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