Sep 022017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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In the low-rolling landscape of north-west Cambridgeshire sits Ufford, a wholly charming estate village built of the local pale grey limestone. There’s plenty of green ground and plenty of trees at the heart of Ufford, overlooked by the ridge where its church perches high and handsome.

A wren whirred among the sycamores in the grounds of Ufford Hall, where stout parties in white sweaters were assembling for a cricket match in the most leisurely style imaginable. Along the fields of stubble and plough furrows the elm hedges were thick with plump hips and haws. Barnack’s stocky Saxon church tower, silvered by the sun among boiling clouds, beckoned beyond thick dark woodlands.

On the far side of Barnack lie the remarkable ‘Hills and Holes’, the remnants of a vast quarry opened during the Roman occupation and worked until Tudor times. Peterborough, Ely and other great cathedrals were built of ‘Barnack rag’, a durable and workable stone from the great seam of oolitic limestone that snakes from south to north through the geological body of England.

Five centuries of disuse have smothered the old quarry with a rich grassy sward studded with wild flowers. We wandered the miniature hills and dales of the reserve among harebells and parasitic broomrapes, sprigs of deep blue clustered bellflower and the just-emerging purple blooms of autumn gentian. What a beautiful spot, peaceful and remote, sensitively preserved and managed by Natural England.

Just west of the Romans’ quarry runs their great thoroughfare of Ermine Street. We found it under the name of Hereward Way, a broad greenway running straight as a die along the wall of Walcot Park – a superb piece of masonry in its own right, capped with carefully graded stones and pierced with imposing gateways.

At Southorpe the road was lined with old farmhouses in glowing stone – Stud Farm, Bottom Farm, Grange Farm, Hall Farm. A quick circuit round the medieval ridge-and-furrow of Southorpe Meadow nature reserve (all cut and baled already) and we set course for Ufford under telephone wires a-twitter with Africa-bound swallows.

I plucked a single tempting blackberry from the hedge, and beguiled the homeward path by sucking seeds from between my teeth. The White Hart had hove in sight by the time I got the last one unstuck.

Start: White Hart, Ufford, Cambs PE9 3BH (OS ref TF 094041)

Getting there: Bus service – call 0845-263-8153.
Road – Ufford is signed from Barnack (signed from A1, Stamford-Peterborough)

Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 225, 227): From White Hart, along Walcot Road. On left bend, right (091041, fingerpost/FP); in 100m, left (stile, yellow arrow/YA), and follow YAs round field edges. At southwest corner of Ufford Oaks (085043), right on grassy track. In 500m, left at T-junction with bench (085048). Into trees (082047); pass pond; path bears right, then left with hedge on right. In 200m, right (080046, YA) along Church Lane (green lane) to road opposite Barnack Church.

Left; round dogleg; left (077050) along Main Street. Cross Walcot Road; along Wittering Road; in 100m, left up steps (075049) into Barnack Hills & Holes NNR. Ahead over humpy ground; in 100m, right through gate and follow orange ‘Limestone Trail’ arrows anticlockwise through reserve. At south edge, bear right along path to SW edge of reserve (074043); on for 450m to road (070041). Left here (‘public bridleway’, blue arrow) beside Walcot Park wall, then along grassy drive (‘Hereward Way’) to road at Grange Farm (081026).

Left along road. In 600m, right beside ‘The Meadows’ (082031, FP) to make a circuit of Southorpe Meadow nature reserve. Continue up road; at right bend, left over stile (082035, FP); follow YAs across 2 fields to Walcot Road (083040). Right; round right bend, past left turn to Ufford; in 50m, left over stile (085039, FP), under arch and on along track. In 250m, right by Ufford Oaks (085043); retrace steps to Ufford.

Lunch/Accommodation: White Hart, Ufford (01780-740250, whitehartufford.co.uk).

Barnack Hills & Holes NNR: 01780-444704, naturalengland.org.uk

John Clare Living Landscape: wildlifebcn.org/john-clare-country

Info: Peterborough TIC (01733-452336)

Sheffield Walking Festival: 9-17 September (theoutdoorcity.co.uk/walking-festival)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:12
Aug 262017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Holly Bush Inn at Greenhaugh is one of a very rare breed – an old drovers’ inn, long, low and full of character, in a hamlet tucked into a fold of the Northumberland National Park. They welcome you here in a no-nonsense way, no matter where you’re from.

We followed the rough lane to Boughthill between fields of cut hay and pastures grazed by blackfaced sheep. ‘A fair lambing this year,’ said the farmer, stopping his old Land Rover to find out if we were lost. ‘Not a good summer so far, though. But if farmers weren’t complaining about that, it’d be something else, eh?’

Past the grey stone barns at High Boughthill we turned up the hill road to Thorneyburn. The verges were spattered with colour – pink campion, purple heads of knapweed, sharp yellow of meadow vetchling, and the brilliant scarlet of rowan berries, hanging in bunches and dripping with the last of the afternoon’s rain.

High Thorneyburn farm lay on its lonely hillside in a protective collar of shelter trees, looking out over sedgy fields across the North Tyne valley to the rise of Snabdaugh Moor and the ripples of rocky crags beyond. These upland farms, beautiful though their aspect is, are tough places, demanding practical ingenuity from those who work them. The sheep dip and pens beside the lane were a marvel of clever construction, with little gates, lath fences and runways to direct the animals exactly where the shepherd wanted them to go.

Beyond High Thorneyburn we scrambled round the flooded spillway of Slaty Ford, and climbed a path knee-deep in heather up over the shoulder of Thorneyburn Fell. At the entrance to the forest of Sidwood a pack of siskins went flitting through the birch tops with a flash of yellow and a thin burst of twittering.

The wind rushed with a sea-like murmuring through the pine tops as we followed the forest track down to the valley of the Tarset Burn. The moorland path led home by way of the stark stone ruin of a pele tower, built back in the dark days of raiders and reivers when all these hills and valleys were dangerous, debateable land.

Start: Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh, near Bellingham NE48 1PW, (OS ref NY 795873)

Getting there: Greenhaugh is signposted off B6320 between Otterburn (A68) and Bellingham.

Walk (8 miles, some boggy sections, OS Explorer OL42): From Holly Bush Inn, right along road. In 200m, right (fingerpost, ‘High Boughthill’) down drive. In 500m cross Tarset Burn by footbridge (793867). On to turn right through Boughthill farmyard (2 gates) and up track (occasional yellow arrows/YA). Pass Higher Boughthill barns (789867); ahead with wall on right through trees. Through gate (787867); left along back of plantation and on to road (785862).

Turn right. In 350m, fork right through gate (782864) and on along moor road. In 1¼ miles, at turning on left at High Thorneyburn farm (766872), ahead through gate along track to Slaty Ford (767874). Scramble round to the right to avoid the stream. 50m beyond, through gate; in 70m, right (‘Sidwood, 1½’ fingerpost), on clear track to cross Thorney Burn, then NE up well-trodden path through grass and heather over Thorneyburn Common for 700m to a gate beside wall opposite Stank Well (765881, blue arrow/BA).

Ahead into Sidwood. Keep ahead on broad track. In 600m cross a forest road (770885, BA); continue on path, descending among trees for 600m to cross forest road (775889, BA). Ahead on path among trees to road in valley (776890). Right along road. In ⅔ mile pass Redheugh (784885); in another 500m, right (‘Thorneyburn’) to Thorneyburn church (786877).

Just past church, left through gateway, down west wall of churchyard. On through garden; out into a field. Head half-right (YA), steeply down a rough slope, to cross burn by footbridge (786875, YA). Climb far bank; head half left across open moor, aiming for low ruin of pele tower (787872). Ahead to stile in fence – don’t cross, but turn left (YA), keeping fence on right, to bottom of field (790868). Right through gate; left through gateway (YA); ahead to waymark post (YA). From here aim ahead, steeply down bank to cross burn (791867). Steeply up far bank to waymark post at top (YA); down track to Boughthill farm and retrace route to Greenhaugh.

Conditions: Route over Thorneyburn Common faintly marked in places; Slaty Ford wet and slippery.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh (01434-240391, hollybushinn.net) open Mon-Fri from 4 pm, weekends from noon.

Info: Bellingham TIC (01670-620450); Kielder Forest TIC (01434-250209)

3 September: 50th Rossendale Round-the-Hills Walk, Rawtenstall, Lancs (realtd.co.uk/50th-rossendale-round-hills-walk)

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

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 02:12
Aug 122017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A pure blue-sky morning, a dreich drizzly afternoon, and in between whiles, one of the classic walks of coastal Suffolk. Senior citizens perambulated the village green in Orford between mellow red brick cottages whose windows peeped out among rambling roses. Down on the quay, fresh-landed skate had just hit the slab in Brinkley’s shed.

Orford is a pure delight, a self-sufficient coastal village at the end of a long road. Not that Orford faces the bracing tides of the North Sea directly – the monstrous shingle spit of Orford Ness, ten miles long and still growing, cut the village off from the open sea hundreds of years ago.

The strange pagoda shapes of long-abandoned MOD nuclear laboratories straddled the pebbly spine of Orford Ness. We turned downstream along the flood banks of the River Ore, looking back to see the red roofs of Orford bookended by the village church and the octagonal tower of Orford Castle. The garrison of the castle in medieval times, it was said, once hung a captured merman upside down in their dungeon when he refused to speak. He got the better of them in the end, though, slipping away and back to the sea when no-one was looking.

Hares scampered in the meadows under the seawall, and a tern dive-bombed a shoal of fish in the incoming tide of the Ore. We made inland for the dusty road to Gedgrave Hall, where the breeze carried beautiful tarry whiff from Pinney’s fish smokery near Butley Ferry.

‘Smallest ferry in Europe’, said Roy the ferryman, skilfully balancing the forces of wind and tide as he rowed us across the Butley River in his little muddy dinghy. ‘We don’t like to drown too many, though.’

We crossed the back of Burrow Hill, at 50 feet high a mountain hereabouts, and followed broad flowery lanes inland for miles to Chillesford. It was slow, heavenly walking in calm clear air through a seductively beautiful coastal landscape.

In Sudbourne Park on the homeward stretch, cricketers in their whites were preparing for their Sunday match. Bowlers pounded the nets, batsmen practised immaculate strokes they’d never execute, and as the umpires emerged from the pavilion the first spits of rain were felt on the wind, in true traditional style.

Start: Orford Quay car park, Orford, Suffolk IP12 2NU (OS ref TM 425496)

Getting there: B1084 from Woodbridge, B1078 from Wickham Market, both off A12 north of Ipswich.

Walk (10 miles, easy, OS Explorer 212): From quay, right along seawall for 1½ miles, passing Chantry Point. At tide gauge where River Ore bend south-west, bear right off sea wall path, through gate (416485, ‘Suffolk Coast Path, Orford Loop’/SCP/OL). Up grassy lane for ½ a mile to road (409490). Left; 500m past Gedgrave Hall, right (401483, ‘Butley Ferry’) past Pinney’s fish smokery (397485), following SCP to Butley Ferry (393482). Cross Butley River; ahead through gate; in 150m, right through gate (390482, SCP); follow well-marked SCP for 2½ miles via Burrow Hill (389485), Coulton Farm (382498) and South Chapel (380496) to road at Butley Mills (383515). Right to B1084 in Chillesford (386522); right past Froize Restaurant. In another 100m, right (391522, SCP/OL, ‘Orford 2¼’); follow marked SCP back to Orford.

Conditions: NB This is a weekend walk. Butley Ferry runs 11 am-4 pm Sat, Sun, BH, Easter-end October; £2 (07913-672499, butleyferry.org)

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Crown & Castle, Orford, Woodbridge, IP12 2LJ (01394-450205, crownandcastle.co.uk) – wonderfully friendly and classy village inn.

Info: Ipswich TIC (01473-432017);
visitsuffolk.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:56
Aug 052017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Solway Plain, leading north to the vast tideway of the Solway Firth that separates England and Scotland, is a most extraordinary landscape. Squelching with juicy peat and water, teeming with wildlife, dotted with remote farmsteads and rimmed with giant saltmarshes, sands and mudflats, it is as lonely and windswept as any lover of wild places and enormous skies could want.

We set out from the Solway Wetlands Centre to follow the RSPB’s Red Trail around Campfield Marsh on the northern edge of the Solway Plain. Cumulus clouds blew around the blue sky like ships in a gale, and a beautiful rich smell of sun-warmed heather and spicy bog myrtle wafted to us from the moss, as Cumbrians call their bogs.

The trail led past a field of fodder radish, specially planted to attract butterflies and birds, the pink and white flowers fluttering with peacock, painted lady, large white and red admiral. Beyond the crop we traversed a piece of wet birchwood, the tree trunks rising from bog pools as still and black as looking-glass.

Out on the wild expanse of Bowness Common a duckboard trail led across the wet moss, aiming for the dramatic silhouettes of the Lake District’s northern fells outlined in pale grey on the southern horizon, Skiddaw rising like a king over all. Tiny green and gold lizards basked on the edge of the duckboards, flicking away and out of sight in the blink of an eye. We stopped to watch a wheatear on a post, laterally striped in brown and pale olive, its white tail flashing as it darted away across the bog.

Turning off the trail, we made for the isolated farm buildings of Rogersceugh, perched conspicuously on a low drumlin mound. From here the view was sensational, out across a dozen miles of green and purple moss to the Lakeland fells, the southern Scottish hills across the Solway, and away in the east the big mountain hummock of Criffel.

Back at the Wetlands Centre, we took a stroll west along the coast road. A thousand oystercatchers stood head to wind on the strand, the fleets and sandbanks of the Solway lay in glinting lines, and across the firth Criffel rose from the Scottish shore in a stately curve, with evening light pouring from behind it.
Start: Solway Wetlands Centre, RSPB Campfield Marsh, North Plain Farm, Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria CA7 5AG (OS ref NY 198615)

Getting there: M6 Jct 46; Bowness-on-Solway is signed from A689 western Carlisle bypass. From Bowness, minor coast road towards Cardurnock; Campfield Marsh RSPB is signposted on left in 1½ miles.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 314; map/guide available at Solway Wetlands’ Centre. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From car park, walk between stone gateposts. Follow Discovery Zone path; turn right through gateway and follow Red Trail arrows clockwise. In 1⅓ miles, beside giant wooden compass carving and post with red ring (206600), turn left on boardwalk trail to Rogersceugh Farm viewpoint (214597). Back to compass carving; complete Red Trail. Through entrance onto road; left for ½ a mile to left bend for superb view across Solway Firth; return to car park.

Conditions: Boardwalk or damp grass paths; wear waterproof footwear.

Lunch: Picnic; hot drinks at Solway Wetlands Centre; or Highland Laddie PH, Glasson CA7 5DT (01697-341839; highlandladdieinnglasson.co.uk)

Accommodation: Midtown Farm, Easton, Drumburgh, Wigton CA7 5DL (01228-576550, midtown-farm.co.uk) – really friendly, excellent B&B.

Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve (01697-351330, rspb.org.uk/campfieldmarsh) Always open. Solway Wetlands Centre open daily 10-4; manned at weekends.

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

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 01:00
Jul 292017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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We woke in Leamington Spa on a gorgeous midsummer morning, still stiff and bleary after a night’s rock ‘n’ roll cavorting in the town’s St Patrick’s Club. Best way to shake the blues component of all that Rhythm ‘n’ Blues? A good stretch-out on foot, that’s what, in the company of our quick-striding daughter Mary. She’d keep our motors turning, for sure.

Leamington Spa is a truly beautiful town, the pride of Warwickshire, full of well-preserved Regency architecture and large, beautifully kept public parks and gardens. Mary led the way along the leafy pathways of Jephson’s Gardens, and then the Riverside Walk that shadows the slow-flowing River Leam westward out of town through Walches Meadows nature reserve.

At the end of Leam Fields, among head-high grasses, we stopped on a bridge over the Leam to watch a neat brown flycatcher zipping out from its alder-branch perch to snatch a morsel in mid-air. The bird sat perfectly still, an iridescent blue damselfly wing twitching on either side of its beak, observing us, until a tiny movement of my hand sent it flittering away into cover.

Down on the Grand Union Canal we turned east along the towpath. The great commercial waterway of former days was packed with freshwater admirals at the helms of brightly painted narrowboats this morning. Collapsible bicycles lay strapped neatly on deck, and terriers and Alsatians sat at attention on the cabin roofs, watching us go by with a fine proprietorial air.

A blood-red flood of poppies spattered the green wheatfields under the stumpy tower of Radford Semele church. Six striped mallard ducklings with yellow breasts followed their anxious mother in a flotilla under a humpback bridge, where a pair of swans picked loose down from their four fluffy grey cygnets. Flowering rush was out in the canal margins. Dog roses disseminated a smell sweeter than honeysuckle from the hedges. Walking by the greasily shining, milky waters of the Grand Union, reeling off the miles as morning leached into afternoon, it felt wonderful to be alive and outside.

We climbed past the Bascote flight of locks and left the canal for the lane into Long Itchington. There was a bus stop, a table outside the Harvester Inn, and a long cool drink to cap off this restorative walk.

Start: Leamington Spa railway station, Old Warwick Road, Leamington Spa CV31 3NS (OS ref SP 317653)

Getting there: Rail or bus to Leamington Spa. Road – M40, Jct 15.

Return from Long Itchington – Bus 64 to Leamington Spa

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorers 221, 222): From station exit, left through underpass; in 100m, right (‘Cycle Route/CR 41’) to cross road. Ahead along York Walk; in 200m, right over footbridge into gardens; right along river to cross road into Jephson’s Gardens. Follow path with river on right for ½ a mile through gardens to cross B4099. Follow ‘Riverside Walk’ for ¾ of a mile. Beside info board at end of Leam Fields Local Nature Reserve, right across river to A425. Left (‘CR41’); in 300m, right (‘CR41’) to turn left along north bank of Grand Union Canal. Follow this towpath for 4¾ miles, to Bascote Bridge, No 27 (407641). Leave canal here; turn right up Bascote Road into Long Itchington. At T-junction (411652), right to bus stop opposite Harvester Inn.

Lunch: Harvester Inn, Long Itchington CV47 9PE (01926-812698, theharvesterinn.co.uk)

Accommodation: Premier Inn, The Parade, Leamington Spa, CV32 4AE (01926-331850, premierinn.com)

Info: Leamington Spa TIC (01926-742762)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 03:56
Jul 222017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The prospect over Lower Lough Erne from the Cliffs of Magho is dumbfounding, a window suddenly opening across the whole slice of country where Fermanagh reaches into Donegal. The panorama swings from a chink of the Atlantic in the west, round through thirty miles towards the head of Lower Lough Erne in the east. We gazed out from the viewpoint over islands and inlets, out to the giant wedge of the far-off cliffs of Slieve League and the long pale backs of the Bluestack Mountains.

Glencreawan Lough lay becalmed in the lee of the ridge that forms the Cliffs of Magho. Just down the forest road we skirted its sister lough of Meenameen, another placid sheet of steel-blue water where fishermen hid among the reeds and cast for brown trout.

All round the loughs stood the sombre ranks of dark conifers that form Lough Navar Forest. There’s a strong but indefinable Grimm’s Fairytale frisson about the stygian blackness under such massed trees. But soon other colours began to claim attention – purple heather, crimson and acid green sphagnum moss, the silver splinters of felled trees and the pale milky green of the long beards of usnea lichen sported by the older trees – infallible sign of unpolluted air.

We passed between Lough Navar and Lough Naman – the former a gunmetal grey plate of water under low hills, the latter a little saucer of a lake half filled with reeds. The rough road turned east past the brown bog slopes of Glenasheevar, newly planted with forestry, then plunged back into the trees to wriggle its way below the outcrop of Melly’s Rock.

Hard against the little cliff we found a doorway three feet high. Crouching under the lintel, we crawled one after the other into the stone-walled interior – an ancient sweathouse, where sufferers from a range of ailments would be enclosed to bake in the heat and smoke of a peat fire before being extracted and plunged into cold water. Kill or cure, literally.

We paused on the bench outside to admire the gorgeous hilly prospect southward, then made for the homeward road by way of a circuit of beautiful Lough Achork, the loveliest forest lake of them all.

Start: Glencreawan Lough car park, Lough Navar Forest, near Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh, BT93 6AH approx. (OS NI ref H 033566)

Getting there: From Enniskillen, B81 to Derrygonnelly. Follow ‘Garrison via Glenasheevar’, then ‘Forest Drive’. Right into Lough Navar Forest (‘Scenic Drive’); follow forest road to Cliffs of Magho viewpoint. Return to junction; left to Meenameen Lough. Just before car park, bear right to reach Glencreawan Lough car park.

Walk (9 miles, easy, OSNI 1:50,000 Discoverer 17. Map downloadable at walkni.com): Return along road to Meenameen Lough car park (029561). Down steps, right along shore path (black arrow/BA). In ½ a mile, at road, left (025557, BA). After passing Lough Navar, left at junction (021544, BA). In 1¾ miles, at tarmac road, right (046545, ‘Ulster Way’/UW) along road. In ⅔ of a mile, on sharp bend, left up footpath (056544, ‘Sweathouse 450m’), following signs to sweathouse (054547). Return to road; right (retracing steps); in ⅔ of a mile, fork right (046545, BA). In ¾ of a mile detour left (044556) for circuit of Lough Achork. Back to road, left; at top of rise, fork left (047560, BA) for 1½ miles to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Lough Erne Resort, Belleek Rd, Enniskillen BT93 7ED (028-6632-3230, lougherneresort.com) – luxury golf hotel, stunning lake views.

Info: Enniskillen TIC (028-6632-3110);
discovernorthernireland.com satmap.com, walkni.com

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 01:29
Jul 152017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Walking the old holloways under the beeches on Henley Common, Jane and I looked out between the trees to see the dull green wall of the South Downs backlit with early light diffused by mist to an apricot glow.

Under recently coppiced sweet chestnuts the light fell cool and grey between the saw-edged leaves. The slender rods of the chestnut stems were footed in thick mosses. I pushed my finger in as far as the second knuckle, and still could not reach the trunk inside the soft moss jacket.

Woolbeding Common fell away from its high viewpoint in a great slump of land, bracken-strewn and thick with silver birch and gorse. Three dogs hared up and bounced around us, tremendously pleased to be lords of all this heathy open space. Lowland heaths are rare commodities these days, thanks to agricultural and housing development, but Woolbeding and Pound Commons are carefully managed by the National Trust for their ground-nesting nightjars, their adders and lizards, the dragonflies and the deadly little hobbies that hunt them.

An old horse came slowly up the track, picking its way very deliberately among the stones, pulling a light two-wheeled gig with a blond-haired woman and her son on board. At that moment it looked the nicest thing in the world, to be jogging at an idle pace behind a stout nag over a common of golden gorse, purple bell heather and fresh green bracken.

We followed the heathery pathways down past handsome Woolhouse Farm. ‘Hammer Wood,’ said the map. ‘Hammer Pond, Hammer Hanger, Hammer Lane.’ Reminders of medieval times when these Wealden woods, the heart of England’s iron-making industry, were loud and smoky with smelting and hammering.

Between the holly stems on Lord’s Common we glimpsed the sharply peaked gables and long red roofs of the King Edward VII Hospital. This great tuberculosis sanatorium, built with its Gertrude Jekyll-designed gardens at the turn of the 20th century, is undergoing conversion to state-of-the-art accommodation. The sanatorium’s star architect, Charles Holden, planned it so as to admit as much daylight and fresh air as possible to the patients – a revolutionary approach at that date.

The midday sun came in through the leaf canopy to brush our faces as we turned for home along hollowed ways tunnelled by badgers since long before these hills knew houses, hammerponds, or humans themselves.

Start: Duke of Cumberland PH, Henley, Midhurst, West Sussex GU27 3HQ (OS ref SU 894258)

Getting there: Bus 70, Guildford-Midhurst.
Road – Henley is signposted off A286, 4 miles north of Midhurst. Ample parking on road verge near pub.

Walk (8 miles, woodland paths and holloways, OS Explorer 133): From pub, right up road. In 200m, right across footbridge (fingerpost/FP, yellow arrow/YA, ‘Serpent trail’/ST), up bank. At drive, right (black arrow/BLA) up bank to cross A268 (893256, FP, ST) – please take care! Follow woodland path (BLA, ST) to Verdley Edge. Pass The Lodge (887260) and turn left (ST). In 30m, fork right (3-finger post, ST); in 100m, fork left uphill off track (ST). Follow ST for 500m to edge of wood (881258); right on track along wood edge.

At gateway into open field (879259), aim for roof in trees ahead, following right-hand edge of field (BLA) to gate. Pass to right of barn (875258); follow track into trees. At T-junction with a track on edge of common, turn right (873258, ‘New Lipchis Way’/NLW). In 250m, left (871260, FP) and follow NLW, ST downhill to cross car park, then lane to reach bench and viewpoint (869260).

Back to lane. Right for 100m, left up gravel track. In 30m fork right on grassy path across common. In 500m, right at track crossing (872255, FP, YA); follow west, soon with wall on right, along edge of common. Follow YA and NLW. In 600m straight across road (866254) and on. In 200m cross larger road and on (NLW). In another 400m, at 3-finger post (861251, NLW), keep ahead past Ivy Cottage and Woolhouse Farm. In 250m, fork right off roadway (862248, 3-finger post). In ⅔ mile NLW forks right (875241), but keep ahead. In 150m, opposite Ash House, bridleway forks right (blue arrow/BA), but keep ahead up path curving left (YA) out of woods.

At Tote Lane (862241), left past Woodgate Farm; in 100m, right (FP) up field edge. Keep hedge on right till track turns right through it; ahead here through woodland to cross road (868242). Ahead (FP, ‘Dene House’) on stony track across Pound Common. In 200m a path forks left (869243), but keep right (ahead). In 150m at crossing of tracks, keep ahead uphill. In 400m track forks (873247); keep to right-hand track (YA) at edge of trees, and cross track to Eastshaw Farm (874247).

On through woods, passing King Edward VII Sanatorium on your left (glimpses through trees). Track bends right (882247), passes a BLA, and in 100m you turn left/north (4-finger post). In 150m fork left, in 350m, at 4-finger post, dogleg left-right up left side of house/garden to cross road (885251). On through trees (FP). In 300m cross Madam’s Farm track (885255, stiles, FP); continue through trees for 500m to descend to Verdley Edge (887260). Turn right and retrace steps to Henley.

Lunch: Duke of Cumberland, Henley (01428-652280, dukeofcumberland.com) – lively, very popular pub with great food. Booking advised!

Accommodation: King’s Arms, Fernhurst GU27 3HA (01428-641165, kingsarmspub.co.uk) – 1 mile.

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

 Posted by at 01:56
Jul 082017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Cheerful narrowboaters were drinking and chattering in the sunshine outside the Eagle & Sun at Hanbury Wharf. They lounged under the trees on the banks of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, their neat blue and red craft moored alongside.

The towpath led away north in a lacy froth of cow parsley. Large bees investigated the inroads of yellow flag flowers, making a soporific bumbling noise.

Reed buntings chattered on the reed stems that fringed the canal, and there was a soft clop-clop of bronze-brown water round the bows of ‘Golden Eagle’ as she negotiated the narrow chamber of Astwood Lock. The lock-keeper’s cottage garden was bright with hollyhocks and granny’s bonnets, old-fashioned cottage garden flowers, and there were roses round the door and gnomes among flowerpots.

From this Wind In The Willows dream of Olde Englande we moved east into fields of barley, wheat and blue-green oats. Webbhouse Farm straddled its low ridge in a huddle of deep-roofed old barns. This is good growing country, the dark red earth full of pebbles smoothed by some antediluvian river.

The sun struck into the glades of Piper’s Hill Wood as we followed a track among enormous old ash and oak trees. Piper’s Hill was once a wood pasture, carefully managed woodland where local commoners enjoyed the rights of pannage (feeding their pigs on acorns) and estover (collecting fallen boughs for firewood). Such uses fell away long ago, leaving a woodland full of mighty trees, ancient and splendidly distorted.

Emerging from Piper’s Hill Wood, we climbed a grassy path to a church perched at the summit. ‘St Mary The Virgin, Hanbury’ said the notice board, but we knew better. Generations of Archers from Ambridge have been married in front of BBC microphones within these crookedly sloping walls, and the bells of ‘St Stephen’s’ have rung out over the Radio 4 airwaves more times than even Joe Grundy can recall.

From the church on its knoll a path led across the broad acres of Hanbury Park. We passed the ornate oriental gates of Hanbury Hall (‘Lower Locksley Hall’ to Ambridge cognoscenti – not too near the edge of that roof, Nigel!) and walked homeward across hayfields full of the smell of new-mown grass.

Start: Eagle & Sun PH, Hanbury Wharf, Worcs, WR9 7DX (OS ref SO 922629)

Getting there: Bus 354 (Droitwich-Redditch).
Road – Hanbury Wharf is on B4090, just east of Droitwich (M5 Jct 5; A38)

Walk (6 miles, easy underfoot, OS Explorer 204): North along canal towpath for 1½ miles. 150m beyond Astwood Lock, right through kissing gate/KG (937651); follow ‘Hanbury Circular Walk’/HCW across field. Cross road (942652) and on. In ¾ mile, left across footbridge (951651); fork right along field edges to enter Piper’s Hill Wood (956649). At track, right (HCW). In 200m, bear right (956648) on broad track to Hanbury Church on hill (954644).

From churchyard gate, HCW points downhill. Right at junction; left (KG); across meadow, down oak avenue and on. Pass Hanbury Hall (945637); in next field, bear away from boundary wall/haha on right), keeping straight ahead across wide meadow to road (941632). Right (HCW) past pond, through trees, through KG. Right along hedge to waymark post; left along hedge; in 150 m, right through hedge to NE corner of Lady Wood (937633, HCW).

Diagonally right up field slope to skirt south end of pond on ridge (935634); same line down to KG; sunken lane down to drive (933636). Left; in 100m, right through gate (932635, HCW); down field edge to cross railway (929635); left along canal to Hanbury Wharf.

Lunch: Eagle & Sun, Hanbury Wharf (01905-799266, eagleandsundroitwich.com)

Accommodation: Vernon Hotel, Droitwich Road, Hanbury B60 4DB (01527-821236; thevernonhanbury.co.uk)

Walk guide: download at worcestershire.gov.uk/download

Hanbury Hall: nationaltrust.org.uk/hanbury-hall-and-gardens

Info: Droitwich TIC (01905-774312)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:27
Jul 012017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Mither Tap draws the eye for many miles around. The 1,700-ft peak with its steep flanks and bare granite crown rises high over the low-rolling landscape inland of Aberdeen. It isn’t the highest point of its parent ridge of Bennachie – that honour belongs to the dome of Oxen Craig, a mile to the west and ten metres taller. But it’s the distinctive shape of Mither Tap which entices ramblers to walk the hilly circuit connecting these twin peaks.

We started up the forest path from Back o’ Bennachie on a breezy afternoon, and were soon up above the pines and mossy gullies. The tor-like peak of Craigshannoch, the Hill of the Foxes, rose on the skyline, its back against rushing grey clouds. A path of crunchy granite led up to the top of Oxen Craig through heather, bilberry and starry white flowers of chickweed wintergreen.

There was ominous howling from the stone shelter at the summit. It came from two dogs trying to blackmail biscuits from the picnickers there. The view encompassed at least 100 miles, from far out across the North Sea in the east to Lochnagar standing tall in the Cairngorm range, and the flanks of Cairngorm mountain itself, blurred and gleaming with snow some seventy miles to the west.

From Oxen Craig we turned eastward across the heathery ridge of Bennachie. Mountain hares feasting on young heather shoots had left round balls of dung among the bilberries, and foxes feasting on mountain hares had added their own pointed billets. The square grey crown of Mither Tap sank out of sight below the skyline, then rose dramatically as we drew near.

Just below the peak we found the tumbled walls of a Pictish fort 2,500 years old. Looking back to the slopes of Oxen Craig, we pictured the mighty force of 30,000 ‘Caledonians’ who opposed a Roman army of similar size at the Battle of Mons Graupius in 83AD. The Caledonians had the high ground – but the Romans wiped the floor with them, slaughtering one in three.

The north-west wind soon blasted us off the peak of Mither Tap. We followed the homeward path to the tors that crown Craigshannoch, and dropped down through Bennachie forest with ravens riding the wind above us like a cohort of ragged black witches.

Start: Back o’ Bennachie car park, near Pitcaple, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire AB52 6RH approx (OS ref NJ 662246)

Getting there: A96 from Inverurie towards Huntly; in 6 miles, left at Bridge of Carden on B9002. Half a mile beyond Oyne, left (‘Back o’ Bennachie’) to car park.

Walk (6 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer 421): From pay machine furthest from road, follow ‘Mither Tap Quarry Trail/MTQT’ signs south on steepening path. Follow MTQT for 3 miles via Little Oxen Craig (663232) and Oxen Craig (663227). Approaching Mither Tap, just beyond ‘Mither Tap’ sign immediately below crags, fork left (682224) and follow path clockwise to summit. Return through fort gateway to path junction (683225). Follow ‘Bennachie Rowan Tree’/BRT, ahead. In ½ a mile, in a hollow, left off BRT path (681231, ‘Craigshannoch’) uphill. Pass cairn on right; at next T-junction, right (MTQT, ‘Back o’ Bennachie’/BB). In 350m, fork right to summit of Craigshannoch (672232). Return to main route, turn right and follow MTQT, then BB, back to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Meldrum House Hotel, Oldmeldrum AB51 0EA (01651-872294, meldrumhouse.com) – large, comfortable country house hotel.

Info: Bennachie Centre, Chapel of Garioch, Inverurie AB51 5HX (01467-681470, bennachievisitorcentre.org.uk); bailiesofbennachie.co.uk

visitaberdeen.com; satmap.com, visitscotland.com

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 01:27
Jun 242017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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There are parts of the Welsh Borders that are neither rugged mountains nor agricultural lowlands, but rather semi-wild uplands where sheep and cattle roam freely and a walker can step out along grassy pathways in every direction. The Begwns are a fine example, a rolling ridge of common land north-west of Hay-on-Wye that separates the Brecon Beacons from the hills of southern Radnorshire.

The National Trust owns the Begwns, and keeps the common beautifully grazed, mown and open of access. We set out west from the hill road south of Painscastle on a midday of brisk wind and hazy blue sky. A woman strode another path parallel with ours, her dark hair blowing out behind her, three dogs scampering around her heels.

Yellow tormentil flowers dotted the slopes. Bees bumbled among the dandelions in a nectarous daze. Our inland track became a pot-holed lane where foxgloves grew among the stone slabs of the walls. We passed the tumbledown farm of Bailey-bedw, the house roof in holes, an elder bush rising from the chimney pot like a puff of green smoke.

Beyond Bailey-bedw, sheep were gobbling turnips in a field beside the track. I watched a ewe make her selection, scrape it open with her incisors, then slide it with an upward jerk of the head to the back of her mouth where she crushed it between her strong yellow molars.

The track swung up and over a shoulder of hill, then bent back on itself to climb to The Roundabout. This conifer plantation perches at the brow of the Begwns inside a circular wall, commanding a really spectacular view. We gazed our full, south to the tumbled heights of the Brecon Beacons and the ship’s prow of Hay Bluff as pale as a lead cut-out in the haze, north across the Painscastle valley to where the green patchwork of pastures rose into dun brown moorland.

A grass track took us down from The Roundabout to Monks’ Pond, flat on its saddle of ground in a golden collar of flowering gorse. The margins of the water were spattered with white blooms of water crowfoot. We walked a circuit of the wind-ruffled lakelet, and headed back home over the grassy shoulders of the Begwns.

Start: Parking bay at cattle grid, Croesfeilliog near Painscastle, Powys, HR3 5JH approx. (OS ref SO 182445)

Getting there: On hill road to Hay-on-Wye, 1 and three quarter miles south-east of Painscastle. Park opposite National Trust ‘Begwns’ sign.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 188):
Cross road; follow track west along lower, right-hand edge of Access Land with fence on right. In ¼ of a mile cross stony track (177444). Two green tracks diverge here; take left one to ridge (175444). Right here (west) along rutted track, soon becoming tarmac lane. In ¾ of a mile cross road (163447); in ½ a mile, pass track to ‘Top of Lane’ (156448). In 100m fork left onto grassy path, which bends left over shoulder west of The Roundabout. In 600m, at large pond on right, turn left (149443) uphill to Roundabout (155444). From gate, head along spine of Begwns, bearing right across road (161440) to Monks Pond. From north-east corner (166438), head for angle of wall; north, then east on track with fence, then wall on right. In ½ a mile join farm track at Bird’s Nest ruin (176440); ahead to road (183442); left to car.

Lunch: Picnic at The Roundabout

Accommodation: Baskerville Arms, Clyro, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5RZ (01497-820670, baskervillearms.co.uk)

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

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 02:24