First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A blustery grey morning was giving way gradually to a sky of scattered blue over the Northamptonshire farmlands. At East Haddon, Sunday lunchers clinked their glasses in the Red Lion, and somewhere near the recreation ground a children’s party was getting under way with tremendous music and megaphone announcements.
The building stone hereabouts is all honey-coloured ironstone. The rich, dark gold soil lay stiff with flints and water-smoothed pebbles. The farmers had left generous headlands around the fields, growing ground for thistles and white campion, yellow and purple vetches, tall rusty docks and pink spears of willowherb.
Slate grey clouds hung low above the northern skyline, where a strip of brilliant blue piled with whipped cream cumulo-nimbus inserted itself between heaven and earth. A church tower, peeping among trees, heralded Holdenby, a dream of an orderly estate village with handsome stone houses and high-gabled cottages around a broad oak-shaded green. Long gone is the great Elizabethan house with its 80,000 square feet of bulk and its 123 windows, where King Charles I endured a gilded captivity between the end of the Civil War and his eventual execution in 1649.
Beyond Holdenby the pastures rolled out northwards toward low hills. Medieval ridge-and-furrow undulated below the grass, more sensed than seen. We skirted Holdenby North Lodge, where two glossy horses in the absolute nick of health came up inquisitively to see what apples or mints we might be hiding in our pockets. They scorned my proffered handful of grass with snorts of aristocratic contempt.
The path crossed huge, hedgeless cornfields where the red brick barn of Tithe Farm lay half hidden in a fold of ground. A glimpse of the wind-furrowed grey lake of Ravensthorpe Reservoir, where fly fishermen rhythmically flogged the water from tiny boats, and we set back south along a well-found field path.
Oats, beans and barley grew, just as in the old nursery song. The ripe oat seeds hung like so many million silver bells, trembling in the breeze. Lime green shield bugs clung among the oats, and damselflies hovered, vanished and materialised a foot away, their electric blue bodies barred with black. Overhead, elephantine clouds moved massively across the sky, subtly backlit by a sun that never left their shelter all afternoon.
Start: Red Lion Inn, East Haddon, Northants NN6 8BU (OS ref SP 670682)
Getting there: Bus 96 (Rugby-Northampton)
East Haddon is signed off A428 between Rugby and Northampton
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 223): Opposite Red Lion, up Mill Lane. At sports field, left (yellow arrow/YA) along field edges. Clockwise round three sides of 3rd field to gate (679677); left past Rowell Leyes barn. At foot of slope, left (678673) along field margin for 800m to bridleway (683668). Left (‘Holdenby’), following bridleway to road in Holdenby (695678).
Left to road (695680); cross, and follow Macmillan Way (black arrows/BLA) to Holdenby North Lodge. Cross stile into field to right of house (695687); left over next stile, and through farmyard. BLAs point west through paddock (stiles), then along field edge. In 400m (688686, gate on left), right across 2 fields. At foot of slope (687691), ahead with hedge on left; in 200m, left through hedge (687693, BLA, blue arrow/BA). Diagonally across field, over footbridge (686696); follow hedge on left to Teeton Road (680701).
Left; in 100m, left (NB – another 100m along road gives a view over Ravensthorpe Reservoir) at footpath fingerpost. Along field edge with hedge on right. In 300m, right through hedge (678698), across corner of field to footbridge. Half right across next field; through hedge in top right corner (677694); down field edge. In 150m right (stile); left along hedge (YA), then across open field to stile (676688). Half right in front of Rye Hill Farm; beyond ponds, right off drive (674687, YA). Follow hedge, then fenced path past sewage works (672685). Keep stream on right before bearing left to stile (arrow) and road (672682). Right to Red Lion.
Lunch: Red Lion, East Haddon (01604-770223, redlioneasthaddon.co.uk)
Accommodation: Murcott Mill, Long Buckby, Northants NN6 7QR (01327-842236, murcottmill.com)