First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
In the west window of All Saints’ Church at King’s Cliffe, an upside-down angel plays the lute with spatulate fingers. Whoever re-assembled these fragments of medieval glass got some sly fun out of the job. Opposite the lutanist, another angel strums a dulcimer – an angel with the head of a pompous-looking eagle.
The streets and narrow alleys of King’s Cliffe are lined with handsome houses of creamy limestone, very characteristic of this north-eastern corner of Northamptonshire. Under today’s blue sky they glowed with a light as soft and silvery as moonshine.
Up on the slope above the village we followed the Jurassic Way, a broad track that snakes through the ancient woodland of Westhay and Fineshade Woods, a remnant of what was once the great sprawl of Rockingham Forest. These days forestry and leisure go together here. Families strolled and walked the dog, runners thudded by, and coveys of kids on bikes competed to ‘do a Wiggins’ up the slopes and down the dips.
We ducked aside among the trees to peer over the edge of a precipitous jungly ravine, the deep cutting where the goods trains of the London & North Western Railway once rattled immense loads of limestone through the woods and away to the outside world. A cup of tea at a table outside the Top Lodge Forest Café, and we turned south along the Jurassic Way into a green valley. A striking set of Palladian stables lay in a fold of ground, all that remains of the grand Georgian house that was built on the site of Fineshade Abbey. Up across a ridge of sheep grazing, and down again towards the wide valley of the Willow Brook where Blatherwycke Lake turned its polished steel face to the blue sky.
Blatherwycke’s 19th-century estate houses lead down to a beautiful zigzag bridge over a neck of the lake. As at Fineshade, a great country house stood here until a post-war decline in fortunes saw it demolished. We passed the Norman church under horse chestnuts and beeches, and followed a broad path planted with young trees – chestnut-leaved oak, black mulberry, tulip tree – through rolling parkland and cornfields. The sun shone, shadows lengthened, and the Willow Brook chuckled and sparkled as it guided us on towards King’s Cliffe.
Start: Cross Keys Inn, King’s Cliffe, Northants, PE8 6XA (OS ref TL 007971)
Getting there: Bus – CallConnect service (0845-263-8153)
Road – King’s Cliffe is signed from A47 between Duddington and Wansford
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 224): From Cross Keys, right along West Street. At edge of village, right (001972) up Wood Lane. In 500m, left at barrier (SP 998976). Follow waymarked Jurassic Way/JW through Westhay and Fineshade Woods for 1½ miles to Top Lodge café (979983).
Bear left along road; just past railway bridge, left and follow JW southwest. Just past Fineshade Abbey stables, JW goes right across concrete footbridge (972975); but keep ahead here. Cross stile; bear left up field, then aim for gateway on ridge at left end of hedge (972972). Follow fence on right to far end of field; right across stile (973970). Half left across field, aiming for Blatherwycke Lake; field path for 800m to road junction (971962); right (‘Blatherwycke’). In 600m cross bridge; in another 200m, left (973955, ‘Historic Church’) up drive to Blatherwycke Church (974958).
Continue along drive (black arrows/BLA, then yellow arrows/YA). In ¾ mile, just before ‘Private: No Right of Way’ notice, left through hedge (984964, BLA). Continue with hedge on right to pass through Alders Farm (989966). On through fields (YAs, BLAs, stiles); in ⅔ mile, left across footbridge (998968, BLA); on across fields and past allotments to King’s Cliffe. Ahead along Church Walk (002971) for 600m to church; left to Cross Keys Inn.
Lunch: Cross Keys Inn, King’s Cliffe (crosskeyskingscliffe.uk; 01780-470276), or Top Lodge Café, Fineshade Wood.
Accommodation: Old White Hart, Lyddington, Oakham, Rutland LE15 9LR (01572-821703, oldwhitehart.co.uk) – friendly and cheerful village inn.
Info: Stamford TIC (01780-755611)
Kempley Daffodil Weekend walks, Glos: 18, 19 March (daffs.org.uk)