First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A hot late summer’s day in the Midlands, a hard blue sky overhead and the Warwickshire fields parched and pale. Cheery walkers slathered themselves in Factor 50 and set off under sunhats from the crowded View Café terrace just outside Wootton Wawen.
The sheep were too hot to budge from their shady patch under a sycamore tree as we walked among them towards the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Limp and still, the olive green water carried a greasy sheen winking with sunspots. Bees hummed soporifically around tall spikes of purple loosestrife, and passing narrowboaters could scarcely raise the energy for a wave.
A pair of swans came sailing by, two magnificent white yachts fore and aft of their dowdy brown dinghy of a cygnet. We crossed a cast-iron aqueduct and trudged on along the towpath in a pleasant stupor of sun and insect hum.
Bridge 49 hove up at last, its central railings ingeniously split to allow passage to a barge towrope without the necessity of unhitching the horse. We crossed the canal and set out across sun-baked pastures where tan coloured cattle stood in a bunch for coolness, fifty tails in motion as they whisked away the flies. A crowd of goldfinches, the liveliest elements in this heat-dazed landscape, foraged for thistle seeds with excited squeaks.
Beyond Kington Grange the path ran south, a wide view opening ahead over broad acres of well wooded Warwickshire countryside around Edstone Hall. Here was the setting for local Squire William Somerville’s epic poem of 1735, ‘The Chase’.
‘With airs soft-warbling, my hoarse-sounding horn
Invites thee to the chase, the sport of kings.’
Hunting, drinking and writing jingling verse were Somerville’s pleasures, and he ran through all his money indulging his lust for fun and a full glass. Dr Johnson damned him with faint praise: ‘His subjects are commonly such as require no great depth of thought or energy of expression … (but) he writes very well for a gentleman.’
We turned for home through the muddy pathways of Austy Wood where the canopy of larch, oak and ash filtered the sunlight to a cool dapple among myriad dried stalks of bluebells. As we crossed the last beanfield a dust-devil appeared, a miniature tornado that jinked in a spiral across the furrows, wrapping its invisible self in a veil of powdered soil before collapsing as mysteriously as it had arisen.
How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; canal towpaths, field and woodland paths
Start: The View car park, Hill Farm Marina, Stratford Road, Wootton Wawen, Warwicks B95 6DE (OS ref SP 160622)
Getting there: Bus X20, X50 (Stratford-upon-Avon to Henley-in-Arden) to Hill Farm Marina
Road: The View is signed from A3400 (Stratford-Henley)
Walk (OS Explorer 220): From kissing gate in top corner of car park, follow mown path across 2 fields to cross Stratford Canal at Bridge 54 (156627). Right (‘Monarch’s Way’/MW) along towpath for 1¾ miles. At Bridge 49, right across canal (172647); right over stile (yellow arrow/YA); half left across field to bottom left corner (173645). Ahead on field path to road (181643). Right past Cherry Pool Farm and Kington Grange. Opposite 2 Kington Cottage, right (182641) along lane. In nearly 1 mile, right at Cutler’s Farm (179628, MW, blue arrow). In 600m through gate into Austy Wood (MW); in 40m, left on woodland path (174629, YA). In 500m leave wood (171626); on along field path for ⅔ mile to A3400 (162622). Cross (take care!); right to bus stop; left to car park.
Lunch: The View Café (01564-627280, theview-eat.co.uk)
Accommodation: White Swan, Henley-in-Arden B95 5BY (01564-792623, thewhiteswanhotel.com)
Info: Henley-in-Arden Heritage Centre (01564-795919)