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