Jan 182020

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:

A perfect Somerset winter’s day of sharp blue sky. Sunlight gilded the roofs of Rowberrow, nowadays a quiet little village, but in times past a rough mining centre where men dug calamine for the brass-making industry. Martha More, visiting in 1790, judged the locals ‘savage and depraved, brutal and ferocious.’

The long shape of Blackdown, highest point of Mendip, looms on the southern skyline. Today its slopes were trickling with water. With a hollow gushing a stream tumbled into the chilly depths of Read’s Cavern, one of dozens of water-burrowed caves in Mendip’s limestone massif. When Read’s was excavated in the 1920s, a set of Iron Age slave manacles was unearthed, their story untold but ripe for imagining.

A broad track rises up the flank of Blackdown. We climbed through fox-brown bracken where cattle grazed and thirty-five semi-wild ponies snorted and cantered away in a bunch. From the ridge the view was enormous, from the Quantock Hills and Exmoor down in the southwest to the steely grey Bristol Channel with its twin islands, pudding-shaped Steep Holm and sleeping-dog Flat Holm.

Along the foot of Blackdown the muddy Limestone Link footpath took us sliding and squelching past Burrington Combe. Wild goats were grazing the grey striped cliffs of the gorge, their white coats contrasting with the scarlet berries of cotoneaster.

On the slopes opposite the combe the Reverend Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, rich through a ‘good marriage’ in mid-Georgian times, developed a humble cottage into the Italianate extravaganza of Mendip Lodge, a massive country house with a state bedroom, mile-long terraces and a verandah nearly a hundred feet wide.

Mendip Lodge, like the good doctor’s wealth, eventually fell into decline. All we found of the grand design was a huddle of ruins behind an archway in Mendip Lodge Woods, beside the winding path that was once a fine carriage drive.

High above on the limestone upland of Dolebury Warren the sloping ramparts of a massive Iron Age hill fort encircle the western end of the ridge. Here we sat to catch our breath and gaze across the channel to the far-off hills of Wales.
Start: Swan Inn, Rowberrow, Winscombe, Somerset BS25 1QL (OS ref ST451583)
Parking: please ask, and give pub your custom.

Getting there: Rowberrow is signed off A38 between Churchill and Winscombe

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 141): Left down School Lane. Just after right bend, left down track (453583); in 300m at T-junction, right (454586). In ¾ mile, right (465586, ‘Bridleway, Ride’, waymark post); in 100m, left on path through bracken. In 250m detour left to Read’s Cavern (468584). Resume bracken path, uphill to ‘Rowberrow Warren’ sign (469581); left through gate; right uphill. In 200m fork left (469579), upwards for ¾ mile to track on Blackdown ridge (477573); left to Beacon Batch trig pillar (485573). Left downhill to foot of slope; left (490577, waymark post, Limestone Link /LL) for 1¼ miles. On open ground 350m after crossing West Twin Brook, at crossing of broad grassy tracks, right downhill (473583). In 700m, near Link hamlet, left (475590, fingerpost) on path through Mendip Lodge Wood. In ⅔ mile pass Mendip Lodge ruin (466591); in 150m, left up bridleway. Pass gate/’Dolebury Warren’ sign on right; in 100m right (gate, blue arrow, ‘National Trust’) across Dolebury Warren (LL) for 1¼ miles, down to T-junction by Walnut House (446591). Left (LL) for ¾ mile; right (454586) to Rowberrow.

Conditions: Can be very muddy.

Lunch: Swan Inn, Rowberrow (01934-852371, butcombe.com)

Accommodation: Woodborough Inn, Winscombe BS25 HD (01934-844167, woodborough-inn.co.uk)

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

 Posted by at 03:00
Jan 112020

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:

From a viewpoint high above Lulworth Cove we got a Jurassic Coast geology lesson in a million. To the east lay the almost-perfect circle of the cove, where the sea has broken through the hard Portland limestone and is busy nibbling away the soft chalk at the back of the bay. To the west, Stair Hole opened at our feet, the sea sloshing through rock arches to devour the clay of the cliffs and expose strata of limestone fantastically folded and contorted by subterranean convulsions hundreds of millions of years ago.

We climbed away up the stone-paved coast path to the crest of Hambury Tout and another remarkable view, west along a Dorset coast of sheer white cliffs, walls of chalk and freestone sculpted by wind, weather, frost and the sea. Beyond these the Isle of Portland lay skirted by rainstorms, a grey wedge sloping south to a jumble of white tide races off the narrow snout of Portland Bill.

The next ‘big reveal’ stayed concealed until we were almost on top of it – the great rock arch of Durdle Door, tall enough to sail a ship through. The good old Dorset word ‘durdle’ has its origin in Old English: the arch is a door that the sea has ‘thirled’ or pierced out of the Purbeck stone of the cliff.

Just to the west, the promontory of Bat’s Head is being durdled, too, the nascent arch of Bat’s Hole showing as a tiny blob of pale luminescence where the rainy light shone through.

Down in Scratchy Bottom we turned inland up a green chalk cleft. Under a twisted old elder we sat to have our picnic in a spattering shower. A solitary walker traversed the ridge across the valley beneath a slate grey sky on which a brilliant double rainbow slowly shaped itself.

Up on the ridge we followed a puddled track east, then dropped down among the thatched roofs and pale stone cottages of West Lulworth. A trudge across the hill, a steep descent on slippery steps, and we were crunching round the pebbly curve of Lulworth Cove between the wave-burrowed cliffs and the circle of sea eternally reaching for them.

Start: Lulworth Cove car park, near Wareham, BH20 5RQ (OS ref SY 820801). £8 fee for 4-6 hours.

Getting there: Bus X54 (Weymouth-Poole)
Road: Lulworth Cove is signed from A352 (Wareham-Dorchester) at Wool.

Walk (8 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer OL15): Coast Path (CP) west, passing Durdle Door (806803). In another ¼ mile, opposite ‘Scratchy Bottom’ sign, right through gate (802804); follow fence on left; in 750m, through gate, then another (806809). Half left up field; left at top (809811) through gate. Follow path for ⅔ mile; right on bridleway (800811) for ¾ mile to Daggers Gate (811814). Cross road; follow track past West Down Farm (820815); in 400m, right (824816, yellow arrow/YA) on path to West Lulworth. Left at road (825807); left at bus shelter; opposite Castle Inn, right along School Lane (827808). In 100m, right (arrow) up paddock to upper path; right for 400m to T-junction (824805). Dog left/right (‘Coast Path’); fork right (‘Lulworth Cove’); follow path east above Lulworth Cove. On far side, right (828801, ‘Fossil Forest’) down steep steps to cove; right along shore to car park.

Conditions: Lulworth Cove shore path walkable except at very high tide (tidetimes.org.uk). Some steep steps.

Lunch/accommodation: Castle Inn, West Lulworth BH20 5RN (01929-400311, castleinn-lulworth.co.uk) – cosy, characterful village inn.

Info: Lulworth Visitor Centre (01929-400587, lulworth.com); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 03:31
Dec 212019

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 village of Longtown straggles out a mile along its back country road in a quiet corner of western Herefordshire. On this murky morning the Norman castle on its modest mound seemed the most upstanding feature of the Olchon Valley. The great rampart of the Black Mountains, walling in the valley on west, stood all but invisible in thick grey mist.

We walked the round of the circular keep, under the projecting chute of Lord Gilbert de Lacy’s own private garderobe, and on down through the stubby curtain wall. It was hard to credit that the battered and much-quarried little ruin once dominated all this valley and its commerce by road or river.

Strolling out of Longtown and down the pastures towards the winding Olchon Brook, the mountainous scene came gradually into focus ahead. From the river bank the green fields sloped up past Cayo Farm to where they abruptly steepened into the bracken-brown mountainside.

A grassy trod, one of a whole skein of paths criss-crossing these Welsh Border hills, slanted up the slope and deposited us at the top onto the broad saddle of Hatterrall Ridge. Suddenly the view opened for miles westward, down into the long cleft of the Vale of Ewyas, over and across into the wild central massif of the Black Mountains. The great arches and monastery ruins of Llanthony Priory lay screened by trees and the slope of the lane, but we could see the old packhorse track to the abbey falling away into Ewyas as a hillside thread.

Offa, late 8th-century King of Mercia, ordered a mighty earthen wall and dyke or ditch to be built along the borders to keep the warlike Welsh in their place. Here along the high lookout of Hatterrall Ridge run the remnants of Offa’s Dyke. We followed it north with tremendous views on all sides, present-day lords of all we surveyed.

All too soon our homeward path appeared, a steep track sloping down the mountainside into the Olchon Valley and its sheep pastures once more. A familiar landmark beckoned us back across the fields to Longtown – the stumpy castle keep, still standing sentinel over valley, road and river.

Start: Longtown Castle, Longtown, near Abergavenny HR2 0LE (OS ref SO 321292)

Getting there: Longtown is signed off A465 (Abergavenny-Brecon).

Walk (5¾ miles, some steep ascents, OS Explorer OL13): From castle, right along road. Opposite Outdoor Learning Centre, right (322290). Path down to cross stile; down field to road (320288). Through gate, left of ford (‘permissive path’); in 50m, right across brook; left up field to Cayo Farm (317285). Through farmyard; on up 4 fields (fence on right), then bear left to stile (310280) and green lane.

At top of rise cross green track (309279, yellow arrow/YA); bear left along green track, sloping uphill for ½ mile. Near top, path forks; go right uphill to Offa’s Dyke Path (308270). Right along ridge following ODP. In 900m pass trig pillar (305279); in another 600m pass cairn (300283); in 250m, at second cairn at cross-paths, right (299285). Path soon bears left and slants downhill. In 200m ignore green track hairpin to right (300288); in another 350m, hairpin right at cross-tracks (300291). Follow path, keeping same line, downhill for 500m to cross stream at corner of fence (303287). Right downhill to track; left to road (304289); right.

Pass Great Turnant farm (306288). In 300m, at Lower Turnant, right along gravel driveway (308291, fingerpost). Follow white arrows to left, then through gate. Down field to cross holloway at bottom left corner (310292, gates, YA). On down field; through gate by pond (312293); across field, through right-hand of 2 gates (314293). In 100m, left (gate, stone stile); down to cross footbridge (315293). Across fields (gates, stiles), heading for Longtown Castle.

Lunch/Accommodation: Crown Inn, Longtown HR2 0LT (01873-860217, crowninnlongtown.co.uk

Info: Hay-on-Wye TIC (01497-820144); visitengland.com/herefordshire; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:36
Dec 072019

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:

It was cool and misty across the Wiltshire downs. I hung over the twin bridges at Great Bedwyn, first watching the train rattle away towards Newbury, then admiring the slender curves of the Kennet & Avon Canal.

The lacy stonework of the church tower rose among autumn trees – crimson, gold, lemon yellow, scarlet. Beyond the bridge lay narrowboats with cosily smoking chimneys, a wintering community of water gypsies that looked almost as settled as the village itself.

The towpath of the Kennet & Avon led south. The canal lay as still as a pond, its grey-brown water disturbed only by the gentle pat and ripple of falling willow leaves. A milky sheen glinted on chalky fields newly sown with spring wheat. Beside Lock 61 a tremendous grunting came from a pig palace of straw bales, where a massive ginger sow luxuriated in the mud.

The tall chimney of Crofton pumping station loomed ahead, softened by mist. Built in 1812 to pump water to the adjacent summit ponds of the Kennet & Avon, nowadays its preserved Boulton & Watt steam engine, a mighty monster, is the oldest working beam engine in the world.

Here I turned aside along the canal reservoir of Wilton Water, a rushy lake winding under willows. A young heron, disturbed at my approach, took off from its fishing stance and flapped away like an animated umbrella.

Above the brick-and-timber village of Wilton, larks sang over Dodsdown. The path led across a rain-pearled beet field into the neighbouring woods of Wilton Brail and Bedwyn Brail, deer parks in the long ago. An eerie half-light lingered among the enormous storm-shattered carcases of fallen beech trees. Long tailed tits passed in a twittering flock. Sweet chestnut husks littered the path, neatly split into quarters and robbed of their contents by squirrels.

At the summit of Bedwyn Brail I sat on a bench looking across the golden woods. Just southward along the ridge lay the earthworks of a grand mansion planned, but never completed, by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and lord of Wolf Hall. At one time Seymour flew high as Lord Protector to his nephew, young Edward VI. But his flight ended in 1552, crashing Icarus-like to earth at the execution block.

When the foundations of Bedwyn Brail house were excavated a few years ago, the brick-built water system installed in 1549 by the royal Sergeant Plumber was found to be still working perfectly.

Start: Bedwyn railway station, Great Bedwyn, SN8 3PB (OS ref SU 280645)

Getting there: Train to Great Bedwyn; bus 22 (Marlborough-Hungerford)
Road – Great Bedwyn is signed from Froxfield on A4 east of Hungerford (M4, Jct 14).

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 157): South for 1¾ miles along Kennet & Avon Canal towpath. Opposite Crofton Lock pumping station, left (262623, ‘Wilton Windmill’); footpath to road in Wilton (267616). Left past Swan Inn (‘Great Bedwyn’); opposite Tidcombe turning, left (270617), ‘Crofton’ fingerpost). In 100m, right; follow yellow arrows into Wilton Brail wood (271622) and on. In ¾ mile cross road (278627); on into Bedwyn Brail wood. At benches on ridge (284625), left and follow ‘Great Bedwyn’ and ‘footpath’ for nearly 1 mile to north edge of wood (283638). Cross field to far right corner (281641, yellow arrows); right down path to road (281649); left to station.

Lunch: Three Tuns, Great Bedwyn (01672-870289; tunsfreehouse.com); Swan Inn, Wilton SN8 3SS (01672-870274, theswanwilton.com)

Accommodation: Pelican Inn, Bath Road, Froxfield, Marlborough SN8 3JY (01488-682479, pelicaninn.co.uk)

Info: Marlborough TIC (01672-512487); visitwiltshire.co.uk
Crofton Beam Engine opening and steam days: croftonbeamengines.org; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:45
Nov 232019

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:

Just when the Cornovi tribe built the polyhedral stronghold of Castle Ring is a matter of conjecture. Certainly it was with primitive hand tools and massed labour, long before the Romans arrived in Britain. Walking the ramparts on this bright cold morning at the southern edge of Cannock Chase, we looked out over the sunlit Staffordshire plain to crumpled hills rising far in the northeast.

The Heart of England Way trails north from Castle Ring through the depths of Cannock Chase, ‘green lung’ and recreational woodland for the cheek-by-jowl old manufacturing towns of the Black Country. None of that was even a twinkle in an industrialist’s eye when the Bishops of Lichfield and Coventry held this area as a hunting forest for their great palace at Beaudesert, the ‘beautiful wilderness’.

The wilderness looked well regulated today. Cyclists pedalled, dog walkers sauntered. The rasp of saws and rattle of mechanical grabs sounded from Stonepit Green, where piles of logs just harvested gave off a tarry, resinous whiff. Soon we’d turned aside, deeper into the forest, where the long lake of Horsepasture Pools lay ruffled by the wind.

The sun struck down through the trees, a touch of wintry warmth for the cheeks, the strong low light silvering the trunks of beech and birch and turning the dangling seed cones on the larch boughs to rows of golden lanterns. Long-tailed tits and siskins skipped in company among the cones, twittering with excitement over their treetop feasting.

A rutted track led away from Horsepasture, over Startley Hill and on west along Marquis’s Drive. After the Reformation the Paget family, Marquesses of Anglesey, replaced the Bishops of Lichfield as lords and masters of the forest, a role they sustained for 400 years until emptying coffers and the demands of the taxman drove them away.

We passed the silty streams and rushy ponds in the hollow of Seven Springs, and turned up a rubbly track over Rainbow Hill. The pebbles underfoot, as hard and cold as quartz, had been rounded and smoothed by some primordial flood through millennia of tumbling, something to conjure as we crunched this ancient stony carpet back to Castle Ring.

Start: Castle Ring car park, off Holly Hill Road, Cannock Wood WS15 4RN (OS ref SK 045126)

Getting there: Castle Ring is signposted from Cannock Wood (M6 Toll Jct T6; A5190, Burntwood).

Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 244): Circuit of Castle Ring hillfort, then Heart of England Way/HEW north. In ½ mile descend over crossing (040133); in 200m, at HEW/Two Saints Way marker post, bear right/east (040135) on forest road. In ¾ mile, bear left past Trout Lodge gates (050139); cross Horsepasture Pools; on for ¾ mile to road at Wandon (040146). From junction opposite (‘Rugeley’), fork left downhill (public bridleway, HEW). Follow HEW/Marquis Drive for 1 mile. Just before A460 at Moor’s Gorse, left off HEW past metal barrier (025151), up track. In 100m, right at 3-way split; in 100m, at 4-way split, follow 2nd on left, uphill/south through trees. In 1 mile pass golf clubhouse (027136); left along roadway; in 50m, right down drive. Cross road (029136). Pass barrier; left on path beside road, then follow forest road southeast for 1 mile, keeping ahead at all junctions, to HEW at Castle Ring (042128); right to car park.

Lunch: Park Gate Inn, Castle Ring WS15 4RN (01543-682742); friendly pub with bar snacks

Accommodation: The Lodge, B&B, 603 Littleworth Rd, Cannock WS12 1QQ (01543-428582, thelodgecannockchase.com)

Info: forestryengland.co.uk/cannockchase; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 03:28
Nov 162019

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:

Only the upperworks of St Davids Cathedral tower are visible as you enter the smallest city in Britain. First sight of the cathedral is so unexpected it takes your breath away. You step through the arch of Porth-y-Twr gatehouse, and there, filling a hollow far below, lies this magnificent and enormous church, with the ruin of a most spectacular 14th-century Bishop’s Palace just behind.

There’s hardly a sign of the modern world, just woods and fields beyond rising to knobbly, mountainous outcrops on the unseen coast. It’s a truly wondrous way to start this walk round one of the most spectacular sections of coastline in all of Wales.

Green lanes and country roads took us down to the southern corner of Whitesands Bay. On the far side of the tan-coloured strand the rocky promontory of St Davids Head ran a long finger westward into the sea. Wavelets creamed on the sands, and from a rock stack offshore came the querulous cries of a herring gull asserting its territorial rights.

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path leads along the coast at the very edge of green and purple cliffs whose dense sandstone has fractured into slanted faces as smooth as slate. The sea gasped hungrily at their feet, and from up ahead came the swish and thump of the tide race in Ramsey Sound.

Ramsey Island, long and low-slung with two humps of hill, lay square-on across a mile or so of very turbulent water. Sinews of tides pulled hard in opposite directions, whirlpools circled end to end, and a jabble of large waves rose north and south.

Ramsey is a RSPB reserve these days, but the old farmhouse where the Griffiths family once stuck out the tough island life still stands out against the green turf. From a tiny fingernail of beach at the southern end came a thin hooting. With binoculars we made out a little gathering of seal pups in white fur, nerving themselves for the short journey to the waves and their new lives as creatures of the sea.

Soon Ramsey Island was behind us. The path led in and out of tiny coves and beaches. We skirted the slit-like inlet of Porth Clais, and headed inland past the ancient chapel of St Non, mother of St David, with the last of the daylight transferring a silver sheen from the sea to the darkening sky above.

Start: St Davids Cathedral, Pembrokeshire SA62 6RD (OS ref SM 752254)

Getting there:
Bus 411 (Haverfordwest)
Road – A487 from Fishguard or Haverfordwest

Walk (10 miles, easy, lanes and cliff paths, OS Explorer OL35): From town centre follow Goat Street (‘St Justinian’s’). Bear left at ‘Merrivale’; on down Catherine Street. Opposite Ramsey Gardens, right (749252, blue arrow) down lane. In ½ mile at road, left (743252). In 200m, right (‘Ty Newydd Farm’). In 400m right at road (737250). In 500m, left at T-junction (736254, ‘St Justinian’). In 500m, right (731254, ‘Pencarnan’). At Pencarnan entrance, fork right (728258, ‘Public Path to Coast Path’). At coast, left on Pembrokeshire Coast Path/PCP for 6½ miles via St Justinian’s (724252). Porthlysgi Bay (731238) and Porth Clais (741242) to St Non’s Bay (750243). Inland off PCP at kissing gate (fingerpost) past St Non’s Chapel to road (752244); left for ¾ miles to St Davids.

Conditions: Coast path along unguarded cliffs

Lunch: Picnic; The Bishop’s Inn, Cross Square, St Davids SA62 6SL (01437-720422, thebish.co.uk)

Accommodation: 15 Tower Hill (Landmark Trust), St Davids SA62 6RD (01628-825920, landmarktrust.org.uk) – cosy cottage overlooking cathedral.

Information: St Davids Visitor Centre (01437-720392)

visitwales.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:56
Nov 092019

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 sunny morning in rural Essex, wintry but bright, with a blue sky mitigating the sharp northwest wind. There were puddles in the rough old road leading east from Newport Station, and a good solid crunch of flint underfoot.

South of the lane the big bowl of Chalk Farm Quarry has scooped away half a hill. Its roadways lay slick and glistening with the sheen of chalk compressed and polished by heavy tyres.

The lane ran as a holloway in a tunnel of goat willow and hawthorn. Hard green crab apples lined the ruts. The hedges were filled with brushy green heads of ivy berries, scarlet droplets of rosehips, and the plump pink fruits of spindle, about to burst to reveal their bright orange interiors.

Up in the open fields the feeling was a top-of-the-world one. The wind at our backs bowled dry beech leaves ahead of us along the track. Enormous fields of dark plough and tender green bean shoots stretched away to woods with intriguing names: Hop Wood, Cabbage Wood, Pig’s Parlour.

At Waldegrave’s Farm the barns were tight packed with the winter’s straw in neat square bales. At the farm fence three little spaniels did their best to give us a fierce send-off, their wagging tails belying every yap.

Down at Rook End we turned north beside the woods of Debden Park to reach the lonely church of St Mary the Virgin. The grand estate developed in Georgian times by well-to-do merchant Richard Chiswell is only a memory now, but St Mary’s retains a whiff of the family’s whims and wishes in the strange Moorish roof of the chancel and the exuberant monuments and stained glass armorial devices.

A snaking footpath runs the length of the Debden Water’s shallow valley, and we followed it back to Newport through coarse sheep pastures and whispery groves of poplar and willow.

I fell for the old trick pulled by sloes each autumn – look how plump and blue we are! How tasty we must be, don’t you think? Ugh! Nothing had changed. Still that old sensation of blotting paper and sour metal on the palate. Never mind – drowned in sugar and a Kilner jar of gin, they’ll sweeten my Christmas potations.

Start: Newport railway station, near Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 3PL (OS ref TL 522335)

Getting there: Rail to Newport. Bus 301 (Saffron Walden-Bishop’s Stortford).
Road: Newport is on B1383 (M11, Jct 9)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 195): From Platform 1, right along Byway (‘Saffron Trail’). In 1 mile, ahead along road (536329); in 100m, right past Waldegrave’s Farm on track for 1 mile to road (550323). Left; just beyond Rook End cottage garden, left (552323) across field. Cross ditch; left up field edge. In ½ mile, path turns left through hedge (553332) across field to road. Left to Debden church (551332). From west end, path to kissing gate and on (‘Harcamlow Way’/HC). In 150m, right by stables (549333) to cross road at Newport Lodge (550340). On past Howe Barn. At corner of wood (547343), left along grass strip to pass Brick House Farm (545341, arrows). At road, right over stile (545339), following HC. In 600m fork left off HC (540339, yellow arrow) on path through meadows. In 1 mile at field corner, fork right (525342) into trees. Cross footbridge (524343); under railway (522343) to Newport High Street. Left to station.

Lunch: Picnic from Dorringtons Bakery, 24 High Street, Newport CB11 3PQ

Accommodation: The Cricketers, Clavering, Saffron Walden CB11 4QT (01799-550442, thecricketers.co.uk)

Info: Saffron Walden TIC (01799-524002); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:30
Nov 022019

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:

The handsome old Cumbrian coastal town of Silloth has re-invented itself a few times down the years – busy port, seaside resort, genteel retirement haven, nice quiet place to bring up young families.

Vestiges of all those incarnations were on display as we set out along the promenade – big boxy silos around the still-working port area, a Victorian pagoda-style pavilion perched high for the view across the Solway Firth to the Scottish mountains, and people out for exercise pushing into the strong sea breeze with hair and scarves a-stream.

The Solway shore was a bracing, blusterous place to be walking today. Too much rain and wind in the forecast for the Lake District mountains, we’d felt, but this was perfect for a thorough blow-through. Across the firth the low-lying hills of Dumfriesshire gleamed as though oiled and burnished by short-lived sun splashes, then dulled under sweeping rainclouds.

The wind moaned and drummed in the cast-iron bracing of Cote lighthouse, causing the tall white skeleton shape on the shore to tremble like a frightened giraffe. Gulls blew overhead. A squadron of oystercatchers went by on downcurved wings like little fighter planes, making their characteristic sharp pic! pic! calls.

At Skinburness a row of houses faced the sea behind a protective barrier of rough-hewn rock. It must be wonderfully exhilarating to live here on such a day, and frightening too, as you watch the hungry sea in the knowledge that its levels are rising year by year.

Beyond Skinburness the houses fell away along with the concrete steps of the promenade. Now the path followed a shore of multicoloured pebbles of sandstone and quartz with little scatterings of coarse-grained, dark pink sand. An oak leaf, blackened and weightless, raced us along the beach, pattering and bouncing across the sand, drawing gradually away until the wind flicked it head over heels into the waves.

Out at Grune Point, turnstones pattered busily on the tideline. A spread of brackish marsh pools showed where the sea was encroaching on the heathy terrain of the peninsula.

A circular pillbox lay among gorse bushes, its walls built of concrete sandbags, topped by a pyramidal seamark of stone. Inside a central pillar held up the roof, like some Neolithic tomb abandoned and forgotten. Built during the Second World War to ward off the German invasion that never came, the pillbox gloried in a most exalted title – the ‘Cumberland Machine-Gun and Anti-Tank Rifle Emplacement’.

We turned for home along the wide channel of Skinburness Creek, whose waters were already ebbing seaward. From the rain-darkened prairie of Skinburness marsh across the creek came curlew bubbles, wigeon whistles and the excited piping of many waders as the receding tide uncovered the mud flats once more, a well-stocked larder for all these wintering birds.

Start: Sea View car park, Silloth, Cumbria CA7 4AW (OS ref NY 106537)

Getting there:
Bus 400 from Carlisle; 60E (Skinburness-Maryport)
Road – from Carlisle, A595, A596 to Wigton; B5302 to Silloth

Walk (7¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 314): Follow Promenade, then sea wall path north-east for 3½ miles to Grune Point (144569). Clockwise round tip of peninsula; follow path/track back along south side. At first houses of Skinburnessbank, right (129560, fingerpost) up green lane to north side of peninsula; turn left for 2¼ miles back to Silloth.

Lunch: Fairydust Emporium, Eden Street, Silloth (01697-331787, facebook.com/fairydusthq) – truly delightful café/restaurant

Accommodation: Golf Hotel, 4 Criffel Street, Silloth CQ7 4AB (01697-331438, golfhotelsilloth.co.uk)

Info: Silloth TIC, Solway Discovery Centre, Liddle Street CA7 4DD (01697-331944), golakes.co.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 00:15
Oct 262019

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:

The Royal Oak in Leighterton, all mellow pale gold stone, looked like the snuggest village pub in the world. The savour of roasting beef hung in the air like a promise. But first there was a walk to tackle on this sunny autumn morning – one of the most beautiful walks in the south Cotswold hills, but with a spice of poignancy at the outset.

The cemetery on the outskirts of Leighterton holds a cluster of Commonwealth War Graves. The two dozen young Australian trainee flyers of Leighterton aerodrome who lie beneath the neat white headstones all died in 1918 or 1919 – most of them the victims of crashes as they tried to master the volatile controls of their Sopwith Camel biplanes.

Beyond the cemetery the path led across stony ploughlands and sloping pastures, down into Hawkesbury Spinney where frills of bracket fungus clung to the trees. We climbed a bank and opened a gate into the arboreal heaven of Westonbirt Arboretum.

Squirrels scuffed up rustling drifts of leaves, looking for nuts to hoard against the winter. Families strolled, dogs yapped and photographers clicked away, entranced by the stained-glass effects of the acer leaves as the sun shone through them in liquid reds and acid yellows.

Beyond the Arboretum we looped through Willesley, whose neat lanes were edged with immaculately kept walls of Cotswold stone. Then back along Westonbirt’s valley bottom, where a track led away into a steep-sided little cleft that wound this way and that as it climbed gently to Bowldown Road and a whizz of traffic.

A short stretch along the verge and we were on the homeward path through broad sheep pastures where ewes with tender feet went hobbling away, dot-and-carry-one. Past the handsome stone walls and window arches of Slait Barn, and on over stone stiles towards Leighterton and the Royal Oak.

At the bar table by the fire we stretched out our legs, boots off. I opened my notebook and from between the pages shook out a shower of lemon and scarlet leaves, harvested under the trees of Westonbirt, now pressed and flattened to perfection.

Start: Royal Oak PH, Leighterton, Glos GL8 8UN (OS ref ST 823912)

Getting there: Leighterton is signed off A46 (Bath – Stroud) between Dunkirk and Nailsworth.

Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 168):
From pub, left through car park; ahead along road; in 400m pass cemetery; on left bend, ahead (827910) on Monarch’s Way, southeast across fields to gate into Hawkesbury Spinney (839902). In 150m, right up broad woodland track (unwaymarked; labelled ‘Macmillan Way’ on map); gate at top (841900) into Westonbirt Arboretum. Ahead along Broad Drive. At southern boundary of Arboretum, through gate (844887). Left (field path) to cross A433 (849888, kissing gate). Lane opposite; left at junction; in 200m, left (852887, stone stile, ‘Westonbirt’). Path (stiles, yellow arrows) across paddocks, then by field edges for ½ mile to stile/steps into road (858893). Left; in 100m, left to cross A433 (855894). Follow bridleway opposite along valley bottom for 1 mile to gate into Bennett’s Spinney (844901). Ignore Monarch’s Way ahead; instead, fork right (blue arrow on gate), north for ¾ mile up valley bottom past Ellick’s Wood to road (846913). Right to Bowldown Road; left on verge; in 400m, left (fingerpost) on path west, then southwest across fields for 1¾ miles, past Bowldown Wood, then between Sheephouse Covert and Slait Barn, to Leighterton.

Lunch: Royal Oak, Leighterton (01666-890250, royaloakleighterton.co.uk) – proper characterful village pub; excellent food.

Accommodation: King’s Arms, Didmarton (01454-238245, kingsarmsdidmarton.co.uk)

Westonbirt Arboretum: (0300-067-4890; forestryengland.uk/westonbirt; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk
NB Please keep to public rights-of-way as described; all other Arboretum paths are for ticket-holders only. If you want to enjoy the best of Autumn at the Arboretum, the entrance is on A433 opposite Westonbirt village. Entrance: £10 adult, £4 child, March-November; £7/£3 December-February.

 Posted by at 01:59
Oct 192019

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:

Today was one of those ‘Shall we?’ days – a morning of chilly winds over County Durham, and a weather forecast of spitting showers followed by proper rain. It wasn’t really conducive, the thought of pulling on all the raingear and setting out through a dank and dripping Hamsterley Forest. But in the end we were glad we did.

‘Oh, it can get a bit clarty up there in the forest,’ said the jolly young ranger in the Visitor Centre. We hadn’t heard that local word meaning ‘mucky’ for many a day. And a bit clarty it turned out to be, once we’d got off the hard-surfaced tracks.

We had a look at the ranger’s map and decided on the Three Becks Walk, thoroughly waymarked and well laid out. The Bedburn Beck, charged with rain, went bouncing down under the trees, a vigorous young stream of water stained toffee-brown with peat from the moors. The forest steamed, a heady whiff of bark, resin and damp pine needles.

Timber climbing frames beside the trail catered for youngsters with energy to burn. In its maturity Hamsterley Forest plays a role as a leisure woodland for walkers, cyclists, runners and riders, but when it was created in the 1930s, it was as a severely commercial softwood forest.

Back then the north-east of England was in the grip of the Great Depression, and local pitmen and shipyard workers who had lost their jobs were only too happy to be paid for planting young trees in their millions. They lived on site in barrack-like wooden huts, still to be seen near the Visitor Centre.

We followed the Three Becks Walk west among the pines and larches, their hard dark presence softened by borders of beech, oak and sycamore. There was a steady trickle of chaffinch song, a background chitter of wrens, and in the treetops the excited thin squeaking of goldcrests foraging high up.

Soon we forked off the surfaced track, up a stony forest path bound together with knotty conifer roots. Clearings opened up, large areas left to grow scrubby where spindly rowans and silver birch swayed to the windy swirls of rain.

A steep descent on a slippery track, across Bedburn Beck and up through Frog Wood on an old drove road to a view over a gate onto open moorland rusty with heather sprigs and bracken. Down past the ruin of Metcalf’s House, once an inn for the drovers, with an apse-shaped bread oven at the house end. And a return along Redford Meadows beside Bedburn Beck, a beautiful lush end to the walk in steady rain, watching for dippers along the stream and breathing in the scent of the wet exhaling forest.

Start: Hamsterley Forest Visitor Centre, Co. Durham DL13 3NL (OS ref NZ 092312). Car park £6/day.

Getting there: Hamsterley Forest is signed from A68 (Darlington-Tow Law) at Witton-le-Wear.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL31): Follow the well-waymarked Three Becks Walk (white arrow on orange square) all the way round. NB Hamsterley Forest contains many walking and cycle trails, so look out for the right waymarks! On the return leg, vary the route by following Riverside Walk (blue arrows) from the road at Low Redford Bridge (081310). Turn right along road here to cross Aisford Beck; in 80m, left through car park (080309, ‘public footpath’ fingerpost) and follow Riverside Walk back to Visitor Centre.

Conditions: well surfaced, well waymarked trails. Trail maps available from Visitor Centre.

Lunch: Hamsterley Café, Visitor Centre.

Info: Hamsterley Forest Visitor Centre (01388-488312, forestryengland.uk); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:48