‘Heavy rain showers’ smiled the weatherman at 7 o’clock in the morning. ‘Some of them prolonged…’
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The sky was freighted with rollers of rain cloud, but I spied intense silver gleams among them. Anyway, a drop of rain never hurt anyone, did it? I waited out a shower that glistened the red roofs and half-timbered walls of Henley-in-Arden, and struck out east into the country of the Forest of Arden.
The Forest that Shakespeare knew and made immortal had shrunk from its former expanse between the rivers Tame and Avon by the time he explored it as a boy. But it was still a wild place. The Romans barred it in with boundary roads, but they never built through the forest or tamed it. Nowadays Arden is a rolling mixture of pasture and cornfields, old hedges, fine solitary trees and thick clumps of woodland, more of a mosaic than a single impenetrable wilderness.
Well-marked paths carried me through this rich farmed Warwickshire landscape, past houses done up and furnished with paddocks, horses and new plantations of broadleaved trees. One reminder of the region’s deep-rooted industrial heritage lay threaded through the countryside – the sinuous, narrow course of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Once the carrier of bricks, blocks, iron and coal to Brummagem, now its cargo consists of white-bearded gentlemen in sailor caps cruising at ease under the alders.
On densely wooded Yarningale Common I lost my way, but it didn’t matter – all paths hereabouts seem to lead to Valley Farm and the fields once more. At Peacock Farm the rain caught me a sharp smack, and I sheltered under a sycamore’s big leaves till the weather had rumbled and rolled off elsewhere. As soon as the sun came out, so did the insects, and the swallows after them, hawking low over the wet hayfields, some dilatory farmer’s regret.
By Lowsonford’s Church of St Luke, a squat ark of red brick stabilised with massive buttresses, I took to the road. Beyond the humpy canal bridge and barrel-roofed lock keeper’s cottage, the Fleur-de-Lys Inn trumpeted its famous pies. Well, you can’t ignore that sort of thing. The pub delights in the tale of a Frenchman who chopped up an English spy and sent him back to England baked in a pie with a pastry fleur-de-lys on top. I heard that after I’d wolfed my own Matador Pie, and had an interesting moment or two.
The homeward path was along the Heart of England Way, beautifully waymarked and clear to follow. A field full of colts staring hard like B-Boys; the enormous Tudorbethan rebuild of Holly Bank Farm; showers in huge blocks tumbling through the sky; the rain-slicked mound of Beaudesert Castle outside Henley. A wonderful walk, in all – nothing dramatic, but everything to do with England on a rainy summer’s day.
Start & finish: Henley-in-Arden station, B95 5JH (OS ref SP 148659).
WALK (8 miles, easy/moderate, OS Explorer 220):
From Henley station to High Street, right to church; left down Beaudesert Lane. At end (153660), forward along brick-walled path. Follow yellow arrows/YAs along side of Beaudesert Castle earthworks. Pass school; at path junction turn right down side of school. Cross road; up lane; cross playing field and climb steps. Follow YAs to cross Edge Lane (160658). Take right-hand of 2 gates; halfway across field, don’t turn right, but keep ahead (YA). Over stile and field, to next stile. Right (163658, YA) in tunnel of trees. In 50 m, left over stile (YA). Ahead across fields (YAs) for ⅔ mile to cross road by Church Farm (173660). Up green lane (YA; ‘Church’). Pass to right of church (174660); cross lane and on (YAs) through fields to cross Stratford Canal (179658).
In field beyond, left along hedge next to canal. At end of field, left over stile (182659); aim away from canal for far upper corner of field (183660). At post with arrows, uphill with hedge on left; follow YAs past rugby pitches to stile (186659). Ahead (arrow) through trees along north side of Yarningale Common to road (189658). Left, then left down Yarningale Lane. In 30 m, right (YA) up bank through right-hand of 2 sets of barriers, on up through trees. In 100 m at top of rise, right along grass ride. In 50 m through barrier (YA) and take middle of 3 paths, to left of oak tree, going downhill. In 100 m path bears right to road. Left to Valley Farm (182661). Right past YA on post; don’t fork immediately right, but keep ahead. Ignore stile with YA; ahead into green lane. Follow this for ⅓ mile; just before left bend (196663), left over stile (YA). Along hedge, through kissing gate (YA); follow path over 2 fields to farm drive just right of Peacock Farm (194667).
Left past farmhouse. Follow BA through kissing gate and along green lane. In 350 m cross stream (195670); in another 200 m, through kissing gate (196671, BA). YA and BA are to your right, but keep ahead for 20 m, then left along field edge. Through kissing gate; diagonally across next field to hedge, right along it for 2 fields (YA). In 3rd field follow fence on right over crest, down to road by chapel (190676). Left along road to cross canal; right past Fleur-de-Lys pub (188678) in Lowsonford.
At phone box on crossroads, left (186680; YA; Heart of England Way/HEW) up road. Now follow well-marked HEW for 1 mile to Coppice Corner Farm drive (175677), left across old railway and down to road (174673). Right round bend; left (HEW) to cross Holly Bank Farm drive (173672). Go through hedge gap; diagonally left across field; through kissing gate and up hedge. Follow HEW for 1½ miles by Hungerfield Farm (165669) and Edge Lane (163667) to cross Beaudesert Castle ramparts (155661) and descend to Henley-in-Arden.
LUNCH: Fleur-de-Lys Inn, Lowsonford (01564-782431; www.fleurdelys-lowsonford.com) – try the pies!
ACCOMMODATION: Henley Best Western Hotel (01564-794551; www.bestwestern.co.uk) - very friendly and helpful.
Subscriber Walks: Enjoy a country walk with our experts. Next walk: Tibbie Shiel’s Inn, Selkirkshire, Scotland, 10 June. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book. Tickets £10.
Breast Cancer Care’s Pink Ribbon Walks:
0870-145-0101; www.pinkribbonwalk.org.uk. Petworth House, West Sussex, 26 May; Cholmondeley Castle, Cheshire, 9 June; Marble Hill Park, London, 16 June