Sunday, 29 March 2009

Ashton Court Estate

The Clifton Gate to Ashton Court

On a visit to friends in Bristol, we were taken for a walk around the Ashton Court Estate, owned by the City, but located outside the city boundaries. It consists of a splendid 840 acre park, at the heart of which is the "mansion", now used as a conference centre and venue for events. Our circuit was about 3.5 miles.

We followed an avenue of trees and headed across open park land towards a copse ....

We then entered the copse and descended a winding path to emerge again into open parkland by a second, smaller Lodge (Clarken Combe Lodge) ....

.... with the path stretching invitingly away before us.

As we approached the mansion we saw this shapely oriental-looking tree apparently coming into full leaf.

Then we came to the recently repainted mansion.

Lunch beckoned and we resisted the temptation to extend the route to revisit part of a previous walk, starting from nearby Leigh Woods and walk up the delightful Nightingale Valley. Instead we climbed back to the higher ground and returned to Clifton Gate and headed back to our friends' place for a gourmet lunch.

Rating: four stars.

More about Ashton Park

Thomas de Lyons was granted a licence in 1392 to enclose his lands and make a park, the foundation of the modern one. Somewhere in the sixteenth century the estate was bought by a Bristol merchant named John Smyth. He remodelled it and created the south facade - in a neo-classical style, inspired by Inigo Jones's Banqueting House in Whitehall. See here for a picture. Further alterations were made in the nineteenth century to create the view from the north shown above.

In 1939, it was requisitioned by the War Office, and used in turn as a Transit Camp, RAF HQ and American Army Command HQ. The last Smyth owner died in 1946 and for 13 years the house lay empty and in decline. Bristol City Council took it over in 1959.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Grazeley (Lambswoodhill Common and Brook Farm)

Late afternoon, feeling a bit jaded (wine at lunchtime), we decided on a short local walk. This one starts just by Grazeley Church (photographed recently when I did another short (3.5 miles) walk around Grazeley).

The route initially crosses Lambswoodhill Common - now, disappointingly, just a very large field. From here a series of pleasant lanes take you across the Reading-Basingstoke railway line and back again. Plenty of wild primroses and white celandine.

The next section involves a field side path and the drive to the very well set up Brook Farm. In this phase of the walk the most noticeable thing was the sky - first mackerel with distant rain ...

... and then just so big and varied .... with a little selective photography you could be on the great plains.

We also saw a wonderfully sculptural dead tree.

From here a short stretch along the Foudry Brook leads to a longer stretch beside the A33 and a cross-field section back to the start. We enjoyed the familiar sight of four deer darting across the field as we approached.

From: Rambling for pleasure around Reading (first series) by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Rating: two and a half stars. Too flat, too much traffic noise. But it did the trick in perking us up.


There is usually lots to potentially see on a walk - but we've seldom been more conscious of the sky as one of those things.

And walking along one the primrose-strewn lanes we thought "primrose path of dalliance" - why? It turns out that it all derives from Shakespeare giving these words to Ophelia in Hamlet, accusing her brother Laertes of hypocrisy. So far so good, but why did he associate primroses with dalliance? Surely some deeper mythology is at work?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Mortimer West End (Kiln Pond and Simms Copse)

Simms Copse

I had been working hard on a report for two days and my head felt ready to explode - I felt desperate to get out in the fresh air and do something active. On the other hand, time was short so this 4 mile local walk seemed just the job.

The walk begins in the village of Mortimer West End at the playing field. You walk a short way along the road and then turn off to walk through Beynons Wood, part of the sprawling 14,000 acre Englefield Estate, to reach Kiln Pond - a not very photogenic body of water.

A couple of further small bits of woodland and a series of large fields bring you to Simms Copse.

Clearly, there will soon be a fine display of bluebells. Today, the main thing of note was a couple of deer.

The route then touches the edge of the larger village of Mortimer, before turning southwest back to the start.

From: Rambling for pleasure around Reading (second series) by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Rating: three stars. Pleasant, reasonably open and varied, but nothing distinctive.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Arborfield (Carter's Hill and Barkham Brook) 3

St Bartholomew's Church, Arborfield

A family walk for Mother's Day and one of our local favourites, originally described in this blog in April 2007.

A lovely day, trees just nearly coming into leaf, a few butterflies on the wing. Ideal for a pre-lunch walk.

I realised that I hadn't hitherto photographed or mentioned Arborfield church. Another Victorian one - 1863.

From: Rambling for pleasure around Reading (first series) by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne)

Rating: three and a half stars.


What is different between doing the same walk for the fifth or sixth time and doing a new walk? I think a new walk is probably always more exciting - who knows what delights you might meet, especially in a unfamiliar area of the country. So perhaps novelty should be included in my list of factors that make for a good walk? On the other hand, with a familiar walk you don't need to worry about directions and navigation and you can continue to enjoy the usual things you like, plus perhaps seeing new ones in the different seasons or as random wildlife cross your path.

Another thought concerned walking as an opportunity for deep conversation. It is generally seen as desirable to build rapport with someone you are talking to by maintaining eye contact, and of course this is impossible when walking. However, walking side by side, in step, seems to make it easier to address emotive or personal topics - perhaps precisely because you do not have eye contact, although you are in rapport at a more basic level.


A Peacock and three Commas. How wonderful that the butterflies are back! No Brimstones today for some reason.

Saturday, 21 March 2009



Just time for a short walk this morning. This one starts in nearby Southend Bradfield, a sprawling village with some nice Victorian buildings, and one or two older cottages. You head north across fields and along a lane towards the River Pang. Along the lane I made a detour to seek a glimpse of Bradfield Hall.

I could only see the rear, but it is clearly a rather unusual construction. Pevsner says that it dates from 1763 and describes the entrance side as being "curiously informal", so maybe I didn't miss much. The building with the cupola is the stables.

Leaving the lane, you cross a field and walk by a wood to join the banks of the Pang. I was pleased to see a Greater Spotted woodpecker on the way. This photo looks back (west) along the Pang, with the Berkshire Downs on the horizon.

On the right bank is first the playing fields of Bradfield School and then the school itself. The school was founded in 1850 and the dining hall has stained glass by Burne-Jones. The building on the right is the chapel, which Pevsner thinks is "architecturally the best the school has to offer" and is by John Oldrid Scott, a son of the great Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (St Pancras Station, Albert Memorial).

Finally, you reach Bradfield village with the mainly Victorian St Andrew's church (Sir G G Scott) and some pretty cottages by the river - for a moment, you could be in the Cotswolds.

The return route follows the road in front of the school and then passes through a golf course and fields. There are very pleasant views over the Pang valley.

From: Waterside Walks in Berkshire by Nick Channer (Countryside Books).

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Rating: three and a half stars.


Usually I just approach new walks as a voyage of discovery and see what turns up. If there are any interesting buildings I look them up in my collection of Pevsners when I get home. Today for some reason I had quick look at what the great man had to say about Bradfield and noticed the entry on Bradfield Hall. A quick look at the map revealed that it was quite close to the route of the walk. I suppose it's like being on holiday: it's better to read the guidebook before you go as that way you are less likely to miss something worthwhile.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Minchinhampton Common

Minchinhampton market square

In Gloucester for the day, I decided to fit in a walk on the way home and hit upon this one at Minchinhampton near Stroud, a charming and unspoilt place. The town is set on a plateau at around 200m above sea level. The views in all directions from the common are very impressive, although today was too hazy to fully appreciate them.

The walk begins in Minchinhampton's pretty market square with the Market House, built in 1698 on one side.

From the market square you walk past the Church of Holy Trinity. The unusual spire is a result of the original spire being pulled down for safety reasons in 1863.

From here you quickly reach the eastern extremity of the extensive common, an area called the Park. The walk then broadly follows the southern edge of the common. For a good part of the way the route follows the line of Iron Age defences known as The Bulwarks.

You then head north across the golf course, which shares part of the common, towards the hamlet of Amperley and from here turn east towards Burleigh. In Burleigh you take a delightful lane which has splendid views over Brimscombe and the Golden Valley (of the River Frome) to eventually reach Besbury Common, with even better views.

Finally, you turn south to rejoin the Park and return to the market square. It was by now nearly dusk, but the Park was a fine sight as the sun went down.

Officially 4.5 miles, this ended up nearer five as at some point I failed to follow the correct line across the grassy plain and ended up making a considerable detour.

From: Cotswold Walks, Jarrold Pathfinder Guides.

Map: Explorer 168 (Stroud, Tetbury and Malmesbury).

Rating: four stars.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Odiham to Tunworth (Three Castles Path 4)

The Basingstoke Canal

Leaving the car park at Odiham, you follow the bank of the Basingstoke Canal for a mile and half or so to reach the the ruins of the keep of Odiham Castle. The castle was built by King John between 1207 and 1214. It seems that he lived there for a while, but mainly used it as a Hunting Lodge - which is rather droll given that the previous stage of the walk featured a "King John's Hunting Lodge" which plainly had no connection with him. This is the initial view:

The dressed stone used for the outer face was stolen after the castle fell into disuse, which is why all that is visible today is the flint core. The castle had the distinction of having the only octagonal keep of any English castle. The view from the other side gives a clearer sense of the scale of the interior space.

After another half mile, the canal disappears into the Greywell tunnel - a narrow 1125m long space along which the bargemen had to propel the barges with their feet on the roof of the tunnel. It is apparently now home to 2000 bats.

The next stop is the pretty village of Greywell, with a line of attractive brick houses overlooking fields. The Malt House (once called the Kiln House) is one of the nicest - the former hop kilns can be seen in the near side wing.

You leave the village by the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin and quickly reach the river Whitewater.

Soon you come to Greywell Mill.

The final section of the route to Tunworth first follows a field path, with lovely views over the North Downs, and then the Harrow Way ....

.... which then comes to a wonderful junction of five paths in the middle of nowhere - Five Lanes End.

Turning left, a long straight section of path leads to the road into Tunworth. Entering the hamlet you see the old schoolmaster's cottage, with the former school room clearly visible on the right.

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stages 8-9.

Map: 144 (Basingstoke).

Rating: four stars.


The first butterflies of the year: lots of Brimstones, as might be expected, but also a few Peacocks, a Red Admiral and a Small White.

And a Little Egret - pure white, heron-like neck, long sharp black beak, yellow feet - in shallow water where the Whitewater flows under the Basingstoke Canal.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Hazeley Heath to Odiham (Three Castles Path 3)

Hazeley Heath

We have enjoyed the start of the Three Castles path, but looking at the guidebook we noticed that the remaining stages are all about 4 miles long. Because we are doing the walk in day trips from home we have decided to do one and a half or possibly two legs at a time to minimise the time spent travelling and the environmental impact. So today's plan is all of stage 7 and most of stage 8, as far as Odiham.

The stage begins by skirting Hazeley Common and then descending into Hartley Wintney. You reach the duck pond and walk across the green to reach the church of St John the Evangelist, which dates from 1869-70 and was enlarged in 1897.

Pevsner is very disparaging, calling it "quite big, and really ugly ... the composition is very disjointed, the anticlimax being the polygonal SW turret." We thought this was bit harsh: the polychromatic brickwork is striking and the little tower seems quirky. But disjointed is fair enough.

At the back of the church you are very aware of the veritable forest of oak trees planed in lines which cover the large greens surrounding the village.

These are the Mildmay Oaks, planted by the then Lady of the Manor during the Napoleonic Wars as a source of wood for warships - for future wars, obviously. The advent of metal ships meant they were not needed for this purpose.

A bit further on you come to the redundant church of St Mary, with its large and still functioning burial ground (the Arts and Crafts pioneer W R Lethaby is buried here). Pevsner dates it from the late 13th or early 14th century, although the brick transept is Victorian.

Field paths and a mile or so along lanes brings you to Winchfield and another St Mary's church.

This is a Norman church of "singular ferocity" according to Pevsner. The tower has the round arched windows with the characteristic zig zag motif around them.

From here, a field path, a copse and a meadow lead to the Basingstoke Canal, built around 1790. It was apparently never a commercial success and ceased operating commercially in 1910. It was restored between 1973 and 1991. The route follows the tow path for 4.5 miles in all, under a number of pleasant brick arches.

As Odiham approaches, the guide alerts you to the existence of Wilks Water, a small lake, on the right with King John's Hunting Lodge standing behind it. This is well worth the small detour. The lake is quite pretty and the Lodge is a real gem.

As the photo show, it appears from the brickwork and Dutch gables to be 17th century. The ever-useful Pevsner however tells us that it is in fact Georgian and that there is nothing behind the gables. Clearly it had nothing to do with King John!

I also saw a King John's hunting lodge on a walk in Axbridge in Somerset which also had nothing to do with King John - in fact it is a 16th century merchant's house, now a museum. What is going on?

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stages 7-8.

Map: 144 (Basingstoke).

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Box Hill

Box Hill

Having climbed the well-named Zig Zag Road from the Burford Bridge Hotel on the A24, you park at the National Trust car park at Fort Cottages. The start of the walk follows the continuation of the road, quickly detouring to the view point, which also marks the end of the walk. The views over Dorking and the Mole Valley are splendid.

Further along the road you turn left and descend through Juniper Bottom.

At the end of the descent you cross a road and begin what the walk book very correctly calls "the seemingly interminable climb up a long flight of rustic steps". This leads to an open area with a precious bench for recovery and further fine views: we displaced the people we found there and in due course gave way to the next party.

After a further descent you reach St Michael's church on the edge of the village of Mickleham.

The church is Saxon in origin, and was mentioned in the Domesday book, but much of what we see today reflects the "improvement and re-construction" of 1842. We spotted a green woodpecker in the churchyard.

The route then follows the road back to the Burford Bridge Hotel where you cross the A24 by means of an underpass and walk up the road to Westhumble. Here you are confronted by this fine gateway, which dates from 1923. The blue plaque commemorates Fanny Burney (1752-1840), a novellist, diarist and playwright who built Camilla Cottage with the proceeds of her novel of the same name. She lived there with her new husband, General Alexandre D'Arblay, for three years. How did she come to marry a French general? D'Arblay was apparently one of a group of French monarchists who were living in Mickleham having fled from the French Revolution. It is not clear what prompted the construction of the archway; we had some enjoyable speculation.

Continuing along Chapel Lane you reach the ruins of Westhumble Chapel. It was built in the 12th or 13th century and desecrated three centuries later. As so often, internet research reveals these scanty facts, but no explanation - why?, by whom?

Shortly after the chapel the route turns back towards Box Hill, but there is still time for a detour to Denbies Wine Estate, "England's largest vineyard", where we enjoyed a moderate lunch with a surprisingly good bottle of Chardonnay.

After Denbies you cross the A24 again and then traverse the mighty River Mole. The pretty stepping stones were unfortunately covered by a raging torrent, so we had to use the bridge. I have a soft spot for the 50 mile long Mole having fished in it at West Molesey as a boy.

Then the final assault on Box Hill, up another long series of steps, memorably described as "unremitting" by the walk book. We were pleased when they did remit, close to the original view point.

From: 50 walks in Surrey (AA).

Map: Explorer 146 (Dorking, Box Hill and Reigate).

Rating: four stars.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Moulsham Green to Hazeley Heath (Three Castles Path 2)

We picked up where we left off on Friday and did the next stage of the Three Castles Path from Moulsham Green on the edge of Yateley to Hazeley Heath, near Hartley Wintney in Hampshire - 5.25 miles.

You first have to extricate yourself from semi-suburban Yateley, but before long fields and a lane bring you the small hamlet of Up Green when you are immediately confronted by these splendid Victorian houses of 1899. The walk book reveals that they were built as a memorial to the writer Charles Kingsley, who was vicar of Eversley.

On leaving the village, a pleasant track follows the edge of Lower Eversley Copse and at a junction were a little surprised to see these ostriches bearing down upon us.

At the end of the copse, the path goes through some fields - where we saw some rather reticent characters apparently ferreting for rabbits - to reach Eversley Manor and St Mary's church. Date stones reveal that the main body of the church dates from 1724, while the tower was added in 1733. Pevsner describes the nave as "handsome".

At the end of the lane by the church, you turn left into Warren Heath and the remainder of this stage is a delightful stroll along wide tracks through the pine woods.

The tracks all have names - the route follows Fox Ride - and there is a disconcerting sense of walking along the ground plan for a new city. St Richards (sic) Ride, below, is typical.

The stage ends shortly after you emerge from the woods.

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stage 6.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading) and 144 (Basingstoke).

Rating: four stars.