First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A crisp winter’s day, the sun in a clear sky over Warwickshire picking out the gold in the Cotswold stone houses of Ilmington. A whiff of applewood smoke came down on the breeze as we followed the footway of Middle Street past medieval fishponds to the cruciform Church of St Mary.
Among the oak pews of this beautiful Norman building scurry Arts & Crafts mice, the signature speciality of Yorkshire master carver Robert Thomson. The carpenter set these humorous little rodents in the pews and pulpit of St Mary’s in the 1930s, and they still raise a smile today.
In the nave hangs a wonderful embroidered map of the orchards of Ilmington, its hem sewn with the names of apple varieties found here – Howgate Wonder, Laxton Superb, Siberian Crab. A green lane took us up the hill from Ilmington between the orchards, our boots wobbling among cookers and eaters long fallen to ground.
From the crest of the hill a glorious view opened, down slopes deeply indented with the ridge and furrow of Middle Ages strip farming, away over a low-lying vale of lush green meadows to the prominent hump of Meon Hill. The Devil created the hill when he missed his aim while chucking a sod of earth at Worcester Cathedral, and it’s well known that at the darkest hour of night you can catch the howling of the red-eared hounds of King Arawyn, Lord of the Dead, as he conducts his wild hunt around Meon Hill.
A stretch of road between hedges hung with scarlet necklaces of bryony, and we swung off south-west along the well-marked Monarch’s Way. Fat white sheep cropped the pastures around Hidcote Combe, the low winter sun backlighting their fleeces into spun gold and making dark trenches of the medieval furrows in the land.
At the foot of the lane to Hidcote Bartrim we turned east for home, leaving the wonders of Hidcote Gardens – ‘outdoor rooms’ of rare beauty – for a spring visit some other day.
An ancient trackway climbs the slopes to the crest of the hills and a view west as far as the Malverns, Bredon, the Caradoc Hills and far into Wales. We follow this classic ridgeway, then descended through ribbed pastures to Ilmington, sunlit and sleepy in its cradle of trees below.
Start: Howard Arms, Ilmington, Warwicks CV36 4LT (OS ref SP 213437)
Getting there: Bus 3A (Banbury – Stratford-on-Avon)
Road – Ilmington is signed off A3400 between Shipston-on-Stour and Newbold-on-Stour.
Walk (7 miles, field paths, slippery in places, OS Explorer 205): From Howard Arms, right along Middle Street. At black-and-white cottage, right, passing church to road (209435). Right; in 30m, left and follow yellow arrows/YAs. Near top of rise (207436, stile on left), bear right; follow Centenary Way (yellow-topped posts). In 450m, at top of slope, through kissing gate/KG (204438); left along hedge to next KG, then YAs along field edges for 600m to road (197440).
Right to road (198442, ‘Park Lane’ on map); left along road (walkable grass verge). In 500m pass lane to Admington on right (195446); in another ½ mile, left off road (187447, fingerpost, ‘Monarch’s Way’/MW). Immediately left over stile (MW); right along MW with stream on right. In 700m, right across ditch, to gate into wood (184440, MW). Through wood, then another (MWs); follow waymark posts up valley (180436) and on for ½ mile to foot of road to Hidcote (177430).
Left up lane (‘Restricted Byway’). In ¾ mile cross road at radar station (187426); on (‘Bridleway’) to cross next road (194426) and pass tall masts. In another ½ mile, at gate (204425), left off byway, downhill beside hedge. At foot of slope, right across stream (207431, KGs, YAs); left along stream, keeping straight ahead (YAs). At tarmac lane (208432), ahead to road (210433). Right, in 75m, left on path past church to Howard Arms.
Lunch/tea: Ilmington Community shop, Grump Street (café closed Mondays)
Dinner/Accommodation: Howard Arms, Ilmington (01608-682226, howardarms.com) – cheerful, characterful village inn; excellent food.