Mar 022019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Our first glimpse of Woodchester Mansion, hunched away behind trees in the depths of its sequestered Gloucestershire valley, seemed to confirm all the rumours – hauntings, murders, madness and ruin. We could have gone straight down to it. But circling the woods and lakes of Woodchester Valley in clockwise fashion allows the full face of the great house to stay hidden until the last moment, providing a satisfyingly strange full stop to the walk.

Woodchester Park is a singular place in itself, a landscaped cleft in the southern Cotswold Hills that had slipped into a state of overgrown wildness until bought by the National Trust in 1994. Good broad tracks led us east through oak and beech woods pungent with the green stink of wild garlic, skirting steep grassy banks and dense conifer plantations. Primroses were struggling out, and the carpet of dog’s mercury showed tiny green flowers, but the mulleins and bluebells of the park were still shut tight against the winter.

A forester was burning trimmings in a dingle below, his crackling fire glowing orange and sending up drifts of blue smoke. We could hear the trees roaring at the rim of the valley, but down here there was no more than a stir of cold breeze. It was a dream-like walk over landscaped banks and planted folds of ground, looking down on the string of lakes – Brick Kiln Pond, Old Pond, Middle Pond, Kennel Pond, Parkmill Pond – dug and dammed two hundred years ago to fulfil the vision of the landowning Ducie family.

At the foot of Parkmill Pond we crossed the grassy dam and set back along the south side of the lakes. A boardwalk trail in a wet mossy wood, an ornate old boathouse colonised by lesser horseshoe bats – and then the great empty house in its damp curve of valley, its blank windows staring from the Cotswold stone walls like so many black eyes in a pale face, Gothic beasts howling in stone above the gutter pipes.

Liverpool ship owner William Leigh bought the estate in 1845. But he never finished the mansion he started in 1850, and it was too damp, dark and menacing for his family to cope with. So it stands with its marvellous carvings, its empty chapel and floorless levels and stairs that go nowhere, the wonder of visitors on open days, collecting legends and gathering mystery, the house that never was.
Start: Woodchester Park car park (National Trust – members free), near Nympsfield, Glos GL10 3TS (OS ref for car park entrance: SO 795014)

Getting there: Bus (Nympsfield, ½ mile) – Service 35 (Cotswold Green, 01453-835153)
Road: Car park signed off B4066 Dursley-Nailsworth road near Nympsfield (M5 Jct 13; A419, A46)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 168): From car park descend steps; follow trail downhill. Follow red and orange arrows (RA, OA), forking to left of mansion (807013); then follow RA with lakes on right. At end of Parkmill Pond (last lake), cross dam (831008); return on south side of lakes. In ⅔ mile, above Middle Pond dam, bear right downhill (822010, RA). Pass long shed; before dam, left through gate (822011, OA). Along meadow, then woodland duckboard trail. At Boathouse (818014), cross dam; left along north bank of Old Pond, then track (RA, OA), passing to left of mansion; up drive to car park.

Lunch: Rose & Crown, Nympsfield, Glos GL10 3TU (01453-860612;

Accommodation: Hunters Hall, Kingscote, Glos GL8 8XZ (01453-860393,

Woodchester Park: 01452-814213;

Woodchester Mansion: 01453-861541;

Info: Stroud TIC (01453-760960);;;

 Posted by at 02:30
Feb 232019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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There weren’t too many leaves on view in ‘leafy Bucks’ this beautiful sunny morning towards the end of winter. But everything else spoke of the crack of spring; blackbirds and goldfinches loud in the woods, rook nests ready in the forks of the beeches, and a golden spatter of celandines in the hedge banks as we followed Slough Lane out of Saunderton.

This outer sector of the Chilterns is steep country, the chalky ground folded and sculpted into long valleys trending north-west. The path leaped across them like a hurdler, up and down, up and down; and we leaped with it, or that’s what it felt like, with springtime putting itches in legs stiffened by the long winter’s sloth.

From Bledlow Ridge we plunged down steep steps through hazel coppice where primroses and violets were already pushing up out of the leaf mould. Across a broad valley and up where a dozen circling kites built an aerial tower of red and white wings. Down from the next ridge to the bridleway at the bottom of Bottom Wood, a lovely stretch among leafless beech trees. ‘Doesn’t matter which path you take,’ said a man with a dog, ‘they all end up in the same place.’

So they did, down among the barns and sheds of Ham Farm, an ancient holding. Steeply up again, kicking the complaints out of our legs through pastures of fat white sheep, up to a blowy ridge, over and down again along a flinty holloway to Chorley Farm.

Crossing the ploughlands by the half-timbered farmstead, we caught a glimpse of the tower of St Lawrence’s Church, high above West Wycombe down the valley. The golden globe moored atop the tower was once the gambling and drinking den of the Hellfire Club. Rich bored men with too much time and money on their hands, perhaps; but those randy Georgian rakehells left an enjoyable whiff of sulphur behind them all the same.

We climbed steeply up through the rough chalk grassland of Buttler’s Hanging nature reserve, and followed the ridge path back to Saunderton through beech-woods ringing with the songs of birds getting ready for their springtime manoeuvres in the great mating game.

Start: Saunderton Station, near West Wycombe, Bucks HP14 4LJ (OS ref SU 813981)

Getting there: Rail to Saunderton. Bus X30 (High Wycombe-Princes Risborough).
Road – Saunderton is on A4010 between Princes Risborough and West Wycombe.

Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 172, 171): Right up Slough Lane. Pass Slough Bottom Farm entrance (811975); round left bend; right up green lane (fingerpost). At top of rise, right (805970) along Chinnor Road. In 650m, left (801974, fingerpost) by playground. From bottom right corner of field (799972), on down green lane. Pass farm; steeply down steps through wood to Bottom Road (798970). Left; in 300m, right (800968, fingerpost) across valley, up to road (793962). Left; in 100m, right (fingerpost) through wicket gate.

Across paddock; white arrow/WA across drive; right of barn at Ashridge Farm; through gate; green lane. In 200m ahead through gate (792958, yellow arrow/YA), down into Bottom Wood. Left along bottom bridleway (792957) for 1½ miles to Ham Farm (807944). Left between barns; stiles/YAs uphill. Just beyond summit, right over stile (810949, YA); left to go through hedge gap; right along hedge, down through Chawley Wood to Chorley Farm (816955).

Cross Bottom Road (stile, fingerpost) and fields; cross Loxboro Hill road (817957). Path across field; cross Slough Lane (817958). Green lane/path up through Buttlers Hanging nature reserve. At top, gate into Hearnton Wood (819961). Up steps; fork right at top; in 150m cross grass track; keep ahead through trees for 200m to meet ridge track (821962). Left for 1¾ miles to Saunderton.

Conditions: Steeply down to Bottom Road; steeply up through Buttler’s Hanging Nature Reserve.

Lunch: Golden Cross PH, Saunderton HP14 4HU (01494-565974,

Accommodation: George & Dragon, West Wycombe HP14 3AB (01494-535340,

Info: Princes Risborough TIC (01296-382415);;

 Posted by at 01:29
Feb 162019

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Everyone who comes to Crickhowell for the Walking Festival in March looks out for Table Mountain, the slanted, flat-topped outcrop of old red sandstone that rises some 1,200 feet above the little Welsh Border town.

Distinctive though its shape is, you scarcely notice the hill when you’re down in the streets of Crickhowell. The outer edge of the Black Mountains looms beyond, far higher and grander than modest Table Mountain. But it’s Crickhowell’s guardian hill that everyone must climb, willy-nilly, a tasty starter for the mountain delights in the distance.

Proud householders have landscaped the lower banks of the Cumbeth Brook. We climbed the northward field path beside the wooded dingle whose stream came rushing down over smooth sandstone boulders. A stumbly stretch over the streambed led up to a stone-walled sheepfold where we sat on a fallen bough to absorb the view.

From up here we looked back south over the grey huddle of Crickhowell, across the sunlit valley pastures of the River Usk to high rocky ledges and the dun-coloured moorland of Mynydd Llangatwg rolling away. To the east Table Mountain, hidden by trees until now, poked its flat head into the sky. It looked noble, a proper slab of mountain, with what appeared to be a stout white horse cropping its summit. But perspective plays funny tricks. Once we had climbed up there, the great upthrust resolved itself into a homely little wedge of rock, the grazing stallion into a fat white sheep.

Table Mountain’s Welsh title is Crug Hywel, ‘Hywel’s Fort’. Was it Hywel the Good, King of all Wales, who kept a stronghold here in the 10th century, or a more local King, Hywel ap Rhys of Morgannwg? No-one’s sure – and anyway, the double rampart, the rock-dug ditch and tumbled stone gateway that fortify the knoll were made a thousand years before either Hywel reigned here.

We walked a circuit of the Iron Age fort, spying out the land – the cone of the Sugarloaf in the east, the twin gables of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du forming the roof of the Brecon Beacons away west, and the Black Mountains rearing back and away to the north.

A memorable prospect – one to savour before dropping back down to Crickhowell and a cup of tea.

Start: Crickhowell car park, Beaufort Street, Crickhowell NP8 1AE (OS ref SO 219184)

Getting there: Bus X43, Abergavenny-Brecon
Road – Crickhowell is on A40 (Abergavenny-Brecon), 6 miles west of Abergavenny.

Walk (5 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL13): On Beaufort Street (A40), right past TIC and Bear Hotel. Just past garage, right up Llanbedr Road (218186). In 350m, left along Oakfield Drive (220188). In 350m, Oakfield Drive bears left; follow it for 150m; right up alley by No 56 (216191). Cross 2 roads; at double gate, left/right (217192, stile, ‘Beacons Way’/BW). Follow BW north up field edges with Cwm Cumbeth on left for 1¼ miles (stiles, BW) to stone walled sheepfold at top (218209). Right along wall for ¾ mile to climb to Table Mountain summit (225208). At 2nd of 2 cairns, descend through stones of fort gateway (226207); path left, then downhill for 150m; then right (clockwise) on grass path round lower slopes of mountain. Yellow arrows/YA, stiles, field path south for ¾ mile. Just before gate across path just east of The Wern farm, right through another gate (225196) to The Wern (223196); left down farm drive to road (223193). Right downhill; in 250m, right (222191) down Llanbedr Road to A40 and car park.

Conditions: Many stiles, some rubbly paths underfoot.

Lunch: The Bear, Crickhowell (01873-810408,

Accommodation: Glan y Dwr, Llanbedr Rd, Crickhowell NP18 1BT (01873-812512, – immaculate B&B.

Info: Crickhowell Resource & Information Centre (01873-811970,

Crickhowell Walking Festival: 9-17 March 2019 (;

 Posted by at 01:46
Feb 092019

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

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A crisp winter’s day, the sun in a clear sky over Warwickshire picking out the gold in the Cotswold stone houses of Ilmington. A whiff of applewood smoke came down on the breeze as we followed the footway of Middle Street past medieval fishponds to the cruciform Church of St Mary.

Among the oak pews of this beautiful Norman building scurry Arts & Crafts mice, the signature speciality of Yorkshire master carver Robert Thomson. The carpenter set these humorous little rodents in the pews and pulpit of St Mary’s in the 1930s, and they still raise a smile today.

In the nave hangs a wonderful embroidered map of the orchards of Ilmington, its hem sewn with the names of apple varieties found here – Howgate Wonder, Laxton Superb, Siberian Crab. A green lane took us up the hill from Ilmington between the orchards, our boots wobbling among cookers and eaters long fallen to ground.

From the crest of the hill a glorious view opened, down slopes deeply indented with the ridge and furrow of Middle Ages strip farming, away over a low-lying vale of lush green meadows to the prominent hump of Meon Hill. The Devil created the hill when he missed his aim while chucking a sod of earth at Worcester Cathedral, and it’s well known that at the darkest hour of night you can catch the howling of the red-eared hounds of King Arawyn, Lord of the Dead, as he conducts his wild hunt around Meon Hill.

A stretch of road between hedges hung with scarlet necklaces of bryony, and we swung off south-west along the well-marked Monarch’s Way. Fat white sheep cropped the pastures around Hidcote Combe, the low winter sun backlighting their fleeces into spun gold and making dark trenches of the medieval furrows in the land.

At the foot of the lane to Hidcote Bartrim we turned east for home, leaving the wonders of Hidcote Gardens – ‘outdoor rooms’ of rare beauty – for a spring visit some other day.

An ancient trackway climbs the slopes to the crest of the hills and a view west as far as the Malverns, Bredon, the Caradoc Hills and far into Wales. We follow this classic ridgeway, then descended through ribbed pastures to Ilmington, sunlit and sleepy in its cradle of trees below.

Start: Howard Arms, Ilmington, Warwicks CV36 4LT (OS ref SP 213437)

Getting there: Bus 3A (Banbury – Stratford-on-Avon)
Road – Ilmington is signed off A3400 between Shipston-on-Stour and Newbold-on-Stour.

Walk (7 miles, field paths, slippery in places, OS Explorer 205): From Howard Arms, right along Middle Street. At black-and-white cottage, right, passing church to road (209435). Right; in 30m, left and follow yellow arrows/YAs. Near top of rise (207436, stile on left), bear right; follow Centenary Way (yellow-topped posts). In 450m, at top of slope, through kissing gate/KG (204438); left along hedge to next KG, then YAs along field edges for 600m to road (197440).

Right to road (198442, ‘Park Lane’ on map); left along road (walkable grass verge). In 500m pass lane to Admington on right (195446); in another ½ mile, left off road (187447, fingerpost, ‘Monarch’s Way’/MW). Immediately left over stile (MW); right along MW with stream on right. In 700m, right across ditch, to gate into wood (184440, MW). Through wood, then another (MWs); follow waymark posts up valley (180436) and on for ½ mile to foot of road to Hidcote (177430).

Left up lane (‘Restricted Byway’). In ¾ mile cross road at radar station (187426); on (‘Bridleway’) to cross next road (194426) and pass tall masts. In another ½ mile, at gate (204425), left off byway, downhill beside hedge. At foot of slope, right across stream (207431, KGs, YAs); left along stream, keeping straight ahead (YAs). At tarmac lane (208432), ahead to road (210433). Right, in 75m, left on path past church to Howard Arms.

Lunch/tea: Ilmington Community shop, Grump Street (café closed Mondays)

Dinner/Accommodation: Howard Arms, Ilmington (01608-682226, – cheerful, characterful village inn; excellent food.

Hidcote Gardens: 01386-438333;

 Posted by at 01:32
Feb 022019

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Abdon’s little red church of St Margaret stands within the bank of a circular graveyard, the sign of a very old, probably pre-Christian site. People have been working and living for many millennia here in remote rural Shropshire below the Clee Hills – and on top of them too, in the steeply ramparted hill forts that crown their basalt peaks.

Looming at the back of Abdon is Brown Clee, at 1,770ft the highest peak in Shropshire, a great weighty whaleback of green, purple and red that rises in the east to blot out half the sky. On this bright winter morning big clouds came bustling across from the sunlit uplands of Wenlock Edge out to the west.

A field path led us from the straggling houses of Abdon down to Cockshutford where the cocks and dogs combined to give us a loud welcome. Clee Liberty Common beyond lay pitted with the hillocks and holes of former coal pits and quarries. Above stood the neat oval ramparts of Nordy Bank, rare among hill enclosures hereabouts in having been left undamaged by the quarrymen.

Twisted old silver birches flanked the sunken track that meandered up across the common to the radio mast at Clee Burf. From this great ringfort we had a fine view south to the stepped profile of much-quarried Titterstone Clee.

We sat in a rushy hollow out of the wind, eating tangerines and listening to the sigh and rustle of a beech hedge. Then we headed north on the Shropshire Way along the spine of Brown Clee, passing the poppy-strewn memorial to flyers, both Allied and German, killed nearby in plane crashes during the Second World War. Weather and conditions can be treacherous up here, and the Clee Hills claimed the lives of more flyers than any other hill range in these islands.

Up at the topograph on Brown Clee’s summit rampart we stood and marvelled at an incomparable prospect, 300 miles all round the circle of the horizon from Cader Idris and the Berwyns to the west and Brecon Beacons to the south, to the Peak District hills in the north-east and Birmingham’s towers in the east. The Wrekin, the Malverns, Cannock Chase and Wenlock Edge. All drenched in sun under a china blue sky, a once-in-a-lifetime view on such a winter’s day.

Start: Abdon Village Hall, Abdon, Craven Arms, Shropshire SY7 9HZ (OS 576868)

Getting there: B4368 (Craven Arms – Much Wenlock); at Beambridge, turn off for Tugford; from here, follow signs to Abdon.

Walk (7½ miles, moderate hill walk, OS Explorer 217) From village hall car park, left down road past church (575866). Left at junction (574863); in 600m, opposite last buildings on right, turn left off right bend (577862), and fork right along level track between hedges (yellow arrow/YA, blank fingerpost). Follow YAs through fields south for ¾ mile to cross lane at Cockshutford (579851).

Up steps opposite, through kissing gate; right (YA) with hedge on right for ½ mile (stiles, gates) to stile into green lane (573852, YA). Left to road, left past Clee Liberty Common notice on right. In another 150m, right through gate at another notice (573850); up gravelly track past Nordy Bank hillfort (577848) for 1½ miles to Clee Burf radio mast 593843).

Left along Shropshire Way/SW with wall on right. In Five Springs Hollow go through right-hand gate (596864, ‘SW main route’) and on past flyers’ memorial (596855). In ¾ mile, with gate on left, bear right (591863) to topograph on Abdon Burf (594866).

Back to go through gate (blue arrow); follow grassy trackway downhill; in 150m it turns right and descends for ½ mile to road (586869). Right to junction; left (‘Abdon Village Hall’). In 100m, left on bridleway (584870, fingerpost). Follow it across fields with hedge on left. In 400m pass Marsh Farm on your right; in another 200m, right to cross stile (578867). Up fence to stile into road beside car park.

Lunch: Tallyho Inn, Bouldon SY7 9DP (01584-841811, – 3 miles.

Accommodation: The Crown, Munslow SY7 9ET (01584-841205, – 5 miles.

Info: Ludlow TIC (01584-875053);;;

 Posted by at 02:43
Jan 262019

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A peerless winter day in the north of Scotland, cold and clear. A cloudless blue sky, the lightest of winds. Snow on all the mountains, and none in the glens.

Perfect weather for a walk up lonely Glen Fiag to even lonelier Loch Fiag, a remote mountain lake I’d often visited on wings of the imagination; one of those map walks you trace and hoard as soon as you spot it, saving it up like treasure for a beautiful day such as this.

Ben Mor Assynt stood beyond Loch Shin, a white crumple of mountain reflected in the kingfisher-blue water. What a sight to turn your back on. But as soon as I’d rounded the corner of the broad stony track up the glen, there was the seductive shape of Ben Hee ahead to draw me on – a graceful pinnacle of dazzling white, with a humpy shoulder of rock half turned away on its flank as though repelling any thought of climbing.

The River Fiag came rushing down between heather banks, a welter of indigo water among rocks, carrying miniature floes of ice that bumped and tussled over the rapids. Some of the rocks had grown lacy skirts of wafer-thin ice; others carried crests of old snow.

I tracked the progress of a half-submerged floe through binoculars, mistaking its silvery-grey colour and spiny shape for the back and dorsal fin of some large fish. Loch Fiag has frustrated more than one attempt to stock it. Early in the 20th century one hopeful tenant put 10,000 rainbow trout in. They promptly escaped, fleeing downriver into Loch Shin where grateful anglers and herons had a field day.

Glen Fiag lay silent. No birds stirred in the pine forests. The cottage of Fiag stood in ruins high on a bank, its lawn still green and grassy. Two sika deer were grazing there. Although 400 metres away, and with only a smidgeon of wind to carry my scent to them, they both sprang alert as soon as I appeared out of the trees, freezing stock still to watch the distant human figure pass by.

The river was my constant companion today, a lively chatterbox, occasional veering away before hurrying back alongside. Another great mountain shape rose from behind the long brown shoulders of the glen’s moor tops – Beinn Leoid, a scoop of corries all dressed in snow.

The track began a gentle climb, snaking over a mound to reveal long-imagined Loch Fiag. The lake lay steely grey today, entirely iced over save for a wriggle of royal blue where its water coursed out into the river. Beyond rose the pristine white slopes of Ben Hee.

Fiag Lodge on the shore has been rebuilt from ruin in a futuristic style, like the hangout of a James Bond villain. Blofeld or no, what a truly sensational view the lucky occupants command.

Start: Fiag Bridge, near Overscaig, Lairg, Sutherland IV27 4NY approx. (OS ref NC 468205)

Getting there: Follow A838 Durness road from Lairg for 12 miles. 100m before Fiag Bridge, part at estate gate (‘Fiag’) on right. Room for 2 or 3 carefully parked cars – do not obstruct road or gate.

Walk (10½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 440): Follow estate road for 5 miles north to Loch Fiag (455280). Return same way. Please respect privacy of Fiag Lodge.

Lunch: Picnic at Loch Fiag.

Accommodation: Oak Lodge B&B, Overscaig, near Lairg, Sutherland IV27 4NY (01549-431255, – lovely loch-side setting; excellent stopover.

Info: Inverness TIC (01463-252401);;

 Posted by at 01:29
Jan 192019

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The trains of the Cromford & High Peak Railway – first drawn by horses, then by steam locomotives – ran through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Derbyshire Peak District. Where horses once plodded with coal and limestone, and tank engines puffed with sparse numbers of passengers, cyclists and walkers now follow the narrow curves of the line, rechristened the High Peak Trail.

On a superb morning, crisp and cold, we joined the trail at Hurdlow. Either side the limestone landscape rolled away, intensely green under the low sun, an upland broken into sharp peaks and shadowy valleys.

At the vast open chasm of Dowlow Quarry we left the High Peak Trail for stone-walled lanes with wonderful high prospects south into a countryside so fractured it resembled a choppy sea. A knobbly path led us in the shadow of High Wheeldon, a conical knoll presented to the National Trust as a war memorial to men of Staffordshire and Derbyshire killed in World War Two.

Down in the lane to Crowdecote they were herding cattle between field and farm. Those in the lane bellowed and trumpeted, and those in the adjacent fields returned the compliment. ‘Bit lively,’ grinned the farmer waiting to turn them into the farmyard.

Crowdecote clung like a limpet to its steep, sunny hillside. Beyond the hamlet there was ice in the hoof pocks of the bridleway, and frost blanketing the fields on the shadowed side of the dale. Limestone outcrops scabbed the high slopes. Pale grey field walls striped the pastures, footed in their own black shadows, resembling giant claw scratches in the ground.

The path led past the crumpled hillocks where Pilsbury Castle once stood – a pair of baileys and a motte, built by the Normans shortly after the Conquest to levy tax on the traders that used the ancient packhorse route through the dale.

We followed the old way through uplands of sheep fields, past standing stones whose edges had been rubbed shiny by sheep easing their manifold itches. A dip and climb past Vincent House farm, another past the farmyard at Darley, and we were bowling along the High Peak Trail towards Hurdlow with sublime hill scenery unrolling on either hand.

Start: Hurdlow car park, Sparklow, Derbs SK17 9QJ (OS ref SK 128659).

Getting there: Bus 442 (Ashbourne) to Bull-i’-th’-Thorn (½ mile by footpath)
Road – Hurdlow car park is off A515 between Pomeroy and Parsley Hay.

Walk (9½ miles, cyclepath and well marked field paths, OS Explorer OL24): North-west along High Peak Trail for 1½ miles to end (111673); left on Cycleway 68. In ½ mile, right on lane (109665) to cross road at Wheeldon Trees (102662). Through gate (fingerpost) down to NT High Wheeldon notice; right downhill (yellow arrow/YA) to road. Left to Crowdecote. Just past Packhorse Inn, left along lane (101652, ‘South Peak Loop’ bridleway). Follow SPW (blue arrows) through fields. In 1 mile pass Pilsbury Castle mounds (115639); left through gate; fork left up footpath; follow YAs over hill, crossing one road (121634), then another at Vincent House farm (137632). Through farmyard (YAs); up right-hand of two parallel tracks. Follow ‘Parsley Hay’ and YAs to cross road at Darley Farm (142637). YAs through farmyard, up field edge to High Peak Trail (143639); left for 2 miles to Hurdlow car park.

Lunch: Royal Oak, Hurdlow SK17 9QJ (01298-83288, – busy, friendly pub near car park.

Accommodation: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Longnor SK17 0NS (01298-83218;

Information: Ashbourne TIC (01335-343666);;;

 Posted by at 01:13
Jan 122019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A crisp winter’s morning in the heart of the New Forest. A crowd of semi-wild ponies cropped a hoard of fallen crab apples with a snick and crunch of their strong teeth. We walked briskly north from Beaulieu Road station, then struck out west over a wide swathe of heather, the grey sky pressing down on the dark pines along the flat horizon.

Looking over the bridge rails of a gloopy stream at King’s Passage, we spied sprigs of bog myrtle. Plucked and rubbed between the fingers, they brought a spicy tang to the chilly air. All was as quiet as could be on this still wintry day, with only the clickety calls of stonechats and occasional snort of a pony for a soundtrack. Other walkers with scampering dogs passed on diverging tracks, without disturbing the illusion of solitude and silence so characteristic of the New Forest’s back country.

The lush grasslands of Longwater Lawn border the winding Beaulieu River, their herbage enriched by silt from winter floods. Five pones stood by the footbridge with an air of contemplating profundities. Their presence beside the slow flowing stream through the grassland would have graced the most delicate of Chinese silk paintings.

A wriggling track of pale flinty gravel is all that’s left of the ancient Salt Way, by which the precious commodity was brought inland on pack ponies from the salt pans on the Hampshire coast. The old track led on to the second half of this walk of contrasts, a network of forest rides among the trees of Denny Inclosure – ancient oaks, tall pines as straight as guardsmen, and beeches with enormously elongated limbs.

A glimpse of red-tiled Denny Lodge, once the residence of Groom Keeper and Head Forester, and we took the homeward path among bracken fronds so richly gold that we were tempted to stuff our pockets with them.

Start: Beaulieu Road Station, near Lyndhurst SO42 7YQ (OS ref SU 349063)

Getting there: Rail to Beaulieu Road station.
Road – M27 Jct 1, A337 to Lyndhurst, B3056 (‘Beaulieu’) to Shatterford car park, just before station.

Walk (8 miles; easy underfoot, but no waymarks; OS Explorer OL 22):
Rail – Platform 1, up steps, left along road; Platform 2, up steps, left across bridge. Opposite Shatterford car park, right.
Road: cross B3056.
Then: Follow gravel track north beside railway. In 300m, pass bridge on right (348067); in another 400m, fork left in dip (347071). In 50m, fork right; keep parallel with railway. In 500m, with Fulliford Passage bridge on right (345076), left along grass path. In 350m, right to cross King’s Passage bridge (342076). At 3-way fork beyond, take middle path ahead across grassland. In ½ mile, cross ridge (336084); aim to cross footbridge among trees (334086) and keep ahead.

In 300m, path bends right towards wooden fence (333088). Left here (west) on grassy, then gravel track, heading for distant Lyndhurst Church spire. In ¼ mile cross a track (329088); ahead for 500m to cross footbridge over Beaulieu River (323087). Ahead through line of trees; left (southwest) along track. Keep to left of line of trees, then aim for distant Lime Wood Hotel. In nearly 1 mile cross B3056 (317075); follow ‘Pondhead Farm’. In 350m, pass farm sheds/barns on left (318072); aim past telephone pole to cross footbridge (317070). Fork left on path into trees; bear left for 30m, then right to gate into wood (319067).

Ahead along forest ride. In 500m, left at T-junction on gravel track (324065); in 30m, right along grassy ride for ½ mile, across Little Holm Hill to go through gate (330060). Right to cycle track; left to barrier (334059); right (‘Access to Private Properties’). In 250m, at ‘Upper holding’ notice, fork left. Pass Denny Lodge on right; in 80m, just before Denny Cottage on left, turn left (334055) on woodland path with fence on right, then on in same southeast direction.

In 300m, leave trees; ahead across bridge (336053); fork left and ahead for 400m across next 2 bridges. After 2nd of these (340051), ahead and bear left on gravel path, then grass through trees. In 350m look for hollow on right beside path (344050); at cross tracks beyond with gate to right, go left. Cross bridge at Woodfidley Passage (346051); ahead, soon bearing north parallel with railway to return to car park/station.

NB: No waymarks – map, compass, Satmap very helpful!

Lunch: Drift Inn, Beaulieu Road station (02380-292342,

Accommodation: Beaulieu Hotel, Beaulieu Road station SO42 7YQ

Info: New Forest Centre, Lyndhurst (023-8028-3444);;

 Posted by at 01:32
Jan 052019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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On a cool bright morning we followed Water Lane out of Welburn and headed for the Howardian Hills. The jewel of the landscape hereabouts is the stately pile of Castle Howard, but from the cobbled field path leading north towards the hills we could only glimpse the tip of its crowning dome.

There were plenty of follies and architectural fancies to admire as we walked the parkland tracks – pyramids and obelisks, a wonderfully ornate Temple of the Four Winds high on an aeolian ridge, and peeping over the trees of Kirk Hill the tall colonnaded mausoleum of the Howards, Earls of Carlisle.

In an overgrown paddock beside the rusty barns of Low Gaterly a grey mare and her tiny companion horse, only as big as a dog, were browsing their thistle patch, delicately nipping off the remnant flower heads with lips curled back out of the way of the prickles.

Up on the ridge of the Howardian Hills an ancient earthwork shadowed the escarpment, a bank and ditch perhaps 4,000 years old. From here there were great open views to the smoothly flowing outline of the North York Moors, sombre and dark under a lively silver sky.

A mile along the ancient bank under quietly whispering larch and sycamores, and we descended a holloway into the parkland of Castle Howard. The great house stood on its ridge, a dream realised by the talented and bold amateur architect Sir John Vanbrugh at the turn of the 18th century. We found the parkland turf still corrugated by what underlay it – the ridge-and-furrow fields of the medieval village of Henderskelfe, swept away by command of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle in favour of the artful curves of his landscaped park.

The homeward path led across a steeply arched Palladian bridge over the New River lake. I glanced down as I crossed, to see a stone carving of a bearded river god, reeds in his hair, staring with bulging eyes and mouth agape along the artificial waterway at the giant house on the hill – whether in awe or horror was hard to say.
Start: Crown & Cushion PH, Welburn YO60 7DZ (OS ref SE 721680)

Getting there: Bus 183 (Malton-Castle Howard)
Road – Welburn is signed from A64 (York-Malton) at Whitwell on the Hill

Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 300): Left from Crown & Cushion; left down Water Lane. ‘Public Bridleway’ north for ¾ mile to turn right along Centenary Way/CW beyond East Moor Banks wood (723693). In ⅔ mile, left (732694, ‘Coneysthorpe, yellow arrow/YA); in 150m, left opposite Low Gaterly barn (YA). At Bog Hall dogleg left/right, then right on track (725709, ‘Easthorpe’). In 900m keep ahead (734713, ‘Park House’), zigzagging up to cross road (733715). Up Park House drive; in 50m left (gate, BA); follow wooded escarpment edge and ‘Slingsby Bank’ (BA). In 1¼ mile, left (714729, ‘Coneysthorpe’), for 1 mile to Coneysthorpe. Left along road; in 100m, right through wall (713713); follow drive (‘Welburn’). In ½ mile, at corner of Great Lake, fork left by gates; in 100m, right (719706, ‘Welburn’) through scrub to track (722705). Right into parkland; right (‘Welburn’) to Temple of Four Winds, New River Bridge (724698) and return path to Welburn.

Lunch: Crown & Cushion PH (01653-618777,; Leaf & Loaf Café (01653-618352), Welburn.

Accommodation: Talbot Hotel, Malton, N Yorks YO17 7AJ (01653-639096, Friendly, comfortable, long-established hotel.

Ramblers Festival of Winter Walks, 21 December – 6 January:;;

 Posted by at 01:51
Dec 222018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Set in a north Cotswold landscape of iron-rich stone the colour of dark honeycomb, Great Tew is a dream hive of mullioned cottages under thatch. It’s hard to credit this immaculate place as the tumbledown village it became in the 1970s, its houses neglected to the point of collapse, their roofs in holes.

The scandal of Great Tew’s decay had complex roots, and its recovery to picture postcard appearance has been a long process. All seemed right with the world on this brisk afternoon, though. We glanced in the open door of the Falkland Arms where cheerful county couples and horse whisperers crowded the dark bar under a canopy of beer mugs swinging by their handles from the ceiling.

Behind the pub a bridleway ran east away across the open pastures of Great Tew Park. A red kite skimmed the trees and circled the grassland, steadying itself a few inches above the ground before dropping to snatch at some morsel among the tussocks.

The park was dotted with fine old specimen trees – cedars and pines, oaks and chestnuts. Five horses at a gate nodded their long noses and accepted a handful of grass apiece. Away to the north the hills rolled like a breaking wave, more sharply defined than the pale limestone wolds of classic Cotswold country.

At Ledwell we found a dimpling well, the old cast-iron village pump standing alongside. The mossy roofs of Over Worton huddled in the trees near a tall war memorial. In the church lay Edmund Meese, who died ‘pious, chaste and sober’ in the reign of King James I. His effigy was discovered in 1967 under the church floor, minus toes, nose and hands – they had been cut off so that the sculpture could be squeezed into its hiding place. Edmund’s extremities were restored, but in darker stone than the rest of the effigy, giving him the appearance of being severe frostbitten.

On over the fields to Nether Worton, where church, schoolroom and cottage leaned companionably together in the shade of a large apple tree. On with a cold wind slapping our cheeks, to join Groveash Lane where it wound at the feet of the hills.

A broad old trackway led us back to Great Tew through damp woodland of willow and alder. The bare branches scratched at a sky growing ever greyer and more wintry, and the thought of the log fire at the Falkland Arms put springs in our boot heels.

Start: Great Tew village car park, Oxon OX7 4DB (OS ref SP 395293)

Getting there:
Road – Great Tew is signed off B4022 (A361, between Banbury and Chipping Norton)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 191): Left from car park; left into village. Just past Falkland Arms, left (‘Bridleway, Ledwell 2’), following broad track of bridleway east through fields. In ¾ mile it bends right (408293); ahead here through gates (blue arrows) on fenced bridleway, forking right past Hobbshole Farm to road (413284). Left, then over crossroads (418283, ‘Ledwell’). At Manor Farmhouse bear left; left by well (‘Over Worton’, yellow arrow/YA). Keep left of fence over lawn; right at wall along path. In 150m, through gate (421282); half left (YA) to gateway; half right to footbridge (424284) and up field beyond to road (426285). Right; in 100m, left (‘Over Worton’) up drive. At house, right (arrow) across stile; half right across 2 fields to cross lane at Over Worton by war memorial (430291).

Up church path; past church; through gate at east end of churchyard. Follow fence on left down to gate (430295); cut corner and go through hedge; follow path north-west, then north across fields for ½ mile to road opposite Nether Worton church (426301). Left; at junction, left (‘Ledwell’); in 400m, round sharp left bend; in 50m, right through gate (421300). Fork right on bridleway.

In 250m fork right at gate gap (418300, arrow), across field. Cross footbridge (416302); aim half left for distant track going uphill on left of wood. Before you reach it, left on broad bridleway of Groveash Lane (415305). In 1 mile at T-junction (402302) left for ¾ mile to Great Tew.

Lunch/Accommodation: Falkland Arms, Great Tew OX7 4DB (01608-683653, – warm, firelit, thriving village pub

Info: Banbury TIC (01295-753752);;

 Posted by at 01:51