First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The houses of Nassington looked lovely this sunny afternoon in their creamy yellow-grey limestone, the crocketed spire of St Mary’s Church rising above all. Inside the church, tall arcades rose into the cool interior air. Armed knights and their horses rode the walls in red ochre, courtesy of some anonymous medieval muralist.
Village children were squealing in the primary school playground as we set out north from Nassington along the broad valley of the River Nene. The age-old debate over the pronunciation – ‘Neen’ or ‘Nenn’ – of this East Midlands river was eventually settled by means of a croquet match, the winners declaring in favour of the latter. How very British.
The Nene Way led through lush buttercup meadows along the river’s flood plain. An ancient barge slumbered in retirement up a rushy side channel where reed buntings squeaked and chittered. We stopped to sit and nibble apples and cheese in the shade of a poplar grove, lulled by the soporific sighing of millions of long-stalked leaves agitated by each gentle breath of breeze.
The stone-walled lanes of Yarwell lay baking in the sun. Up at Wansford the many arches of the Tudor bridge spanned the Nene and its flood meadows. In Wansford churchyard lay Albert and Ann Padley, married 71 years and separated in their deaths by just four days – a testament of constancy illustrated by the two companionable swans carved on their headstone.
A treble hum of bees and hoverflies greeted us as we entered the shade of Old Sulehay Forest, a refuge for plants, insects and birds. This piece of ancient woodland above the Nene Valley is not a forest in the sense of a solid block of trees, but rather a mosaic of different soils and habitats. Figwort, bryony, herb bennet and wild strawberry carpeted the broad ride through the wood, and on the limestone soils in the old quarries of Stonepit Close and Ring Haw we found milky blue masses of speedwell, silverweed with papery yellow flowers, common spotted orchids, and tall nettle-leaved bellflower about to bloom.
The homeward path ran through beautiful wildflower meadows. Here we paused to watch a whitethroat perched in the fork of a tall sprig of angelica, its white chest puffed out, round black eye as shiny as polished jet, and sharp thorn of a beak packed with green caterpillars for its hungry nestlings.
How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; field and woodland paths
Start: St Mary’s Church, Nassington, Peterborough PE8 6QH (OS ref 063962)
Getting there: Bus – CallConnect (0345-263-8153, lincsbus.info)
Road: Nassington is signed off A6118 at Wansford (A1, Peterborough-Stamford)
Walk (OS Explorer 227): From west end of church, left along Church Road. At T-junction, right (068962), in 50m, left, following waymarked Nene Way/NW north for 2½ miles to Wansford Bridge (074992). Left; left along Yarwell Road. Pass surgery; in 150m, right (070991, fingerpost, stile) on path. In 150m left (black arrow (BLA), parallel to road. In 450m path bends left; in 30m fork left; in 100m, right (067988) on bridleway through Old Sulehay Forest for 1 mile. At road, left (054984); on left bend, right (054980) through gate on path round Ring Haw. In ½ mile through 5-bar gate (053973); cross byway; take path to right of Ring Haw Field Station. Kissing gate, then field edge path. In 200m through 5-bar gate (052970); left (arrow) on field path (BLAs). In 350m, right across old railway (055968); left (arrows, BLAs) across fields. In ½ mile through housing estate to road in Nassington (061964); left to church.
Lunch/Accommodation: Queen’s Head, Nassington PE8 6QB (01780-784006, queensheadnassington.co.uk)