A late winter sky of chilly blue lay over Northamptonshire, lending a glow to the deep orange ironstone of Badby’s houses.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Children were rushing to school as we set off out of the village, and we heard their playground squeals as we followed the Nene Way through green fields. Mention of the River Nene usually brings a picture to mind of the broad, mud-choked tideway that empties into the Wash, but here a hundred miles away the Nene crawls below overshot willows, an infant stream narrow enough to jump across.
Trees shaded the golden houses of Newnham along the village green. The path ran through the churchyard where the arcaded memorial to Eric Newzam Nicholson of the 12th Lancers (died 1917 ‘in the service of his country’) stood wrapped in creepers and ivy tendrils, looking out of its thicket over classic English countryside of sheep pastures corrugated by medieval ploughing, wooded ridges and well laid hedges.
Rooks cawed in the oaks around the farming enclave of Little Everdon with its handsome buttery gold houses. Three fields away, hounds were singing. In the lane we met 4-year-old Grace, dolled up in immaculate jodhpurs and just about big enough to stay on board Stumpy, her Shetland pony. Grace was not happy. ‘She wanted to follow the hounds,’ explained her mother, ‘but she couldn’t really have kept up.’ Grace cracked a watery smile as Stumpy bore her away home.
There were big views all round from the summit of Everdon Hill. Storm-battered cedars and wide gleams of water heralded Fawsley Park, the two slender arms of its man-made lake cradling the estate church on a knoll – another dream of settled tranquillity in the heart of England.
The peaceful woods of the Fawsley Estate provided a refuge and haven for Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, during the late 1880s, in the last stages of the mysterious affliction that grotesquely distorted his face and body. Travelling from London in a private railway carriage to avoid the public consternation caused by his appearance, Merrick stayed in the gamekeeper’s cottage as the guest of Lady Louisa Knightley. Walking back to Badby we pictured the outcast man in these bluebell woods, free to stroll among the trees, pick flowers and feel at ease for the only time in his life.
Start & finish: Windmill Inn, Badby, Northants NN11 3AN (OS ref SP 559589)
Getting there: Bus - Service 200 (www.stagecoachbus.com) Banbury-Daventry
Road: M1 Jct 16, A45 towards Daventry, B4037 to Badby
Walk directions: (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 207): From Windmill Inn, left through Badby. Opposite Maltsters Inn, right down Court Yard Lane (560592). Follow well-waymarked Nene Way for 3 miles via Newnham to road at Little Everdon (594580). Forward; in 150m Nene Way goes left (595579), but keep ahead on road to Everdon, past church and on. At top of village, left (‘Fawsley’). In 100 m, right (590576; fingerpost, black arrow/BLA); follow BLAs for 1 mile to cross road near Westcombe Farm (573573). Through gate, up field to gate (570572); follow BLAs to road (566570). Right, round bend to Fawsley Church (565568); return to bend; left on Knightley Way (KW). Follow KW for 1 mile through Fawsley Park and inside west edge of Badby Wood (559580). Leaving wood (559584), aim diagonally right across field; follow KW to Badby Church (560587). Right to Windmill Inn.
Lunch: Romer Arms, Newnham (01327-702221; www.charleswells.co.uk); Plough Inn, Everdon (re-opening shortly; check online)
Accommodation: Windmill Inn, Badby (01327-311070; www.windmillinn-badby.com)
Info: Daventry TIC (01327-300277)
Readers’ Walks: Come and enjoy a country walk with our experts! Dates, info etc.: http://www.mytimesplus.co.uk/travel/uk/1867/times-walks. Next walk: Lake District, 8 April
www.ramblers.org.uk www.satmap.com www.LogMyTrip.co.uk