First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A misty winter morning in north Buckinghamshire, with white wraiths rising from the many waters of the Ouse Valley – the Grand Union Canal, a mosaic of gravel pit lakes, and the River Great Ouse itself, fatly curling through its meadows. The cold seething air lent a feeling of insubstantiality to the creamy limestone pavilions of square-built Great Linford Manor in its landscaped park. We headed across the dewy grass to the Grand Union Canal and turned west along the leaf-strewn towpath.
Ripples, Dancing Ducks, and Eye of Horus lay moored to the bank, snugged down for winter. The narrowboats that chugged by were helmed by neatly bearded men of responsible demeanour, a world away from the randy rapscallions that skippered the working boats in the Grand Union’s Victorian heyday.
Such was their reputation, anyway. Rogues or respectable folks, they carried Britain’s commerce up and down the country. Today the canal is all about leisure cruising, the brightly painted narrowboats lending a splash of colour to this morning’s wintry shades of olive green water and ashy grey willows.
At Stantonbury Wharf gravel barges used to load up for the journey down the canal to London. From here we headed across the fields to where the ruins of the Norman Church of St Peter stood above the humps and bumps of the abandoned medieval village of Stantonbury. Rustic rumour had it that village and church had been cursed to ruin by a werewolf. The true cause was more prosaic but just as definite – the local lord replaced his tenants with sheep in Tudor times, and the peasants of Stantonbury were ejected from their homes.
Beyond the church and the hollows where the manor house once stood, we rejoined the Grand Union Canal and followed it down to the new estate of Stantonbury Park before setting back along an old railway path.
Squirrels dashed among the bare branches and a slender grey heron stood as still as a statue as we went by. All was very quiet in the winter afternoon. It was hard to believe that the city of Milton Keynes with its quarter-million people lay just beyond the ash trees and willows that lined our homeward path.
How hard is it? 4½ miles; easy; field paths, canal towpath
Start: Milton Keynes Arts Centre car park, Great Linford Manor Park, Milton Keynes MK14 5DZ (OS ref SP 851422)
Getting there: Bus 21 CMK (Newport Pagnell–Lavendon)
Road: Great Linford is signed off St Leger Drive (off V8 Marlborough Street)
Walk: From car park, pass between pavilions. Bear left of Manor House in front of you, then right to pass Manor House. Follow parkland paths to right, parallel with Grand Union Canal, to bridge (854425). Cross canal; left down steps to towpath; right along towpath. In 1¼ miles at Stantonbury Wharf, under bridge (846424); in 200m bear right on cycle path through fields. In 500m, at St Peter’s Church ruin (836427), left through gate at southwest corner, past information board. Follow grass path up open ground to canal (836424). Right along towpath for nearly 1 mile to go under Bridge 72 (832413). Right up steps, right across canal, past New Inn. In 100m cross road; down steps; along Swan Way multi-user path. In 1¼ miles, just before bridge over canal, right (847422, ‘Great Linford’ fingerpost) down to path through park; back to Arts Centre car park.
Lunch: Nag’s Head, 30 High Street, Great Linford MK14 5AX (01908-607449, nagsheadmk.com)
Accommodation: Swan Revived Hotel, High St, Newport Pagnell MK16 8AR (01908-610565, swanrevived.co.uk)