Jan 222022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Looking back from lower slopes of Garway Hill 1 Looking back from lower slopes of Garway Hill 2 Jane on Garway Hill view east from upper slopes of Garway Hill twisted old thorn tree on Garway Hill

The white tips of snowdrops were peeking in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church at the gates of Kentchurch Court. This fine old dwelling, half stronghold and half house, tucked down behind trees in a corner of the River Monnow’s broad valley, has been in the possession of the same family since before the Norman Conquest.

We got a glimpse of a castellated turret as we followed the lane south beside the Monnow, the river hurrying its grey waters through the valley and away towards Monmouth. Sheep grazing the riverside pastures were decked in their winter plumage of dusky pink from foraging in the rich red mud.

Garway Hill lay squarely ahead, a bald crown above a collar of leafless trees. We found a path that skirted the southern slopes of the hill, ascending gradually through green fields with a fine view opening across the valley, slopes and skyline all softened in the haze the sun had drawn up from fields and woods lying cold and damp with winter.

At Little Adawent the proper climb began, a steep grassy path rising through bracken past mossy seeps of water and wind-twisted thorn trees. Overhead, a solitary skylark sang its little crested head off.

Garway Hill has a witchy reputation. A local man once suffered the misfortune of having his wife stolen by the fairies, so stories say. He waited till the wee folk under Garway brought her forth to dance, then snatched her away and ran with her to the top of the hill. As soon as he reached the summit the spell was broken, she awoke from her enchantment and the fairies went away to find another playmate.

You couldn’t get a less fantastical structure than the prosaic brick shelter at the top of Garway Hill. But the views today were magical, anyway, west to the conical Sugarloaf, the whaleback Skirrid and the long spine of the Black Mountains, east to the Malverns and the Cotswold Hills, all dreamy and insubstantial in the cloudy air.

Families were picnicking around the shelter, their junior mountaineers dashing about. A white pony followed us off the hill, before thinking better of his choice and turning aside towards a couple trailing the scent of peppermint.

A green lane took us back down to lower ground, where in the pastures along the homeward path new-born lambs would soon be calling in their feeble, treble voices, to the counterpoint of phlegmy contralto from their anxious mothers – a whisper in the inner ear from faraway spring.

How hard is it? 7½ miles; moderate; short, steep climb up Garway Hill.

Start: Bridge Inn, Kentchurch, HR2 0BY (OS ref SO 410258)

Getting there: Kentchurch is signposted from A465 (Abergavenny-Hereford) at Pontrilas.

Walk (OS Explorer 189): From Bridge Inn, right; ahead (‘Garway’) at junction; in 800m, right past St Mary’s Church (420257, ‘Garway’). In ¾ mile, left off road (424248) following waymarked Herefordshire Trail (gates, stiles, yellow arrows/YA) across fields. In 1 mile, by gate on right (438243, ‘Little Adawent’), bear left away from wall, up broad grass track to summit shelter of Garway Hill (437251). Aim for gate on left of radio mast (440255); green lane downhill; in ⅓ mile at phone pole (441261, ‘Herefordshire Trail), right to road. Left; at junction, ahead (443264, ‘Bagwyllydiart’). In 100m, left (443266, YA) across fields, skirting right hand edge of Burnt House Wood and on for 1½ miles (YAs) to road at Bannut Tree Farm (423263). Left to Kentchurch.

Lunch: Bridge Inn, Kentchurch (01981-241158, thebridgeinnkentchurch.com)

Accommodation: Temple Bar Inn, Ewyas Harold HR2 0EU (01981-240423, thetemplebarinn.co.uk)

Info: visitherefordshire.co.uk

 Posted by at 02:13
Jan 152022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Bright sky across the Lambourn Downs The Ridgeway on the Oxfordshire Downs 1 The Ridgeway on the Oxfordshire Downs 2 view from the Ridgeway over Childrey Warren 1 The Ridgeway on the Oxfordshire Downs 3 old trackway near Stancombe Farm 1 The Ridgeway on the Oxfordshire Downs 4 view from the Ridgeway over Childrey Warren 2 old trackway near Stancombe Farm 2 old trackway near Stancombe Farm 3 old trackway near Stancombe Farm 4 looking west from the track near Sheepdrove Farm

A cold and blowy midwinter’s morning over the chalk downs where Oxfordshire meets Berkshire. The racehorses exercising near Sparsholt Firs blew steamy breaths, and a brisk south-westerly wind shook the hawthorns and shivered the puddles along the upland tracks.

We squelched through mud as pale and glutinous as pancake batter to reach the grassy track of the ancient Ridgeway across Hackpen Hill. Long views opened across downland fields clipped and stubbled for winter, with leafless beech spinneys, rounded by the wind, standing along the ridges.

A redwing flew up into a bush and then straight and level across the stubble, displaying a dusky red flash along its flanks. Berries not yet plucked by the birds hung wrinkling in the thorn trees through which the strong breeze came whistling.

The roll of the land hid the depths of the dry chalk valley to the north. Down there at Childrey Warren archaeologists recently made an extraordinary discovery. Among the remains of 26 people, buried some two thousand years ago, they found the skeleton of a woman placed in a bizarre ritual position, legs splayed, hands on head, feet amputated and placed beside her. Beneath her body lay another, that of a new-born baby.

We walked on along the Ridgeway, speculating on all the births, deaths and ceremonies this 5,000-year-old track must have seen. Bygone travellers took their lives in their hands when they set out in winter along the Ridgeway, where after prolonged rain the mud could lie deep enough to trap or even drown the unwary. Today a spattered trouser leg was the worst inconvenience we faced.

Down in the vale the clustered houses of Letcombe Bassett lay below chalk slopes corrugated and hollowed by the storms and floods of millennia. The Ridgeway dipped and rose, a broad green ribbon, to reach Gramp’s Hill. Here we turned down a farm road, southward into a sheltered valley where the wind dropped to a gentle sigh in the sycamores.

A flock of fieldfares, slim grey cousins of the redwings, flew purposefully across the way with cackling cries. Beside the path pale green catkins jigged on hazel twigs and dried heads of cow parsley nodded stiffly, animated by the wind.

The rutted track snaked up again to pass the rusty barns and sheds at Stancombe Farm. Opposite, by contrast, lay the organically farmed, immaculately kept domain of Sheepdrove Farm – a dewpond with a duck house, tree plantations with permissive paths, new hedges, wildlife corridors. An agricultural landscape ahead of the curve, as wildlife-friendly farming begins its journey to becoming the norm across our countryside.

We turned for home through the Sheepdrove fields. Jackdaws congregated raucously in the trees, and half a dozen red kites went sideslipping over a beanfield, their chestnut backs glowing in the low winter sun.

How hard is it? 6½ miles; easy; clear downland tracks

Start: Sparsholt Firs car park, near Lambourn, OX12 9XB (OS ref SU 344851)

Getting there: Sparsholt Firs is on B4001 between Lambourn and Wantage

Walk (OS Explorer 170): Walk east along Ridgeway. In 1¾ miles on Gramp’s Hill, right along road (370840). Beyond Parsonage Hill Barn keep ahead on grassy track (367834). In ¼ mile, at ‘Ridgeway closed to motor vehicles’ sign, fork right (367830). In nearly 1 mile pass Stancombe Farm entrance on right (356820); in ½ mile at red barn, right (349816, ‘Byway, No Through Road’). In 700m by houses (346823), keep left on grassy byway; in 1½ miles at B4001 (341845), right to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Greyhound Inn, Letcombe Regis, Wantage OX12 9JL (01235-771969, thegreyhoundletcombe.co.uk

Info: nationaltrail.co.uk, sheepdrove.com

 Posted by at 01:15
Jan 082022
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Moorland farm above Bollihope Burn steep climb up from Bollihope Burn Harehope Quarry crinoids in the car park - Frosterley marble River Wear at Frosterley lane near Bridge End gravelly flood banks of River Wear velvety delvings of the old Frosterley quarries bridge over Bollihope Burn old tramway near Frosterley 'Frosterley marble' in a stream bed

Looking round the Chapel of the Nine Altars in Durham Cathedral, you can’t help but be struck by the beautiful floors and columns of ‘Frosterley marble’, dark polished limestone speckled with white fossils.

Frosterley lies in Weardale, upriver from Durham. The village is proud of its celebrated product. There’s a great unpolished lump of the stuff in the car park, formed 325 million years ago and covered in circular fossils of sea lilies with delicate rays.

From Frosterley we followed the Mineral Valley Walk as it rose to run round the rim of an old quarry. Sunk below the level of the fields were big lumpy spoil heaps, delvings and trackways, their awkward angles all smoothed and softened by the grass that covered them in a green velvet nap. Looking down on this from the striated limestone crags of the former quarry faces, it was hard to imagine the thunderous noise, the dust, the hard labour and raw surroundings of a hundred years ago.

Beyond the quarry we turned down the gorge of the Bollihope Burn on a former railway track. A red grouse scuttled away in a panic. The path squeezed between adjacent rock faces where streaks of dusky red hinted at the presence of iron. Across the burn some hopeful lead miner had driven a speculative adit, a tunnel leading from a crude hole into utter darkness.

A flight of steps led up to open sheep pastures, hillside farms and a glimpse of long ridges of moorland beneath a cloudy sky. Then we dropped back down beside the Bollihope Burn, looping back to Frosterley along the rim of Harehope Quarry, another huge subterranean moonscape now repurposed as an ecological education centre. Field classrooms, wildlife ponds, summerhouses and a wind turbine have taken over from heavy machinery, rubble mountains and polluted pools.

On the way we crossed the dry bed of a stream. There below the footbridge were great slabs of Frosterley marble, dark rock smoothed by water and patterned with an intricate jumble of white fossils. It was remarkable to think of the journey this ancient seabed deposition made in medieval times, cut and shaped to rise in polished glory in the cathedral of the Prince Bishops twenty miles away across the hills.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; field paths, old trackways

Start: Frosterley car park, Frosterley DL13 2QW (OS ref NZ 026370)

Getting there: Bus: 101 (Stanhope – Bishop Auckland)
Road – Frosterley is on A689 between Wolsingham and Stanhope

Walk (OS Explorer OL31; Frosterley Walks leaflet downloadable at durham.gov.uk/media): Right along A689. Left (‘White Kirkley’) across River Wear. In 150m, left (022367) beside chapel (‘Mineral Valleys Walk’/MVW). In ½ mile, right at kissing gate (029365, MVW); keep fence on right round quarry rim. Through gate (027362); down slope; right (MVW) to road (025360). Left (MVW); by bridge, right (026360, stile, MVW) along Weardale Way/WW. In ¾ mile pass (don’t cross) bridge (020354); in 40m, right up steps; right at top to gate. Left up fence; in 150m, right (020356) on field track to road (025360). Right; in 150m, left (026360, stile) on WW. In 700m, by footbridge on right, ahead (033361, stile, ‘Permissive Path’); in 150m, left along WW (035360). In 500m at gate WW turns right (039363); left down road. In ½ mile at level crossing, don’t cross (036368); bear left on path. In 600m, right to cross railway (030368); ahead on lane to Frosterley churchyard (026368) and Front Street.

Lunch/Accommodation: Bonny Moorhen, Frosterley DL13 2TS (01388-526867, facebook.com/thebonnymoorhen)

Info: Durham Dales Centre, Stanhope (01388-527650), thisisdurham.com; northpennines.org.uk
Harehope Quarry: 07807-002032, harehopequarry.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:34
Dec 252021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
view above Wydon Farm view from Selworthy towards Exmoor view from Selworthy towards Exmoor 2 gorse by the moor track above Selworthy Combe trig pillar and cairn on Selworthy Beacon cairn on Selworthy Beacon 1 cairn on Selworthy Beacon 2 looking seaward from Selworthy Beacon easterly view from the South West Coast Path easterly view from the South West Coast Path 2 path near Wydon Farm homeward path maize mud moor pony homeward path towards Selworthy

Above the thatched cottages of Selworthy, the whitewashed tower of All Saints Church looked out across a wide green valley to the high undulating skyline of the Exmoor hills. A perfect view for a perfect winter’s day of blue sky and brisk wind.

A buzz like that of an angry wasp showed where someone was busy cutting wood in Selworthy Combe. The path rose through the trees between banks of tiny trumpet-shaped mosses. A robin perched on a post, puffing out his red breast and trilling a silvery call, quite unafraid as we passed within touching distance.

A brook came rustling down over neat little log spillways, its soft rich chuckle accompanying us all the way up through the oak and holly groves to the moor above. A contrast as abrupt as a knife cut, abandoning the shelter of the woods for the open moor where a biting wind ruffled the seas of heather and gorse running away to the horizon.

The National Trust and Holnicote Estate take great care and trouble over these 12,000 acres of upland, moor and combes. The woods are sensitively managed, the farms well run, and the hundreds of miles of footpath properly signposted.

We followed a broad bridleway through the gorse to the cairn on Selworthy Beacon. From here the view was mighty, over the rolling Exmoor hills, east and west along the curved cliffs of the Somerset coast, and out north across a Bristol Channel as pale as ice to the misty shores of South Wales under a long triple bar of cloud.

Above us only sky, as blue as delicate porcelain. We skirted a harras of Exmoor ponies, long tails billowing in the wind, and struck east along the South West Coast Path with the sea at our left elbow. A long cattle train of belted Galloway heifers went gadding and lurching along the skyline at a clumsy canter, delighted to be out in the open air.

The coast path led between sheep pastures through wind-stunted gorse bushes as stout as trees. A solitary bee buzzed among the gold gorse flowers, first raider of the year.

We turned inland and dropped down to Wydon Farm, hidden in a cleft so steep that, like Lucy in ‘The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle,’ it looked ‘as though we could have dropped a pebble down the chimney.’

The homeward path lay along high-banked farm lanes. Tiny lambs bleated in quavering voices for their mothers, and a little egret stepped fastidiously along a streamlet, searching with gimlet eyes for any morsel to assuage its winter hunger.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; moderate hill walk, very well waymarked

Start: All Saints Church car park (£1 donation), Selworthy, Minehead, Somerset TA24 8TR (OS ref SS 920468)

Getting there: Selworthy is signed off A39 (Minehead to Porlock)

Walk (OS Explorer OL9): Left along road; right by church and follow ‘Selworthy Beacon’ fingerposts for 1 mile to Selworthy Beacon (919480). At cairn/trig pillar, left for 100m; right down to South West Coast Path (917481). Right along SWCP; in 1½ miles, right (938476, ‘Wydon ½’ fingerpost). In ½ mile at Wydon Farm, right (938470) on road. In 400m fork right (939466, ‘Hindon’). At Hindon Farm, left (933466) up track to road (931464). Ahead; in 300m, right (932461, ‘Selworthy Beacon’). At East Lynch Farm fork right (929462, ‘bridleway’). In 100m fork right again; in 50m, left (927463, stile, ‘public footpath’). Along fence to stile (935464); half right to road (923466); left into Selworthy.

Lunch/accommodation: Ship Inn, Porlock TA24 8QD (01643-862507, shipinnporlock.co.uk)

Info: nationaltrust.org/selworthy

 Posted by at 01:57
Dec 182021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Wintry landscape of the Derwent Valley Cromford Canal 1 Leawood pump house 1 Leawood pump house and Cromford Canal bridge on the Cromford Canal Cromford Canal 2 cast iron bridge on Cromford Canal Cromford Canal 3 Cromford Canal towpath Cromford Canal 5 Derwent Valley landscape beech leaves smother the incline on the Cromford & High Peak Railway dark mouth of the catch pit on the Cromford & High Peak Railway

A mix of bruise-coloured cloud and patches of wintry blue sky roofed in the High Peak of Derbyshire. Here in the Derwent Valley the A6 road, the Cromford Canal, the Midland Railway and the Cromford & High Peak Railway all crowd together along the shallow-sided gorge cut through the limestone and sandstone by the snaking Derwent.

We crossed the Midland line and the fast-flowing Derwent, and turned east along the old canal. Sir Richard Arkwright built mills and massed workers’ housing in this damp green valley in the 1770s, after his clever invention of the water frame allowed unskilled workers to spin cotton without ceasing. With the canal bringing in raw cotton and taking the textiles away for sale, the Derwent Valley ruled the cotton world for a few decades.

This morning all was quiet along the Cromford Canal, the loudest sounds the musical squeaking of dabchicks as they dived with a neat plop below the scatter of golden oak and birch leaves on the surface.

Beside the canal rose the tall chimney of Leawood pump house, built in 1849. Its severe classical style recalled an era when even a humble shed for a water pumping engine needed to be raised to glory by a dignity of architecture proper to Prosperity and Progress.

We passed through an echoing tunnel and emerged to find a pair of swans posed on the canal like a picture postcard, one daintily selecting specific morsels of greenstuff from the surface, the other preening breast and neck in a cloud of down. Ahead on the skyline a sunlit quarry cliff was topped by a tall obelisk like a lighthouse, the stark Crich Stand memorial to the dead of the First World War.

At Whatstandwell we crossed the Derwent and took to narrow stone-walled lanes that rose up the southern slopes of the valley. From Watergate Farm tucked low in its hollow we climbed past farms and sheep pastures, descending at last through a beechwood carpeted with bronze-coloured leaves to the steep incline of the horse-drawn Cromford & High Peak Railway.

Near the bottom a black cave mouth opened beside the track – a catch pit, into which breakaway wagons could be diverted as they hurtled down the incline at over 100 mph. Peering into the catch pit, we saw the crumpled remains of one such truck, a salutary reminder of how danger once went hand-in-hand with working men’s employment.

How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; towpath, hill paths, lanes

Start: High Peak Junction car park, near Cromford DE4 5AA (OS ref SK 314560)

Getting there: Bus TP2 from Cromford
Road – car park is off Lea Road, signed off A6 between Cromford and Whatstandwell.

Walk (OS Explorer OL24): Follow ‘High Peak Junction’ across River Derwent and railway. Left along left bank of canal (‘Ambergate’). Pass pumping house; in 150m, right across canal (316556, ‘Ambergate’) and on for 1¾ miles to Whatstandwell (332544). Right on A6 across river; on right bend, across stile ahead (330544, yellow arrow/YA, ‘Derwent Valley Walk’/DVW). Up to cross road and on (squeeze stile). In 150m, left (330545, YA) up steps. Follow DVW and YAs. In ½ mile, at gate (322541), don’t go through; turn right downhill (‘Midshires Way’/MW, ‘Cromford’) to Watergate Farm (322544). Cross drive; follow MW up fields to walled lane (320546); left (MW). At Whatfield Farm (319547) up right side of buildings (MW); on for 500m to cross B5035 (316551). Follow lane (MW) for 1 mile to High Peak Trail incline (304562). Right to car park.

Lunch/Accommodation: Greyhound Hotel, Cromford DE4 3QE (01629-823172, thegreyhoundatcromford.co.uk)

Info: visitpeakdistrict.com

 Posted by at 13:47
Dec 112021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
view north from foot of The Skirrid 1 fabulous barn, Llanvihangel Court view north from foot of The Skirrid 2 view north from foot of The Skirrid 3 view north from foot of The Skirrid 4 Skirrid peak from western side 1 Skirrid peak from western side 2 Skirrid peak from western side 3 path to the peak 1 path to the peak 2 Skirrid peak from northwest 1

The River Severn’s estuary was at a fantastically low tide as we crossed the ‘new’ bridge on a day of no cloud whatsoever. Looking seaward through the stroboscopic flicker of the bracing wires, we could see the tidal outcrop of the English stones fully exposed and slathered in red mud.

Downriver, the little hump of Denny Island off Portishead stood marooned in a huge desert of sand. Other sand and mud banks lay around the widening tideway like beached whales.

We were heading to Llanvihangel Crucorney, a placename whose sound put the immortal walking writer John Hillaby in mind of ‘a toy train scampering over points’. Llanvihangel Crucorney lies in the River Monnow valley that forms the eastern boundary of the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. It’s a great jumping off point for walks westward into those mountains, but today we were aiming east to climb The Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr, the ‘big split one’), a tall hill that lies north-south with its head cocked and spine raised like an alert old dog.

The Skirrid is made of tough old red sandstone lying in a heavy lump on top of thin layers of weaker mudstone – hence its history of slippage and landslides. We came up to it in cold wind and brilliant sunshine across fields of sheep, skirting its western flank through scrub woods, gorse bushes blooming yellow and holly trees in a blaze of scarlet berries, with the dark purple crags of the northern end hanging over little rugged passes of landslide rocks fallen in a jumble.

The ascent is short, steep and stepped, but it’s the sort of ‘starter mountain’ that families with six-year-olds can manage. Many were out – mums, dads, children, students, ‘maturer’ folk such as us.

Once at the peak in this unbelievably clear weather we gasped to see the landscape laid out in pin-sharp detail a thousand feet below and fifty miles off – Malverns, Black Mountains; farmlands rising and falling towards Gloucestershire and the Midlands; the slanting tabletops of Penyfan and Cribyn over in the Brecon Beacons; Cotswolds, Mendip, Exmoor; and the south Wales coast trending round into far-off Pembrokeshire.

Nearer at hand a grey streak of softly glimmering sea showed the tide rising in the Severn Estuary past Brean Down’s promontory, the slight disc of Flat Holm and the hump of her sister island Steep Holm, their lower edges lost in mist so that they looked like floating islands in some fabulous sea.
How hard is it? 6½ miles; strenuous short climb, some stumbly parts.

Start: Skirrid Mountain Inn, Llanvihangel Crucorney, Abergavenny NP7 8DH (OS ref SO 326206)

Getting there: Bus X3 (Hereford-Abergavenny)
Road – Llanvihangel Crucorney is on A465 (Abergavenny-Hereford)

Walk (OS Explorer OL13): Opposite church, lane (gateposts) to cross A465. Down drive; right at wall (325204); follow Beacons Way/BW arrow waymarks. Pass wood-framed barn; in 100m, right (328202, BW, gate). Follow BW across fields to lane at Pen-y-parc (336192). Right; beyond ‘Steppes’ house, left (332191, stile); follow BW to foot of Skirrid (333186). Right on path along west side of Skirrid to rejoin BW at southern foot of mountain (327169). Follow BW up to Skirrid summit (331183). Return; in 200m, sharp left beside hollow (331181); path descends to north foot (333185). Retrace BW back to lane at Steppes (332191). Left; in ½ mile, opposite Llwyn Franc, right (325190, gate, fingerpost ‘Crossways’). Follow hedge on right to gate/stile (325192). Half left across field, crossing Great Llwyn Franc drive (324193); on down to Crossways House (323200) and Llanvihangel Crucorney.

Lunch/Accommodation: Skirrid Mountain Inn, Llanvihangel Crucorney (01873-890258, skirridmountaininn.co.uk)

Info: Abergavenny TIC (01873-853254, visitwales.com)

 Posted by at 01:32
Dec 042021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
leaving Sydling St Nicholas along the rutted path of the Wessex Ridgeway Norden Hill from the River Frome valley 2 winter shadows in the lane near Cattistock Norden Hill from the River Frome valley 1 wintry fields near Maiden Newton view west from Wessex Ridgeway toward Frome Valley looking back east over Sydling St Nicholas 2 looking back east over Sydling St Nicholas 1 Sydling St Nicholas church rustic fence by Sydling St Nicholas churchyard teasels by the path to Sydling St Nicholas muddy lane to Sydling St Nicholas path up Middle Hill Lankham Bottom and the flank of Middle Hill 1

Sunk deep in the green downland valley of the River Frome lies Maiden Newton, a sprawling village, with its church tower upstanding yet far below the skyline. Dorset dialect poet William Barnes caught the scene in his poem ‘The Fancy Feäir’:

‘The Frome, wi’ ever-water’d brink
Do run where sholvèn hills do zink,
Wi’ housen all a’cluster’d roun’
The parish tow’rs below the down.’

We found the brink of the shallow, gravel-bottomed River Frome well watered, and well muddied too. It was a squelch and a splosh up the riverside path to Cattistock. Sir George Gilbert Scott designed Cattistock’s church with a remarkable tall tower. It beckons you into the crooked street of the village that William Barnes called ‘elbow-streeted Catt’stock.’

Cattistock has kept its village amenities intact – church, post office, cricket field, Fox & Hounds inn, and an active pack of fox hounds. We heard them give tongue from their kennels as we headed east up the chalk grassland slopes of Lankham Bottom.

The low angle of the winter sun made relief models of the field boundaries on the downs, their shadows stark against the green slopes. The tattered old hawthorns that marked out the path were in full crimson berry, and mistle thrushes dashed among them like busy Christmas shoppers, never pausing for more than a moment.

Up at Stagg’s Cross we braved the rushing traffic tide of the A37, then sauntered along a forgotten old strip of road where moss grew through the tarmac and down across the pastures to where Sydling St Nichols unravelled along its watercress stream.

Ancient Court House Farm and tithe barn lay together alongside a church guarded by fat-cheeked gargoyles choking on their waterspouts. As we sat in the church porch a terrier came wriggling up, very keen to find out what was in our sandwiches (it was ham and mustard).

The Wessex Ridgeway hurdled us back across the downs, a broad and muddy old track in a sunny green tunnel of trees that rose to the ridge and fell away west towards Maiden Newton. The western sun turned all the clipped hedges to gold, and over the invisible sea beyond the hills to the south a strong clear coastal light silvered the base of clouds slowly building out there.

How hard is it? 8½ miles; easy downland tracks; some muddy and puddled stretches.

Start: Maiden Newton railway station, Dorchester DT2 0AE (SY 598979)

Getting there: Rail to Maiden Newton; Bus 212 (Dorchester-Yeovil)
Road: Maiden Newton is on A386 (Crewkerne-Dorchester)

Walk (OS Explorer 117): Down Station Road; left at junction. In 100m, right past church; left (597979, ‘Wessex Ridgeway’/WR, ‘Frome Valley Trail’ fish arrow waymark). In ¾ mile, right at road (590988); in 650m under railway; left at junction (592993). In 100m, left (‘Macmillan Way’); fork left in Cattistock churchyard; ahead up street. Just beyond Post Office, right by Rose Cottage (591998, ‘Staggs Cross’); follow bridleway to pass Manor Farm. On up Lankham Bottom; in 700m by metal gate on right, half left (604000) past post, up slope to gate (606002). On to gate onto road (612005); right to cross A37 (613004). Follow old road; left at junction (620002); in 600m, right (626001, gate with shackle) across 2 fields; left along farm track (628998). In 200m, right (630998, stile) to junction (630994); keep ahead; in 100m, right (kissing gate, ‘Breakheart Hill’). Left down east end of church; cross stile; right on track for 550m to meet Wessex Ridgeway (627993). Left; follow WR for 2 miles back to Maiden Newton.

Lunch/Accommodation: Fox & Hounds, Cattistock DT2 0JH (01300-320444, foxandhoundsinn.com)

Info: Dorchester TIC (01305-267992)

 Posted by at 01:52
Nov 272021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Quainton windmill and village, looking to the Chilterns from Simber Hill Somnolent cattle on Simber Hill view from Simber Hill Oving church from Matthew's Way On Quainton Hill Descending Conduit Hill towards Fulbrook deserted medieval village Top of Quainton Hill view from Simber Hill 2 view from Simber Hill 3 Sir Richard Winwood (d. 1688) and wife Anne (d. 1694), in Quainton church view from Simber Hill 5 Quainton Mill and village, looking to the Chiltern Hills

At Quainton in the Buckinghamshire lowlands, the sails and white cap of a windmill overlook the sloping village green. On a cold cloudy afternoon, jolly chat and laughter came spilling from the George & Dragon.

Leaving the village on the North Bucks Way, we climbed the nape of Simber Hill. Somnolent cattle lay chewing the cud with eyes half closed in what looked like a state of transcendental bliss.

From Quainton Hill beyond, the views were remarkable, south to the long dark barrier of the Chiltern Hills, west and north over lower ground where whaleback hills rose from pasture striped with hedges. These green undulations looked beautiful from up here.

Down at the foot of Conduit Hill we passed between the shallow hummocks of Fulbrook, one of several deserted medieval villages hereabouts. Fulbrook probably lost most of its population during the Black Death pandemic of 1349, and the Duke of Bedford finished the job eighty years later when he converted the land into a deer park.

We followed a path across tussocky pasture and fields of dark grey plough to reach the road to North Marston. In a lane below the church we found a covered well with an old-fashioned pump. A sculpture of a boot stood attached to the stone trough.

Towards the end of the 13th century the rector of North Marston was Sir John Schorne, a renowned healer and miracle worker famed for capturing the Devil and imprisoning him in a boot. Sir John discovered the holy well during a deadly drought, and its water was said to cure gout and toothache. Judging by the agonised expression and contorted body of the rector’s icon at the well, he himself might have suffered from both afflictions.

The homeward path followed Matthew’s Way, a rural route dedicated to the memory of ‘a very special little boy’. His round infant face looked out of a photo placed beside the way, and we carried that image in our heads across the sheep pastures.

Under the grey cloud cap the western sky showed a crack of silver. As we approached Quainton a brown hare sprang up and darted away over the corrugations of medieval ridge and furrow, a lithe wild shape in this well-ordered landscape.
How hard is it? 7½ miles; easy; well marked field paths

Start: Village green, Quainton, Bucks HP22 4AR (OS ref SP 747201)

Getting there: Bus 16 (Aylesbury – Marsh Gibbon)
Road: Quainton is signed from A41 (Aylesbury – Bicester) at Waddesdon

Walk (OS Explorer 192): At top of green, left. By playground, right (745202); follow North Bucks Way north towards Quainton Hill. In ¾ mile, at top of rise with gate and blue arrow on right (750215), left to skyline gate; fork right down Conduit Hill. Cross road (752225); half right, following Outer Aylesbury Ring/OAR) across fields. In ½ mile, under power lines, right (761228, kissing gate/KG); aim for shed and stile to road (764228, OAR). Left into North Marston. In ¾ mile, right at T-junction (774228); fork left in front of Pilgrim PH; follow lane to church (777227). From south gate, right; left along Schorne Lane; fork left by well (777225). In 30m, right (KG),;follow well-marked Matthew’s Way for 2¼ miles across fields to Carter’s Lane (765202). Right; in 400m at Quainton Dairy, left (764205) on farm drive, passing Denham Hill Farm (759204), gates of Ladymead Farm (758202) and Denham Lodge (753204). Cross cattle grid; in 100m, left to road (751202); right into Quainton.

Lunch: George & Dragon, Quainton HP22 4AR (01296-655436, georgeanddragonquainton.co.uk)

Accommodation: The Lion, Waddesdon HP18 0JB (01296-651227, thelionwaddesdon.co.uk)

Info: visitbuckinghamshire.org

 Posted by at 03:31
Nov 202021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
lovely evening light on the homeward path field edge path beyond Ashley wet fields and furrows near Ashley old sunken lane towards Beacon Hill pond on the Roman road from Winchester to Old Sarum twisty green lane near Beacon Hill view from Beacon Hill towards Farley Mount Paulet St John's monument to his horse Beware Chalk Pit. winter trees of Farley Mount chalky fields near Forest Extra - what an intriguing name! dogwood's spectacular leaves and flowers hedges thick with old man's beard field path to Ashley

You couldn’t find a better place than Farley Mount Country Park for children and dogs to run about and kick up the leaves on a cold winter’s day. Bright pink spindle berries lent a touch of colour to the pale grey winter woods. A young wolfhound came up with a five-foot-long stick in his jaws, winking his toffee-colour eyes sideways at us as though to say, “Aren’t I the clever boy?”

In a shallow valley north of the woods we turned along a grassy farm track between rolling fields of beet and wheat stubble. In the hazel hedges crimson stalks of dogwood sprouted green-white flowers and deeply creased leaves turning dark mauve.

Nearer the silos and sheds of intriguingly named Forest Extra a dead starling lay in the grass verge of the lane, wings outspread. Last night’s rain had coalesced into evenly spaced droplets all over the water-resistant feathers, like raindrops on a newly proofed coat.

A pale path of chalky mud led over the winter wheat. On the opposite slopes starlings perched on the backs of fat sheep that grazed among the vines of Chalk Vale Vineyard.

The hamlet of Ashley and its castle mound lay hidden among trees beyond a stout wall. King John stayed here often while hunting, a guest of William Briwere, described by contemporary chronicler Roger of Wendover as an ‘evil adviser’ to the king.

In the fields beyond, large old beech trees, stripped of leaves, raised their graceful domed heads against the grey sky. We dropped down to the valley bottom and the Roman road from Winchester to Old Sarum, these days a narrow lane as straight as a die. From here a good track rose up the flank of Beacon Hill, running through groves of twisty yews.

At the crest of the down we stopped to take in a 40-mile prospect of downs and woods, ribbed ploughland and smooth grazing. By the homeward path rose a white steeple, raised in 1733 by Paulet St John to honour the horse he named Beware Chalk Pit.

Steed and rider had jumped a hedge while out foxhunting and tumbled into a chalk quarry 25 feet deep. Miraculously, both escaped unscathed, and rode to triumph in the Hunter’s Plate handicap the following year. Huzzah!

How hard is it? 9 miles; easy; woodland and farmland tracks, some muddy

Start: Hawthorn car park, Pitt Down, near Sparsholt SO21 2JG approx. (OS ref SU 415292)

Getting there: Sparsholt is signed from B3049 (Winchester–Stockbridge). Follow ‘Farley Mount’ from here.

Walk (OS Explorer OL32): Facing away from road, from left corner of car park follow forest road north. In 250m, at barrier, follow main roadway to right. In 300m, left up forest road (417294). In ½ mile, leave trees (418303); in ⅔ mile, left in valley bottom (418313). In 1 mile pass Forest Extra (403319); in ¾ mile, left off road past gate (390319, arrow) on well-trodden field path. In ⅔ mile at far side of 4th field, up steps through hedge (384311); left (yellow arrow) along field path. In 1 mile, descend to valley track (397301); right to road (399296); right. In ½ mile, hairpin back left across field (390297; blue arrow, then green arrow; ‘Clarendon Way’/CW). Follow CW for 1½ miles across Beacon Hill (detouring right to horse monument at 403290) to road (408293). Cross onto path; in 50m, through gate; fork left on CW at edge of trees to car park.

Lunch: Plough Inn, Sparsholt SO21 2NW (01962-776353, the.littlepubgroup.co.uk)

Accommodation: The Old Vine, 8 Great Minster St, Winchester SO23 9HA (01962-854616, oldvinewinchester.com)

Info: Winchester TIC (01962-840500)

@somerville_c

 Posted by at 01:01
Nov 132021
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
mine reservoir, Gonamena, near Minions tin mining landscape at Gonamena, near Minions tin mine ruins near Minions old tramway above the Phoenix mine side track to the old tramway Quarry pond below The Cheesewring The Cheesewring, Stowe's Hill Stowe's Hill and The Cheesewring The Hurlers and the tin mine pumping house, Minions The Pipers, turned to stone for bagpiping on the Sabbath The Hurlers, with Stowe's Hill and The Cheesewring beyond old tin mine pumping house at Minions

On Bodmin Moor stand sixty or so stout lads, all turned to stone for daring to play at hurling on a Sunday. As for an impious pair of music-makers who blew their bagpipes on the sacred day – why, there they are alongside, struck to stone for ever more.

Cornwall is full of Neolithic monuments and hoary legends, but the three conjoined stone circles of The Hurlers and their attendant pair of Pipers are tremendously impressive in their flattish moorland setting at the edge of the old tin mining and granite quarrying village of Minions.

From the Hurlers we made north across the moor to scramble among a clitter of boulders to the top of Stowe’s Hill, an abrupt bump in this wild landscape. Up at the summit, the winds and frosts of millennia have weathered the coarse granite into tors or piles of slabs, tremendously undercut, so smoothed and shaped that they seem more like artistic installations than natural features.

Most photogenic of all is The Cheesewring, a stack of wedges piled up as the result of a boulder-chucking contest between St Tuc and Giant Uther – so some say.

We skeltered down the hillside through a quarry of black cliffs where jackdaws glided in and out of the cracks that held their nests. From the quarry mouth a wriggle of former tramways led away. We followed one past a pair of ominous pit shafts, dark bushy holes chuting straight down and away from the upper world.

Below lay the site of the Phoenix mine, out of which six hundred Victorian workers dug tin, copper and manganese. Ruined sheds lay around the feet of a tremendous black stone engine house, from which a great red chimney pointed like a finger in the sky.

We dropped down into the valley and up a scrubby hillside to join the broad, firm track-bed of another old industrial railway. It was a three-mile walk back to Minions, trudging a circle round the waist of Caradon Hill past massive mine ruins, deep quarry canyons with rain-sculpted flanks, and unexpected corners of green leaves and trickling streams.

You could spend all your time walking the delectable coasts of Cornwall, and never even dream that these extraordinary and historic landscapes lie just inland – the other side of the county’s coin.

How hard is it? 6½ miles; moderate moorland walk; a little rock scrambling at The Cheesewring.

Start: Hurlers car park, Minions, Liskeard PL14 5LE (OS ref SX 260711)

Getting there: Bus 74 (Liskeard)
Road – Minions is signed off B3254, Liskeard (A38) – Launceston (A30)

Walk: From car park follow track to The Pipers twin stones (257713), then The Hurlers stone circles (258714). Head north to climb Stowe’s Hill to The Cheesewring granite tor (258724). Descent right (east) side to track through quarry (259723) and on. Pass two fenced mine shafts (260722); in 50m, left down to old tramway (262722). Right; in ¼ mile, fork left at granite marker post (264719) to cross road (265717). Stiles, yellow arrows (YA) to road (267716). Left; in 100m, right (gate) down to cross stream (268715). Don’t turn left (YA), but climb slope to disused railway (269712); left. In 1¼ miles, just past spoil heap (279701), bear left on track to Tokenbury Corner car park (280697). Right on old railway. In ¾ mile pass engine house and chimney; through arch (269698). In ½ mile, just past reservoir in a dip on right, fork left (264701) into dip. At ‘Private’ gate, left across granite stile (263703); right on green track to Minions.

Lunch/Accommodation: Cheesewring Hotel, Minions (01579-362321, cheesewringhotel.co.uk)

Info: Liskeard TIC (01579-349148)
@somerville_c

 Posted by at 01:56