First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The last time I found myself at the Harbour Inn, I’d sat back in the sunny garden at noon and rejoiced as follows: (a) it was a beautiful morning, (b) there was a gorgeous walk up the River Severn in prospect, and (c) it was the first day of the rest of my life (I’d just given up teaching after ten years at the chalk face). Now here I was a load of years later, setting out once more up the hill past Arley station. Around the hanging flower-baskets wreathed a whiff of train smoke – the Severn Valley Railway’s gleaming green GWR locomotive 7812 Erlestoke Manor had just pulled out with the 10.54 for Bewdley.
Up through a grove of young ash and poplar trees, their long-stalked leaves helicoptering in the wind, and on through horse paddocks to Pound Green where a flock of sheep quietly grazed the village green. A short sharp shock of the B4194, and I was walking through the cool green shade of the Wyre Forest. Six thousand acres of this ancient hunting forest stretch west of Birmingham along the Severn and the borders of Worcestershire and Shropshire, a resource and refuge for families, mountain bikers and walkers.
Today’s cloudy sunlight lit patches of purple heather, showing where the trees had encroached on old heaths. Golden bursts of St John’s wort and the pink ‘fairy fingernails’ of centaury lined the woodland path that ran easily down to Dowles Brook. The little river rushed sparkling round its bend in the heart of the forest, a sibilant guide that carried me east to the brink of the Severn.
The broken abutments of the Wyre Forest’s own long-abandoned branch railway line rose mid-river like relics of a vanished civilization. I turned upstream and idled the three miles back to Arley and the Harbour Inn past riverbank houses and purple drifts of meadow cranesbills, looking across the river to the brambly embankment of the Severn Valley Railway. A mournful owl hoot, a clatter of wheels on the mighty cast-iron bow of Victoria Bridge, and Erlestoke Manor went thundering over the river with a flash of polished brass and an evanescent plume of smoke.
Start & finish: Harbour Inn, Arley DY12 3NF (OS ref SO765800)
Getting there: Rail: Severn Valley Railway (01299-403816; www.svr.co.uk) to Arley.
Road: A456 to Bewdley, B4194 towards Kinlet; in Buttonoak, right (‘Pound Green, Arley’). Follow ‘Arley Footbridge’ to car park beyond Harbour Inn.
WALK (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 218):
Up road past Arley station. On right bend, left (762795); fork right past pond, off gravel road and up bank. Take middle of 3 paths uphill between trees. At top, through metal kissing gate (761792), up field, right at top past houses to road (758788). Right for 20 m; left (fingerpost) down field to bottom right corner (755789). Over stile (yellow arrow/YA), left to road in Pound Green (755785). *Forward to B4194 (753780); left for 250 m (NB Keep to left-hand grass verge, take care!). Cross road at St Andrew’s Church (755779); right (fingerpost); follow YAs into Wyre Forest (756778). In 350 m, at 5-way meeting of tracks (758775), ignore track on left and fainter track ahead; take next one on right, a stony roadway, down towards Dowles Brook. Towards bottom, join concrete track; just before foot of slope, left (758768) on dirt track. In ¾ of a mile cross brook, in another 200 m, left through gate (772764, ‘Geopark Way’). Follow to road (777763). Right for 100m; left to River Severn. Left for 3 miles to Arley.
* NB David Pickering adds:
You can avoid the road walking from Pound Green and on the B4194 by continuing on the path just inside the forest from Pound Green (755785) to the Button Oak pub (751781), cross the B4194, then go through gate to L of pub, ahead on path for 100 yards, then L onto forest tracks which cross a small valley and meet up with your route at 758775.
Refreshments: Harbour Inn, Arley (01299-401204)
Accommodation: Menzies Stourport Manor, Stourport (01299-289955; www.menzieshotels.co.uk)