First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
It’s always a pleasure to walk with a dog, especially one as full of fizz as Ozzy the black retriever. Our friends Carry and Gordon had brought him along to enliven our 10-mile circuit of the woods and fields along the borders of Rutland and Northamptonshire, and Ozzy more than did his bit.
A hot, cloudless day, last in a brilliant spell of walking weather, had us setting out in good time from Barrowden, a village of creamy oolitic limestone, like a segment of the Cotswolds dropped by a benevolent djinn on the uplands of the River Welland’s wide, fertile valley.
Soon the pale stone spire of Barrowden church sank behind, and we were following the Jurassic Way long distance path through the cool rides and sun-splashed glades of Wakerley Great Wood. This swathe of ancient woodlands is now a playground for Sunday cyclists, rovers and family groups. In the meadows on the far side of the wood we found a golden road spread before us, a path strewn thickly with buttercups.
Inquisitive little black Dexter cattle snuffed cautiously at Ozzy, and he rolled off their scent in the half-grown hay meadows around Laxton Hall. A Polish picnic party was in full swing in the grounds of the hall, the chatter and laughter soon falling away under blackcap song in Town Wood.
Beyond Laxton we rejoined the Jurassic Way and headed north through green cornfields where Ozzy breasted the tides of leaves, only his head showing, like a cross-channel swimmer. Ahead opened a memorable view, the wide Welland Valley with may bushes laden white, church spires poking up among the fields, and the 80 arches of the Welland Viaduct striding majestically from one side to the other. It took 400-odd navvies three years to build this fantastic structure, opened in 1878 – they used thirty million bricks, camped out in the fields, and caused local consternation.
Our way home lay along the snaky curves of the River Welland. Ozzy swam after sticks, the buttercup fields were flooded with gold, and the slim silvery needle of Barrowden spire beckoned us on like a harbour light beyond the green seas of wheat.
Start: Exeter Arms, Main St, Barrowden, Rutland LE15 8EQ (01572-747365, exeterarmsbarrowden.co.uk) (OS ref SK 946001)
Getting there: Bus 47 (Uppingham-Peterborough); 12 (Stamford-Uppingham)
Road – Barrowden is signed off A43 (Corby-Stamford) and A47 (Peterborough-Leicester)
Walk (9½ miles, field and woodland paths, OS Explorer 224): From Exeter Arms cross green; left along road. At corner with 2 fingerposts/FPs (950000), fork right downhill, over field, under railway bridge to road in Wakerley (951996). Left; just beyond road on left, right up path on right of Exeter House (955994, ‘Jurassic Way’/JW). Follow JW to road (958991); right for 700m, then right (962986) onto JW with car park on right.
Follow JW waymarks through Great Wakerley Wood. In 700m past Post No 6 (965979, green with red ring). Right along ride; in 20m, left uphill into St Mary’s Wood. In 250m, leave wood; on over meadows. In 2nd meadow JW goes left through gate, but bear right here (968974) on bridleway (black arrows/BLA). In ½ mile arrive opposite Laxton Hall (959972); bear a little right to far corner of wood on your right. Into wood here (955971, gate, BLA).
Keep ahead; in 500m, left at ‘No Horse Riding’ notice (950970, BLAs) through Town Wood for 500m to leave wood (950968). Cross field and stile to track by house (951962); right to road; right through Laxton. In ½ mile, left (942961, stile, FP); half right across field; half left across next field (BLA) to gate and road (937958). Left; in 100m, right (FP) on track; after 3 fields, right on JW (930956) with wall on right, for ½ mile to road (928964).
Left; in 30m, right (stile, JW); left through hedge gap; half right across field and down to lane into road in Shotley. Forward to cross road (924974, FP); cross field to River Welland (923978); right on Jurassic Way. In ½ mile cross Turtle Bridge (928985); in 150m, just before old railway bridge, right through hedge (YA, JW). Half left to hedge beside old railway line; right along it. In ¾ mile, left across line (937993, stile, CPRE yellow arrow); right along far side of old railway. In 400m, half left (940995, CPRE arrow) across 3 fields to road (943001); right to crossroads; right down Main Street to Exeter Arms.
Lunch/Accommodation: Exeter Arms, Barrowden (01572-747365, exeterarmsbarrowden.co.uk) – friendly village pub with rooms.