Search Results : chiltern

Feb 232019
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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There weren’t too many leaves on view in ‘leafy Bucks’ this beautiful sunny morning towards the end of winter. But everything else spoke of the crack of spring; blackbirds and goldfinches loud in the woods, rook nests ready in the forks of the beeches, and a golden spatter of celandines in the hedge banks as we followed Slough Lane out of Saunderton.

This outer sector of the Chilterns is steep country, the chalky ground folded and sculpted into long valleys trending north-west. The path leaped across them like a hurdler, up and down, up and down; and we leaped with it, or that’s what it felt like, with springtime putting itches in legs stiffened by the long winter’s sloth.

From Bledlow Ridge we plunged down steep steps through hazel coppice where primroses and violets were already pushing up out of the leaf mould. Across a broad valley and up where a dozen circling kites built an aerial tower of red and white wings. Down from the next ridge to the bridleway at the bottom of Bottom Wood, a lovely stretch among leafless beech trees. ‘Doesn’t matter which path you take,’ said a man with a dog, ‘they all end up in the same place.’

So they did, down among the barns and sheds of Ham Farm, an ancient holding. Steeply up again, kicking the complaints out of our legs through pastures of fat white sheep, up to a blowy ridge, over and down again along a flinty holloway to Chorley Farm.

Crossing the ploughlands by the half-timbered farmstead, we caught a glimpse of the tower of St Lawrence’s Church, high above West Wycombe down the valley. The golden globe moored atop the tower was once the gambling and drinking den of the Hellfire Club. Rich bored men with too much time and money on their hands, perhaps; but those randy Georgian rakehells left an enjoyable whiff of sulphur behind them all the same.

We climbed steeply up through the rough chalk grassland of Buttler’s Hanging nature reserve, and followed the ridge path back to Saunderton through beech-woods ringing with the songs of birds getting ready for their springtime manoeuvres in the great mating game.

Start: Saunderton Station, near West Wycombe, Bucks HP14 4LJ (OS ref SU 813981)

Getting there: Rail to Saunderton. Bus X30 (High Wycombe-Princes Risborough).
Road – Saunderton is on A4010 between Princes Risborough and West Wycombe.

Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 172, 171): Right up Slough Lane. Pass Slough Bottom Farm entrance (811975); round left bend; right up green lane (fingerpost). At top of rise, right (805970) along Chinnor Road. In 650m, left (801974, fingerpost) by playground. From bottom right corner of field (799972), on down green lane. Pass farm; steeply down steps through wood to Bottom Road (798970). Left; in 300m, right (800968, fingerpost) across valley, up to road (793962). Left; in 100m, right (fingerpost) through wicket gate.

Across paddock; white arrow/WA across drive; right of barn at Ashridge Farm; through gate; green lane. In 200m ahead through gate (792958, yellow arrow/YA), down into Bottom Wood. Left along bottom bridleway (792957) for 1½ miles to Ham Farm (807944). Left between barns; stiles/YAs uphill. Just beyond summit, right over stile (810949, YA); left to go through hedge gap; right along hedge, down through Chawley Wood to Chorley Farm (816955).

Cross Bottom Road (stile, fingerpost) and fields; cross Loxboro Hill road (817957). Path across field; cross Slough Lane (817958). Green lane/path up through Buttlers Hanging nature reserve. At top, gate into Hearnton Wood (819961). Up steps; fork right at top; in 150m cross grass track; keep ahead through trees for 200m to meet ridge track (821962). Left for 1¾ miles to Saunderton.

Conditions: Steeply down to Bottom Road; steeply up through Buttler’s Hanging Nature Reserve.

Lunch: Golden Cross PH, Saunderton HP14 4HU (01494-565974, goldencrosspub.co.uk)

Accommodation: George & Dragon, West Wycombe HP14 3AB (01494-535340, georgeanddragonhotel.co.uk)

Info: Princes Risborough TIC (01296-382415)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:29
Dec 232017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A jaunt to Christmas Common with the festive season just around the corner, on the coldest and brightest morning of the year. Ice in the puddles, our breath like smoke on the still air, and a high-flying jet soundless ploughing quadruple furrows of pure white across the blue field of the sky.

From the edge of the escarpment we got one of those views that makes you want to come and live right here, right now – the steep wooded slope dropping away to run out into mile after mile of sunlit Oxfordshire plain, a wide world dressed in the pale colours of winter.

A green woodpecker emitted its sharp, quacking alarm call as it saw off two unwanted intruders, a buzzard and a red kite. The buzzard dived sulkily back into the trees, but the kite sideslipped and climbed to resume its graceful balancing on the cold air above the hills.

At the foot of the escarpment we turned along the stony track known variously as Ridgeway, or Icknield Way, or simply and accurately, the Old Road. Old man’s beard and scarlet bryony berries made witches necklaces in its hedges, fieldfares and mistle thrushes flew straight and level out of the scrubby trees, and the low sun laid stripes of green and gold across the ancient ruts and flints.

By Dame Alice Farm (named after Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk and Geoffrey Chaucer’s grand-daughter) and Dumble Dore (possibly not named after the Hogwarts headmaster) we made our way into the Chiltern woods that so thickly blanket these chalky hills. Fallen leaves of poplar and beech made a silver and gold carpet to shuffle through.

A winter silence fell over the afternoon. The chill air in the damp hollows of the woods nipped our fingers and noses. Long-tailed tits swung and squeaked from tree to tree, the only singers in these sunlit woods.

As the day began to darken into dusk we turned along Hollandridge Lane, an ancient packhorse route across the Chilterns, for a last brisk mile to Christmas Common, with thoughts of a Christmas noggin at the Fox and Hounds to spur us on.

Start: NT car park, Christmas Common, Watlington, Oxon OX49 5HS (OS ref SU710936)

Getting there: Car park is on Hill Road, 2 miles east of Watlington.

Walk: (8¼ miles, easy with some short steep climbs, OS Explorer 171): Right along Hill Road (please take care). At junction turn left; in 50m, left (‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW). In 2nd field, don’t turn left through kissing gate (712937); keep ahead downhill to turn left on OW. In ¾ mile, left along Ridgeway (703945). In 1¼ miles left off Ridgeway at Lys Farmhouse (690929) up driveway. Pass Dame Alice Farm; in another 250m, left (692922); ‘W11’ and white arrow/WA on tree) to B480 at Dumble Dore (698926).

Right; in 50m, left (stile) on field path with hedge on right. In 500m through gate (702923, WA, yellow arrow/YA); on through woods. In 500m ahead through 2 gates (705920, blue arrow/BA). In 100m fork left (‘W15, No Riding’). In 400m cross road at Greenfield (711919). Pass barn (BA) and on. Follow BA for 700m to valley bottom. Left here (713911, ‘W19’, WA). In 400m, left at path crossing onto Chiltern Way/CW (717910, BA).

In 150m fork right (bent WA) and follow WA and CW through trees. In 550m cross valley floor (722913); climb far slope (‘PS8’, CW, WA), keeping gully close on left, to leave wood by stile (725915). Forward to Hollandridge Lane (726916); left for 1 mile. At houses on left opposite Prior’s Grove, left (717929, Oxfordshire Way). In 30m fork right just inside wood (OW); follow WAs to road (714930). Right past Fox and Hounds PH; in 300m, left (714934, ‘Watlington’) along Hill Road to car park.

Lunch: Fox and Hounds, Christmas Common (01491-612599, topfoxpub.co.uk)

Accommodation: Fat Fox Inn, 13 Shirburn Street, Watlington OX49 5BU
(01491-613040; thefatfoxinn.co.uk)

Info: Henley-on-Thames TIC (01491-578034); chilternsaonb.org, chilternsociety.org.uk
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:57
Feb 212009
 

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A glorious blue sky and a damn cold wind greeted us as we set off from the King William IV through a crisp and crunchy winter landscape. Here in South Oxfordshire, between the western skirts of the Chiltern Hills and the broad valley of the River Thames, the long pale fields had a subtle dip and roll to them, with flint-built farms in the hollows and woods on the skyline – beautiful country to walk in. A pair of red kites rode overhead, their russet wings crooked at the elbows as they adjusted their stance in the buffeting wind. What a success story the Chiltern kites have been since their reintroduction in the early 1990s; nowadays some 300 pairs thrive and breed along the hill range a few miles north and west of London.

Strong and sweet whiffs of silage came from a clamp where the farmer was busy with his forklift, digging out the sugar-rich food for the cattle wintering in his sheds. Three horses in shaggy winter pelts put their noses over the fence at Woodhouse Farm and watched us go by. Half a mile more, and we were turning along the ancient Ridgeway track in the deep holloway of Grim’s Ditch.

Grim meant ‘mysterious’ in Anglo-Saxon; to the Norsemen who settled here, Grimr was the Devil. It was Iron Age Britons who built Grim’s Ditch in pre-Roman times, a defensive structure against … who or what? We’ll never know. What remains is a great groove in the Oxfordshire earth, ten feet deep or more. Old twisted thorn trees line its banks, blackbirds and wrens rustle the fallen leaves. On this cold morning it gave shelter, firm walking and endless food for the imagination.

At Nuffield we turned aside briefly to pay our respects to car designer and philanthropist William Morris, Lord Nuffield, who lies under a modest grave slab by Holy Trinity Church. I gave him silent thanks for those wonderful round-nosed cars, bulging with character, more like family members than vehicles.

Back in the fields once more the way led over stubble and ploughland to Homer Farm, its farmhouse of red brick and flint, its barn up on staddle stones. Then it was homeward along a classic country lane, potholed and puddled between coppiced hedges and mossy banks, looking forward to wrapping our frozen fingers round a piping hot bowl of soup in the King William IV.

Start & finish: King William IV PH, Hailey, Ipsden, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 6AD (OS ref SU 642858)

Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com) to Goring & Streatley (4½ miles). Road: M4 (Jct 12), A340 to Pangbourne; B471 to Woodcote and A4074; minor roads to Ipsden and Hailey

Walk (6½ miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 171): From pub, right down lane; in 100 yards, right (‘Chiltern Way’/CW signs) past Poors Farm and through Wicks Wood (642870 – CW). Left along lane at Woodhouse Farm; right at Forest Row (636872); right along Ridgeway (636876) for 2 miles. At paths T-junction (666871), left to Nuffield church. Return to T-junction; ahead (footpath fingerpost); dogleg round Ridgeway Farmhouse (664865); on to Homer Farm. Keep ahead past farmhouse (663858 – footpath sign on tree) to lane. Right along lane by Bixmoor Wood for 1½ miles to Hailey.

Lunch: King William IV (excellent food, beer from barrel): 01491-681845

More info: Wallingford TIC (01491-826972); www.visitsouthoxfordshire.co.uk

www.christophersomerville.co.uk

 

 Posted by at 00:00
Mar 062021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Pentland Hills are to Edinburgh what the Chilterns are to London or the Wicklow Mountains to Dublin – a green open space on the doorstep of the capital city, hilly country that’s easily accessible and threaded with excellent paths. Setting out from West Linton, just to the south of Edinburgh, on a cold damp winter morning, we were looking forward to getting city air out of our lungs and a little red into our cheeks.

The stony lane called The Loan ran straight between mossy banks towards hillsides paled by a dusting of snow. Beech trees formed a guard of honour on either hand. Sleety rain came in short sharp flurries, pocking the puddles in the old droving track that soon joined a Roman road. Agricola’s soldiers built it in about 80 AD, a straight highway heading for the Firth of Forth.

A hillside of coarse grass rose alongside, lumpy and dimpled with ancient lead workings. Locals name this piece of ground the ‘siller holes,’ after the tradition that it also yielded silver to the miners.

Soon we turned aside on a rutted and grassy track heading purposefully into the hills. A couple of hundred years ago sheep were drive in great multitudes along these Pentland tracks down to West Linton market, a huge bustling affair where up to 30,000 sheep might be sold.

Below the track the Lyne Water went hurrying round the intricate bends it had carved for itself in its steep-sided green valley. Shooters walked its banks, pop-popping away at pheasants, each discharging gun betraying its position with a sudden spurt of grey smoke.

Beyond the shooting party we descended to cross the river, icy and black as it raced below the footbridge. Then it was back along a moorland road in spatters of snow which cleared in an instant to beautiful sunshine spreading across the hills.

Near West Linton we recrossed the river and follow a teetering woodland path known with good reason as the Catwalk. High on the lip of the Lyne Water’s gorge we threaded the beeches, watching our step and admiring the races of the river far below. Sleet gave way once more to sun, and every beech twig sported a row of raindrops as bright as brilliants.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; good tracks and paths. Catwalk path is narrow above steep slopes.

Please only walk within your Tier area, or enjoy this as an armchair walk till restrictions lift. And please consider others when you park.

Start: Gordon Arms Hotel, Dophinton Rd, West Linton, EH46 7DR (OS ref NT 149520)

Getting there: Bus 93 (Peebles – West Linton), 101 (Dumfries-Edinburgh)
Road: West Linton is on A702 between Edinburgh and Biggar

Walk (OS Explorer 344): Up lane opposite Gordon Arms (‘Carlops via the Loan’). In ¾ mile, right along the Roman Road (143530, ‘Carlops’). In 500m, sharp left (145535, ‘Little Vantage’). Follow arrows through farmyard and on. In 1¼ miles, at angle of drystone wall, left through gate (131546, arrow). Descend to river; right to cross footbridge (128546); up bank to road (127545); left. In 1¾ miles, left (140523; ‘Carlops’ on reverse of sign). Cross river above Lynedale House (141523); in 200m at top of rise, just before sheds on left, turn right (142527), up bank and through kissing gate. Follow narrow Catwalk path through woodland at edge of ravine for ¾ mile to return to West Linton.

Info: scotways.org, pentlandhills.org, visitscotland.com
Walking in the Pentland Hills by Susan Falconer (Cicerone)
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk
More walks info: @somerville_c

 Posted by at 01:49
Oct 242020
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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After a morning of downpours, rags of blue sky and great anvil-topped thunderheads of cloud were contesting the heavens over the Chiltern Hills.

This part of south Buckinghamshire is gloriously rich in woodland, perfect for a walk among autumn scents and colours especially after rain, when the black earth of the forest floor smells rich and every turning leaf gleams as though polished up for parade.

Horses flicked raindrops from their tails in paddocks still wet and glistening. Green lanes and hedge paths led us through the beech woods where squirrels leaped among the twigs, shaking down showers of raindrops. We walked pathways paved with fallen beech leaves, gold and lemon.

Two big woods, Common Wood and Penn Wood, are the particular pride of the neighbourhood. These are ancient woodlands, where Roman ironmakers collected wood for their furnaces, Saxons and medieval Londoners hunted deer, and Georgian chair-makers and wheelwrights harvested the beech-wood for their specialist trades.

Now they lie open for walkers, crisscrossed with permissive paths dedicated by Penn Estate. In Common Wood hornbeam and hazel, holly and oak made variegated patterns among the predominant beech, against a sky where thunder grumbled and rain showers came pattering by. We found tiny creamy fungi on stout black stalks, with gills as delicate and transparent as mother of pearl.

The path branched north towards Penn Wood past the rough pasture of Farther Barn Field, where a bunch of British White cattle with shiny black noses lay chewing the cud on the dry patches of ground they had reserved when the rain began. One cow had a pair of magpies perched on her back; she seemed entirely at ease with them.

Up in Penn Wood a patchy blue sky was breaking overhead as we turned for home. By the path a purple leaf beech, encased in a stout tree guard, carried a plaque. It had been donated by Prince Charles and planted in 2000 by Earl Howe, to commemorate the successful campaign waged by determined locals to prevent the wood being ‘developed’ as a golf course.

A strange and welcome irony, since it was Earl Howe’s ancestor who had enclosed the common here in 1855 and deprived the local commoners of their immemorial rights.

Start: Winchmore Hill, Bucks HP7 0PH (OS ref SU 933949)

Getting there: Bus 73 (Amersham)
Road: Winchmore Hill is signed off A404 between High Wycombe and Amersham

Walk (5½ miles, woodland paths, OS Explorer 172): From left corner of playground on village green, follow ‘Chiltern Way’/CW. In 300m cross road (929949); follow CW among trees. In 500m, left along tarmac road (927945); in 300m, on left bend (926942), CW forks right. Leave trees; anticlockwise round field edge, down to road (923939). Right; left up Noaks Lane; in 40m, right (922939, CW) along Penn Bottom. In 300m, right off CW up field (918940); through Brook Wood; cross road (919946) into Common Wood. Left along wide ride, forking right in 250m (‘Penn & Common Wood Long Trai). In 1 mile, in clearing with slatted ‘Common Wood’ notice board 50m on left, right downhill (904953, red stripe post) through Gravelly Way Plantation. Cross road (906959) into Penn Wood past gate (info board on right). Follow broad ride east for 1 mile to junction (921959); right to road; left into Penn Street. At junction, ahead (‘Amersham’); in 30m, left by The Cottages (923957, fingerpost); follow yellow arrows for ¾ mile across fields, through Priestlands Wood to Winchmore Hill.

Lunch/Accommodation: Potters Arms, Winchmore Hill HP7 0PH (01494-726222, pottersarms.co.uk) – lunch booking advisable

Info: High Wycombe TIC (01296-382415); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:19
May 062020
 

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1. St Ives and Zennor, Cornwall
11 miles; OS Explorer 102

The outward leg from St Ives is one of the finest stretches of the South West Coast Path, a beautiful westward run of heath-covered headlands, granite cliffs and rocky coves where seals bob and fulmars wheel. Wild thyme lends a bitter-sweet fragrance to the grassy banks. Opposite the village of Zennor the coast path swings out onto Gurnard’s Head, a wild dragon-headed promontory with sheer cliffs that fall to sea-sculpted caves where the waves crash and boom. At Zennor, St Senara’s Church is home to the mermaid of Zennor, stiff and stark after 600 years as a carved bench end.

The homeward path follows the old Corpse Road footpath through the fields. This former route for bodies to be borne to Christian burial passes through a farming landscape that remembers its Bronze Age origins in the tiny size of the fields and the immense sturdiness and thickness of their walls. Each field is linked to its neighbour by a Cornish stile, a row of four or five well-spaced bars of granite set over a pit. It forms a grid barrier that baffles cattle and sheep – but not the sagacious local pigs, apparently.

Start/finish: Porthmeor Beach, St. Ives, TR26 1TG, (OS ref SW 516408)
Directions: SW Coast Path to Zennor; return by field path via Tremedda, Tregerthen and Wicca to Boscubben (473395); then Trevessa (481396), Trevega Wartha, Trevalgan (489402) and Trowan (494403) to Venton Vision (506407) and St Ives.

2. Corton Denham and Cadbury Castle, Somerset
7½ miles; OS Explorer 129

Not just a stroll through the green lanes and hills of south Somerset, this is a walk in the ghostly presence of King Arthur. The Macmillan Way lies just west of Corton Denham, and takes a northward course with an enormous view over a wooded vale leading to Glastonbury Tor, the summit tower a tiny pimple at the apex. The long line of the Mendip Hills closes the vista, with the green wedge of Brent Knoll 25 miles away in the west.

A clockwise loop around the mellow stone houses of Sutton Montis, and you follow the old greenway of Folly Lane across the medieval ridge-and-furrow to South Cadbury, tucked in the lee of Cadbury Castle’s great ramparted hill fort. A stony cart track climbs through the Iron Age ramparts to the wide, sloping summit of the hill. Did King Arthur, the ‘once-and-future King’, ever feast here with his warriors and his treacherous queen? An excavation in 1966-70 brought to light the foundations of a great aisled feasting hall, built in the early Dark Ages at the crown of Cadbury Castle. And spectral riders still sally forth from the fort at midnight, local stories say, their horses shod with silver that flashes in the starlight.

Start/finish: Corton Denham, Somerset DT9 4LR (OS ref ST 635225)
Directions: From Middle Ridge Lane (opposite church) footpath west to Corton Ridge (626224). North (Monarch’s Way) for 1 mile to road at Kember’s Hill (629241). Footpath through Sutton Montis to meet Leland Trail/LT (620252). LT to South Cadbury; right (632256), then right again, up to Cadbury Castle. Return to road; right; 100m past Crang’s Lane, path (633249, yellow arrow/YA) south to Whitcombe Farm and road (631237). Path below Corton Hill (‘Corton Denham’) back to Corton Denham.

3. Kingley Vale, near East Ashling, West Sussex
3 miles; OS Explorer OL8

Every summer I look forward to a lazy walk in warm sunshine, up the track from West Stoke car park and round the waymarked circuit of Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve. It takes all afternoon to stroll these three miles, because Kingley Vale’s preserved chalk grassland is made for lingering and looking. It’s composed more of flowering plants than of grasses, a tight-packed sward rich in thyme and marjoram, with scabious, harebells, pink centaury, bird’s foot trefoil and dozens more species attracting clouds of blues, coppers, argus, browns and other butterflies.

By contrast, the sombre yew grove that colonises the steep east-facing slope on the west edge of the reserve seems barren of all life except that of its ancient occupants. This great grove, protected on its chalk slope, is a rare survival. The yew crowns are a green so dark it is almost black, but once in among them you find that their limbs are pale, brittle and twisted, like dried muscles. How old are these sombre, knotted trees? At least 500 years, but some of them are old enough to have seen druidical worship. Some could already have been standing many centuries at Kingley Vale when the upstart Romans came invading.

Start/finish: West Stoke car park (OS ref SU 825088), near East Ashling on B2178 near Chichester.
Directions: Through kissing gate; follow track north to kissing gate into NNR. Bear left on footpath just inside fence; follow uphill for 1/3 mile to yew grove on right (819105). Continue along waymarked path to make clockwise circuit of reserve.

4. Alfriston, Jevington and the South Downs, East Sussex
8½ miles; OS Explorer 123

Some walks just grab you so hard that you know you’ll be back to enjoy them again and again. I can never get enough of this beautiful circuit of East Sussex villages in the shadow of the South Downs.

Alfriston’s houses and inns are rich in carved timbers. On a sunny day the village lies in bright brick reds, acid greens and indigos. A flinty track runs east to pass below the Long Man of Wilmington, an ancient giant two hundred feet tall, his outline cut out of a chalk downland slope. A rutted woodland path leads on to Folkington, where pioneer celebrity chef Elizabeth David lies in the churchyard under a gravestone carved with aubergines, peppers and cloves of garlic. Then you head south on a snaking track to Jevington with its thousand-year-old church tower built like a fortress against Viking marauders. A Saxon Christ adorns the wall, victorious over a puny, wriggling serpent.

Crossing the downs on the homeward stretch, one marvels at how a corner of countryside with such a vigorous and bloody history – Viking and French raids, coastguard battles with the smuggling gangs, Second World War bombs and doodlebugs – has settled to a tranquillity as smooth as the applewood smoke rising from Alfriston’s chimneys into the blue Sussex sky.

Start/finish: Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5UQ (OS ref TQ 521033)
Directions: Downland track east via Long Man of Wilmington (542034); Wealdway path via The Holt (551040) and Folkington church (559038) to St Andrew’s Church, Jevington (562015). South Downs Way west to Holt Brow (553019); Lullington Heath NNR via Winchester’s Pond (540020) to Litlington (523021). Left past Litlington church; just before Plough & Harrow PH, right (523017 – ‘Vanguard Way’) to Cuckmere River; right to Alfriston.

5. Latimer, Chenies and the Chess Valley, Bucks/Herts border
7 miles; OS Explorer 172

Of all the gorgeous walks within easy reach of London, this one never palls in any season. From Chalfont & Latimer tube station (Metropolitan line), Bedford Avenue and Chenies Avenue lead north into West Wood, where the Chess Valley Walk trail descends to cross the River Chess in its beautiful green valley under the neat estate village of Latimer. From here it’s a clockwise circuit, following the Chess Valley Walk above the shallow, winding river. ‘Mr William Liberty of Chorleywood, nonconformist brickmaker’ (died 1777), having refused a church burial, lies by the field path with his wife Alice in a brick-built tomb. Further on, you can buy a peppery, crunchy bunch of watercress from Tyler’s farm, before reaching Church End where astonishing 14th-century paintings adorn the village church.

Back across the River Chess, the Chiltern Way leads across lush wet pastures, then through woods of hornbeam and cherry to Chenies village. History lies thick on the great Tudor mansion of Chenies; and in the adjacent church generations of Russells, Dukes and Duchesses of Bedford, lie entombed. From here you follow a ridge path back to Chalfont, with glorious views across the Chess Valley.

Start/finish: Chalfont & Latimer tube station, Bucks, HP7 9PR (OS ref SU 997975)
Directions: Bedford Avenue; Chenies Avenue (996976); at Beechwood Avenue (996981), ahead into West Wood. Follow Chess Valley Walk downhill to leave wood and cross road (999985), then river (000986). Right to cross road (004987; ‘Chess Valley Walk’/CVW, fish waymark). Follow CVW for 1¾ miles to road (031990); on Sarratt Church (039984). Chiltern Way west to road (021980) and Chenies (016983); west via Walk Wood and West Wood to return to station.

6. Dunwich and Dingle Marshes, Suffolk
6¾ miles; OS Explorer 231

A perfect encapsulation of the moody magnetism of the Suffolk Coast. Dunwich was a great trading port whose churches, hospitals, squares and houses were utterly consumed by the sea. A path leads up to the solitary curly-topped headstone of Jacob Forster, still clinging to the cliff edge, the last relic of the church of All Saints that toppled to the beach in 1922.

The Suffolk Coast & Heaths Path runs north through copses of old oak and pine trees. Grazing marshes, dotted with black cattle, stretch away towards the long straight bar of the sea wall. Soon you are in among the great reedbeds of Westwood Marshes where tiny bearded tits bounce and flit through the reeds, trailing their long tails low behind them and emitting pinging noises like overstretched wire fences. There’s no view whatsoever of the nearby sea, just a haunting feeling of country walked by many, but known by very few.

Once across the Dunwich River, you top the shingle bank. Here is an instant switch of view and perspective, out over a slate grey sea and round the curve of the bay, as you follow the pebbly beach back to Dunwich under its sloping cliff.

Start/finish: Dunwich car park, Suffolk, IP17 3EN (OS ref TM 478706)
Directions: Ship Inn – St James’s Church and Leper Hospital (475706) – Bridge Farm (474707; ‘Suffolk Coast Path’/SCP). Little Dingle (475717) – Dingle Stone House (476724) to Great Dingle Farm (483730). Follow SCP arrows through Westwood Marshes to footbridge (495742, SCP) to shingle bank; right to Dunwich.

7. Lakenheath Fen, Norfolk/Suffolk border
7¾ miles; OS Explorer 228

All the famed dampness and richness of unspoilt Fenland are perfectly caught in this walk around Lakenheath Fen nature reserve. The path from Hockwold-cum-Wilton is by way of Church Lane, Moor Drove and the sluices and banks of the Little Ouse River, heading west into the reserve via its excellent Visitor Centre.

It’s hard to credit that this green and fertile fen landscape was intensively farmed carrot fields not so long ago. Dug out, planted with fen vegetation and provided with plenty of water, it has burst into life. Various waymarked trails lead through the reserve, with the Main Circular Trail as the spine. Otters thrive here, bitterns boom in spring among the reedbeds, kingfishers and water voles scud about. Cranes are nesting for the first time in centuries. Marsh harriers hunt the reedbeds and ditches on long dark wings, sailing the air with effortless mastery. Along the trail, detours lead to hides with privilege viewpoints over meres where great crested grebes perform their elaborate courtship rituals.

At Joist Fen the walk bears right to follow the bank of the Little Ouse back to Hockwold. A bunch of lucky cattle graze here, up to their chins in the lushest grass in East Anglia.

Start/finish: Hockwold-cum-Wilton, Norfolk IP26 4NB (OS ref TL 735880)
Directions: Church Lane; Moor Drove East (734876); cross sluice (731870); right along riverbank to B1112 (724868). Left; in 300m, right to Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve Visitor Centre (718863). Follow Main Circular Trail/MCT (white arrows/WA) clockwise as far as Little Ouse river bank (698861). Right (Hereward Way) for 2 miles back to B1112 (724866). Left (take care!); retrace steps to Hockwold.

8. Purton and the Ships Graveyard, Gloucestershire
6½ miles; OS Explorer OL14

The River Severn comes down through west Gloucestershire in great wide loops, slowly broadening into its estuary. Boats that ply the river are few and far between these days, and the skeletons of some old Severn craft are one of the features of this fascinating walk.

From Brookend near Sharpness, field paths run north across the swell of the land to the tiny village of Purton on the edge of a big bend in the Severn. Through the village runs the long silver streak of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, dug across country at the turn of the 19th century to bypass some of the most difficult and dangerous bends of the river.

Dozens of old coal and cargo boats were brought here to Purton at the end of their working lives and rammed into the soft mud of the Severn’s east bank, to stiffen it and protect the adjacent canal against the fierce sweep of the tides. It’s a poignant walk back to Sharpness among the ribs and sternposts, tillers and rudders of these former river queens. And Sharpness itself is a fascinating rarity, a working river port where cranes clank as they unload cement and fertiliser from rusty old sea-going boats.

Start/finish: Brookend, Sharpness GL13 9SF (OS ref SO 684021)
Directions: Footpath north across fields for 1½ miles to Purton (682042). Cross canal; past Berkeley Arms PH (691045). Riverside path joins canal towpath (687044). Detour right along riverbank through Ships Graveyard, then canal towpath into Sharpness. Cross canal (670030); ‘Severn Way’ up steps; ahead past Dockers’ Club (671029) to road. Left across left-hand of 2 swing bridges (673029). Ahead to road (677026); right (‘Sharpness’). Left beside Village Hall (674021 – fingerpost); paths via Buckett’s Hill Farm to Brookend.

9. White Horse and Wayland’s Smithy, Oxfordshire
6 miles; OS Explorer 170

If you want to savour the deep history and mythology of these islands, you can’t do better than tramp the ancient Ridgeway across the chalk downs of Oxfordshire. Start from Woolstone, tucked in below the hills, and follow the field paths southwest via Knighton and Compton Beauchamp. From here you glimpse the White Horse that was cut out of the chalk turf high above some 3,000 years ago, still beautiful and enigmatic in her disjointed, futuristic form.

From Odstone Farm a sunken track leads uphill to reach the Ridgeway, already ancient when the White Horse was made, a rutted upland thoroughfare curving with the crest of the downs. Turning east along the Ridgeway you soon come to a remarkable monument, the great Neolithic long barrow of Wayland’s Smithy, its huge portal stones and grassy mound surrounded by a ring of tall old beeches. Wayland was a blacksmith in Norse mythology, and local tales say he’ll shoe your horse if you leave it overnight along with a silver coin. You don’t have to be a New Age devotee to sense the power and presence of the far past here.

A long mile along the Ridgeway brings you to the White Horse herself, and a descent down a steep breast of downland called The Manger to reach Woolstone.

Start/finish: Woolstone, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 7QL (OS ref SU 293878)
Directions: cross Hardwell Lane – Compton House – just before Odstone Farm, left up Odstone Hill – left along Ridgeway. Wayland’s Smithy – detour to Uffington Castle and White Horse – continue on Ridgeway for ½ mile – left (308864) – Britchcombe Farm – cross B4507. On for ½ mile – left (308880) – path to Woolstone.

10. The Stiperstones, Shropshire
5 miles; OS Explorer 216
The Stiperstones stand stark and jagged. These quartzite outcrops rise from a heathery ridge at the northern end of the Long Mynd, Shropshire’s great whaleback of a hill. They are the focus of some of the most bizarre folk tales and superstitions in these islands.

The Shropshire Way leads up and past the Stones, heading north across heather moorland where cranberries make scarlet splashes of colour. This upland heath is carefully preserved for its wildlife value, with cowberry and crowberry among the great swathes of purple heather. You pass Cranberry Rock and Manstone Rock to reach the largest outcrop, the Devil’s Chair. When mist envelops the Stones, the Devil is in his Chair, waiting for Old England to sink beneath the earth. Impossible to tell how all these Gothic notions gained ground, but they lend the Stiperstones a very peculiar aura.

Views from the ridge are superb over the Shropshire hills and woods, east to the long green bar of Wenlock Edge, west as far as the borderlands of Wales. From Shepherd Rock a steep grassy path leaves the hill, descending steeply Past old lead-mine workings to Stiperstones village far below. From here a lower track leads back below the Stones, hard-edged and ominous along the eastern skyline.

Start/finish: Bog Centre car park, Stiperstones (OS ref SO 355979)
Directions: Shropshire Way from road (362976) past Cranberry Rock (365981), Manstone Rock (367986), Devil’s Chair (368991). From cairn just before Shepherd’s Rock (374000), steep descent to Stiperstones village (363004) and Stiperstones Inn. Return to Bog Centre via 361002, 359999, 361996 and lane parallel to the Stiperstones.

11. Kinder Edge, Derbyshire
9 miles; OS Explorer OL1

A hugely popular walk, and deservedly so. This is the ultimate memorial hike, commemorating the crowd of left-wing, working class youngsters from the industrial sprawls of Manchester and Sheffield who in 1932 initiated an incursion known as the Mass Trespass onto the privately owned moorland of Kinder. Some were imprisoned, others vilified. Without the impetus of their bold action, we wouldn’t have the right to roam over wild upland country that we enjoy today.

From Bowden Bridge near Hayfield you head north above Kinder Reservoir, looking across the valley to the long upstanding line of crags that form Kinder Edge. A steep climb beside the beck in rocky William Clough leads to the peat bogs of Ashop Head, where gamekeepers with sticks tried and failed to stem the mass trespass of 1932.

From here it’s a long and exhilarating stride south along the Pennine Way at the very edge of the gritstone escarpment, with magnificent views to Manchester and the distant hills of Wales. Across the watersplash of Kinder Downfall, and on to where the homeward path turns west off the Pennine Way at ancient Edale Cross and starts its descent down the long, long lane to Bowden Bridge.

Start/finish: Bowden Bridge car park, Hayfield, Derbyshire, SK22 2LH approx (OS ref SK 049870)

Directions: Continue up road. At Booth Sheepwash cross river (051876); in 100m, take path (yellow arrow). In 250m, left to reservoir gates; up cobbled bridleway on left. In 300m, left (054882, metal ‘bridleway’ sign) up to gate. Right (‘Snake Inn’) for 1½ miles (White Brow, William’s Clough) up to Ashop Head (065900). Right on Pennine Way along Kinder Edge for 3½ miles. Beyond Edale Rocks where PW turns left for Edale, right (081861) through gate; lane for 2¾ miles down to Kinder Road and car park.

12. Muker and Keld, Swaledale, N. Yorkshire
6½ miles; OS Explorer OL30

A classic walk in the Yorkshire Dales from the picture-book village of Muker. An old road, stone-surfaced and stone-walled, leads up the sloping fellsides. It heads northwest through sheep pastures to skirt the big open rise of Kisdon Hill before dropping gently down to Skeb Skeugh ford and the huddle of grey stone houses at Keld. I remember, many years ago, stumbling into Keld after a miserable day of rain and mist on the Pennine Way, and the bliss of a cup of tea and a pair of dry socks there.

From Keld the homeward path crosses the River Swale at the hissing waterfall of East Gill Force. A little further on and you pass tumbledown Crackpot Hall, undermined by subsidence in the lead mines of Swinner Gill. This is a sombre spot, resonant with history, a maze of spoil heaps, arched stone mine levels, and the precarious hillside trods or tracks of the miners.

It’s a remarkable contrast, walking south from these dolorous ruins above the fast-rushing Swale, down into the delightful green lushness of Swaledale and the stone-walled sheep pastures around Muker.

Start/finish: Muker, Richmond, N Yorks DL11 6QG (OS ref SO 910979)
Directions: Up lane by Muker Literary Institute. Forward; up right side of Grange Farm (‘footpath Keld’). Follow lane; then ‘Bridleway Keld’ (909982) up walled lane for ½ mile. Cross Pennine Way/PW and on (903986; ‘Keld 2 miles’) along bridleway to ford and B6270 (892006). Right into Keld. Right down lane (893012; ‘footpath Muker’). In 300 yards, left downhill (‘PW’) across River Swale, up to waterfall. Right (896011; ‘bridleway’) for ½ mile. 150m past stone barn, left (904009) to Crackpot Hall; path into Swinner Gill, to fingerpost (911012) opposite mine buildings. Sharp right (‘Muker’) to ford beck (911008); follow track down Swaledale for 1 mile. Cross Swale (910986); meadow path to Muker.

13. Cronkley Fell, Upper Teesdale, Durham Dales
7 miles; OS Explorer OL31

For its wonderful flowers and birds, this is my favourite springtime walk of all. You set off from Forest-in-Teesdale to cross the River Tees near Cronkley Farm. The peat-brown Tees comes charging down its rocky bed, roaring loudly and rumbling the stones as it races by. The valley meadows are full of nesting birds – lapwing, redshank and curlew – each with its own haunting cry, the very voice of spring in this wild place. Snipe go rocketing about the sky, divebombing with a drumming rattle of outspread tail feathers.

From Cronkley Farm the Pennine Way climbs southward to meet the old lead-miners’ road called the Green Trod. Turning west along this grassy broad track, you are soon in flowery heaven up on the nape of Cronkley Fell. Tiny white flowers of lead-resistant spring sandwort flourish in abandoned mine workings. Higher up you find the real jewels of this rugged, enchanting valley – tiny, delicate Teesdale violets, miniature bird’s-eye primroses as shocking pink as a starlet’s fingernails, and royal blue trumpets of spring gentians.
A picnic pause to contemplate the forward view over the basalt crags of Falcon Clints, and you descend through pungent-smelling juniper bushes to turn for home along the brawling Tees once more.

Start/finish: Forest-in-Teesdale car park, near Langdon Beck, Co. Durham DL12 0HA (OS ref NY 867298)
Directions: Right along B6277; in 100m, left down farm track via Wat Garth, to cross River Tees by Cronkley Bridge (862294). Follow Pennine Way (PW) past Cronkley Farm, up rocky slope of High Crag and on along paved track. In 500m, left across stile (861283). PW bears left, but continue ahead uphill by fence. Through kissing gate (861281); in 100m, right along wide grassy trackway. Follow it for 2 miles west across Cronkley Fell (occasional cairns). Descend at Man Gate to River Tees (830283); right along river for 2½ miles. At High House barn (857294), half-left across pasture to Cronkley Bridge; return to car park.

14. Mellbreak, Mosedale and Crummock Water, Lake District
6 miles; OS Explorer OL4

This delectable circuit offers all the delights of Lakeland in one go – a steep (but not too steep) fell, a little-visited side dale, and a gorgeous lakeside stroll back to one of the best pubs in Cumbria.

From the Kirkstile Inn a country road runs south. A little way past Kirkgate Farm a path heads off, straight up the northern face of Mellbreak. The fell looks tremendously steep; but in fact the path is clear once you’re on it, and with a bit of zigzagging and a modicum of hard breathing you’re on the top of this rugged mini-mountain almost before you know it. The view is one of the finest in the Lake District – north across the Solway Firth to the distant hills of Galloway, east to the pink screes of Grasmoor across Crummock Water, south to the magnificent humpy spine of Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag.

Gaze your fill; then drop down west into green and silent Mosedale, boggy and orchid-spattered. ‘Dreary,’ opined Alfred Wainwright. For once, the Master was wrong. Head south along Mosedale, round the end of Mellbreak, and finish with a glorious stroll north up the side of Crummock Water with a feast of fells all round.

Start/finish: Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater, Cumbria CA13 0RU (OS ref NY 141209)
Directions: From Kirkstile Inn, south on lane past Kirkgate Farm for ½ mile. At gate (139202), up through trees, then to foot of scree (141199). Bear left; zigzag steeply up to Mellbreak’s northern summit (143195). Forward for 500m to dip and fork in path (145190); bear right, steeply down to path in Mosedale (141186). Left (south) for ¾ mile to gate in fence (146175); down to track by Black Beck (146174); left (east) to Crummock Water. Left (north) to north end of lake. Bear left (149197) to wall (148199); follow to Highpark Farm (145202). On to cross Park Bridge (145205); fork left to Kirkstile Inn.

15. Holy Island, Northumberland
10 miles, OS Explorer 340
NB Causeway and Pilgrim Path are impassable 2½ hours either side of high tide. Tide times posted by causeway; also at lindisfarne.org.uk

Pilgrims have been crossing the sands for a thousand years to reach Lindisfarne or Holy Island,  monastic retreat of the 7th century hermit bishop St Cuthbert. The pilgrim path to Lindisfarne, marked out by tall poles, diverges from the causeway road to cross the murky sands. It’s a squelching walk, windy and redolent of salt mud and seaweed, passing a long-legged refuge tower for unwary travellers caught by the incoming tide. Often you can hear the eerie singing of seals on the distant sands.

Once ashore on Holy Island, the little village with its great red sandstone monastic ruins is fascinating to explore. Down off the southwest corner lies tiny, tidal Hobthrush Island, with the sparse remains of an ancient chapel marking the site of the cell where Cuthbert sought even greater privacy.

A circular walk round Holy Island by way of Lindisfarne Castle on its dolerite crag and the nearby garden laid out by Gertrude Jekyll, and then back along the pilgrim path to the mainland, savouring the solitude of this vast expanse of tidal sand under enormous skies.

Start/finish: Holy Island causeway car park, Northumberland (OS ref NU079427)
Directions: Follow sands route (post markers) to Holy Island. Right to village and monastery. Walk anti-clockwise round island: harbour, castle, Gertrude Jekyll’s Garden (136419), The Lough, path west beside dunes. At gate by NNR notice (129433), left down track to village, or ahead for ½ mile, then left (122433) to causeway and sands route.

16. Worm’s Head, Gower Peninsula, South Wales
4 miles there-and-back; OS Explorer 164
NB Causeway is accessible for 2½ hours either side of low tide. Tide times at tides.willyweather.co.uk. Please don’t venture as far as Outer Head between 1 March and 31 August – nesting birds!

Norsemen named Gower’s double-humped promontory ‘wurm’, meaning dragon or serpent, and Worm’s Head does resemble a massive green monster heading out to sea. This is a wildly exhilarating scramble, spiced by the knowledge that you have to get your tide timings right. If you don’t, you’re in good company – Dylan Thomas once got himself marooned here.

From the National Trust car park at the western tip of the Gower peninsula you follow the cliffs out to the rough and rugged causeway crossing. There are blennies and crabs in the rock pools, and canted blades of barnacle-encrusted rock to cross before you can scramble up onto Inner Head, the middle section of the promontory. A path leads among pink flowerheads of thrift to the square wave-cut arch of the Devil’s Bridge, across which you make your way (but not in nesting season) onto the furthest hummock, Outer Head. Here kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and puffins fill air and sea with their cries, flights and incredible guano stink.

Start/finish: Rhossili car park, Gower (OS ref SS 415880)
Directions: Walk ahead past National Trust information centre, following track and descending to cross causeway. Follow path round south side of Inner Head, across Devil’s Bridge (389877), round south side of Low Neck, out to Outer Head.

17. Llyn Bochnant and Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia, North Wales
6½ miles; OS Explorer OL17

Cwm Idwal is justifiably one of the most popular spots in Snowdonia – a readily accessible, highly dramatic bowl of crags cradling the dark lake of Llyn Idwal. Just above in a hidden valley lies another lake, Llyn Bochlwyd, far less frequented, from which you descend into Cwm Idwal by a steep and beautiful path.

The trail starts from Cwm Idwal car park (on A5 between Capel Curig and Bethesda) up a stone-pitched track. After 400m you leave the crowds behind, forking left onto a path that climbs the steep chute of Nant Bochlwyd beside a tumbling stream. Up at the top under the grim crags of Glyder Fach lies Llyn Bochlwyd, in a silent hollow of bilberry and grass. A spot to sit and savour before skeltering down the precipitous path to Llyn Idwal far below. Look out hereabouts for the white bib and harsh rattling chirrup of the ring ouzel, a mountain blackbird rarely seen.

A path circles Llyn Idwal, running high up under the crags of Glyder Fawr. Among the big boulders here grows starry saxifrage, delicate and white, and the miniature green blooms of alpine lady’s mantle, a lovely carpet of mountain flowers.

Start/finish: Cwm Idwal car park, Nant Ffrancon, LL57 3LZ (OS ref SH 649603)
Directions: Up stone-pitched path at left side of Warden Centre. In 350m path bends right (652601); ahead here on stony track across bog; steeply up right side of Nant Bochlwyd to Llyn Bochlwyd (655594). Right (west) on path for 400m to saddle (652594); then steeply down to Llyn Idwal (647596). Left along lake. At south end take higher path (646593) slanting up to boulder field; take care fording torrent at 642589! At big 20-ft boulder (640589), go right down side of boulder; left across rocky grass to homeward path (640590), steep in places.

18. Creag Meagaidh NNR, Inverness-shire, Scotland
8½ miles; OS Explorer 401

A classic there-and-back walk among the Scottish mountains, rising up a flowery glen to a hidden corrie. If you’re longing for the day you can take a picnic out among the hills again, squirrel this splendid walk away in your wish list.

Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve car park lies on the A86 between Spean Bridge and Kinloch Laggan. A trail marked with otter symbols leads past buildings and up steps to a sign for ‘Coire Adair’, the start of the walk up the bow-shaped glen. At first the path runs among woods of young birch, alder and oak. The boggy hillsides are dotted with heath spotted orchids, the hair-like stems and bright blue flowers of insectivorous butterwort, and purple blooms of wood cranesbill.

Once beyond the trees, mountains hem you round, the Allt Coire Adair burn tumbles down its snaky bed, and the path rises gently across open moorland tufted with bog cotton. At the top of the glen you surmount the hummock of a glacial moraine, and a prospect opens down onto the little glassy lakelet of Lochan a’Choire under a curving wall of black cliffs, lonely, wild and utterly silent.

Start/finish: Creag Meagaidh NNR car park, PH20 1BX (OS ref NN 483873)
Directions: From car park follow red trail (otter symbol). In 500m pass to right of toilets/buildings (479876). Follow path on the level, then up steps; fork right at top (474879; ‘Coire Ardair’) on clear stony path for 3 miles to Lochan a’ Choire (439883). Return same way.

19. Hermaness, Isle of Unst, Shetland
5 miles; OS Explorer 470

One of the most dramatic springtime walks I know, and certainly one of the remotest, Hermaness is a place apart. This blunt headland forms the northernmost tip of the Isle of Unst, itself the most northerly island in Britain. You set out literally from the end of the road, climbing a well-marked path that circles round the headland. The first inhabitants you meet will be the bonxies or great skuas, big clumsy gull-like birds that defend their nests and fluffy chicks by screaming and flying at you – though a stick upheld will deflect them.

It’s a rugged welcome to Hermaness, but this is a rugged place of bog, tiny lochs and tremendously craggy cliffs. The dramatic showpiece suddenly appears as you breast the rise and look down over a line of enormous sea stacks, great canted blades of rock jutting out of the sea. Their sheer dark slopes are whitened by the tens of thousands of gulls, fulmars, kittiwakes and guillemots that circle restlessly far below. Rumblings, Vesta Skerry, Tipta Skerry, Muckle Flugga with its stumpy lighthouse, and the little round button of Out Stack – these are the full stops that top off the mighty travelogue of Britain.

Start/finish: The Ness parking place, Burrafirth, Isle of Unst (OS ref HP612147)
Directions: From Ness parking place at end of road, follow marked circular path (green-topped posts) round Hermaness. Allow 2-3 hours. Remote, windy, boggy and slippery underfoot: dress warm and dry; walking boots. Take great care on cliff edges. Bring binoculars and stick. Information leaflets in metal box at start of path. NB: Great Skua (‘bonxie’) dive-bombs during chick-rearing season, generally late May until July, coming close but rarely striking. To deter, hold stick above head. Please avoid Sothers Brecks nesting area, May-July.

20. Slieve Gullion, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland
5 miles there-and-back; OSNI Discoverer 29; walkni.com

Slieve Gullion rises over South Armagh, a kingly mountain, a great volcanic plug that dominates the landscape for miles around. This is a mountain of myth and legend, with a sensational 100-mile view from the summit as a reward for the not-very-demanding climb.

From Slieve Gullion Forest Park car park (signposted on the Drumintee Road between Newry and Forkhill) there’s a well-walked trail (‘Ring of Gullion’ waymarks) rising in stages via forest roads and tracks, clockwise round the southern slopes of Slieve Gullion. In a couple of miles you bear right at an upper car park, a short steep upward puff that lands you on the south peak of the mountain.

The prospect is simply sublime. A great volcanic ridge of hills encircles the mountain, with views beyond as far as the Mourne Mountains, the Antrim hills, the billowy Sperrins, and the green and brown midland plain running south to the tiny silhouettes of the Wicklow Hills beyond Dublin, a hundred miles away.

Explore the Neolithic passage grave on the peak, then picnic by the Lake of Sorrows. But don’t touch the enchanted millstone that lies half-submerged there. It might bring forth the dreaded magical hag, the Cailleach Beara, and you wouldn’t want that.

Start/finish: Slieve Gullion Forest Park car park, Drumintee Road, Killeavy, Newry, Co. Armagh BT35 8SW (OS of NI ref J 040196)
Directions: From top left corner of car park, left up path through trees. In ¼ mile join Forest Drive (038191), up slope, then level, for ¼ mile to ‘Ring of Gullion Way’ post on left (035190). Right up drive, past metal barrier; left uphill for 1½ miles to car park (018200). Beyond picnic table, right at white post, steeply uphill. South Cairn (025203) – Lake of Sorrows – North Cairn (021211); then return.

 Posted by at 15:30
Feb 012020
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A cold Oxfordshire day under a billowing sky. St Birinus looked pinched and chilly in his niche in the chapel wall at Dorchester-on-Thames. The folds of his carved stone face seemed full of disapproval as we passed him on our way down to the river.

It was Birinus, a missionary from Rome, who ducked King Cynegils of Wessex in the River Thames nearby in token of baptism in 634 AD. This act paid dividends; the newly christened king gave his baptist land on which to found a bishopric, a vast one that eventually stretched from Thames to Humber.

Beyond the neat houses and gardens of Dorchester we crossed the Dyke Hills, a curious Iron Age earthwork that raises a double seam across the fields. It was built to defend a settlement established by the river here long before the Romans came to Britain.

From Little Wittenham we climbed the short, steep path up the face of the Sinodun Hills, a double bulge of tree-topped chalk known locally as Wittenham Clumps. They draw the eye for many miles in the flat Thames-side country. On Round Hill a handy topograph picked out landmarks far and near, from the long ridge of the Chiltern Hills to Dorchester’s abbey church, the chimneys of Didcot power station, a glimpse of dreaming spires in far-off Oxford, and nearer at hand the tower and red brick frontage of Little Wittingham’s manor house below.

Among its many excellent ecological ventures, the locally based Earth Trust has established a wild flower sward on the Wittenham Clumps, and a network of permitted footpaths all round the area. We followed the paths across the hill fort ramparts on Castle Hill, then down towards Long Wittenham and the Thames through Earth Trust meadows and woodland.

The walk wheeled slowly around the fixed hub of Wittenham Clumps, away to our right across the fields. Paul Nash painted these hills again and again between the wars, trying to catch the movement of the crowning trees in the wind, the moods and changing colours of the chalk and turf.

‘A beautiful legendary country haunted by old gods long forgotten,’ was the artist’s perception of this understated but captivating corner of the Thames, and that’s as good an encapsulation as any.

Start: Bridge End car park, Dorchester-on-Thames OX10 7JT (OS ref 579940)

Getting there: Car park is signed off Henley Road by bridge at south end of town (off A4074, Wallingford-Oxford)

Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 170): Ahead past chapel; south down Wittenham Lane to Thames (578932). Right; in ¾ mile, left across 3 bridges (568935); opposite Little Wittenham church, left (566934, gate). Up hill path ahead to summit of Round Hill (566928). Around clump; on to summit of Castle Hill (569926). From poem stone on far side, descend grass path through ditch. In 150m, left (572926, gate) across valley. In 250m fork right (570928) through trees. In 250m at T-junction, left (570930); downhill to Little Wittenham. Left along road; in ¼ mile, right (564931, ‘Long Wittenham’). In 250m, left through gate; follow permitted path parallel to road for 1 mile to road in Long Wittenham (551940). Right by thatched house (‘No Through Road’). In ⅔ mile at Northfield Farm entrance (555949), left along green lane to Thames (553958). Right. In 2 miles, left across weir/Day’s Lock (568936). Half left on fenced path; cross Dyke Hills (572937); on to Dorchester.

Lunch/Accommodation: White Hart, High St, Dorchester OX10 7HN (01865-340074, white-hart-hotel-dorchester.co.uk)

Info: Wallingford TIC (01491-826972)

Earth Trust: earthtrust.org.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:13
Mar 032018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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As soon as we walked out of Tring station, the Chilterns beckoned us on and upward – the humpbacked green downland of Aldbury Nowers looking down on the railway, studded with beechwoods and lined with ancient earthworks and trackways.
 
It’s not until you’re up there with your boots in the crumbly white clay of the 5,000-year-old Ridgeway that you properly appreciate the wildlife treasures of these chalk grassland slopes. The wild marjoram and thyme, the harebells and rockroses that carpet the steep grassy banks from spring onwards are carefully nurtured by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), not least for the sake of the butterflies that are drawn to such delicate and increasingly uncommon plants – marbled whites and small blues, grizzled and dingy skippers (rather more beautiful than their names suggest), the brown argus and the green hairstreak with its strikingly leaf-green underwings.
 
We followed the Ridgeway as it undulated north along the hillsides in company with the old Saxon earthwork of Grim’s Ditch. Gaps between the trees gave a far prospect north and west over the green wooded plains of outer Buckinghamshire to a dip of distant blue hills that might have been the north-easternmost Cotswolds. Deep in the trees wrens chattered in full flow, and a black-and-white great spotted woodpecker cocked his red-capped head as he prepared to give a beech crown a good hammering.
 
High on Pitstone Hill we left the Ridgeway for a bridleway that tipped back down into the valley. Here the navvies dug deep to carve out great cuttings for the railway and the Grand Union Canal. Well-tended paths led us through horse pastures to the flooded chalk quarry of College Lake.
 
This very family-friendly and well-run nature reserve is looked after by BBOWT. Dawn chorus strolls, workshops, bird-watching, kids’ activities, guided walks – you’ll find them all here. We walked a long circuit of the lake, looking for nesting redshank and lapwing, while birdwatchers passed tantalising news of a visiting osprey that might be in the vicinity.
 
We saw neither hide nor hair of the osprey. That didn’t matter – not with the sun deciding to put in an afternoon appearance. We walked slowly back to Tring in the depths of the cutting beside the motionless, olive-green waters of the Grand Union Canal.
Start: Tring station, Herts, HP23 5QR (OS ref SP 951122)
 
Getting there: Rail to Tring; bus service 387 (Aldbury-Tring).
Road – Tring station is 1 mile east of Tring on Aldbury road.
 
Walk (7½ miles, easy underfoot, OS Explorer 181): Cross road; right; 100m beyond right bend, left (953124, ‘Ridgeway’/RW) up driveway. In 50m, ahead, to turn left along RW. In 600m fork right (951129, ‘RW footpath’, yellow arrows/YA, acorn waymarks). In ¾ mile, left at kissing gate (950139, ‘Bridleway’) down to road (945137). Left for 250m; right (946134, fingerpost) past Park Hill and Marshcroft farms to Grand Union Canal (939129). Right (YA) on path along east bank of canal, then past Bulbourne Farm (938135). At railway, left to B488 (938140). Left for 250m; right into College Lake Nature Reserve (935139). Walk Reserve Trail circuit. Back at Visitor Centre, right along path parallel to B488. In 250m (934137), right along road. Cross canal bridge; left along towpath for 1¼ miles to road at 2nd bridge (948121); left to Tring station.
 
Lunch: Badger Café, College Lake Visitor Centre
 
Accommodation: Pendley Manor, Cow Lane, Tring HP23 5QY (01442-891891, pendley-manor.co.uk)
 
College Lake Visitor Centre: (01442-826774, bbowt.org.uk) – open 9.30 – 5.00

visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:41
May 062017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Flamstead sits in the gently undulating clay-and-flint country where Hertfordshire slips over into Bedfordshire. On this spring morning bright sunlight played on the tile-hung houses, and lit the pleasing jumble of brick, flint and thin old tiles that composes the church of St Leonard at the heart of the village.

It was a day in a thousand, woods and fields all bursting into life under the warm sun. Central London lay less than an hour away – how could that possibly be? Luton-bound aeroplanes passed silently like silver fish across the blue pool of the sky; but down here, walking through the spring wheat with flints jingling under our boots, we felt as remote from them as could be.

Beyond the busy main street of Markyate we came into more rolling ploughlands where beans were beginning to push up dark green leaves in neatly drilled rows. A faint heat ripple shimmered above the sun-warmed clay. In the woods around Roe End the beeches were just coming into leaf, their upper works a froth of tender translucent green, a contrast to the sombre density of the storm-tattered cedars in the former parkland of Beechwood House.

Some of the ancient oaks standing barkless like dry ghosts might be old enough to have sheltered the wicked Lady of Cell Park, Markyate. The legend that attaches to Lady Katherine Ferrers is well known hereabouts – her marriage in 1648 at the age of fourteen to the heir of Beechwood, the robbing expeditions she embarked on with her highwayman lover, their hideout in Beechwood Park, and the bullet that ended her life at twenty-six. Are the youngsters who attend school in the great mansion nowadays taught that racy tale? Let’s hope so.

Beyond Beechwood Park we followed the stony old trackway of Dean Lane, where two blackcaps were conducting a song battle from the hedges. Dean Wood is a magical sort of place, sun-silvered and wren-haunted. We drifted on in a daze of sunlight, past the duck pond at The Lane House, a tumbling old cottage of many corners and nooks, and back toward Flamstead through woods hazed with bluebells, where wild cherry trees lifted a froth of pink blossom against the deep blue sky.
Start: Three Blackbirds PH, Flamstead, Herts, AL3 8BS (OS ref TL 078146).

Getting there: Bus service 34 (St Albans-Dunstable), 46 (Hemel Hempstead-Luton)
Road – Flamstead is signed off A5 Dunstable road, just west of M1 Jct 9.

Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 182): Right along Chapel Road, left down Friendless Lane. At fork with Mill Lane, right; in 200m, right (073146, Hertfordshire Way/HW). Follow HW waymarks to Markyate. At road, right to village street (662164). Left for 50m; left along Buckwood Road. By last house on left, left (057164, HW); follow HW waymarks for 3 miles to Jockey End via Roe End (048156), Kennels Lodge (040149), Beechwood House (046145) and Dean Lane (048141 – 042140). In Jockey End, left along road (041137); in 150m, right past allotments. At gate, leave HW and turn left (041134, yellow arrow). Fenced path through paddocks, across road (044131); field, paddocks, white arrow to The Lane House drive (048128).

Left here on Chiltern Way/CW; follow CW waymarks to Flamstead via road at Prior’s Spring (055136), Little Woodend Cottages (058136), Wood End Lane (067137) and Pietley Hill (073142).

Lunch: Three Blackbirds (01582-840330, threeblackbirdsflamstead.co.uk) or Spotted Dog (01582-841004, thespotteddog.co.uk), Flamstead.

Info: St Albans TIC (01727-864511)
Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk

Dawn Chorus Walk, 7 May: College Lakes Nature Reserve, Tring, Herts – bbowt.org.uk/events/2017/05/07/dawn-chorus-0

visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:21