First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cold breeze and a milky sky foretold winter, but the trees of Warwickshire still rustled autumn coats of gold and russet. St Lawrence’s Church stood squarely at the nape of Napton Hill, its iron-rich stonework smoothed and hollowed by eight centuries of wind and weather. Inside, a fragment of old stained glass showed a stern-faced and bare-breasted goddess crowned with a head-dress of harvest fruits. Along the lane to Napton windmill the hedges were bright with rose hips and haw berries. If autumn was being shoved to one side by winter, she was evidently still resisting pretty stoutly.
The old tower mill holds a vantage point right in the path of the wind on the escarpment edge. We looked out west across the tumbled ground and pools of the former village brickyard, away over many miles of Warwickshire. Then we dropped down the hill to follow the Oxford Canal to its confluence with the Grand Union on the northern outskirts of Napton
Canals shaped the Midlands early in the Industrial Revolution, snaking their way from town to town through the low-lying countryside. From the towpaths of the two man-made waterways the views were telescoped, an intimate prospect of grazing ponies, green and scarlet hedges and wind-ruffled water. Narrowboats with aspirational names – Free Spirit, Dancer to the Drum – went puttering by. A tang of woodsmoke from the chimney of Kelly Lee, a waft of music from Saucy Lady.
How many worlds one slips into and out of during a country walk! Up in the Shuckburgh Hills, eight centuries of residency by the Shuckburgh family have left their mark in a landscaped park full of fallow deer, islanded lakes and beautiful woods, a hall and church peeping among sheltering trees. One family’s gradually developed vision of heaven on earth, sublime at any season, today the park lay drenched in a spectrum of autumn colour from pale lemon to fiery crimson.
We followed the wood edge up to the peak of Beacon Hill, then descended the slope into the green vale once more. A streaky afternoon sky, the rackety shout of pheasants, and a brisk wind to nudge us back towards Napton-on-the-Hill, spread below church and windmill along its patchwork hillside.
Start & finish: St Lawrence’s Church, Napton-on-the-Hill CV47 8NP (OS ref SP 463613)
Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 222): From church, track west to windmill; yellow arrows (YA) down scarp, across stile, bear left to road. Right across Oxford Canal; right to towpath, left for 1¼ miles to Napton Junction. Left up Grand Union Canal to Calcutt Locks. Right (YA) through hedge and gate; left up hedge to kissing gate; right for 1¼ miles, south of Calcutt House Farm, to Oxford Canal. Left to footbridge; right to Lower Shuckburgh church. Cross A425; YAs diagonally left uphill across fields, aiming SE between woods. Through gate by lake; at crest, right over stile (arrow); follow wood edge to Beacon Hill. Through gate; right along wood edge; YAs to road at Halls Barn Farm. Left through gate; right through double gates. Follow YAs due west, keeping same line, through fields for 1¼ miles, crossing 2 roads, to road in Napton. At foot of School Hill opposite, footpath (white notice) uphill; left at top to church.
Lunch: Napton Bridge Inn on canal (01926-812466), King’s Head on A425 (01926-812202), Crown Inn, Napton village green (01926-812484)
More info: Leamington Spa TIC (01926-742762); www.enjoywarwickshire.com;