First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
September, and that first definite nip of autumn in the breeze. We stood in the circular churchyard at Braunston-in-Rutland, admiring the stumpy charms of the Braunston goddess. Imagine the surprise that workmen got in the 1920s when, relaying the church doorstep, they turned it over to discover this extraordinary pagan idol carved on the reverse, mouth and eyes agape, little round breasts outthrust.
Our path lay west across rough pastures where we stumbled up and down the furrows of medieval agriculture, still printed in these fields. Big billowy clouds went blustering about the sky, at one moment dipping us into shivery shade, the next bathing us in hot sunshine. Goldfinches twittered in the hedge where our approach had driven them from their feast of thistle seeds.
In the recently harvested wheatfields, straw bales the shape of giant cotton reels lay among the stubble like an Andy Goldsworthy installation. A ploughman drew furrows of earth behind his tractor, the soil rich and dark with minerals, while a red kite and a swoop of herring gulls homed in on the worms and insects thrown up by the plough.
We dropped into a green lane, the hedges thick with wild fruit – elderberries, hips, haws, milky white hazelnuts and blackberries green, red and polished jet. Beyond lay Withcote Hall Farm, the stables and big house of beautiful gold stone falling into dereliction.
At Launde Abbey we stopped for tea and cakes. The magnificent Tudor house built by Thomas Cromwell’s beloved son Gregory looked out on a bowl of parkland and sheep pasture, as peaceful and soothing as could be.
The way home lay along the valley of the wriggling River Chater, diminished to a streamlet after the long hot summer. In the green grassy bridleway near Leigh Lodge we met a couple hastening along, bearing plastic bags bulging with ripe blackberries. ‘Blackberry wine!’ they beamed.
A flock of linnets bounced and chirruped in the hedge. The shadows of sheep lengthened across the pastures as the sun dipped, bringing a wash of late afternoon gold to this quiet corner of English countryside.
Start: Blue Ball, Braunston-in-Rutland, LE15 8QS (OS ref SK 833066)
Braunston is 2 miles SW of Oakham (A606)
Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorers 234, 233): From west side of church tower, through gate (yellow arrow/YA); on, parallel with hedge on right. In 3rd field fork left (825065) along left-hand hedge and on (YAs, yellow-topped posts/YTP). In 3rd field beyond South Lodge Farm, half left (814057, YA) to far top corner (812056, YTP). On to hedge gap (810054, YTP). Right, then right along green lane. At road, left (809060, stile, YA) across 2 fields to lane (805060). Dogleg right/left; on (YTPs) to Withcote Hall Farm (798058). Left around barn; at gate with YTP, left along fence (‘Leicestershire Round’/LR). At Dutch barn 798056, gate, YTP) ahead over hill, following YTPs to road at Launde Abbey (796044).
Left; in 150m, right (fingerpost, ‘Belton’) following LR (YTPs). In 1¼ miles, LR turns right (815044), but keep ahead/east for 1 mile. Opposite Leigh Lodge, half left (828041, stile, YA, ‘Rutland Round’) across field to lane (825045, stile, YTP). Right to corner; fork right; keep ahead up west side of Priors Coppice. On to road (831059); right to Braunston.
Lunch: Blue Ball, Braunston (01572-722135, theblueballbraunstone.co.uk). Pop in for drinks, or book ahead for 2-hour dining slot (text/WhatsApp 07377-954176)
Accommodation: Admiral Hornblower, High Street, Oakham LE15 6AS (01572-723004, hornblowerhotel.co.uk)