Oct 302021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Southwold Beach Sandlings Walk towards Southwold Southwold from the marshes Ferry cross the Blyth bronze autumn bracken on Busscreek Marshes fleets of water on Busscreek Marshes water tower on Southwold Common Easton Marshes Buss Creek and Easton Marshes 2 Buss Creek and Easton Marshes 1. Sandlings Walk approaching Southwold old wind pump on Reydon Marshes Gun Cliff, Southwold

Southwold at the cusp of autumn and winter; a trim little resort out on the Suffolk coast, its tight lanes packed with bookshops, cake shops and bric-a-brac emporia. The lighthouse, sited well inland, towered over the town like a guardian nanny in a white cloak.
On the seafront promenade the Sailors Reading Room, built to offer Victorian seafarers an alternative to the demon booze, was packed with photos, drawings, models and mementoes of bygone ships, shipmen and the sea. Below the white railings of the prom a beach of pebbly sand and an orderly rank of beach huts led north to the skeletal finger of Southwold’s pier, its line of neat pavilions and shelters lending it the air of an old-fashioned railway station miraculously suspended above the shingly grumble of the North Sea.
Beyond the pier the fast-crumbling cliffs extended in a low pink arc. We turned inland along the reedy ditch of Buss Creek, the dimity charm of the town instantly exchanged for rough grazing marshes and scrub woodland.
A wild babbling in the sky heralded the approach of a great crowd of barnacle geese, all yapping like excited puppies as they came in to land, the clean white of their heads and breasts in contrast to the sober grey-black of their backs. Further on behind the town on Botany Marshes, the water of the creek lay mirror-still. The flanking reeds were trapping the wind, tossing their feathery heads with a loud hissing, every empty seed cone glistening in the strong afternoon sunlight.
A scuffling in the grass drew our attention. A rabbit was scampering along the seabank nearby, pursued by a stoat, a lithe streak of ginger. The rabbit bounded up the slope and into its hole so adeptly that the stoat seemed baffled, and soon undulated off in search of other prey.
We turned south and crossed the Bailey Bridge that spans the narrow tidal reach of Southwold harbour, its outflowing water olive-green and wrinkled. Beyond lay the church tower and roofs of Walberswick, neighbour and rival to Southwold. Feathery grasses made a ground haze of silver on Robinson’s Marshes as we headed for home by way of the rowing boat ferry that links the twin communities. The jolly ferryman sculled us over the tide, and we strolled back along Southwold promenade with nothing more noble on our minds than a nice pint of the town’s famous Adnams ale.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy, level walking
Start: Southwold Pier car park, 27 North Parade, Southwold IP18 6LT (OS ref TM 512769) – £6 all day.

Getting there: Bus 146 from Norwich.
Road: Southwold is on A1095, signed from A12 between Blythburgh and Wangford
Walk (OS Explorer 231): Turn north from car park; in 50m, left (513769, fingerpost) on path across marshes. Cross A1095 (504769); on across Botany and Busscreek Marshes to Bailey Bridge over River Blyth (495759). Right across bridge; follow cycleway. In ½ mile, just before Heath House, left (492750, bridleway fingerpost). In ¼ mile, left at road (496748); in 150m, left (‘Bird Hide’). At hide (497750), right (yellow arrow). Follow ditch on right for 250m to gate and steps (500748); left along bank to West Harbour and Walberswick ferry (501749). Cross harbour; ahead (‘Sandlings Walk’) for ⅔ mile to Queen’s Road (508758). Right across green to Gunhill Cliff (509757); left along promenade for ¾ mile to car park.
Lunch/accommodation: Crown Hotel, High Street, Southwold IP18 6DP (01502 722275; thecrownsouthwold.co.uk)
Info: thesuffolkcoast.co.uk; exploresouthwold.co.uk
Walberswick ferry: runs on demand. Adults £2, children under 5 free, under 18 £1. Check timetable first! – walberswickferry@gmail.com, walberswickferry.com

 Posted by at 01:50
Oct 162021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
St Catherine's Chapel from the hill above Abbotsbury 1 St Catherine's Chapel from the hill above Abbotsbury 2 Iris foetidissima or Stinking Iris What a gem! A Devon Red Ruby cow on the ridge above Abbotsbury. view from the ridge looking north from the ridge path ramparts of Abbotsbury hill fort field mushroom near the hill fort old limekiln above West Bexington Abbotsbury from the hill near St Catherine's Chapel 1 St Catherine's Chapel Abbotsbury from the hill near St Catherine's Chapel 2

Under a clearing sky and a brisk wind we set out among the cottages of Abbotsbury with their walls of deep golden stone under grey-green thatch. Chicken, duck and goose eggs were for sale at the farm in Rosemary Lane.

Stony, sunken Blind Lane led away uphill between horse pastures. From here we looked back over Abbotsbury and its steep guardian hill topped by St Catherine’s Chapel, the shingle bar of Chesil Beach enclosing the long inlet of The Fleet, and the leonine form of the Isle of Portland with its long back and tail sloping down into the dull sea. Half a dozen dark lumps lay beyond, giant container ships at anchor off Weymouth.

Up over the corrugations of medieval strip lynchets to the ridge, where the South Dorset Ridgeway ran out west along a bracken-brown bar of downland parallel to the sea. An ancient ceremonial landscape where Neolithic long barrows and Bronze Age round barrows lay side by side. The tribal leaders of 3,000 years were laid to rest on this high eminence overlooking land and sea.

On the ramparts of Abbotsbury hillfort a female stonechat sat on a gorse tip, her breast a soft buff pink, a bold dark stripe through her eye. Looking west from here we had a grand prospect of the Jurassic Coast all round the great curve of Lyme Bay, with the crumbling cliffs of Golden Cap shining a rich gold in the muted late-year light.

A cobbled green lane descended to West Bexington between hedges bright with fruit – hard red blackberries, shiny black dogwood berries, the burnished scarlet of hawthorn peggles, and old man’s beard draped over the stone walls.

The single street of West Bexington sloped down to the seafront, where beach fishermen cast their heavy leads in hopes of bass or codling. We turned east into the wind and crunched along a beach of pebbles almost as small as sand. Pale leaves of sea kale like elephant ears grew on the scrubby maritime sward, along with thrift flowers now dry and silvery.

On the seaward side of Abbotsbury we climbed steeply across strip lynchets to reach St Catherine’s Chapel, massively buttressed in thick dark gold stone on its hilltop. In medieval times the maturer maidens of Abbotsbury would make an annual pilgrimage to offer a fervent prayer in the chapel on the hill:
‘A man, St Catherine,
Please, St Catherine,
Soon, St Catherine!’
… following that with: ‘Arn-a-one’s better than narn-a-one, St Catherine!’

Flora: blackberries, dogwood berries, hawthorn peggles (berries), old man’s beard
Birds: female stonechat

How hard is it? 8½ miles; moderate; downland tracks, shore path, short steep climb to chapel

Start: Abbotsbury car park, Rodden Row, Abbotsbury DT3 4JL (OS ref SY 578853) – £1 per hour, signposted in village.

Getting there: Bus X53 (Weymouth-Axminster)
Road: Abbotsbury is on B3157 (Weymouth-Bridport)

Walk (OS Explorer OL15): Cross B3157; up Rosemary lane; left on Back Lane. In 150m, right beside Spar House up Blind Lane (578854, ‘Hill Fort’). In 600m, through gate (574859, yellow arrow), then another (blue horse). At ridge, left (571863, gate, ‘West Bexington’). Follow ‘South Dorset Ridgeway’ and ‘Bexington’ signs for 2¾ miles to West Bexington seafront (531864). Left along shore path, then road for 2¼ miles to road end (560846). Ahead along lower edge of car park. Follow ‘Coast Path’ signs for ⅔ mile to 3-finger post; right (568847, ‘Swannery’). In ½ mile, left at stone marker (575845, ‘St Catherine’s Church’). Steeply uphill to chapel (572848); downhill into Abbotsbury.

Lunch/Accommodation: Manor House, West Bexington, Bridport DT2 9DF (01308-897660, manorhousedorset.com).

Info: Bridport TIC (01308-424901)

 Posted by at 01:47
Oct 092021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The track to Burrough Hill ran through pastures corrugated by medieval ridge-and-furrow, and rubbed to billiard table smoothness by sheep. On this hot cloudless afternoon they lay in any shade they could find, ewes sweltering in heavy fleeces, lambs panting like little steam engines at three breaths a second.

The ramparts of Burrough Hill’s splendid Iron Age hill fort stood ahead, an undulating line of turf-covered stone whose hollows spoke of millennia of weathering, trampling and quarrying. We walked the circuit, pausing at the topograph to spy out the hazy towers of Leicester, the red brick smear of Melton Mowbray and the charmingly named Robin-a-tiptoe Hill.

The path led steeply down the north face of the fort, past a crowd of young bullocks too hot and sleepy to follow us, and on through the cool avenue of ash and beech in Rise Hill Spinney. A seat placed for the northward view was presented by two foresters, Jack Atton and Terry Darby, who spend nearly twenty years in the 1980s and 90s planting the trees that now cover these hillsides.

Turning south, we followed the Leicestershire Round long distance path through the parkland of the Dalby Estate, looking back to where Little Dalby Hall peeped from a collar of trees. A short sharp climb led to uplands characteristic of these Leicestershire Wolds, broad corn fields and plough, the hedges dotted with pink spindle berries, where the dip and roll of the land hid the nearby fort on Burrough Hill.

Did Mrs Orton, farmer’s wife, produce the world’s first Stilton cheese in this parish in 1730? Certainly they claim she did in nearby Somerby, where the village pub is named after the pungent delicacy. But should you fill the hollow in your truckle of Stilton with crusty port? That debate is still open.

Beyond Somerby we skirted the rim of a dry valley where ridge-and-furrow plunged down the flanks, testament to the exploitation of every bit of land by our hungry medieval ancestors. Under a pearly evening sky we made for the ramparts of Burrough Hill, now in full view ahead once more. The homeward path skirted the hillfort, a green track through thickets of gorse above which rooks flocked on their homeward flight.

Flora: spindle berries
Birds: rooks (nothing prettier, sorry!)

How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; well-marked field paths

Start: Burrough Hill car park, Burrough Road, Somerby, Leics LE14 2QZ (SK 766115)

Getting there: Bus 100 (Syston-Melton Mowbray)
Road – Car park signed off Somerby-Burrough on the Hill road (signed from A606 Oakham-Melton Mowbray)

Walk (OS Explorer 246): Up signed track to Burrough Hill. Clockwise round ramparts via topograph. At north side near cut tree trunks (761121), descend past yellow-topped post/YTP to gate (763122, YTP, yellow arrow/YA) and on. In 450m, ahead through wood (767124, ‘Leicestershire Round’/LR). In ⅔ mile, at T-junction, right (775126, Dalby Hill Path’) and follow YTPs. In 300m up steps (775123); diagonally across field; follow LR/YTPs) for 1 mile to road in Somerby (778106). Right; in 200m, right (776105, ‘The Field’) to cross road (775107). On across fields (‘Public Footpath to Borough on the Hill’). In 400m at kissing gate, right (771108); follow fence on your right (YAs) round top of dry valley. Descend to cross stream (763107); aim for pole on knoll, then to left of house with prominent window. Right at road (758109); in 50m left (YTPs) across fields. In ¾ mile at YTP with LR arrows (756119), right past Burrough Hill to car park.

Lunch: Stilton Cheese Inn, Somerby (01664-454394, stiltoncheeseinn.co.uk)

Accommodation: Admiral Hornblower Hotel, High Street, Oakham, Rutland LE15 6AS (01572-723004, hornblowerhotel.co.uk)

Info: leicscountryparks.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:46
Oct 022021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A sunny afternoon over Penshurst, the blue sky silvered with lazily drifting clouds. The village houses of mellow brick and Kentish weatherboard held enough olde-worlde charm to spark nostalgia for JRR Tolkien’s mythical Shire. I popped into the Forge Stores, with its round wooden hobbit-hole frontage, and was tempted to ask for a flask of mead and a pouch of Longbottom Leaf along with my chocolate bar.

An embanked lane led west between bracken slopes, sloe bushes heavy with shiny dark fruit and hedges a-twitter with flocks of pink-breasted linnets. This is beautifully maintained countryside, giving off a whiff of money well spent, of care taken and forethought applied. Field ditches have been properly dug and cleaned, new plantations of cherry, hazel and hawthorn established, hedges allowed to bulk out as food and cover for wildlife.

Along the valley stretched a line of Second World War pillboxes, the derelict old strongpoints sprouting ivy and elder. We crossed the sluggish River Eden, where silver dace flicked with a tiny splash into the sheltering shade of alder roots as our shadows loomed over the bridge railings. There was a whisper of wind and a shiver of leaves in the poplar groves. A straggle of straws and leaves along the way showed where last winter’s floods had drowned the path as they encroached on these low-lying fields.

This part of Kent is famous for its hops, witness the cluster of former oasts or drying kilns that stood at Salman’s Farm like red-habited nuns under white coif caps. Beyond on a slope vines had been planted, the grapes in bunches hanging from wires stretched at shoulder height. We sat on a bench to eat our picnic, looking down the rows and imagining the harvest. Regent grapes for a nice rosé, said the adjacent notice. That would do.

Twisted hornbeams and hollies reflected a sombre light in Russell’s Wood. Beyond in Yewtree Wood a gaggle of children shouted and swooped, walking the plank along the smooth recumbent trunks of enormous old beeches that had been thrown in storms long gone and forgotten.

At Wat Stock Farm on the homeward path we sat on a bank and listed to squirrels crunching the last of the hazelnuts in the hedge behind us. Back at Penshurst young men and women were jumping with much ado into and out of the river. The walk ended with a stroll across the sward in front of 14th-century Penshurst Place, an extravagant architectural mishmash of brick, stone, chimneys, gables and arches all picked out in the low sun of late afternoon.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; field paths and lanes
Start: Penshurst Place parking field, Penshurst TN11 8DG (OS ref TQ 530440) 

Getting there: Bus 231, 233 (Lingfield-Tunbridge Wells)
Road: Penshurst is signed from A26 (Tonbridge-Tunbridge Wells)

Walk (OS Explorer 147): Down Penshurst Place drive; right along village street. Past Forge Stores, right along The Warren (525436). In 1 mile at Salman’s Farm, through kissing gate/KG (512432); right up track; left, and keep ahead (yellow arrow/YA). At T-junction in Russell’s Wood, right (507430, YA, ‘441’). Opposite Oakenden house, right (501428, YA, stile), then right through KG, across fields; through Yewtree Wood. On west edge of wood cross stile (502435, YA); on to road (501436). Right; pass Sliders Barn; in 150m, right along drive (503439); follow Eden Valley walk for 1½ miles to Penshurst. Left at B2176 (525439); in 200m, right (525440, KG) through grounds of Penshurst Place to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Leicester Arms, Penshurst TN11 8BT (01892-871617, theleicesterarms.com)
Info: Penshurst Place – 01892-870307, penshurstplace.com

 Posted by at 02:54
Sep 252021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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When Squire William Danby of Swinton Park saw his tenants go hungry during a farming slump in the early 19th century, he did something about it – namely, he paid them a shilling a day to construct a scaled-down Stonehenge in the wilds of his North Yorkshire estate.

In the woods above the yurts, treehouses and tepees of Swinton Bivouac’s glamping grounds we found the henge, an oval of massive blocky stones enclosing a ring of trilithons or stone portals. If there’s something conscience-tweaking about the back story of the Druid’s Temple, there’s also something laughable about the structure in a Spinal Tap sort of way. Squire Danby tried to recruit a hermit to live on site, speak to no-one and let hair and beard grow free – but none of the candidates, however hungry, proved willing to tackle that job.

A cold wind blew from the sombre moors to the west as we followed the Ripon Rowel long distance path down into the valley of Pott Beck. Behind in the east the long ridge of the North York Moors, twenty miles off, lay pink and grey under a cloudy sky.

The path ran round a rim of forestry above Low Knowle Farm house, barns and byres all stone-built, old and tight-knit against the weather in their hollow.

With the spillway from the dam at Leighton Reservoir twinkling near at hand, we turned away along a path through rough pastures of rushes and clumps of harebells where blunt-faced rams stared us out as we passed. Healey village lay along its hillside beyond the River Burn, the coffee-coloured stone houses running east to the church’s tall spire.

At Broadmires Farm the house stood all of a piece with the byre, a tradition of architecture hereabouts stretching back to the longhouses that the Norse settlers built in these dales a thousand years ago.

By the chattering Sole Beck a grey wagtail bobbed on a stone, its yellow belly catching a glint of sun through the leaves. Climbing the homeward path through the birch woods above the chattering Sole Beck, we came to Lobley Hall, a grand name for a ruinous house three hundred years old. Elders choked the living room, buddleia reached out of the chimneys.

‘KW 1698’ was carved into the lintel above the doorway. Whoever KW was, the builder of Lobley Hall certainly commanded a beautiful view of beck, hillside and woodland in this lonely daleside cleft.

How hard is it? 5 miles; field and woodland paths, muddy in places

Start: Swinton Bivouac car park, High Knowle Farm, Knowle Lane, Ripon HG4 4JZ (OS ref SE 180787) – £3

Getting there: From Masham (A6108) follow ‘Fearby’. On far side of village, sharp left to cross River Burn. Right, and follow ‘Swinton Bivouac, Druid’s Temple’ to car park.

Walk (OS Explorers 298, 302): Walk to Druid’s Temple (175787, signed), and return to top of Bivouac drive. Left (‘Burgess Bank’, ‘Ripon Rowel’/RR); follow well waymarked RR clockwise for 2 miles via Knowle Plantation (175791), Burgess Bank (168793), Broadmires Farm (178798) to road (183798). Ahead; in ¼ mile RR turns left (187801, ‘Healey’), but keep ahead (‘Swinton’). In 500m ford Sole beck (192799); in 150m, right (kissing gate, yellow arrow/YA). Follow YAs for ½ mile to pass Lobley Hall ruin (191793). In another 150m ignore YA on right; continue on left bank of Sole Beck to cross road (186787). From here follow RR waymarks back to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Swinton Bivouac café and lodges (closed January) – 01765-680900; swintonestate.com)

Info: Harrogate TIC (01423-537300): yorkshire.com


 Posted by at 01:57
Sep 182021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Arenig Fawr, ‘Great High Ground’, the summit of a curving ridge at 2,802 ft (854 m), stands at the eastern edge of the National Park, some way apart from the more celebrated peaks of Snowdonia.

Other than the beauty of Arenig Fawr’s own surroundings, the special attraction of the summit is that from it you can see an unbeatable panorama of the mountains of North Wales spread out all round you. First, though, you need a clear day on those tops, not so common in this part of the world.

Three times over the years we’d had Arenig Fawr in our sights, and three times we’d been rained off. Now here we were at the foot of the track on a beautiful morning. The well-found track led us across thistly hillsides to our first sighting of Llyn Arenig Fawr, a sheet of wind-stippled water, steel-blue in the shadow of a tall corrie of dark crags with pink screes chuting down towards the lake.

By the dam a little one-room bothy, immaculately clean, offered basic shelter – a wooden plank bed, a fireplace still warm from the previous night’s occupants, a kettle, a broom, a bottle of chilli sauce, and naturally The Bible in both English and Welsh. Judging by the ecstatic comments in the visitors’ book, walkers love this spartan refuge beside the lonely lake.

From the bothy the track steepened beside the corrie, a good old puff upwards on a path whose rocks sparkled in the sunshine. A couple of fences to hop and we were out into a wild upland, the path undulating through boggy patches and curving across slopes before turning up loose screes and rocky steps towards the ridge.

The slope of the climb hid the conical summit of Arenig Fawr till we were nearly there. Up at the trig pillar we found a stone-walled shelter and a poignant memorial to the eight-man crew of a USAF Flying Fortress bomber, killed when their plane crashed here on a night training flight in 1943.

The promised mountains stood clear and dramatic all round – the dinosaur spine of the Clwydian Hills and the four billows of the Berwyns to the east, Cadair Idris looming like a hunchbacked beast in the southwest, and away to the northwest the shoulders and pointed head of Snowdon just brushing the gathering cloud.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles there and back, 1720ft/530m climb. Strenuous mountain expedition for fit, sure-footed walkers, properly clothed and shod.

Start: Car parking space just east of Arenig, near Bala, LL23 7PA approx. (OS ref SH 846395)

Getting there: Arenig is signed off A4212 (Trawsfynydd-Bala). Drive through hamlet; car parking space is another ⅔ mile on left, opposite gate signed ‘Farmland’.

Walk (OS Explorer OL18): Through gate, follow track for 1½ miles to Llyn Arenig Fawr. Cross ladder stile by bothy (850379); follow path, gentle gradient at first, then a rocky and steep climb from 400m at bothy to 600m at fence (‘Y Castell’ on map). Cross fence (842373); up to cross second fence 40m beyond corner where you join it (839374). From here on, path rocky and stumbly – watch your step! Path bears right round rocky outcrops, then makes long leftward curve across slope. In ½ mile path bends right and climbs (832372), a few cairns mark it from here. Near the summit, aim for a prominent post above, then the trig pillar at 2,802ft/854m (827369).
Return same way.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Bothy at Llyn Arenig Fawr (mountainbothies.org.uk); or Plas Yn Dre, 23 High St, Bala LL23 7LU (01678-521256, plasyndre.co.uk)

Info: walkingbritain.co.uk; snowdonia.gov.wales

 Posted by at 01:50
Sep 112021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Moreton-in-Marsh is a lovely place on the northern edge of the Cotswolds, an old wool town with a very wide sheep-straggle of a high street. On a hot afternoon we started under muggy grey clouds, passing allotments full of hollyhocks, cabbages and potatoes. Sunflowers stood tall, their face all turned towards a muted gleam in the southern sky.

Outside Moreton we crossed long fields of harvested barley and wheat. Cotton-reel bales of straw lay regularly spaced, as though giants had temporarily suspended some esoteric game and left all the pieces on the board.

The path led on through a superb wildflower meadow where the nodding dark heads of great burnet contrasted with white cushions of yarrow and the rusty iron aspect of docks in late summer. In the hedgerows stood huge old oaks, their ripe acorns sprouting galls like the tentacles of sea anemones. Rusty barns crowned low ridges from which far views opened across a rolling landscape of green and brown, with church towers and country house gables of that remarkable golden stone peeping out from their trees.

Near the wooded grounds of Batsford Arboretum a big red kite was manoeuvring over the trees, responsive to the whistling calls of an invisible handler at the neighbouring Cotswold Falconry Centre. Everything far and near seemed soaked in the heavy warmth and peace of classic English countryside at the turn of the season. We were jerked rudely from this mood on arrival in Bourton-on-the-Hill, a beautiful little sloping village of honey-coloured houses, as a bunch of inexcusably fast and noisy motorbikes went pelting down its narrow roadway.

South of Bourton-on-the-Hill we came on a slice of the Mughal empire set down in the Cotswolds. The extraordinary house of Sezincote was built in 1805 for Sir Charles Cockerell to the designs of his brother Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who incorporated Georgian, Muslim and Hindu architectural styles in a glorious, jolting mishmash of a building. We walked slowly along the fence at the foot of the slope leading up to the house, marvelling at the minarets, enormous curving orangery, cupolas and great green onion dome capping the whole thing off. George, Prince Regent, visited in 1807, and it’s pretty clear where the inspiration for tarting up his Marine Pavilion in Brighton came from.

A final delight to cap the walk – a hedge full of large plump bullace, fat as damsons and bitter as sloes. We picked them into a bag for a later date with gin and sugar, a heavenly marriage to be consummated in a Kilner jar just in time for next Christmas.

How hard is it? 7 miles; well-marked field and estate paths.

Start: High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0AX (SP 204322)

Getting there: Rail to Moreton-in-Marsh; Bus 817 (Stow-on-the-Wold)
Road – A44 (Evesham), A429 (Cirencester).

Walk (OS Explorer OL45): Down Corder’s Lane opposite Black Bear; on across fields, following waymarked Monarch’s Way and Heart of England Way/HEW for 2¼ miles to road (174337). Left; in ½ mile, left (169331, ‘Bridleway’). In 600m at driveway, left (173327) to A44 (174326). Left through Bourton-on-the-Hill. 100m past church, right; in 100m, right (HEW); in 50m, left (175324, HEW). In 1 mile at a road and cattle grid, left off HEW (175307), following driveway (yellow arrows/YA). Pass Upper Rye Farm; at Dutch barn, ahead (185310, YA) across field to gate (YA). On outside Thickleather Coppice to reach post with 2 YAs (189311). Half left here (not right!) to gate in far fence (YA); follow Monarch’s Way to Moreton.

Lunch/Accommodation: Bell Inn, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0AF (01608-651887, thebellinnmoreton.co.uk)

Info: sezincote.co.uk; batsarb.co.uk

 Posted by at 01:38
Sep 042021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A cool day of smoky cloud over southern Northumberland. The houses and church at Slaley glowed in green-grey stone as we left the windy ridgetop village and headed west past a string of farms – Palm Strothers, East and Middle Dukesfield.

This is all upland grazing country with long views to purple heather moors, sheep and cattle amicably sharing the same fields, farmsteads of longhouses with byres attached, and sturdily built stone barns that would be snapped up as desirable residences if they were situated 400 miles south of here.

Under the rolling green fields and massed ranks of conifers lie the seams of lead that sustained a major lead mining and processing industry from medieval times till the 19th century. At Dukesfield we passed the handsome 3-storey house of Dukesfield Hall where the mine agent lived, and down in the deep valley of the Devil’s Water beyond we found the two tall Gothic arches by which a stone flue carried the noxious lead fumes away from the smelting mill that once worked day and night here.

Imagination and a couple of helpful information boards had to supply the background of noise, heat, furnace roar, clanging and banging. Devil’s Water nowadays couldn’t be more quiet and beautiful. We picnicked by the river to the splash of clear water over miniature cascades, watching out for dippers and for tiny brown trout that rose to flip the surface with their snouts.

A bracken path lead south past Redlead Mill to a quiet road where the aptly named Viewley Farm commanded a wonderful westward prospect from its ridge, over a wide green valley of scattered grey farms to brown and purple fells far beyond.

At the farm gate the road declined to a broad sandy track that rose through the dark conifers of Slaley Forest. Fly agaric fungi as tempting as sweeties with their white-spotted scarlet caps lay in wait among the heather for passing witches and the unwary stepchildren of woodcutters’ wives.

Beyond the forest wide uplands spread north towards a distant hint of the Cheviot Hills. Fallen crab apples spattered the lanes, and the hedges winked scarlet with holly berries. We skirted a caravan park that was threating a takeover of the footpath, and followed the sheep pastures back up the hill to Slaley.

How hard is it? 8¾ miles; easy farm and forest tracks

Start: Rose & Crown, Slaley, near Hexham NE47 0AA (OS ref NY 975577). Please ask permission to park, and give pub your custom!

Getting there: Bus 689 (Consett-Hexham)
Road – Slaley is signed from B6306 (Hexham-Stanhope)

Walk (OS Explorer OL43): Left to cross B6306 (‘Byway’), follow ‘Palm Strothers, Dukesfield’ and blue arrows. In 1¼ miles pass Dukesfield Hall (944574); bear right (yellow arrow/YA) down through trees to arches (941580). Left beside Devil’s Water for ¾ mile to Redlead Mill (931573). Pass house, over stile (YA); ahead for ¾ mile to road (930560). Left; at Viewley Farm gate, ahead (933558) on sandy track through Slaley Forest for 1¼ miles to road (955554). Left; in 600m, right (956560, ‘Spring House’). In 250m at cottage (958560, ‘Private Road’), right; in 5m, left (stile, YA) through plantation, across drive, up grass track. In 400m cross track (963560); path ahead to stile; along wood edge to Cocklake (966561). Left through 2 gates; along drive; in 150m through gate (966563). Aim for left end of plantation; waymark/stile to drive (968565); left to Blue Gables (969568). Right to cross road (974569); down drive (‘Well House, Slaley’). Right round back of East Ridley Hall (974571); YAs to stile and footbridge (975573); up 2 fields to Slaley.

Lunch/Accommodation: Rose & Crown, Slaley (01434-673996, roseandcrownslaley.co.uk)

Info: Hexham TIC (01434-652220), visitnorthumberland.com

 Posted by at 01:40
Aug 212021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A peaceful morning in Ascott-under-Wychwood. ‘Walking round the village?’ panted the runner as she passed us. ‘Do go into the church and see the Martyrs’ Tapestry – wonderful piece of work – ‘ and she sped purposefully away.

Against the north wall of Holy Trinity a beautifully embroidered tapestry depicted the labours of 19th-century rural women – harvesting, corn stooking, hay forking, glove making. Not just any females, but the ‘Ascott Martyrs,’ sixteen women from this village sentenced to prison with hard labour (two with tiny children) in 1873 for the crime of dissuading local men from breaking a strike called by the newly formed National Union of Agricultural Workers.

The Martyrs were exonerated by Royal Pardon. Queen Victoria sent each woman five shillings and a red flannel petticoat; and the NUAW, not to be outdone, topped up the largesse with £5 and enough blue silk to make a dress apiece.

The Oxfordshire Way headed west out of the village, an old country lane that passed a low green castle motte on the banks of the River Evenlode before reaching Shipton-under-Wychwood, bright with morning sunshine beside the river.

Beyond Shipton the Oxfordshire Way ran among cornfields, golden wheat stubbles and silver barley as yet unharvested. Crows bounced among the furrows, snapping up leatherjackets, worms and spilt grain.

We passed the paddocks at Heath Farm where the horses twitched up their ears and flared their nostrils to see and scent us go by.

Bruerne Wood, a scrap of ancient woodland, lay cool and dark under the blowy blue sky. A chiffchaff, not yet departed for winter in west Africa, gave out its two-tone call. A muntjac stag was barking like a cross old dog among the trees as we followed a ride north towards the handsome 18th-century country house of Bruerne Abbey.

Beyond the house we picked up the D’Arcy Dalton Way, another of the proliferation of long distance paths in these parts. The route ghosted across a golf course, then rose to the roof of the countryside at the Iron Age hillfort of The Roundabout.

Before descending to the river and the homeward path, we sat savouring the view across the Evenlode Valley. Reaped fields, plough and stubble made a 21st century rural tapestry under the last of the afternoon sunshine.

How hard is it? 9½ miles; easy; waymarked trails across farmland

Start: Ascott-under-Wychwood village green, Oxon OX7 6AA (OS ref SP 301187)

Getting there Bus 210 from Witney
Road – Ascott-under-Wychwood signed from A361 (Burford to Shipton-under-Wychwood)

Walk (OS Explorers 180, OL45, 191): Left along main street. At T-junction, right (297183, ‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW). In 500m, OW crosses railway, but keep ahead (291184, ‘Circular Route’). In ½ mile, just before house, left (285184, kissing gate); half left across field to A361 (282182). Left across river; in 300m, right (279182, OW).

In 550m, just past Crown Nurseries, left (278187) along field edge. In 150m, right (276187); follow OW for 1¼ miles to road at Bruerne Abbey (264204). Right to cross railway (268206). In 50m, right (kissing gate, ‘D’Arcy Dalton Way/DDW’) across golf course (DDW waymarked); on to cross road in Lyneham (280205); on for 1¼ miles. At top of rise DDW goes left (296212); but keep ahead to cross A361 (299213). Down Pudlicote Lane; in 1 mile pass Pudlicote House (313205); in another 200m, right (316203) on OW. After ½ mile OW sign points left, but keep straight ahead to gate on far side of field; follow OW back to Ascott-under-Wychwood.

Lunch/Accommodation: Swan Inn, Ascott-under-Wychwood OX7 6AY (01993-832332, countrycreatures.com)

Info: Witney TIC (01993-775802)

 Posted by at 03:42
Aug 142021

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A hot sunny day in Half Moon Lane, the fair weather bringing ‘Good morning’ from cyclists passing through Redgrave. Lambs crouched panting in the shade of the hedges, and the stubble fields beyond the village glistened with reflected sun.

This stretch of north Suffolk is well wooded, a low landscape of corn and pasture whose long-established field paths run straight to their meetings with roads and farms. Moles had thrust up hundreds of miniature volcanoes of powdery dark earth along the edge of the old hornbeam coppice of Tanglewood.

A short detour led to St Mary’s Church, tall and stately on its tump – the parish church of Redgrave, nearly a mile outside the village. Green men clustered round the south door, and goggle-eyed gargoyles spewed viciously toothed water spouts. Opposite the church, Hall Farm makes tasty beer in its Star Wing Brewery – a treat we promised ourselves for after the walk, when we’d worked up a thirst.

Back on the path we passed the rusty old shed at Holly Farm and went north across a huge, hedgeless field towards the contrasting wild greenery of Redgrave and Lopham Fen National Nature Reserve in the valley below.

The infant River Waveney runs through this remarkable nature reserve, the largest valley fen in England. Considering how much water is extracted hereabouts by farms and houses, it’s a fantastic achievement to keep the water levels constant enough to nurture the snipe, the marsh orchids, the dragonflies and rare insects that thrive in this juicy green wilderness.

This summer’s exceptional heat, however, had dried up most of the pools and flashes of water, home to the reserve’s famed fen raft spiders with their yellow stripes and five-inch leg span. We’d have to return in rainier times to spot them, said the warden.

But we were happy enough walking the peaty paths through whispering thickets of reeds, watching orange comma butterflies among the thistles and tiny roe deer in the hedges. Through the green screen of willows there was the occasional glimpse of the hard dry arable fields beyond, an alien world that seemed shut outside and far away.

How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; farmland tracks and paths

Start: Redgrave Activities Centre car park, Redgrave IP22 1RL (OS ref TM 048780)

Getting there: Bus 304 (Bury St Edmunds)
Road – Redgrave is on B1113, between A143 (Bury St Edmunds-Diss) and A1066 (Thetford-Diss)

Walk (OS Explorer 230; Redgrave & Lopham Fen downloadable trail map, see below): Left into Redgrave; left (‘Bury St Edmunds’). In 200m, left down Half Moon Lane. After houses, along footpath (fingerpost). In 250m, right at fingerpost (053777, yellow arrow), then left for nearly 1 mile. At road, left (066779). In 150m, right up field edge to road (065784). Dog right/left, north for ¾ mile to road (064797). Left; in 300m, right (062797, fingerpost, ‘Angles Way’/AW). In 200m, cross footbridge, through gate into Redgrave & Lopham Fen NNR (062799). Left (‘Waveney Trail’/WT). In 300m through kissing gate/KG (060801); in 100m, left (KG, WT). In ½ mile, left opposite Visitor Centre (053802) on waymarked Spider Trail. In 600m, through KG (053796); right. In 500m Spider Trail turns left (050796), but keep ahead (WT). In ¼ mile, left across River Waveney (045794)’ in 150m, right at junction (046793, AW). In ½ mile cross road (043797); south for ½ mile to Churchway (046780); left to car park.

Lunch: Cross Keys, Redgrave (01379-779822, crosskeysredgrave.co.uk); Star Wing Brewery, Hall Farm, Redgrave IP22 1RJ (01379-890586, starwingbrewery.com)

Accommodation: Park Hotel, Diss IP22 4LE (01379-642244, parkhotel-diss.co.uk)

Info: Redgrave & Lopham Fen NNR (suffolkwildlifetrust.org)

More walks at christophersomerville.co.uk

 Posted by at 01:25