The Grafton Way is a 12.5 mile walk between Cosgrove (actually looking at the Ordnance Survey website, it seems to continue down the canal to Wolverton) and Greens Norton, passing past Towcester. The Grafton Way is joined to the North Buckinghamshire Way, The Grand Union Canal Walk, and Ouse Valley Way to the South, and turns into The Knighton Way at Greens Norton. The route is named after the Dukes of Grafton, who were large landowners throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Grafton Way
|Date||30th January 2010|
|Time Taken||5 hours|
|Average Speed||2.1 mph|
|Max Height||433 ft|
|Min Height||246 ft|
|Height Gain||494 ft|
|Height Loss||604 ft|
Both @TowcesterNews and @moolife (both on Twitter) recommended this walk to me (as a training walk for Offa’s Dyke 4 Ms), but I was quite surprised to not be able to find a huge amount of information about it on the web – not even a route map. There are suggestions of a brochure available from the local council, but nothing available online. Fortunately the route is marked on the 1:25000 OS maps, so after marking it in Viewranger, I packed my rucksack, and begged a lift to Greens Norton from my parents to follow the The Graton Way.
Greens Norton is to the North West of Towcester, and has been on a number walks I have done in the area. The pub, The Butchers Arms, is dog friendly and serves a good pub lunch, and has a good range of beers.
I have to admit to expecting a little more from the start of the route – alright in the grand scheme of things The Grafton Way is hardly a major long distance path, but after leaving the main road through the village, and passing through a housing estate, I did expect more than just a standard Northamptonshire footpath sign with the tiny words “Grafton Way”.
After cutting across a field, the path joins a minor (yet busy) road that heads towards Towcester. At this point I suffered a painful groin muscle twinge that almost had me ringing my parents to be rescued – fortunately, after some very embarrassing muscle stretching in public view, I was able to continue without further complications!
Just as you approach Towcester, the route is slightly diverted from the marked path (on my maps certainly), towards the services on the busy A43 dual carriageway – this is so you can safely get across the road using the first horse road crossing I have ever come across (with horse shaped green/red lights!)
Once you have negotiated your way back onto the original route (it is well signposted), you follow along the edge of the field along the South West edge of Towcester. Sadly, like a lot of rural Northamptonshire (and probably elsewhere), this land is under serious threat of development. Public consultation is currently underway to build a horrifying 3000 new homes, 21 ha of employment facilities and a single lane bypass in this area – more information can be found here.
I do hope that should this development goes ahead, then consideration is taken to try and make the impact on The Grafton Way as small as possible, although ultimately you can never replace fields, woods and tranquillity.
As you leave Towcester behind you (the point you turn South is not well signposted), there are a few fields (muddy at this time of year) to cross before you approach Pury End.
Pury End caught me at a particularly good moment – the sun had just come out and the row of cottages look so picturesque – it seemed idyllic. Despite the fact I moan about the lack of stunning landscapes or large hill and mountain ranges in Northamptonshire, there is a kind of simplistic beauty to the rolling farmland and the rural villages and hamlets in the area. It is also quiet – I rarely encounter many walkers out of village bounds – and this level of peacefulness is hard to find anywhere else.
The route from Pury End is quite easy to follow, with some old and battered large while signs marking the route. As you approach Watling Street, originally a Roman road, you pass the site of an old Roman Villa (although admittedly I only know that by a Google search of the names on the map!).
After crossing Watling Street (a very busy road!) The Grafton Way skirts around Pottersbury Lodge School – a Rudolf Steiner school specialising in children who are on the autism spectrum, including those with Asperger Syndrome.
Yardley Gobion and Pottersbury
Just before you get to Yardley Gobion, you pass the site of the Moor End Castle. Quite surprisingly (I would have expected the site to be historically irrelevant) this castle, which was built in 1347, was regularly visited by Edward III, who built a royal chamber, royal chapel, and rebuilt the gatehouse. All that remains now is the fragments of the original moat (now much altered).
From Moor End Castle, The Grafton Way touches the edge of Yardley Gobion and Pottersbury, before continuing towards Cosgrove, past the lost village of Furtho.
At this point I feel I should mention that Northamptonshire Council clearly don’t expect backpackers to walk along The Grafton Way (or in fact most other footpaths in the County) – the kissing gates are tiny and extremely difficult to navigate with a pack and roll matt! [rant over]
The Lost Village of Furtho
As I approached Furtho, a medieval village, I tried to guess why the village was deserted. I couldn’t decide between the plague (which I believe is why my village just to the North East moved location by two miles), or due to land enclosures. The answer is land enclosures! Not much remains of the village other then Furtho Farm, a partly 14th century church and a dovecote.
I have to admit to completely missing the dovecote – I was so focused on the church and having a look at the site as marked on the map! It was only later did I come across details. Dovecotes were an important part of the manorial economy, and were a reliable source of meat and eggs – and it is likely, based on when the village was abandoned, that the dovecote would have belonged to the lord of the manor.
The church, which ceased to operate as a church in 1921, is owned by Churches Conservation Trust. On quite a few of the walks I have done recently, I have come across these lasting monuments to long forgotten communities that, for one reason or another, have ceased to exist.
Finally The Grafton Way finishes at Cosgrove (you can continue on following the Grand Union Canal Walk towards Wolverton and Milton Keynes).
I thoroughly enjoyed the walk – the countryside was quiet and peaceful, with subtle remnants of the area’s historical past. The Grafton Way itself is quite easy, there aren’t any major climbs, and even carrying a full(ish) pack I wasn’t completely dead by the end – definately recommended for anyone looking for an enjoyable and interesting walk through historic Northamptonshire.
Of course, like all good walks, this one ended in the pub. The Barley Mow in Cosgrove is an Everards pub, so it sells my second (only to banana bread beer) favourite beer – Tiger. You simply cannot beat resting your feet in a pub garden (although it was a little cold) with your dog and pint of nice beer of an enjoyable walk!