Feb 242018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Mist on the moor tops of the Forest of Bowland, and cool grey weather down in the long green valley of the River Wyre. Abbeystead lay sheltered along its tree-lined road, an immaculate Victorian estate village built in mock-medieval style by the 4th Earl of Sefton, all stone mullions, gables and thick chimney stacks.

We breathed the scent of resin from the roadside pines as we set out from the village across sedgy pastures. Rain-sodden ewes with red raddled rumps went flouncing away. Top o’ Emmetts farmhouse sat on its ridge among stark stone byres and barns. A bleak late winter scene, the kind that drives you on over the wet fields and across stone walls green with algae, following the white exhalations of your own breath.

Twin rivers flow through this high valley, the Tarnbrook Wyre to the north and the Marshaw Wyre in the south, snaking west on converging courses to meet and mingle at Abbeystead Reservoir. We crossed the northern branch at Tarnbrook, where the farm dogs barked us out of the tight-huddled hamlet and on through the lonely farmsteads of Gilberton and Speight Clough.

No-one came and no-one went among the sturdy old buildings. We had the whole world entirely to ourselves – the leafless straggle of Harry Wood, the moors lifting their skirts of mist coquettishly, the snipe already paired for mating and zigzagging frantically away as we swished through the rushes.

Down at Tower Lodge we walk west along the valley road past Marshaw Farm with its fat white sheep. Here the Marshaw Wyre ran deep and powerful, cutting great bends in the soft sandy banks. We floundered and squelched through the bogs, nosing out the way, to arrive opposite the serried gables and windows of Abbeystead House. From where we stood, the 4th Earl of Sefton’s ‘shooting lodge’ looked large enough to accommodate all the King’s horses and all the King’s men.

If there is a muddier path in Lancashire than the one that skirts the swamps of Abbeystead Reservoir, I never wish to walk it. But perseverance had its reward – the remarkably beautiful spectacle of the conjoined Wyre rivers sliding gracefully with a mesmeric hiss down their cunningly sloped weir, in a great lacy fan of water ripples that held one’s gaze in thrall.

Start: Car park, Stoops Bridge, Abbeystead, Nr Lancaster LA2 9BQ (OS ref. SD 564542)

Getting there: M6 Jct 33; A6 south; immediately left (Hampson Lane) across motorway, follow ‘Dolphinholme’, then ‘Abbeystead’. Drive through village; cross Tarnbrook Wyre river bridge; immediately left to car park.

Walk (8½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL41): From road junction by car park, right uphill; at left bend, ahead through garden gate (567546, ‘Wyre Way’/WW, yellow arrow/YA). On across field, aiming for far left corner. Stile (YA) to cross road (575547, WW, ‘Tarnbrook’). Up Top o’ Emmetts drive; right over ladder stile/LS; follow hedge on left to top left corner of field (578549). Cross footbridge and LS, then stile and footbridge (WW). Follow YAs across sedgy fields. In 500m pass right-hand end of barn (582552); follow fence/hedge on right towards farm sheds below. Follow WW past Ouzel Thorn (585555) to cross bridge at Tarnbrook (588556).

Right on tarmac road through hamlet. Farm road continues over moor. In 500m, fork right (595556, WW) over cattle grid. At Gilberton farm, cross cattle grid (595554); left to cross footbridge; left along wall to cross stone bridge; cart track to Speight Clough (597553). Through gate; YA on tree; follow wall up cleft for 500m, past Harry Wood. At top of wood, through gate (598547, WW, ‘sheep folds’ marked on OS Explorer). DON’T cross first LS on left (with blue waymarked fingerpost); take 2nd LS, 100m further along, beside gate (599546). Across field corner to cross LS; half left to next LS (601544). Keep same direction down to stony road (603543); right downhill to turn right on valley road at Tower Lodge (604539).

In ½ mile pass turning at Rakehouse Brow (585537); keep ahead (‘Abbeystead 2’) for 150m, then on right bend go through gate ahead (WW). Keep ahead with fence/hedge on left. At angle of wall, ahead to corner of wood on right (581538). DO NOT descend to cross unwaymarked footbridge below, but bear right round the corner, along wood edge, to footbridge (580539, ‘WW’). Follow right bank of river. In 200m it bends left; leave it here, cross ridge ahead, descending to cross footbridge (578540, WW).

Continue above left bank of river. In 300m, nearing a footbridge, look left for WW waymark post in a boggy patch (576542) pointing half left to steps. Climb these; over stile at top (WW); follow fence on right. In ½ mile opposite Abbeystead House, descend to cross footbridge (567543). On to road and car park at Stoops Bridge (564542).

For a circuit of Abbeystead Reservoir, turn left to cross Marshaw Wyre river (565542). Immediately right (YA) on path through woods (extremely muddy!). In 200m cross bridge and bear right along left bank of River Wyre to reach Abbeystead Reservoir weir (557538). Cross river below weir; right up path, then reservoir road. Cross cattle grid; in 100m, opposite farmyard, right (557542, WW). Through gate; across field to road by house (559542); ahead to Abbeystead.

Conditions: many wet places; reservoir circuit is extremely muddy!

Lunch/Accommodation: Fleece Inn, Dolphinholme LA2 9AQ (01524-791233, fleeceinn.co.uk): cheerful, friendly village inn

Info: Lancaster TIC (01524-582394)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:13
Feb 172018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Mighty clouds of elephant grey came sailing over the high slopes of Black Edge and Binn Moor, and on across the Colne Valley. Among them, blue streaks gave promise of a better, if brisker, afternoon.

It’s a long time since the buzzer at Bank Bottom Mill summoned half the working population of Marsden to its carding machines and looms. The weather-stained old mill stands redundant at the bottom of the town, as big as a cathedral, acres of windows and grey slate roofs round a central tower and a slender octagonal chimney.

We followed a laneway among these haunting ruins, then on to where a great grass bank filled half the skyline. The dam of Butterley Reservoir is a really impressive sight, even when floodwater is not cascading in white ripples down its spillway.

Blakeley Reservoir, high above, is smaller and wilder. Local volunteers were planting young oaks along the banks of Wessenden Brook. Here we stood and looked back along the twisting valley with its man-made lakes, insinuated among the hills at the turn of the 20th century to feed the mills and wells of industrial Huddersfield.

Walking the Pennine Way across these moors used to be a purgatorial flounder among bogs and peat hags. Nowadays, thousands of old mill flagstones give dry passage across the morass. This afternoon’s westward walk beside Blakeley Clough was a pure pleasure, striding firm-footed as the sun burst from behind the clouds and turned the moor grass to a sea of wind-ruffled gold.

The moor top reservoirs of Black Moss and Swellands lay side by side in modest beds, their water the polished indigo of a lobster’s shell. On the shore of Redbrook Reservoir the Pennine Way met the Standedge Trail, whose stony path we followed, chased by an icy wind. It carried us down from the hills and back to Marsden by way of a narrow old walled lane, from which we looked down over the terraced houses along the valley, and the tall black chimney of the great mill complex still standing silent at the foot of the town.
Start: Marsden railway station, Marsden, W. Yorks HD7 6AX (OS ref SE 047118)

Getting there: Bus 185 from Huddersfield. Road – Marsden is on A62 (Huddersfield-Oldham)

Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorers OL21, OL1): Cross canal, walk downhill. At left bend, right across river, past church. Cross Towngate; along weir side. Cross Mount Road; up Binn Road. In 100m, fork left by Marsden Industrial Society between Bank Bottom Mill buildings (048111); on along lane to Butterley Reservoir dam. Up steps on left (049106); at top, right on Kirklees Way (fingerpost) for 1 mile to top of Blakeley Reservoir. Right on Pennine Way (054091, fingerpost) over Marsden Moor for 2 miles. Just before Redbrook Reservoir, right (027094) along Standedge Trail (unmarked, broad track). In ¾ mile cross Mount Road (037101). Up Old Mount Road; in 50m fork left (‘Hades Farm’). In 900m, right (042110, ‘Marsden Heritage Trail’, Point 15) down walled lane to track (044111). Left past house; walled lane for 300m to gate on left of farmhouse (044113). Right along house wall; ahead through 2 gates (yellow arrow); down sloping field, following gully to bottom left corner (046115). Cross stile; right down lane to road; left across A62; return to station.

Conditions: Some short, steep ascents/descents; some muddy parts

Lunch: The Railway, Marsden (01484-841541, railwaymarsdenhuddersfield.co.uk)

Accommodation: The Carriage House, Manchester Rd, Standedge, Marsden HD7 6NL (01484-844419, thecarriage-house.co.uk)

Info: yorkshire.com/places/west-yorkshire; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:59
Feb 102018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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‘Heavy, persistent rain – gale force winds – weather warnings issued!’

The forecast for south Cheshire sounded dire. This was nothing new, however. Last time we’d stayed at the Cholmondeley Arms, fallen trees had blocked all the roads and a power cut had necessitated a candle-lit, rug-wrapped evening in the old schoolroom-turned-pub.

We glanced outside. A racing sky and scurrying clouds, but no downpours on the horizon. Shall we? Shan’t we? Oh, come on, let’s give it a go.

The wind blustered round Wrenbury’s old sandstone church of St Margaret. Inside were wide arcades, a maze of box pews, and a fine memorial to Stapleton Cotton, Viscount Combermere, Governor of Barbados, C-in-C of the Leeward Islands, Ireland and the East Indies. Also a box pew for the parish dog whipper, a post sadly in abeyance these days. The dog whipper kept canine upstarts in order during services with a 3-foot rod and a pair of dog tongs. It must have been quite a challenge.

Out in the fields lay glinting pools, witness to the impermeability of the glacial clay spread across this gently undulating landscape. The wind hissed in the leafless hedges and tossed parcels of rooks about the sky. Ashes and oaks roared as we trudged by.

In Aston we passed the Bhurtpore Inn, named for a victorious siege conducted by Lord Combermere in 1825. Old wars of empire seemed very far away, though, as we crossed Paradise Bridge in a dell of restless oaks, and forged north across beet fields and clover pastures.

A sweet treacly smell blew after us from a feed mill downwind. At the half-timbered old farmhouse of Sound Oak young cattle munched hay in their sheds. A last stretch across squelchy fields and we were following the grassy towpath of the Llangollen Canal back towards Wrenbury. At Baddiley Lock water chuckled down the spillway and ran rippling and flirting with the wind under bare boughs of oak and aspen.

If we’d taken heed of that portentous forecast, we would have missed out on a wonderful blowy walk, the canal waters spattered gold with oak leaves, and this stretch of winter country, green and quiet, under its racing sky.

Start: Wrenbury station, near Nantwich, Cheshire CW5 8EX (OS ref SJ 601471); or Wrenbury village, CW5 8HW (OS ref SJ 593477)

Getting there: Rail to Wrenbury station; bus 72 from Whitchurch
Road: Wrenbury is signed off A590 (Nantwich-Whitchurch)

Walk (7¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 257): From station, follow Wrenbury Road past industrial estate on left. In 100m, left (stile, ‘South Cheshire Way’/SCW) diagonally across field to road (604469). Left; in 300m, right (607470, kissing gate, SCW) across field, paddock, plantation to road in Aston (610469). Left past Bhurtpore Inn. On left bend, right up Woodcotthill Lane (609472). In 20m, right (SCW); in 300m, in 3rd field, fork left off SCW (612472, kissing gate, yellow arrow/YA).

Half right across field to hedge (614473); left along it to cross Paradise Bridge (614475). Field edge path north for 700m to road at Sound Hall (614481). Right; in 100m, left (YA) across field. Through gate; aim across field, and follow hedge on right (617484), then railway on left (618486) to road (619489). Left; in 240m, left (618491) up Sound Oak Farm drive. Pass to right of house; on across fields for ½ mile to road (608495). Left to steps down to canal; left along towpath for 2 miles to Wrenbury Bridge (590480).

Left along road to Wrenbury (NB Alternative Start). Right opposite church down New Road (593477, ‘Marbury, Whitchurch’). In 700m, opposite Smeaton Hall drive, left (590471, gate, SCW) across fields. Aim left of battery sheds (593470); stile, then 2 fields to Wrenbury station.

Conditions: Fields can be very wet!

Lunch: Dusty Miller, Wrenbury Bridge CW5 8HG (01270-780537)

Accommodation: Cholmondeley Arms, Wrenbury Rd, Malpas SY14 8HN (01829-720300, cholmondeleyarms.co.uk) – fabulous, candle-lit pub-in-a-schoolroom, friendly and comfortable.

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

 Posted by at 01:22
Feb 032018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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‘Oh, we have people here all the year round to visit the waterfalls,’ said the landlord of the New Inn at Ystradfellte, ‘and a nice Sunday carvery, and that’s how we keep going.’

The New Inn, as warm and welcoming as you’d like every village pub to be, is at the heart of tiny but thriving Ystradfellte, in a cleft of the Brecon Beacons country. It takes a good positive community to keep a pub, post office, church and village hall going these days in such a small and out-of-the-way place.

Brooks trickled and field ditches chuckled with water after last night’s rain. Down at Porth-yr-Og, unearthly groans and roars issued from a cave in which the Afon Mellte went churning and twisting invisibly through subterranean narrows. A file of youngsters in hard hats and caving overalls came up the path, grinning their heads off with excitement at what they’d seen down there.

A narrow, stony laneway, all mud and moss, led us over a green hillside and down into a parallel valley where the Nedd Fechan river rushed beneath Pont Rhyd-y-Cnau, ‘bridge at the ford of the nuts’. Hazels still overhung the water, but squirrels had gathered all the nuts for winter.

We walked upriver beside the Nedd Fechan, feeling its cold breath on our cheeks. The rain-swollen water hurried over rapids, fed by tributaries that tumbled down through the woods in stepped waterfalls. Pwll Du, the black pool, lay quiet, a dark silver disc in a cave mouth at the foot of a crag. We scrambled up a steep little path and teetered along at the rim of the gorge, ducking under silver birch boughs crusty with white and green lichens.

A farm track across the river led up to Cefn-ucheldref, the ‘back homestead’, a lonely clutch of mossy ruins on the hillside. A final crossing of the Nedd Fechan, and we followed an old bridleway eastward over a sedgy upland until the neat white houses of Ystradfellte appeared below in a twinkle of lights through the dusk.

Start: Ystradfellte car park, Brecon Beacons, CF44 9JE (OS ref: SN 930134)

Getting there: Ystradfellte is signed from A4059, 4 miles north of Hirwaun

Walk (6 miles, strenuous in parts, OS Explorer OL12): Right by New Inn, past church; cross river; in 200m, right (932130, stile, yellow arrow/YA). Follow path for 600m to car park (928124). Detour right down zigzag path, then left over stiles to see Porth-yr-ogof cave. At road beyond car park, right; just past ‘Cwmporth’ sign, left (blue arrow, ‘bridleway’) south-west along narrow walled lane.

In 900m at T-junction (921117, blue post), right to road. Left; first right (919117, ‘Nedd Valley’). In 200m, left through gate (unmarked); down steep lane to river at Pont Rhyd-y-Cnau (912116). Don’t cross bridge; turn right (north) on riverbank path. In 500m, at Pwll Du pool and cave (912121), climb narrow path above pool. Follow narrow path, close to fence on right at top of gorge, north for 500m to cross river on bridge below Dyffryn-Nedd (912126).

Up track (YAs) to field (911128); follow track, keeping same height above river. In 500m aim a little left for ruins of Cefn-ucheldref (909135, stile, YA). Right along lane above; in 350m, right on track (908139, unmarked), descending to cross river (911140). Left at road above; in 200m, right (913141, gate, ‘Ystradfellte’ fingerpost).

Half right across field, through gate; follow track. From next gate (914140) follow grassy track; in 150m, fork right. Follow path past occasional posts across open ground. In 300m pass rocky outcrops on left (917139); aim east across big open area, passing left of enclosure with poles (920139), then aiming for gate in angle of walls at far left corner of field (924138). Follow green lane south-west for ½ mile to Ystradfellte.

Conditions: muddy bridleways, narrow path on steep slope from Pwll Du northwards. Boots, sticks, mud-proof legwear!

Lunch: New Inn, Ystradfellte (01639-720211; waterfallways.co.uk) – excellent, friendly pub

Accommodation: Nant-Ddu Lodge, Cwm Taf, Merthyr Tydfil CF48 2HY (01685-379111, nant-ddu-lodge.co.uk)

Info: breconbeacons.org; visitwales.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:38
Jan 272018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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It’s hard to haul yourself out of bed on a chilly morning at sunrise, no matter what the weatherman has prophesied for that day. But there were rewards for our early-birdery. The commuters of West Sussex were still scowling their way to work as we set out from Kithurst Hill along the nape of the South Downs, under a blue sky and with a view that stopped our yawns in their tracks.

To the south-west the slender walls of Arundel Castle rose sunlit above their encircling trees, like a stronghold in a fairy tale. The plastic pavilions of Bognor Regis caught the sun, too, and beyond them a bright white ferry crawled past the grey snout of the Isle of Wight over a pale blue sea.

Nearer at hand, the chalk billows of the downs pitched and rolled. Old trackways and bridlepaths drew green seams through the pale ploughlands and stubble. We picked one running south past a windwhistle copse of beech and sycamore towards Harrow Hill’s green hummocky profile.

Harrow Hill might be, as some local stories say, the last place in England the fairies were seen dancing. It’s certainly a remarkable piece of chalk downland, pierced and riddled with the deep shafts and subterranean galleries of Neolithic flint mines. The northern flank is hollowed by a giant chalk pit, its sides as cleanly cut as though they’d been cored out with a scalpel.

We followed a grassy bridleway that skirted Harrow Hill and ran north beside a hedge of handsomely pollarded old beeches. As so often when walking these Sussex downs, we were struck by the immaculate fettle of the land.

A red kit quartered the roadless valley that opened below us, the sun catching the burnt orange of its wings as it swung this way and that on the wind. Incredible to think that these lovely creatures were all but extinct in Britain only 30 years ago.

A long straight climb to the South Downs Way at the crest, and time before the homeward trudge to lean on a gate and study the view, fifty miles in sunshine, from the wooded weald of Sussex in the north to the glinting sea far down in the south.

Start: Kithurst Hill car park, RH20 4HW approx (OS ref TQ 070125)

Getting there: Kithurst Hill car park is signed at entrance to lane on B2139, 2 miles east of Amberley towards Storrington.

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 121): Beside ‘Kithurst Hill Car Park’ sign by car park entrance, go through metal gate, and wooden gate opposite (‘Public Bridleway’, blue arrow/BA). Half left across field; aim right of water tank to fingerpost/FP (073121). Cross path; follow FPs and BAs for 1 mile to Lee Farm (076104). Left; where drive swings right, ahead through gate (078103, BA). Right across field, through gateway (078099), up rising track. Gate (BA); grass track; in 150m fork left across field for ½ mile to gate (082093). Ahead down drive; in 250m, left through gate (084090, BA). Half right across pasture; at KG and FP, left (086090) on gravel track. In 400m fork left (087092) on fenced grass bridleway. In 500m fork right through gateway (089098); ahead across pastures. In ⅔ mile, through gate (090105); in 100m, right (gate, FP) on bridleway. In 300m, left (093109, BA) for ½ mile to SDW (093117); left to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Sportsman Inn, Amberley BN18 9NR (01798-831787, thesportsmanamberley.co.uk)

Info: Chichester TIC (01243-775888)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:27
Jan 202018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A slip of tan sand, a jumble of sharp black rocks and a welter of surf at Northcott Mouth. We stood and watched the waves leaping up at the feet of the cliffs and falling back in a hissing collar of spray – a sombre, elemental scene to set the mood for this unforgiving stretch of the North Cornwall coast.

From the cliff path we looked down on dark scars that seamed across the beach under Menachurch Point, each narrow ridge an individual rock layer tilted on end by subterranean upheavals, then ground down level with the beach through the inexorable power of the sea. Sections of the clifftop had cracked and fallen away, leaving grassy bowers hanging over space where sheep grazed as nonchalantly as though in some cosy paddock.

Down into Sandy Mouth where a jet of water spouted out of the cliff; up, over and down again into the tumbled wasteland of Warren Gutter, the path so black and greasy it looked more like coal-mining country than the Cornish shore. A slippery haul up Warren Point and over to Duckpool’s tiny strand, a pause to look back along thirty miles of thundering grey surf, and we turned inland into the peaceful cleft of the Coombe Valley.

Two thatched houses guarded the ford at Coombe. Beyond lay deep woods of sweet chestnut, hazel and oak under a sky mottled in grey and airforce blue. Sedgy strips of meadowland formed the valley floor, where a stream twisted in snake bends as it sought out a way to the sea. This is the most perfect Swallows-and-Amazons setting for children staying in the cottages at Coombe, and we saw them paddling and yelling in the stream as we followed a parallel path back through Stowe Woods and up a lumpy bank to Stowe Barton.

The National Trust looks after this complex of granite buildings, a classic ridge-top farmstead of Cornwall, its roofs low and slated, its lane flanked by extravagantly wind-sculpted trees. Beyond Stowe Barton a good broad bridleway ran south across whaleback fields. This is not cream tea Cornwall – it is hard, stony land to farm and a dangerous coast to fish. Stone walls are built thick and strong, lanes burrow between windbreak hedgebanks and the land slopes westward to plunge off the scalloped cliff edge into the sea.

Start: Northcott Mouth, near Bude EX23 9EL (OS ref SS 203085)

Getting there: From Stratton on A39 (Bideford-Bude) follow ‘Poughill’; from Poughill, follow ‘Northcott Mouth’. Park neatly at end of road.

Walk (6 ¾ miles, strenuous on coastal section, OS Explorer 126): Coastal path north for 2 miles to Duckpool (202117). Road inland; at junction, left; in 100m, right through Coombe to cross ford (210117). Ahead (‘Coombe Valley’) on woodland track. In ⅔ mile fork right (221116, fingerpost) across stream. In 150m, fork right (220114); cross stream; left and follow path westward for ⅔ mile through Stowe Wood and on to cross road at Stowe Barton (212112). Follow lane opposite (‘Northcott Mouth 1.8 miles’, blue arrow/BA). In 350m, left (209110, BA); follow bridleway south. In 700m cross road (209103) and on, following BAs. In ⅔ mile go through gate (206094); bear right (unmarked), and keep to left-hand hedge. Ahead for ⅔ mile to Northcott Mouth.

Lunch: Preston Gate Inn, Poughill (01288-354017, prestongateinn.co.uk) – warm, friendly village pub

Accommodation: Landmark Trust cottages around ford at Coombe (01628-825925; landmarktrust.org.uk) – beautifully kept, classy self-catering

Info: Bude TIC (01288-354240)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:20
Jan 132018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The two-car train rattled and squeaked its way out of Golspie, heading north-east to Brora along the outer edge of the Moray Firth. The woods and fields of the Sutherland coast flickered past the windows in bright morning sunshine, the winter sun casting a silver track across a sea as thick and slow-wrinkling as oil.

Setting off to walk back from Brora’s neat little station, we passed the village’s barrel-roofed ice house, and the tiny fishing pier laden with crabbing creels. Down on the shore we headed south-west along a pebbly strand that soon turned rocky, with slabs of pale ochre sandstone moulded into sculptural shapes by the sea. A pair of black-tailed godwits with bills like slender broadswords stalked the tideline, and a flight of oystercatchers took off in a scrabble of piping and wailing.

The pebbles of the shore were wonderfully coloured – orange and jet, speckly grey and jade green. Among them our boots scraped and tinkled, the noise drawing the round-eyed stares of a coven of grey seals. They lay as fat and glistening as slugs, their hind flippers twitched up like bluetit tails, waiting out the falling tide, each on its chosen slab of rock.

We crossed a skein of fords below Sputie, whose double waterfall cascaded down the cliff into a smoking pool. Beyond the fall the coast took a more westerly curve, opening up a handsome prospect of snowy mountains beyond the long east-trending arm of the lower Moray coast.

Above the shore stood a thick circle of stone walls, the remnant of the 2,000-year-old broch or Pictish tower known as Carn Liath, ‘the grey stone-heap’. Beyond again, the roofs and turrets of Dunrobin Castle rose above the treetops, a fairytale castle fit for a sleeping princess. This classic Scottish Baronial mansion was built for the 1st Duke of Sutherland. The Duke gained immortal notoriety for the harshness with which his orders of eviction were carried out on the hill herders and subsistence farmers of his enormous estates early in the 19th century.

Many of those clearance victims ended up on the coast at Golspie, forced to adopt new lives as fisherfolk. The 1st Duke stands in gigantic statue form at the summit of Ben Bhraggie behind the village, still dominant over the coasts and hills he once controlled with an iron hand.
Start: Brora railway station, KW98 6PY (OS ref 907041).

Getting there: Rail to Brora. Bus: service X99 (Inverness-Thurso). Road – Brora is on A9 between Golspie and Helmsdale.

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 441): From Brora station, left along A9; 2nd left down Harbour Road. In 300m, bear left and follow ‘Back Shore & Beach Car Park’ to slipway down to shore (909035). Right along shore for 3¼ miles to Carn Liath broch (870014). Continue along shore for 1¼ miles. Opposite Dunrobin Castle walled garden, right inland (852006) up inclined road. Near top, opposite castle, left (850008, waymark post) on path through castle woodlands (occasional ‘village’ signs) for ¾ mile to cross Golspie Burn footbridge by Tower Lodge (839002). Left along shore path for 1 mile; 200m beyond pier, right inland up roadway (828995) to Ferry Road (825996). In 200m, left at B&B sign up laneway; right to Golspie station (824998). Return to Brora by train.

Conditions: Best done on a falling tide; some slippery rocks on shore

Lunch/Accommodation: Royal Marine Hotel, 7 Golf Road, Brora KW9 6QS (01408-621252; royalmarinebrora.com)

Info: Inverness TIC (01463-252401)
visitscotland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:00
Jan 062018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Lyth Valley was seething with moisture, in the air and on the meadows. The River Lyth ran within the confines of its banks, but only just. The hills were wet and misted. There had been rain over South Cumbria – a lot of it – and there was going to be a lot more.

It wasn’t really the morning to leave the light and warmth of the Lyth Valley Inn, if any morning ever is. But we thought we saw a chink of better weather in the offing, and plunged out waterproofed to the nines.

The upland of Whitbarrow, walled with ramparts of pale grey crags, rises between the valleys of Lyth and Winster. You can get up there from the cart road that curves round the northern snout of Whitbarrow. The limestone cobbles of the old track were skiddy this morning, and carpeted with black and gold hazel leaves. The view over the stone walls was of lumpy green sheep pastures patched with bracken the colour of damp fox fur.

Past Fell Edge Farm the track began to rise, snaking to and fro among the outcrops until it slipped over the top by way of a wall stile. Up here the wind blew strong and cold from the north-west. A patch of sea in Morecambe Bay gleamed like tarnished silver under a momentary smear of sunlight.

Whitbarrow’s broad back was dotted with clumps of low-growing juniper. A pinch of the hard green berries released savours of gin that clung to the fingers. We sniffed the damp wind and the harsh chalky smell of wet limestone. There was a sense of freedom and exhilaration up here on our own, the landscape veiled, the Lakeland mountains shut away from sight in the north but rising like waves in the mind’s eye.

At the cairn on Lord’s Seat we had a wind-whipped moment or two, watching the rain draw a milky sheet across the sea. Off the crags and down a slippery path into the stone-walled pastures at Row, where the ewes all stared as though they had never seen a human being before.

It was just beginning to freckle with rain as we descended the path to the Lyth Valley Inn. That chink of opportunity for a walk had proved just exactly wide enough.

Start: Lyth Valley Inn, Lyth, Kendal, Cumbria LA8 8DB (OS ref SD 453896)

Getting there: M6, Jct 36; A6 towards Kendal; A590 towards Barrow; in 2½ miles, left on A5074 for 3 miles to Lyth Valley Inn. Please park opposite.

Walk (5½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL7): Up track opposite Lyth Valley Inn. In 150m fork right; in 250m, right at junction (449895, ‘Whitbarrow’). Follow byway for 1 mile to gate (436895) where byway turns right; keep ahead here (blue arrow). Past Fell Edge Farm path begins to climb, zigzagging up crags to wall at top.

Cross step stile (438886, yellow arrow/YA) onto Whitbarrow upland. Follow discernible path south past silver birch trees, aiming for large round boulder on skyline (437883), then for three conical cairns. Path bears left here (SE) to reach plantation wall (440879). Left along wall for 100m; right over ladder stile; ahead with wall on left for 450m to wall stile (443875; don’t cross yet!), where path trends away right past notice board to reach cairn on Lord’s Seat (442870).

Return to cross wall stile; follow path through trees. In 150m, left (YA) for 700m to gate (448880, YA). Left to go through small wall gate; on for 400m through Township Plantation to go over path crossing (450885, YA). Follow main track through wood, ignoring side turnings, curving gradually left for 300m to meet wall (449888). Follow it left to gate into fields (448888). Follow wall on right down to Row. Through gate (450893); lane down to road; turn right. In 150m, left (452892) up lane to return to Lyth Valley Inn.

Conditions: Paths can be slippery after rain

Lunch/Accommodation: Lyth Valley Inn (01539-568295; lythvalley.com) – really comfortable and friendly; lovely food

Info: Kendal TIC (01539-735891); golakes.co.uk.

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

 Posted by at 14:46
Dec 232017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A jaunt to Christmas Common with the festive season just around the corner, on the coldest and brightest morning of the year. Ice in the puddles, our breath like smoke on the still air, and a high-flying jet soundless ploughing quadruple furrows of pure white across the blue field of the sky.

From the edge of the escarpment we got one of those views that makes you want to come and live right here, right now – the steep wooded slope dropping away to run out into mile after mile of sunlit Oxfordshire plain, a wide world dressed in the pale colours of winter.

A green woodpecker emitted its sharp, quacking alarm call as it saw off two unwanted intruders, a buzzard and a red kite. The buzzard dived sulkily back into the trees, but the kite sideslipped and climbed to resume its graceful balancing on the cold air above the hills.

At the foot of the escarpment we turned along the stony track known variously as Ridgeway, or Icknield Way, or simply and accurately, the Old Road. Old man’s beard and scarlet bryony berries made witches necklaces in its hedges, fieldfares and mistle thrushes flew straight and level out of the scrubby trees, and the low sun laid stripes of green and gold across the ancient ruts and flints.

By Dame Alice Farm (named after Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk and Geoffrey Chaucer’s grand-daughter) and Dumble Dore (possibly not named after the Hogwarts headmaster) we made our way into the Chiltern woods that so thickly blanket these chalky hills. Fallen leaves of poplar and beech made a silver and gold carpet to shuffle through.

A winter silence fell over the afternoon. The chill air in the damp hollows of the woods nipped our fingers and noses. Long-tailed tits swung and squeaked from tree to tree, the only singers in these sunlit woods.

As the day began to darken into dusk we turned along Hollandridge Lane, an ancient packhorse route across the Chilterns, for a last brisk mile to Christmas Common, with thoughts of a Christmas noggin at the Fox and Hounds to spur us on.

Start: NT car park, Christmas Common, Watlington, Oxon OX49 5HS (OS ref SU710936)

Getting there: Car park is on Hill Road, 2 miles east of Watlington.

Walk: (8¼ miles, easy with some short steep climbs, OS Explorer 171): Right along Hill Road (please take care). At junction turn left; in 50m, left (‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW). In 2nd field, don’t turn left through kissing gate (712937); keep ahead downhill to turn left on OW. In ¾ mile, left along Ridgeway (703945). In 1¼ miles left off Ridgeway at Lys Farmhouse (690929) up driveway. Pass Dame Alice Farm; in another 250m, left (692922); ‘W11’ and white arrow/WA on tree) to B480 at Dumble Dore (698926).

Right; in 50m, left (stile) on field path with hedge on right. In 500m through gate (702923, WA, yellow arrow/YA); on through woods. In 500m ahead through 2 gates (705920, blue arrow/BA). In 100m fork left (‘W15, No Riding’). In 400m cross road at Greenfield (711919). Pass barn (BA) and on. Follow BA for 700m to valley bottom. Left here (713911, ‘W19’, WA). In 400m, left at path crossing onto Chiltern Way/CW (717910, BA).

In 150m fork right (bent WA) and follow WA and CW through trees. In 550m cross valley floor (722913); climb far slope (‘PS8’, CW, WA), keeping gully close on left, to leave wood by stile (725915). Forward to Hollandridge Lane (726916); left for 1 mile. At houses on left opposite Prior’s Grove, left (717929, Oxfordshire Way). In 30m fork right just inside wood (OW); follow WAs to road (714930). Right past Fox and Hounds PH; in 300m, left (714934, ‘Watlington’) along Hill Road to car park.

Lunch: Fox and Hounds, Christmas Common (01491-612599, topfoxpub.co.uk)

Accommodation: Fat Fox Inn, 13 Shirburn Street, Watlington OX49 5BU
(01491-613040; thefatfoxinn.co.uk)

Info: Henley-on-Thames TIC (01491-578034); chilternsaonb.org, chilternsociety.org.uk
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:57
Dec 092017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The red squirrel sat on the garden wall at The Medlars B&B, nibbling nuts, his tail like a puff of ginger smoke held tightly to the curve of his back. The Isle of Wight is full of red squirrels (it has no grey intruders to out-compete and infect our native species), but I’d never seen one so bold and so willing to hold a charming pose for my delight.

We could have crouched all morning at the window watching the squirrel, but the early morning held the promise of a walk inland from the salty old port of Yarmouth. First, though, a wander along the sandy narrows of Norton Spit among prickly leaves of sea holly and fleshy spears of glasswort, out to the harbour pontoon where moored yachts bobbed.

The Yar estuary curves north through tremendous reedbeds to Yarmouth, a brackish tideway that all but isolates Wight’s western tip into an island of its own. Isle of Wight footpaths are beautifully waymarked and maintained, an exemplary network. The Freshwater Way carried us unerringly south through Saltern Wood and up to a wonderful view, east across reedbeds and river to folded downlands muted by the wintry light to shades of apricot and grey.

Along the margins of thick clay ploughland, oak leaves were beginning to turn brown and crisp. At King’s Manor Farm a donkey grazed the paddocks, gulping and chewing with noisy relish. Birds were forming the flocks that herald winter – pigeons busily pecking in the newly sprung wheat, crows reducing the farmers’ insect enemies as fast as they could gobble them.

In All Saints Church at Freshwater, morning service had just come to an end. ‘Ah, walkers! Come in, welcome! A cup of coffee? Yes, the church is a bit of a Saxon-Norman mishmash, but we love it!’

Beyond All Saints we crossed a broad bridge over the River Yar and followed an old railway path as it curved back to Yarmouth. Black-tailed godwit and ringed plover stalked the river shallows above their own rippled reflections.

Back on the north coast we made our way down to the shore and followed a sea-stained promenade back into town. A Lymington-bound ferry rumbled away out of Yarmouth, red and white sails scudded in the Solent, and the mainland lay grey and misty on the horizon, no more than a cloudy dream on the edge of sight.

Start: River Road car park, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0RA (SZ 354895)
Getting there: Red Funnel Ferries (redfunnel.co.uk), Southampton-East Cowes. Bus 5, Cowes-Newport; bus 7, Newport-Yarmouth.
Road – A3021, A3054 to Newport and Yarmouth.
Walk: (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer OL29): From car park, A3054 to cross bridge. On left bend, right (347896, ‘Coastal Path, Fort Victoria’). At seafront, right along Norton Spit, then along pontoons to end. Return to coast road; left towards bridge; in 50m, right and follow ‘Freshwater Way/FW’. In 400m bear right (348892) through Saltern Wood. In another 1¼ miles, left at All Saints Church (347873) along road. Cross River Yar; left (349871) along railway path. In 1½ miles pass ‘Off the Rails’ café (358894); in another ½ mile, left (364896) along B3401 to cross A3054 (363898). Down steps (‘Yarmouth’ fingerpost) to shore; left into Yarmouth.
Lunch: Off the Rails Café, Yarmouth PO41 0QX (01983-761600, offtherailsyarmouth.co.uk) – bright and quirky; or Red Lion Inn, Freshwater PO40 9BP (01983-754925; redlion-freshwater.co.uk)
Accommodation: Medlars B&B, Halletts Shute, Yarmouth PO41 0RH (01983-761541, medlars-bnb.com) – immaculate B&B
Info: visitisleofwight.co.uk
Isle of Wight Walking Festival 2018: 28 April – 13 May
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:17