the downs, walking the ruts and jumping the puddles of another of Wiltshire’s ancient roadways towards the low hummocks of Barbury Castle hillfort.

Whatever provoked the attack that marauding Saxons made on Barbury Castle in 550 AD, it was disastrous for the defending Britons. Several were slaughtered, and their fortifications were destroyed. As we strolled a circuit of the double ramparts, it was hard to picture the bloodshed and screams. Common blue butterflies busied themselves among the harebells and scabious, and dogs scampered the earthworks that have crowned Barbury Hill for the best part of 3,000 years.

We left the fort by its western gate and descended the rutted track of the Ridgeway, an upland road that was already ancient when Barbury hillfort was built. Flocks of cyclists and coveys of walkers were out along the old trackway, and we followed its white ribbon back to Hackpen Hill under the bluest of skies.
Start: Hackpen Hill car park, near Swindon, SN4 9NR approx. (OS ref SU 129747)

Getting there: On minor road between Broad Hinton (M4 Jct 16, A4361) and Marlborough (M4 Jct 15, A346)

Walk (7¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 157): Left (Marlborough direction) along road. In 300m, right through gate on left of driveway (132745); right along field edge with fence on right. In 100m bear left along escarpment edge. In 1 mile, on Rockley Down, left up tarmac driveway (147734) to cross road (150738).

Along broad concrete track. In 300m, ahead (yellow arrow/YA) past ‘Private Road’ notice to T-junction at ‘Barbury International’ notice (153745). Left; in 200m, bear right (152747) and follow clockwise along perimeter of horse gallop. In 300m, bear a little left off stony track (155747; pond shown on map, not really distinguishable on ground), leaving trees on your right (YAs on fence to left). Keep ahead beside grassy ride, passing ‘Stonehenge’ installation, for ½ mile.

150m before a crossing fence, turn left uphill. Cross stile (161742); on uphill for 150m. At top fence post, above square enclosure on right, turn left (162743). In 150m, through deer gate (162744), chained but not locked; on between hedges. In 50m bear half right between hedges; in 100m right again between hedges. In 200m, path bends left (164747) through scrub trees and undergrowth. In 200m, through gate on right (164748); up fence to stile onto broad trackway (165748). Left; in a little over a mile, at ‘Neil King Ridgeway Racing’ sign at Upper Herdswick Farm (157760), left through gate (‘Barbury Country Park’). Follow Ridgeway through Barbury Castle Hill Fort (147763) and on south-west for 1½ miles to Hackpen Hill car park.

Lunch: Barbury Inn, Broad Hinton, SN4 9PF (01793-731510, thebarburyinn.co.uk), or The Crown, Broad Hinton (see below)

Accommodation: The Crown, Broad Hinton SN4 9PA (01793-731302, the crownatbroadhinton.co.uk)

Info: Swindon TIC (01793-466454); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:50
Sep 162017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A glorious day over north Cornwall, and where better to walk than the ‘Poldark Coast’ of rocky cliffs and great smooth sands between Holywell and Perranporth? We saw no bare-chested horsemen galloping through the surf of Holywell Bay (‘Warleggan Beach’ to Poldarkians), but wet-suited surfers were riding the creamy waves. We left them to it, and turned up the coast path that hurdles the neighbouring headlands of Penhale Point and Ligger Point.

From a knife-edge promontory over the sea came a wild, chittering scream. It was a peregrine falcon, slate of back and barred of tail, mantling over her kill, a broken-necked pigeon, while fulmars streaked challengingly close overhead on stiff pointed wings.

The path teetered between cliff and sea before descending to the long two miles of Perran Beach where a mass of round transparent jellyfish had stranded at the top of the tide. We walked among them, avoiding the occasional purple blob of a (mildly) poisonous moon jellyfish, before scrambling steeply up the crumbly face of Penhale Sands.

These enormous sandhills stand 300 feet tall, a billowing inland sea of green and gold dunes. Sandy paths led us inland to the humble stone oratory built some 1500 years ago by the Irish missionary Piran. He was a giant in stature, and a jolly one too, it seems, fond of a drop of the honey-based hooch called metheglin. Adrift in the dunes beyond St Piran’s cell we found an ancient three-holed granite cross and the foundations of a 12th-century church, reminders that this barren spot was once a staging post on the medieval pilgrim route to Compostela.

Under lark song we made our way south by tangled paths across the dunes to a country road. A bend in the lane brought us to the path back to Holywell, a green way over granite stiles. The stream that shadowed the path at the smuggling hamlet of Ellenglaze was formed from a witch’s tears, so legend says. If so, her sins must have been forgiven, for the brook runs as clean and sweet as any innocent water.

Start: NT car park, Holywell, Cornwall TR8 5DD (OS ref SW 767589)

Getting there: Holywell is signposted from A392 between Newquay and Goonhavern.

Walk (8 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 104): From car park follow SW Coast Path south via Penhale Point and Ligger Point to Perran Beach. ¾ mile along beach, pass metal beacon in dunes, then fence and white ‘danger’ notice (762565). In 150m, turn inland up dune path through obvious gap (761563). Aim for rock outcrop, then keep same line up to skyline. Pass post with white panels; ahead on path, through hollow and up left side of far slope. Through gate (766564); ahead (east) with fence close on left (ignoring tall stone cross 200m on right) for 200m to St Piran’s Oratory (769564).

Keep ahead, bearing a little to right away from fence, to bear left (east) along wide track in a hollow. Pass waymark post (771564) to reach ancient stone cross on skyline (772564) and foundations of St Piran’s Church in hollow (600m east of Oratory). From here, keep ahead (east) with fence on left. In 200m, bear right (south) with fence and follow clear grassy path. In 300m (774563) bear half right across a wide open common. In 300m join a footpath marked with white stones; bear a little left with fence on left, following waymark arrow posts. At 2nd ‘acorn’ post, fork left (posts, white stones) to road at junction (775553).

Left along road for 1 mile. Descend to right bend (783566) where 2 adjacent lanes fork left. Take right-hand lane of these two; in 15m, fork right to go through gate (yellow arrow/YA). Path runs north-west along right edge of wide common with trees on right. In 600m, at far right corner of common (781572), path keeps ahead through undergrowth into hedge to pass black arrow on post. Right through kissing gate; boardwalk path through wetland patch, then across footbridge (782573). Uphill to go through gate at hamlet (782574). Left (‘Holywell’, YA); follow YAs across fields for ⅓ mile to Ellenglaze. Ahead along road (776577, YA), round left bend. In 200m, right (YA) on well marked green lane path, then holiday village road, for 1 mile to Holywell.

Conditions: Vertiginous path on Ligger Point; steep climb on loose sand from Perran Beach. Compass/GPS useful among dunes of Penhale Sands.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Holywell Bay B&B, Inshallah, Rhubarb Hill, Holywell TR8 5PT (01637-830938, holywellbaybandb.co.uk) – immaculate B&B.

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

 Posted by at 01:06
Sep 092017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A hot day, and the north-eastern corner of the Cotswolds lay in glorious sunshine. On the grass verge in Chadlington a girl in a red T-shirt patiently sat a stout white pony as it lifted its dripping muzzle from the brook and smacked its hairy lips over the savour of cool water.

Chadlington is a sprawling village, a place of rills and springs. In one of the brook meadows an old man went blithely singing through the docks and thistles, and we followed him down towards the fishing lake at Greenend. The fields beyond the shallow dip of the River Evenlode’s valley shone dull gold under the sun, mown and harvested, but not yet gathered. The woods on the ridge lay black and impenetrable in the dark dress of late summer.

Trout plopped in the olive-green lake under weeping willows. We followed a broad stony lane, thick with the scent of new-mown hay, west to Pudlicote and the banks of the Evenlode. The river wriggled like an agitated centipede between pale meadows freshly cut, and rustling fields of elephant grass destined for immolation in some green power station.

Swallows were fuelling up for their imminent southward flights. They flicked and zoomed like miniature fighter planes low over the stubbles, picking off insects by the thousand, snatching and swallowing as many as possible before the long, improbable journey to their African wintering grounds. We couldn’t help but admire their panache, while feeling a shiver of anxiety for their vulnerability and a pang of sadness at these last rites of summer.

We chose a crumbly seat of earth under an enormous old oak and sat for a gulp of water, looking out over the green and gold valley of the Evenlode and up overhead at a jigsaw tessellation of oak leaves against the blue and white sky. Then we took the homeward path across Dean Common, where the Wychwood Project is turning old gravel pits and worked-out ground into flowery wetland and butterfly-friendly grassland.

Back in Chadlington, high on the outside of St Nicholas’s Church, I spotted my old chum the Green Man, carved a-gape with jovial menace, his knotted brow crowned with leaves in all the vigour of summer.

Start: Tite Inn, Chadlington, Oxfordshire OX7 3NY (OS ref SP 324225)

Getting there: Bus X9, Witney-Chipping Norton.
Road – Chadlington is signed off A361, 2 miles south of Chipping Norton.

Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 191): From Tite PH car park, left up road. In 15m, right (kissing gate/KG, ‘Brook End’) on path beside brook. In 200m, through gate (324222); bear right up bank (YA) across field. Over stile; left (YA) along hedge. Across Cross’s Lane (322219, fingerpost/FP) and on (YAs) to cross road (324214) at Greenend. Down ‘No Through Road’ opposite.

Just before Lower Court Farm, right (‘Bridleway, Pudlicote’); follow farm track west for 1 mile to Pudlicote House. At road, left (314205); in 200m, left (‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW). Follow OW east for 1 mile to cross Catsham Lane (331208) and on. In 700m, at NE corner of Greenhill Copse (337212), don’t turn right, but keep ahead for 100m into trees. At Wychwood Project info board, OW turns right; but keep ahead (east) on path across Dean Common. In 350m cross Grove Lane (341213); on down slope. At bottom, before entering woodland, left/north (344214) along fence. At field end, dogleg left over stile (343216); continue north beside Coldron Brook for 3 fields to road (343220).

Right (take care – nasty bend!); in 50m, left along Dean Mill drive (there is a right of way for walkers). In 30m, left across footbridge (YA on far end); follow path between paddock and hedge, then across field to stile into road (341222). Right, in 100m, sharp left (FP) past No.1, Dean Bank. Right round end of house, through gate ahead; pass stables and cross stile (340224). Half left across field, sloping down to bottom right corner (339223). Cross stream (2 gates) and follow hedge (now on unmarked Wychwood Way). Over stile at top; on along lane to road (336221).

Right, soon on pavement, through Eastend. Pass St Nicholas’s Church, cross Church Road, and just before right bend, go right (332219, KG, FP), clockwise around recreation field. At top left corner, through gateway (330221); half right across field to road (327222). Right; opposite Church Road, go left over stile (326224, FP). At path end, through gate; left along fence. In 100m, through gate into garden. Aim just left of house to cross stone stile; right beside wall to road and Tite Inn.

Lunch: Tite Inn, Chadlington (01608-676910, thetiteinn.co.uk)

Accommodation: Bull Inn, Charlbury OX7 3RR (01608-810689, bullinn-charlbury.com)

Info: Banbury TIC (01295-753752)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:22