A very pleasant 19 mile walk through the East Warwickshire and West Northamptonshire hills – The walk starts at Napton-on-the-Hill, and goes through Marston Doles, Priors Hardwick, Byfield and Hellidon. Pub stops were at The Cross Tree at Byfield and The Bridge at Napton. Other features include Shuckburgh Park and the watershed!
|Date||12th April 2008|
|Time Taken||10 hours|
|Average Speed||2.2 mph|
|Dogs||Angel & Rolo|
|Map||Landranger 151 (Stratford-upon-Avon)|
The walk starts in the Warwickshire village of Napton-on-the-Hill (map 1). The village circles a hill, but only the church and windmill are built on the summit. Although the hill is only about 500ft high (that’s quite big for this part of the country) there are some excellent views across the landscape as there isn’t any other high ground to the West and North. This site has some great photos of the view (much better than mine!).
Follow the road south from Napton-on-the-Hill towards Marston Doles. At the road junction after Chapel Green, take the footpath into fields (map 2). The footpath cuts across a field and then runs parallel to the road. Watch out for the inquisitive sheep who presumably thought we had food! Go past the disused remains of a canal spur and wharf (map 3), and go across the fields until you are walking parallel to the main canal. Enter the tiny hamlet of Marston Doles – turn left onto the road (Welsh Road) and then immediately take the right-hand track going south (map 4).
When you reach the house, keep following the track to the left. At the end of the track, enter the field (straight ahead – ignore the path to the right) (map 5) and follow the footpath into the wood – the footpath goes through the wood, and pops out again at the top of the field – keep heading south across the fields (there isn’t really an obvious path to follow – so just head in the general direction) until you reach Priors Hardwick (map 6). There is an amazing amount of historic data on wikipedia about Priors Hardwick – including gems like agricultural output in 1801! It would be interesting to see a comparison with present day!
Go through the village, past the Church, and head down Lower End, taking the footpath on the left (map 7). Cut through the first field, and turn right into the next field. At the end of the field join the bridleway, running between two rows of bushes, heading roughly east. At the end of the bridleway, cross the road, and join a footpath heading across the field (towards the barn) (map 8 ). At the barn, take the footpath across the field, heading south east (this isn’t well marked!). At this point (map 9), we stopped for a well earned rest!
Keep following along the edge of the field, and at the end turn left into the next field. The farmer around here obviously doesn’t approve of walkers (or even riders on the bridleway), as the gates between fields are securely tied – fortunately Angel was in a jumping mood and managed to jump over them all without having to be lifted over! Follow along the southern edge of this field, looking out for the point at a junction of paths (map 10), were you want to cross the stream and continue across the fields heading roughly south east. Cut through the small wood (map 11), and follow the path through the next few fields – fortunately the farmer who owns this land has clearly marked the paths so they are easy to follow. The path comes out onto a road (The Twistle according to Google Maps) – start following the road towards Byfield, taking the small path on the left into the village.
I always find it slightly annoying that, despite showing the accurate location of all kinds of stuff, OS maps seem to consistently fail to show the accurate location of pubs! In this case it took an extra 10 minutes of so to find The Cross Tree, located on the Banbury Road (A361) (map 12). Here we enjoyed a very pleasant pub lunch, and an excellent real ale (unfortunately I have forgotten the name, but I am sure Angus will remind me!) – the helpful staff very kindly cooked up a burger for the dogs for only a token charge!! (dogs are welcome in the bar, although we stayed outside as it was quite a nice day, and the sun was shining).
From the pub, follow the Banbury Road though the village. At the roundabout, take the first turn and look for a path between the walls (map 13). This path comes out into a field – turn right and follow the edge of the field. Near the farm buildings, turn right across the bridge, and then almost immediately turn left and follow the track. At the trees, bear to the left, and follow the edge of the tree line, eventually you cut through the strip of trees. Here we came across the amazing sight of a footpath sign in the process of being eaten by a tree – well it amused us!! At this point (map 14), we got slightly confused as to the correct route, looking at Google Maps satellite view post event, it looks like you bear to the right and walk along the field edge until you find the path across the field to the line of bushes running along the edge on the other side. You are ultimately aiming to walk along the ridge of the hill towards the mast.
After cutting through a smaller field, head across the large field aiming for a point slightly to the left of BT’s mast. Only when you get close do you realise the shear size of these huge and quite ugly masts. At the end of the field (map 15), cross the maintenance track, enter the field, and drop down towards the farm. At the end of the field, where the footpaths merge, turn right and head down the farms track. At this point we were “escorted” from the premises by two dogs – they followed us (at a safe distance) all the way down the track to make sure we were not planning to hang around their territory! Bear right onto the road (map 16), and immediately left onto a path through the next two fields. Cross the next road and head into Hellidon (map 17).
At this point I feel I should mention the watershed, as Angus will be very disappointed if I don’t. Hellidon is on an important watershed – three rivers start here, the Leam (which ends up in the Bristol Channel), the Cherwell (goes to the Thames Estuary) and the Nene (which goes to the Wash), so at a specific point you can pee into all three rivers at the same time (this was not attempted, despite the pint at lunchtime!).
[UPDATE] Angus has corrected me (well corrected Wikipedia – the source of these “useful” facts) – apparently the point at which the three watersheads meet is on Arbury Hill near Badby, which isn’t in the parish of Hellidon (which only has two watersheads, the Nene and the Avon). This map proves his case!
After a quick look at the Church – we headed out of the village along the track to the north west (map 18).
Keep following the track – it shortly becomes a byway (green lane). I was pleased to note that unlike other green lanes I have walked down recently, this one was in very good condition. After a lovely coffee break, we continued along the lane, and witnessed an amazing scene – a herd of deer were running across a field to our left, and then cut across the lane in front of us. Now I have only seen deer in parks, so to see wild deer out in the countryside was amazing (I only hope they haven’t escaped from nearby Shuckburgh Park!). Where the track turns to the left (map 19) – keep straight ahead. At this point things went a bit wrong, so don’t listen to me, but look at your map to get yourself to Park Farm (map 20)!
At Park Farm follow the farm track. Take the left hand turn and enter Shuckburgh Park. Head in the direction of the church (keep it your right as you go past) and head back out of the park and through the slight pass between the two hill tops. Here there is a huge beacon (map 21) – one can only fantasise about what the original beacon was used for! Head down the hill into Lower Shuckburgh (map 22). The church in Lower Shuckburgh, built in a Gothic style, is very peculiar, with the spire built in one corner, rather than at one end! Head past the church towards the canal – go over the bridge across the canal, and then squeeze through the end of the railings to get onto the tow-path.
Follow along the tow-path westwards – at this stage, to be honest, all we (and I think the dogs) could think about was the pub we are slowly heading towards. It finally appeared, our very own beacon, out of the gloom of the rain clouds. The pub is called The Bridge at Napton (map 23) – a very lovely traditional English pub. Dogs are allowed inside, so we quickly settled down with our pints – the dogs quickly collapsed, but not before helping with a packet of mini-cheddars. Eventually, despite wishing we could stay for a few more beers, we woke the dogs, and left the pub (just as the heavens opened!).
To return back to Napton-on-the-Hill, continue down the canal until you reach the first bridge. Go onto the road, turn left, and follow the road into Napton.
Overall this was a lovely walk – talking in some beautiful Warwickshire and Northamptonshire villages. Definitely recommended!