December 2019 Walk
Oh the efforts that occasionally are needed to plan a walk avoiding traffic, exceptionally challenging stiles, quagmires, wild animals etc, starting and ending at a pub and a tasty meal! Well, the December route was reached after two trial runs which eliminated the most complex stile ever encountered (too challenging for our canine walkers) and a bridleway, which had been reduced to a mile of deep mud by four-legged bridle-wearing users.
So in December, we boldly set out from The Queen’s Head at Bretford to walk along the (only on a Sunday) quiet lane heading for Church Lawford and encountered an intermittent stream of vehicles as we wended our way towards Church Lawford. We passed the overflowing fishing pools and the bridge over the Avon with a sign warning us not to venture if the floods were 6ft deep over the road. Once through the village, we turned left down the lane to admire the impressive timber framed house adjacent to the village church.
We crossed the fields opposite the church, passing a sign advising us to “take nothing but photos” as we wended our way down to a ploughed field and meadow leading to another bridge over the Avon. The river was much higher than it had been when we first checked out the route and as the bridge was sited well above the current water level, we assumed that it must be subject to serious flooding at times. Once over the river, we followed the route uphill to cross a large meadow area now devoid of all the sheep that had been grazing there on our exploratory visit. At the top, we climbed a stile to find the shelter of a barn where we stopped for our coffee break.
Moving on through a forest of sweet corn, then over a ploughed field, we arrived at a stile into the country lane leading to Little Lawford. Discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to avoid our planned route (across another field and spinney) and took the roads leading back to Bretford and a hot meal at The Queen’s Head.
November 2019 Walk
The November walk used the route originally planned for June which was cancelled due to monsoon conditions! However with the recent almost continuous rain it was approached with some trepidation. The portents were not good with rain for the previous few days and showers early in the morning of the walk. However within a few minutes of arriving at the start point the rain stopped and the sky started to lighten, so, with some concern about the conditions underfoot, we started towards Church Lane and our first point of interest, Beorcul’s Well, a freshwater spring. Originally used for baptisms it was, until 1939, used as a water supply for the nearby School and the origin of the village name of Berculswell or as we now call it, Berkswell.
Passing by the church of St John Baptist dating from the 12th century with its unusual 2 storey timber framed porch, we walked across the narrow causeway over the marshy area and brook towards the lake overlooking Berkswell Hall. Our group leaders had spotted 2 sheep at the end of the causeway, but presumed that they had seen our party with the dogs and had decided to move away. It came as some surprise to find them trapped by one of the gates, stuck in brambles at the side of the path and clearly in some distress. Moving the dogs to a safe distance, intrepid members of our group struggled to release the animals from the brambles and finally put them back on the path to their friends in the nearby field.
Moving on we had a good view of the Hall, now converted into apartments and undergoing external restoration, across the lake. Through a field and past a small wood we came across preparations for the HS2 route with the re-routing of a major gas pipe-line, although given the recent weather work appeared to have been suspended, at least for the time being. Diverting around and through the site we came to the quarry and its adjacent waste disposal site and tarmacked lanes to make the walking easier. Our coffee stop, normally at a place of interest, on this occasion had to be on a grass verge as, other than scattered farm buildings, there was no suitable place to take our break.
Continuing on we crossed a recently ploughed field, which made walking very difficult as the mud seemed to want to keep our feet on the ground and every step added weight to our walking boots. Continuing over more fields and skirting ponds, we headed up to a ridge where the wind turned cold and gusty. On a good day, there is a panoramic view of Birmingham and the Lickey Hills, but today all we could see were the vague shadows of Birmingham City Centre and the outline of the hills. Crossing more muddy fields we eventually arrived at a metalled track passing Blind Hall, a reputedly haunted 17th Century Grade 2 listed building and down to the main road. Crossing the road we returned to the car park along a track between the school and the Church, giving us a view of the new addition to the church as well as an unusual stone war memorial in the graveyard. Getting back to the cars just as it started to rain we headed off to The Brickmakers Arms and a very well deserved drink and lunch.
October 2019 Walk
October’s walk was not our usual country walk but more of an urban stroll through Birmingham Parks led by Chris Goodwin of Baginton Oak fame..
We started at St. Nicholas Church on Elmdon Park, which has strong evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement although it was more noted as the De Whitacre Family Estate in Norman times.
Elmdon Park is typical of a Birmingham Park with a mix of large well-kept open spaces, woodland paths and the obligatory duck pond.
The park was used as a the Head Quarters for the Home Guard during the war when Elmdon Hall was still standing on the top of the hill some 120 metres above sea level but by 1956 Eldon Manor was demolished to become the Park and Nature Reserve it is now.
In leaving the park we crossed the main A45 to enter Sheldon Country Park – 300 acres of open space with a visitors centre - The Old Rectory. This was the former home to Rev Thomas Bray during the late 17th century and early 18th century accredited with setting up the Church of England in Maryland, and a well-known theological author of his time.
We strolled along the good paths past one of the less desirable housing estates in Birmingham to arrive at the Birmingham Airport Viewing area where a large number of benches view the runway where we stopped for coffee and watch a few aircraft leaving and arriving.
After our coffee break we followed the perimeter fence of the airport on our left and Hatchford Brook municipal golf course. We arrived back at the A45 to cross over and follow an ally-way between the back of houses until wereached Elmdon Park, skirting through a mix of woodland and open meadows arriving back at the car 6 miles, 200 ft of incline and 2 hours and 20 minutes after the start.
THE GOOD - No stiles and timing of the end of the walk when the heavens opened literally as we arrived back at our cars.
THE BAD – The dishonesty of people. Whilst dining we witnessed a car being reversed into with the guilty party not sharing their details with the owner of the damaged car and moving it away from the scene of the crime!. Needless to say there were many witnesses amongst our group who left their details with the management of the establishment.
Sheldon Council flats and houses on the outskirts of Sheldon Country Park.
September 2019 Walk
For our September walk, thirteen set off, seventeen pairs of legs, from The Boot Inn in Lapworth. The walk began by crossing the Stratford Canal on a typical bridge with a “rope gap” at the crown of the bridge. This gap between the two half arches was to allow the horse to cross the canal without slipping the towrope. It could pass through the gap and the horse would plod on unimpeded. As we walked the canal, passing part of the Haddon Flight of locks, we passed many well-maintained properties on our right. They were of course on the sunny side and most of them had BBQ areas overlooking the canal. We came to a drawbridge, sans Castle, and now crossed country to Packwood House. Where, again, I missed the path to avoid the gardens; still only the last dog was noticed by the NT staff and the walkers rightly blamed me. (In my defence there was an absence on No Dogs signs on the pathway). Still, the Yew gardens were impressive and we were able to rest at the Café with generous cups of steaming coffee; the dogs having access to lots of water bowls.
After Packwood House, we again traversed fields at least one, despite Chris’s denial, had grazing sheep. Ben found them tough! Passing a new house of impressive size in the green belt, we wondered about the planning regulations. Though for once it was in keeping and blended in better than the more modern Grey/Black buildings abutting the sheep field. Passing the Chiltern Line Railway, we joined the Grand Union canal for a mile and then at Kingswood Junction re-joined the Stratford Canal and on to The Boot. There we enjoyed a good lunch; it must have been because all the plates were wiped scrupulously clean. And so to home, until the next one.
August 2019 Walk
On a very pleasant summer morning, eight walkers and two dogs met in Bubbenhall. We walked out of the village and crossed the busy A445 to take the footpath in Ryton Pools Country Park. The path on the edge of the park took us past Paget’s Pool, where we were able to a catch of glimpse of a family of swans. As we left the park we were impressed by a newly built property at the end of the lane which had recently been sold for around £1,500,000. The walk took us on a shady path through Burnthurst Coppice and the edge of Wappenbury Wood, both areas well maintained by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. The next section of the walk was across farmland, where we encountered both cattle and sheep, and down into the village of Wappenbury.
Our rest stop was taken in the churchyard at Wappenbury, where there are headstones for two notable names associated with the motor industry, Sir William Lyons, the founder of Jaguar Cars, who lived at nearby Wappenbury Hall and Frank Bluemel, one of the Bluemel Brothers, whose factory at Wolston manufactured motor and cycle accessories from 1904 until the 1980s.
We continued across a newly harvested wheat field, then a maize field where we lost sight of the view across Warwickshire as we were dwarfed and surrounded by the tall stems. As we entered the next field crossing a stile and footbridge, one of the dogs decided to take a short cut via the stream and had to be hauled back on to the correct crossing route! We then skirted a field of oats which had not yet been harvested and on into Bubbenhall Wood. Heading back past the old quarry workings on a track leading back to the main road and down into the village again, where we all enjoyed a well-deserved lunch at the Malt Shovel. On checking our various distance measuring devices, it was agreed that the six miles we had walked had passed most pleasantly.
July 2019 Walk
Our July walk was a circular route from the Friendly Inn, Frankton, originally planned for earlier in the year, but cancelled through bad weather. We had been anxious about the forecast this time but enjoyed a warm, dry day with the sun making an occasional appearance.
Some recollections of a slightly longer walk than usual – but no mud! The energy of our four-legged friend, Tosca, pulling on the lead at the outset – the parish churches of St. Nicholas, Frankton and St. Esprit, Marton – historic fishponds – the helicopter alongside a farm house, later joined by another – an assortment of stiles (no up-to-date kissing gates) on the way to Marton – healthy cereal crops and the big field of potatoes (no, we didn’t dig any) – goats, sheep and horses – wild flowers at their best – elevenses at a tranquil spot by the River Leam at Eathorpe – difficulty in finding the crossing point of the river afterwards – a strange gate/stile combination – two short, sharp inclines on the track back to Frankton – the reward of extensive views over south Warwickshire – Tosca’s fatigue nearing the end, before the last shady path – welcome refreshment and sustenance back at the Friendly Inn, timed for 1.00pm.
June 2019 Walk
Sadly our June walk was cancelled as a result of monsoon conditions and the leaders for that day have kindly invited us all to enjoy tea and cake as a generous compensation for our disappointment.
May 2019 Walk
This month’s walk was around Brandon Woods and the site of the old Binley Colliery, an areas we walked a couple of years ago but on that occasion it was a perimeter walk. This time we meandered through the middle.
Binley Colliery closed in 1964 but the main gate still survives. At its peak nealy 500 people worked there and the position of the sidings is still clearly visible.
It didn’t get off to a good start as a breakdown of communication meant that most of the walkers met at the Brandon Oak where we were booked for lunch not at the entrance to Claybrooke Marshes some 2 miles away causing a 20 minute delay to the start of the walk. Crossing under the A46 alongside the railway line we entered Brandon which is my favourite dog exercise area. Its 180 acres are managed by the Woodland Trust and the friends of Brandon Woods having been brought from the Forestry Commission in 2000 as the first Nationally designated community woodland for £130,000. Brandon Woods was as Woodland in 1086 in the Doomsday Book and is a fabulous area to walk and also right on our doorstep. Each season sees this ancient Woodland changes its colours, smells and feel, with fabulous areas of bluebells at present forming a magnificent blue carpet. Later in the year the abundance of huge sweet blackberries make walking slow because you just have to keep picking them.
The wildlife in the woods is amazing with thousands of tadpoles filling the ponds where we stopped for coffee, a shoal of small fish that looked like a clump of weed until one fish jumped out and they all scattered to reform a few minutes later and a muntjac crossing in front of us. But most amazing was the sighting of a Tawny Owl high in a tree that, with patience, we all got to see followed by the spectacular silent flight of the bird as it soared through the trees. he walk itself was literally a meander through the mass of paths that cross each other and lasted 5 ½ miles but you can make walks here last as long or as short as you like.
The paths are well maintained and therefore no matter what time of year you walk here you don’t encounter much mud that you can’t navigate around.
The walking is easy with no styles to climb over, reasonably flat (our walk had 200 ft of elevation), and plenty of benches scattered around where you can sit and listen or in our case take a coffee break and chat.
The Good - Seeing a Tawny Owl
The Bad - The noises from modern transport
The Ugly - Litter on the Binley Colliery part of the walk
April 2019 Walk
A select group of seven walkers and a dog set off from the King's Arms near Knowle for our April walk led by Mike.This started on the Grand Union Canal, the M1 of the canal world, linking London and Birmingham. We soon reached the impressive Knowle Flight where a series of locks enabled barges to ascend towards Birmingham. Now they are decorated with pansies and aubrieta more in keeping with their present use as a leisure facility.
On leaving the canal we walked along a country lane and passed an amazing tree house which was obviously a labour of love for some proud dad.
We continued by way of Temple Balsall, once a home for the Knights Templar. Here we rested at their chapel where we were fascinated by their austere headstones. A simple sign also indicated the grave of ‘Harry’ Williams the co-author of “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, a famous WWI song.
More walks through fields,where the spring wheat was already six inches high, took us back to the canal by the Black Boy Inn dating to 1793. Here we passed the Black Buoy boating club. (Question- What is the use of a black buoy?)
The weather had been kind and some “six and a bit” miles had passed very quickly. A few hundred yards more and we were back at the King's Arms where we were able to sample their excellent food whilst Tosca, our Staffie guard dog, snoozed on the stone floor, waking to gobble down a few scraps at the end of the meal. And so to home! Thanks Mike for a most enjoyable walk introducing us to some new and interesting territory.
March 2019 Walk
The date for our March walk coincided with “The Day That The Rains Came Down” (a song which surely dates this writer!) and we decided that rather than get soaked all morning we would postpone it to another month. Thus The Friendly Inn was denied the opportunity of extending its hospitality to us and the Lent Lunch at The Old Rectory was enjoyed by a few extra diners. We hope to visit The Friendly Inn later this year.
February 2019 Walk
In February, 10 walkers and 2 dogs started from the Tom O’ The Wood pub nestling alongside the Grand Union Canal near Rowington, with a rather muddy stroll along the towpath. Once under bridge 62, we climbed the embankment to cross the road and a stile to join the bridleway, which ran along the top of a steep embankment. Below this nestled an attractive house which sported its own red telephone box. This track ran alongside several fields and eventually through metal gates, where we crossed a small brook. Here the pasture took us gently uphill to a very muddy gateway leading under the railway and up over the noisy M40 motorway.
Leaving the bustle behind, us we crossed a secluded pasture occupied by 2 large goats and 2 sheep and, passing by a rather splendid farmhouse, we arrived at the road to Lowsonford. A longish stretch of road enabled us to enjoy the first spring catkins appearing on the verge and to admire/ comment on the assortment of huge houses that we encountered on the way. Eventually we arrived at a tiny church perched high above the road where we stopped for a breather and our coffee break.
Soon after, we resumed our walk the road, met another canal (the Stratford on Avon) and we left here to join the towpath which ran opposite the Fleur De Lys Pub. Fortunately the going underfoot was much better and we stopped to chat to a waterways volunteer who was clearing a huge amount of brash which had collected by the lock, creating a potential hazard for narrowboats and their crew. There were no craft chugging along, but a few moored by the towpath including one which was still sporting a Christmas tree and full set of fairy lights. This stretch provided very easy walking as we encountered two of the delightful traditional barrel roofed lock keepers cottages en route.
After about a mile where the canal went under a motorway bridge we turned off the towpath, climbed a stile and crossed a footbridge over a brook to climb yet another stile! Our route then led us across a stretch of pasture and under the railway where the bridge was being used to store some ancient farm equipment. More pasture and yet another stile took us to the road leading back to the canal bridge alongside the Tom O’ The Wood pub and our delicious lunch. So yet another enjoyable walk shared with great company and the bonus of introducing our most experienced walkers to a new stretch.
January 2019 Walk
This month’s walk was over Burbage Common near Hinckley, a public access site of 200 acres owned by Hinckley and Bosworth Council.On the previous walk that I led in October, our “special” dog Ben fell in the canal but managed to pull himself out. On the practice for this walk he didn’t let us down ….. he fell in the fishing pond struggling to pull himself out up the bank!
The walk left the common to start with and headed towards Earl Shilton with 11 humans and 5 dogs on a crisp, sunny day that couldn’t have been better for walking.On the first part of the walk we were plagued by rickety stiles that made it difficult for the older canines, but once past the 6th stile the progress was much smoother. It was a varied walk with quiet roads, woodland, pasture, foot paths and marshy common all featuring at different times.
Some interesting features en route were 2,000 piglets playing in open barns that had recently been transported from Scotland, a rusting Bedford C A Van from the 1950’s under restoration and a railway crossing that advised that you look and listen when crossing!
This was a flat and dry underfoot walk, with picnic benches for coffee by a pond and a route that was unfamiliar to most of those present, makinga good 2 hours for most of us, finishing with lunch at the newly refurbished Bricklayers Arms in Sharnford.
The Good – A new walk for most of the group
The Bad – Too many awkward stiles
The Ugly – I think only applies to Gayle, the dogs and I when we carried out a recce of the walk and a bird deposited a green slimy streak through Gayle’s hair from a great height!