First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Six men bearing enormous reindeer horns cavort together, advancing and retiring, enticing and threatening. Lumpy-bumpy melodeon music accompanies their ritual, crowds of onlookers cheer them through the village streets. This is the ancient Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, performed every Wakes Monday in this Staffordshire village.
We start today’s walk in the village church of St Nicholas, and here on the wall behind the organ hang the venerable sets of reindeer horns, each a thousand years old, mounted on curious little wooden heads. Not long after sunrise on Wakes Monday the priest-in-charge blesses the horns before the dancers set out with them, a nice blend of the Christian and pagan.
The bells of St Nicholas ring out over Abbots Bromley as we walk away from the brick cottages and half-timbered old houses of the village. The hazy bloom of a hot summer’s morning lies over the steeply rolling countryside.
On the ridge near Spring Bank Farm, young cattle are sheltering from the heat in their shed. From here we look back to Abbots Bromley among trees on its hillside, and to the misty grey outlines of the great cooling towers at Rugeley, their waists nipped in like monstrous flamenco dancers.
At Beacon Bank Farm we get into a lane of hazel hedges between shady oaks, from whose upper leaves tiny caterpillars come abseiling down on glistening threads. At Hart’s Farm the young heifers blow through their nostrils as they stand in straw, emitting their characteristic warm, biscuit smell.
The royal hunting forest of Needwood once covered all this countryside. Now its fragments lie widely scattered. We sit on a medieval earthen bank in Hart’s Coppice, our feet among oak leaves, listening to blackbird and warblers making mid-afternoon music in the cool of the woodland canopy. Uncountable insects add a harmonic background hum.
Around Dun’s Field farm the stiles are choked with brambles and blackthorn. We clear a way at the cost of a few scratches, and follow a track across the broad acres of Bagot’s Park between fields of wheat and oilseed rape.
A wistful glance as we pass the silver silos of the Freedom Brewery, and we haul our thirsty throats and hot faces homeward along the Staffordshire Way. The fields shimmer in the sunshine, hoverflies hum their monotone refrain, and all colours are leached out in the heat of the afternoon to the dull gold of the crops and the green of trees so dark they look tar black against the pale blue sky.
Start: St Nicholas’s Church, Abbots Bromley, Staffs WS15 3DD (OS ref SK 079246)
Getting there: Bus 402A, 403, Uttoxeter to Burton-on-Trent
Road – Abbots Bromley is on B5014, signposted (B5013) from A51 at Rugeley.
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 244): From church to village green at Buttercross. Right along High Street; left (084244) up Radmore Lane. In ½ mile pass Radmore farm; in 100m, right over stile (091249); fork left (fingerpost) across field to far corner (stile). Same line across next field to cross footbridge (094249). In 50m, right (stile, yellow arrow/YA). Straight uphill, then half left to shed (097250). Through gate; half left across field to gate. Ahead to 2 gates by The Clump wood (100242). Left through left-hand gate; along hedge (stiles) for 350m to lane at Beacon Bank Farm (099255).
Right; in 300m pass gates of Four Oaks (101257); in 240m, fork left (103259) to Hart’s Farm (103261). Between house and shed; on through farmyard between sheds; through gate at far side; follow farm track for 200m to go through gate (105264, YA). Bear left up flank of Hart’s Coppice to enter wood (106265, stile, YA). Ahead across track; on through trees with ditch on left for 200m to leave wood (107266, stile, YA).
Path across field; cross footbridge (100269, YA); on down field edge. In 200m at angle of field, right (101271, stiles, YAs, footbridges) across brook. Up field to shed; cross stile (110273); across following stile (YA); left with hedge on left to cross 2 adjacent stiles in corner of field (109274) at Dun’s Field farmhouse. Bear right past cattle grid; left along field roadway (108276) for 1 mile to pass Freedom Brewery (093270). In another 250m, left (090269) along field edge in valley bottom on Staffordshire Way (marked by YAs with ‘knot’ logo).
In 600m bear right round field edge (094264); ahead over stile (SW) through trees; up hill. In 500m, left through hedge (089263, SW, fingerpost). Follow hedge on right. In 200m, right through hedge (090261, YA) across field. Left along hedge on your left (YA), on path becoming green lane to road (087255). Ahead to Abbots Bromley.
Conditions: Some bramble-choked stiles near Dun’s Field Farm; secateurs/stick are useful!
Lunch: Café on the Green, Abbots Bromley (01283 840275) – excellent home cooking
Accommodation: Marsh Farm B&B, Uttoxeter Road, Abbots Bromley WS15 3EJ (01283-840323)
Abbots Bromley Horn Dance: Monday 10 Sept 2018; abbotsbromley.com/horn_dance