Jul 252009

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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In the caverns of Creswell Crags they left the bones of arctic hare and reindeer, along with the tools that cut-marked the bones – black and white flint, delicately slivered and still razor sharp. What they felt and dreamed, these ancient ancestors of ours, hides in the shapes of antlered stags, bears, bison and long-billed birds that they incised some 13,000 years ago into the cave roof that sheltered them from Ice Age winds and snows.

As Jane and I walked down the leafy tunnel of the Robin Hood Way on a sunny evening, our heads were full of bears and bones. As we strolled the green acres of the Welbeck Estate, though, other wild imaginings took over. The splendidly eccentric 5th Duke of Portland – a kindly man, known as the ‘workman’s friend’ – created employment far and wide in this district by having an extraordinary series of tunnels constructed in the mid 19th century. Two led to a vast equestrian school built by the Duke; another, wide enough for two carriages to pass, ran for well over a mile to the South Lodge.

The Robin Hood Way wound through the cornfields and grasslands of the Welbeck Estate. A few feet below our boots ran the South Lodge tunnel, hidden in the ground. ‘Tunnel Skylights’ said the Explorer map, teasingly. It proved impossible to find them in the grass; but there was a wonderful view of the pepperpot turrets and fantasy towers of Welbeck Abbey, peeping over the trees beyond a lawn where archers were busy at target practice. Give or take a Chelsea Tractor or two, it could have been a scene from the life of the celebrated greenwood hoodie of nearby Sherwood Forest.

At the gates of Welbeck were the coal mines that made the Dukes of Portland rich and provided the 5th Duke with his expert tunnelers. Now the mines lie abandoned, with their spoil heaps as memorials. Towards sunset Jane and I threaded a tiny sunken lane to the hamlet of Penny Green, then crossed the vast tip of Belph Colliery, orange and black and streaked with fleets of water. Cavemen incising by firelight, the Duke of Portland in his echoing chambers, the miners of Belph: our evening walk had turned out to be all about the underground.

Start & finish: Creswell Crags Visitor Centre, Creswell S80 3LH (OS ref SK 538744)

Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) or bus (Stagecoach service 77 or First service 150) to Creswell (1 mile from Centre). … Road: M1 (Jct 30); A616 to Creswell; follow ‘Creswell Crags’ signs

Walk (7½ miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 270): From Creswell Crags Visitor Centre turn right along green lane (Robin Hood Way/RHW) to cross A60 (546744 – please take care!). Along drive opposite (bridleway fingerpost). At Oaksetts Lodge (552745) bear left up track for 150 yd, then follow signposted bridleway (RHW). In 300 yd, left (557744 – bridleway fingerpost) on grassy track for ⅓ of a mile to gravel drive (560748). Right to gate; left across lake and on for ½ mile to South Lodge (568754). Cross Broad Lane; continue for 1 mile through woods (‘Worksop’ fingerpost), then over fields.

At path crossing just past Oak Wood, with 2 yellow arrows (y.a.) on right, turn left (571770) down green lane. At end, left over stile (y.a.); ahead along field edge. In 300 yd, right over brook at yellow post (567767). Aim across field for another; through successive kissing gates; on to recross Broad Lane (564763). Keep ahead (‘Belph’ fingerpost), following yellow-topped posts, to cross Walling Brook (555760). Follow waymark arrows towards chimney, passing Belph Grange to reach stile onto A60 (548757). Left along verge for 100 yards; then cross road (please take great care!); follow path diagonally across field to lane. Right for 50 yd; left (545756 – fingerpost) down field edge. Left across stream; right along path by weirs to road at Penny Green Cottages (543756).

Left for 100 yd; left over stile (fingerpost). Keep ahead on path, up and over old tip. This section is a work in progress; path route may have altered, but aim due south to reach gate onto Hennymoor Lane (542750). Cross lane; down green lane opposite (black/yellow arrows) for ⅓ of a mile to A60 (546745). Right along pavement for 100 yards; right up RHW to Creswell Crags Visitor Centre.

NB – Detailed directions, online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk

Pack of 8 circular Notts walks: order from Nottingham TIC on 08444-77-5678.

Lunch: Creswell Crags coffee shop

Creswell Crags Museum, Tours etc: 01909-720378; www.creswell-crags.org.uk

More info: Worksop TIC (01909-501148); www.visitnotts.com

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