A brilliant blue day of wind, with big clouds sailing over Warwickshire, building and dissolving in towers of rain and blurry shafts of sunlight.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Jane and I were planning on a quick circuit of the fields and woods around Coughton, but we hadn’t reckoned with the seductive powers of Coughton Court. This handsome old house, seat of the staunchly Catholic Throckmorton family, was one of the centres of conspiracy of the Gunpowder Plotters in 1605.
The explosive old story, its heroes and villains twisted topsy-turvy by the distorting mirror of religion, held us spell bound. One peep down the secret alcove of the Tower Room into the deep, chilly refuge of the priest’s hole concealed there was enough to summon up all the desperation and paranoia of that mistrustful age.
Walking away from the grand old house, we crossed thick clay ploughland studded with flood-smoothed pebbles. Big centuries-old oaks in the hedges, rooks sailing with the wind, and lacy curtains of rain sifting sideways across the gently rolling landscape. We crossed the River Arrow, red with mud as it coiled lazily through the fields near Spernall, and went on over a little hill sown with thousands of young poplars and cherries, silver birch and sweet chestnut. These dense plantations of infant trees are a wonderful feature of this walk, an ambitious reseeding of William Shakespeare’s sadly diminished Forest of Arden.
We passed the neat brick house and the immaculately kept garden of St Giles Farm, and found ourselves forging through head-high rushes and reeds on a squelchy path with young aspen leaves quivering a translucent cherry-red against the blue sky. A group of buzzards rode the wind over Spernall Park Wood, their cat-like calls cutting across the continual, wind-generated susurration of the oaks on the knoll.
From Round Hill the path ran south with the Cotswold hills folding gracefully in sunlight far ahead, and then made west over the hump of Windmill Hill along an old green lane. Blackthorn, hawthorn, guelder rose and spindle spattered the hedges with their varying berry shades of crimson, pink and scarlet, and the sky raced vigorously overhead until we came back to Coughton.
Start: Coughton Court, Coughton, Warwickshire, B49 5JA (OS ref SP 082607). NB NT car park – non-members pay. If not visiting Coughton Court, park in Coughton village.
Travel: Road: Coughton Court is signposted in Coughton, on A435 between Alcester and Studley.
Bus: 26 Redditch-Stratford (stagecoachbus.com)
Walk (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer 220. NB – Detailed description (recommended!), online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk):
Starting from Coughton Court NT car park – Turn left (away from house) through gates and across overflow car park field. Through kissing gate (083608) to join Arden Way/AW.
Starting in Coughton village – go north along A435; pass car entrance to Coughton Court; turn right (‘Arden Way’/AW) across field to kissing gate at 083608. Turn left here along AW.
Both routes now keep ahead along field edge. At far end (082612; AW, Millennium Way/MW), right for 50m; then left through kissing gate (no waymarks). Cross field, through kissing gate (085615; AW, MW); on to cross River Arrow (086618). On to road by Spernall Church (087621). Ahead (AW, MW) to T-junction; right along road (MW) for 300m. Pass Rose Cottage on left; through kissing gate just beyond (089624, MW) and on, up and over a hill, following MW. On far side, under power lines (092626), a broad grass path forks right, but keep ahead here (MW yellow arrow on telegraph pole) with hedge on left, down to cross drive (095629). Through wicket gate (yellow arrow/YA); along edge of St Giles Farm garden; through another gate (MW) and on under power lines. Through gate on far side of field (095631, MW); cross stream and turn right off MW (YA) along rushy path, under power lines again to cross road (098630).
Through pedestrian gate (YA); on with wood on right. Through kissing gate; bear right between plantation and hedge (YA), then across field to corner of Spernall Park Wood (101626). Follow path round right-hand edge of wood. Where it curves into trees (104624), keep ahead down grassy ride, then through kissing gate. Keep ahead (YA) across a field, through kissing gate (106624); across next field, aiming to left of tree. In top left corner of field, turn right down steps onto lane (108623). Left for 150m; right through gate; left (YA) along hedge for 2 big fields, into trees (110618). Through gates; in 15m, right (YA) out of trees and along hedge. Follow field edge to go through kissing gate by a house (110613). Right down drive (‘Heart of England Way’) to road (109610). Right for 30m; left along green lane (AW) for 1½ miles to road (085603). Right to cross river by footbridge beside ford. In 200m, right (083604, ‘Coughton Court’) to car park.
Lunch: Picnic, or Coughton Court restaurant/tea room
Coughton Court: 01789-400777; nationaltrust.org