Sunday, 26 April 2009

Upper Wield to Abbotstone (Three Castles Path 7)

Bluebells in Barton Copse, Upper Wield

Back on the Three Castles Path. The route continues from Upper Wield as before, following a track with fields on one side and woods on the other. The first wood, Barton Copse, had a very good showing of bluebells, while the second, Wield Wood, was even more impressive. It seems to have been an especially good year for bluebells.

The next stretch is more open with lovely views over fields and hills. At the end of another wood, the track descends to join a farm drive and then a road. After half a mile along the quite busy road, the route turns into the Spy Bush plantation and becomes a leafy open track with brimstone butterflies in some numbers.

Emerging from the woods, you turn left onto Spybush Lane and are quickly greeted by the sight of this imposing church away across the fields.

A study of the map reveals it to be in Northington - the church of St John Evangelist. Pevsner describes it as "a typical estate church, proudly provided by the squire". He describes the tower as being of the Somerset type and we have indeed seen a similar one at Blagdon.

Past more typical Hampshire countryside ...

... you go through a small wood, cross a road and enter Abbotstone Down, a good site for the Chalkhill blue butterfly - but not today.

Our route now follows that of the Wayfarers Walk (which runs 70 miles from Inkpen Beacon in Berkshire to Emsworth between Portsmouth and Chichester - a future project). Taking the form of another field-edge track it leads to Abbotstone, a place so small that it is only the signpost with the name Abbotstone in a white circle at the top that confirms that you are there. There was once a medieval village here.

For now, the main sight is the fast flowing river Candover emerging from under the road.

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stages 11-12.

Map: 132 (Winchester, New Alresford and East Meon).

Rating: three and half stars. Quiet, pleasant tracks, copses, farmland. Perhaps becoming a bit samey - the two previous stretches were really very similar.


A reasonable selection of butterflies: lots of Brimstones, and quite a few Orange Tips, Speckled Woods, Peacocks, Small Whites.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


St Cybi's Church, Llangybi

We were in Llangybi (or sometimes Llangybbi - Llangibby in English) on family business and decided to then do a walk. This is the Llangybi in the Usk Valley in Monmouthshire or Sir Fynwy in Welsh. I found this walk on the excellent parish website.

We first had a look around St Cybi's church. The highlight was the 15th century wall paintings, which were uncovered in the 1970s. The one shown below is a Christ of the Trades and shows Christ surrounded by the tools of many trades. Its message is the need to keep the Sabbath holy. There is a restored holy well in the southeast of the churchyard.

The walk begins by leaving the village along the road towards Usk, but you soon turn off to the left (west) and begin a long ascent past Llangybi Castle Farm and skirt round the ruins of the medieval Llangybi Castle (sadly hidden in the trees). John Newman in the Gwent/Monmouth volume in the Buildings of Wales series describes the early 14th century castle as "enormous" and "ambitious" and refers to archaeological studies which suggest that it was abandoned unfinished.

You emerge into open country and rolling hills in Llangybi Park ...

... and after passing through a bit of woodland and a large field arrive at the medieval barn at Porthllong.

Turning right here, you are quickly on a ridge at 525ft, with splendid views towards the Black Mountains.

At the end of a series of fields, you go through a small patch of woodland to emerge on one side of the Dowlais valley.

You descend the hillside to the valley bottom. Below is the view along the valley to the south west.

Through an isolated settlement of a couple of farmhouses, you turn right and follow the bottom of the valley through a dozen or so fields, filled with sheep and their lambs, to reach Little Cwm Dowlais farm. Here the route again turns right up a steep hill through grass and then woodland to reach Little Hill Farm. We saw "Hill" Farm next on the route and thought that if that was Little Hill, how big must Hill be. Fortunately the worst was already over and we passed Hill Farm and Tresteven Farm to return to the main road and Llangybi.


The most striking was a field full of Cuckooflower (or Lady's Smock) - delicate, multi-headed, pale pink flowers.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Mapledurham: Newell's Lane and Chazey Wood

Bluebells in Park Wood

This 4.75 mile walk starts by the well-known Pack Saddle pub on the A4074 at Mapledurham, north of Reading. After walking a short way further along the road you turn left and cross the middle of a field. The farmer had simply seeded the whole thing and not left a line for the path - this is now quite unusual around here. You skirt a copse, cross a road and enter a sunken track, Newell's Lane. This runs along the edge of a golf course for a while but before long you reach a farm and beyond it enter Park Wood.

Looking towards the wood across the field as you approach it seems curiously dark between the trees. As you get closer it becomes clear that this is the result of a dense concentration of blue bells.

At the further end of Park Wood you come upon what the guide laconically describes as "the monument". This is a tall brick plinth with a statue on the top. A bit of googling unearths the information that the statue if of Pan and is said to have been instigated by Alexander Pope, a friend of the ladies of Mapledurham House. As ever, one is left with further questions - the most obvious being, "why?" The area around the monument is sadly overgrown and it is only directly visible from behind, or looking up from immediately below.

From here, a winding path descends to the park which surrounds Mapledurham House. Park Wood is on the right in the photo.

You walk away from the house along the first of a series of concrete estate roads. As you glance back, the house gradually becomes fully visible.

Two further sections of concrete road lead up through Chazey Wood, then a green track passes through the gold course to return to the start.

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 stars. Nice countryside, but spoilt a little by the golf course and the excess of concrete.


A good crop of butterflies: brimstone, comma, orange tip, speckled wood, peacock, small white. Kites and buzzards overhead - the former very low. Lesser periwinkles, wild garlic, ground ivy and greater stitchwort by the wayside.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Shipham and Dolbury Hill

View from Dolbury Hill

In Somerset for the day with just enough free time for this short (4.25 miles), but quite strenuous walk. The walk begins in the Square of the former zinc- and lead-mining village of Shipham, appropriately enough facing the Miners Arms.

You walk uphill away from the pub and eventually reach the entrance to Rowberrow Warren, after descending for a short while you turn sharp left and walk along by a stream in a valley. This valley - Rowberrow Bottom - extends downhill all the way to the base of Dolbury Hill.

After the open area shown above, the route becomes wooded. There has been a lot of tree felling here since I was last here and there is a now a wide swath of mud on the opposite bank of the stream - one might almost think that a new road was coming through.

After passing some cottages and a long field with two horses, the route swings right to begin the ascent of Dolbury Hill, initially through woodland with the aid of wooden steps.

You then emerge into open ground, with the bare hillside initially to the left.

The route follows the edge of the hill and now you can look back along the length of Rowberrow Bottom - the horses can just be seen at the bottom of the long field.

At the top of the hill there was once a iron age hill fort and the remains of defensive earthworks can clearly be seen.

There is also a splendid view down to Rowberrow Manor and the Church of St Michael and All Angels. (The church is of 14th century origin, but as is so often the case, what you see today is the result of 19th rebuilding.)

The descent through woodland brings you down to the A38. You cross this and a short steep path takes you up to join a track running more or less parallel to the road - this was once upon a time the main road to Bristol. This track climbs and then descends to join the A38 again at Star.

You cross the road and follow a side road with a row of old miners cottages which soon turns into a track in a steep sided valley which leads back to Shipham.

Known locally as Daffodil Valley, this track provides a delightful end to the walk - and although I didn't see any daffodils, there were plenty of primroses, wood anemones, yellow celandine and bluebells.

Arriving back at Shipham, I realised that apart from a short distance along Rowberrow Bottom and again along the edge of Dolbury Hill, the whole of this walk involves either ascent or descent.

From: More Mendip walks by Sue Gearing (Halsgrove).

Map: Explorer 141 (Cheddar Gorge and Mendip Hills West).

Rating: four stars. Wonderful views from Dolbury Hill and two delightful valleys to boot.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Northleach and Hampnett

St Peter and Paul, Northleach

In Gloucester for the day, I decided to do a walk on the way back home and a slight diversion brought me to the delightful town of Northleach. The town was on the main road from Oxford to Cheltenham (although now bypassed by the modern A40) and was an important stop-over for stage coaches - several former coaching inns remain as evidence.

The walk starts in the Market Place, but before setting out I visited the imposing church of St Peter and Paul. It has 12th century origins, but took its present form in the 15th century. It is a very light church with large clerestory windows and a very unusual window above the entrance to the apse. The splendour of the church - it is apparently known as the Cathedral of the Cotswolds - reflects the prosperity of the wool trade at the time. The two story porch with its pinnacles and bell-cote was constructed in 1480.

The walk proper begins by heading west along the former main road past some splendid houses - I particularly liked this one with its half-timbered upper story over a stone ground floor.

Once across a road junction, you leave the pavement and head across fields to the nearby hamlet of Hampnett. This has the small, mainly Norman, St George's church. Pleasant enough, but nothing special.

Inside however there is some extraordinary 19th century decorative stenciling, which was the idea of the vicar, Rev William Wiggin, in 1868. His aim was to recreate medieval wall painting.

The first impact is made by the Norman chancel arch ...

... but the walls and ceiling of the chancel itself are even more dramatic.

The residents at the time did not like what the vicar had done and went so far as to set up a fund for the removal of the decorations, but evidently they did not succeed - happily for the modern visitor.

A track through a farm yard, up a hill and then, after crossing another road, besides two large fields heads south from Hampnett. Reaching a road you head south east, cross a road and then follow a very pleasant green lane until you are due south of Northleach. From here, a field path returns to the centre.

From: Cotswold Walks (Jarrold).

Map: Explorer OL 45 (The Cotswolds).

Rating: Three and half stars.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Ellisfield to Upper Wield (Three Castles Path 6)

All Saints, Bradley

Easter Monday: the ideal day to continue along the Three Castles Path. This walk represents the whole of stage 11 and half of stage 12. You leave Ellisfield by a pleasant, initially muddy track, Kit Lane, climb beside a copse and walk along a short section of road beside beech trees. From here another track leads down to the hamlet of Bradley. This is in what we are coming to think of as the Hampshire style: beside copses and along the edge of large open fields.

Leaving Bradley, the line of this path is clearly visible descending along the line of trees from the horizon.

The path from Bradley climbs Preston Down, and offers lovely views of open country ahead towards Windmill Hill.

Crossing a headland at the top of another massive field and skirting a copse brings you to Lower Wield. We were impressed by the bowl-shaped cricket ground which clearly requires very special technique to drive the ball to the boundary.

From Lower Wield a path beside another large field and - something of a novelty - across the middle of another brings you to its larger neighbour, Upper Wield.

There are a number of nice thatched cottages here, as well as the Norman church of St James. It once had a tower, but it was demolished in 1810 as unsafe.

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stages 11-12.

Map: 144 (Basingstoke, Alton and Winchester).

Rating: three and half stars. Quiet, pleasant tracks, copses, farmland.


The grassy headland mentioned above had several clumps of increasingly rare cowslips.


It does seem that no matter how deep you are in the country you you are you can't guarantee to escape noise. The early part of the walk was under the flightpath (if that isn't too grand a term) for a glider school. The gliders were towed up to about the same spot and released by noisy little single engine planes. Later the peace of the country was shattered by a convoy of motorcycles out on a run. But maybe this stereotype of peace is a myth - next up was a tractor spraying crops.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Counting steps - three months in

I am pleased to be able to say that I have kept up my step counting for three months and I have worked out I think how to meet the 10,000 a day target in my own circumstances.

I used the first month to understand my baseline level of steps. Because I work from home this was shockingly low: about 2500 a day if all I do is work in my office and wander round the house. However, by dint of a few walks around the local streets and a decision already taken to go out walking in the country twice a week rather than our usual once, it was possible to reach an average of 9,000 steps a day by the end of January.

February involved much more work in other locations, mainly London, and now it was much easier to meet the 10,000 target on individual days. I followed obvious tactics like getting off the tube one, or preferably two stops, before my destination, walking down stairs and escalators (walking up can wait for now!), and parking further away from my destination when in the car. The new philosophy is essentially that "further away is better"- obvious, but it is a real mental shift from the way I and probably most people previously operated. February's daily average was 9,500.

March involved continuing these strategies and yielded a daily average of 10,050. The only extra thing I did was to try to increase the daily minimum to 5,000. This was not completely successful, but at least the proportion of sub-5,000 days went down. So far in April, I have managed at least 5,500 steps every day. I hope to continue to keep pushing this up.

It has been quite satisfying and I think I have avoided becoming obsessive (I would accept "mindful"). I feel a bit fitter and I did lose a few pounds initially. They have crept back though.

My personal conclusions so far:
  • Get a good, simple reliable pedometer.
  • Establish the baseline, so you know what you have to change.
  • Move to a "Further is better" philosophy to replace the previous "economy of effort" one.
  • Try to gradually increase the minimum.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Palladian London - St James's and Whitehall

Burlington House

We recently went to the Palladio exhibition at the Royal Academy - a pretty successful effort to bring the work of an architect to life inside an exhibition hall. We had previously seen most of his buildings in the Veneto, so we were well prepared. The RA offer two walks to see buildings in London in the Palladian style and we decided to do the southern one, covering St James's and Whitehall.

The walk begins appropriately enough at Burlington House, which now accommodates the Royal Academy. It is an earlier building which was remodelled by Colen Campbell for Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington, in 1717-1720. The top storey however was added by Sidney Smirke in 1872-3.

The helpful notes directed our attention to three characteristic elements which make this a Palladian building: the rusticated ground storey, the alternating pediments over the windows and Venetian windows between Ionic pilasters.

From here the route goes to 21 Arlington Street, a town house built c1738-40 by Giacomo Leoni, an Italian architect who had the distinction of making the first translation into English of Palladio's Quattro Libri. This building seems less obviously Palladian - the lack of symmetry in particular - but the front door and main window are undeniably impressive. The notes praise its order, simplicity and calmness.

You then go along Piccadilly to enter Green Park and walking along the eastern edge you soon come to Spencer House - offering an added interest as we recently saw the film of the Duchess which was ostensibly set there. [Mini review: good film, rather sad, much better than the reviews had suggested, Keira Knightley was miscast, lacking the requisite emotional range.]

Neither of us had ever been in Green Park or seen Spencer House so this was a delight. It dates from 1756-66 and was the work of John Vardy and James "Athenian" Stuart (interior). Interesting features are the way the seven bays are not arranged with three projecting and two to each side, but rather a more shallow projection of five bays with one either side. The frieze beneath the pediment contains bucrania (ox skulls) and paterae (dish-like ornaments). Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the lack of main door. This is on the street, but lacks the expected portico, indicating that the building was designed to be viewed from the park.

Leaving the park by a passage which leads into Cleveland Row (the written instructions mysteriously refer to Lugsmore Lane), you pass St James's Palace and turning into Marlborough Road, you come on another gem - the Queen's Chapel of 1625.

It was designed by Inigo Jones, unusually in the early seventeenth century, as a catholic place of worship. It was intended for Maria Anna, daughter of Phillip III of Spain who was projected to marry the future Charles I. That marriage of course did not happen, but Charles did marry Henrietta Maria, who was herself Catholic. The chapel is still used for royal services. although these are open to the general public, and this is only way to see the "stunning coffered vault" and large Venetian window which lie within.

You then go down Marlborough Street and cross the Mall into St James's park, where these flowers just demanded to be photographed.

You leave the park, pass through Horseguards Parade into Whitehall to see Inigo Jones's Banqueting House. This dates from 1619 and was built as an immediate replacement for its predecessor which had burned down. Jones had travelled in Italy and was the first proponent of Palladio's style in England. The RA exhibition includes his heavily annotated copy of the Quattro Libri.

Again we see a rusticated ground floor, alternating pediments and Ionic columns, this time with Composite ones above. This building represented a radically novel classical style at the time.

Returning to Horseguards Parade your attention is directed to the Old Treasury building of 1733-6 by William Kent on the left (no photo - the sun was directly behind it) and then to Horse Guards. This was designed by William Kent and construction was supervised by John Vardy during 1751-8. More ground floor rustication and Venetian windows are in evidence, but the overall form owes more to the English Baroque school.

Finally, the route passes Westminster Abbey, into Deans Yard, through the cloisters and arrives at the delightful College Garden - a peaceful oasis where you find the Westminster School Dormitory. It was built in 1722-30 and designed by Lord Burlington. Unlike all the other buildings it is built of a beautiful golden sandstone. The ground floor arcade was enclosed at a later date.


A wonderful and informative couple of hours. This sort of walk provides new discoveries - both planned and serendipitous - and requires you to see familiar things with fresh eyes.

It is intriguing that, at least here, the Palladian buildings fall into two very distinct clusters - early seventeenth century and early to mid eighteenth century. What happened in between? I had better reach for my architectural history books.

Well done to the RA for an excellent walk with a very informative commentary.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Tunworth to Ellisfield (Three Castles Path 5)

All Saints, Tunworth

A bit below par today, so although we were keen to return to the Three Castles Path, it seemed sensible to just do a short section. We picked up the path at Tunworth and covered the four miles to Ellisford.

We took the opportunity to investigate All Saints church at Tunworth. Quite picturesque. Mainly mid-Victorian with some 12th and 13th century elements. Walking along the path to the church gave a view of the splendid former rectory and its grounds.

The walk itself begins with a mile or so along a bridle way which skirts a copse on one side or part of the way, with fields on the other. The copse was carpeted with wild garlic.

Crossing the A339 and passing under a bridge which carried the long-defunct Basingstoke and Alton Light railway, you walk along another track with woods on one side (Whinkney's Copse) and a long open field in a valley on the other.

At the end of this field you pass through a grassy ride and then continue along a headland. At the end of this a tree-lined, slightly sunken track leads down to Ellisfield. Somewhere, imperceptibly, along here you pass the highest point on the Three Castles Path, 646ft.

A slight detour reveals the village pond in front of the 18th century manor house, glimpsed through a hole in the brick wall which surrounds it.

A little further on is St Martin's church. It is mainly the result of rebuilding in 1870. The tower dates from 1884.

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stage 10.

Map: 144 (Basingstoke, Alton and Winchester).

Rating: four stars. Quiet, pleasant tracks, copses, farmland.


We were struck by how big the fields are in this part of Hampshire, compared to what we usually see in Berkshire. It was good to be walking along tracks which define the edges of them, rather than across the middle as we often have nearer home. Are these two points connected?