First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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)
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).