Fifty Shades of………Yellow!

Fifty Shades of………Yellow!

The landscape of England has transformed in the last couple of weeks to a pastiche of various shades of yellow. The daffodils are almost over now, just a little splash of colour left.

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The last of the daffodils in Norton Bavant

Springing up in their place in the hedgerows, the dandelions have put in an appearance. In the woods the primroses are out in huge numbers.

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Primroses in the woods at Selworthy, Exmoor.

On the downland, heathland and the moors, the gorse is still blooming. Very colourful and with a beautiful aroma (reminiscent of coconut) gorse adds a golden lustre through the late winter and early spring. Don’t grab a gorse bush, though, the gorse prickles are one of the sharpest and most painful you will find – which explains why it hasn’t been eaten by hungry cattle or deer during the winter!

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Gorse bushes on Milk Hill, Pewsey

By far the most dramatic addition to the landscape at the moment are the  bright yellow fields of Oilseed Rape  which dominate the arable farming areas.

Many people see it as a relatively new crop, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the first century, the Romans introduced it as a feed crop for animals. It has no pollen, as such, but gives off an oily fragrant substance. It is a member of the cabbage family. It is grown for its oil (known in North America as Canola Oil), which is light, healthy and excellent to cook with. Rapeseed was reintroduced to England in the seventeenth century, when the lowland fields were drained. The Dutch drainage engineers needed a light oil to lubricate their pumps. The fields will be blooming for another few weeks, but the crop will be in the fields for months whilst the pods of seeds fill with oil.

Oilseed in bloom, Cotley Hill
Oilseed in bloom, Cotley Hill

The fifth (not fiftieth – OK, I exaggerated) shade of yellow appearing in large numbers on unspoilt grasslands is provided by the majestic Cowslip. The cowslip is a species in decline as it does not respond well to chemicals.

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Cowslips, Norton Bavant.

If yellow is not your colour, relax, change is on the way. The first of the bluebells are with us and will soon be dominating our Beech woodlands.

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Bluebells, Wylye Valley

 

Try A Little Heritage With Your Hiking

Try A Little Heritage With Your Hiking

I’m sure that most people enjoy a walk or hike for its own sake; exercise, relaxation, fresh air – the benefits are obvious. Add another element to the walk and, for most of us, the enjoyment goes up another level. The obvious enhancements to any walk include great views, wildlife, wildflowers and, for some, the thrill of an exposed path on a mountainside or sea cliff. There are an increasing number of paths that have another theme – heritage.

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Chapel on Glastonbury Tor

The immediate thought provoked by the word ‘heritage’ might be a castle or an old mill from the time of the industrial revolution. Further reflection however will reveal a wealth of subject material; ancient monuments, industrial heritage, historic buildings, landscape heritage, literary heritage – the list goes on.

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Lanyon Quoit, Cornwall

Many Long Distance Paths are centered on heritage. The Offa’s Dyke Path is a National Trail which follows the defensive earthwork which Saxon King Offa built along the  border between England and Wales (it just so happens that it passes through nearly 200 miles of stunning countryside too). The Great Stones Way and White Horse Trail pick out some of Wiltshire’s wealth of archaeological heritage. Probably the best example, though, is the Hadrian’s Wall Path, a National Trail running the length of the famous Roman Wall across the very north of England.

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Mile Castle, Hadrian’s Wall

 

Sycamore Gap, Hadrian's Wall
Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall

 

Britain’s industrial heritage has yielded some interesting landscapes and enhanced some great walks; the South West Coast Path visits the mining landscape of the Cornish Coast (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), The Cleveland Way passes through the former alum mines of North Yorkshire and the White Peak Way passes a number of Derbyshire’s former cotton mills. Canal towpaths are a wonderful legacy of our industrial past; the Kennet and Avon Canal, from Reading to Bath effectively spans the country from coast to coast, linking Bristol and London.

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The Kennett and Avon canal, Widcombe Locks, Bath
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Watermill, Mapledurham on Thames

A number of  walking trails have been tied to literary themes; the ‘Hardy Way’ in Dorset visits villages which featured as locations in the books of Thomas Hardy, in the North of England there are walks based on the works of the Bronte Sisters. In the Highlands of Scotland there is the Rob Roy Trail (based on Sir Walter Scott’s fictional hero).

Thatched Cottage in Thomas Hardy's Dorset
Thatched Cottage in Thomas Hardy’s Dorset

The number of paths themed around architectural styles or historic buildings is huge. Notable among them are; the Three Castles Path in Wales, the Border Abbeys Way in Scotland and yet another Three Castles Path in southern England. In truth any country walk you might take in England that visits a village or two is likely to contain at least one medieval building – the church.

St James' Church, Tytherington
St James’ Church, Tytherington

So whether your preference is for a side order of heritage with your hike or the full main course; in the United Kingdom you’re spoiled for choice.

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Brentor Church, Dartmoor.

 

Dreaming Of White Horses

Dreaming Of White Horses

‘White Horses’ is the friendly name for waves which break into white crests when the sea is a little rough. One of Britain’s finest sea cliff climbs was named ‘A Dream of White Horses’ because of the boiling white breakers below the cliffs. I grew up beside the sea and on windy days the bay and estuary were full of ‘white horses’. Now I live in historic, timeless Wiltshire, completely landlocked and a good forty miles from the nearest coast. ‘White Horses’ means something completely different to the local Wessex folk.

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The Cherhill White Horse
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The Alton Barnes White Horse

The chalk soil on the hillsides stands out against the grass and there is a long tradition of carving huge figures on the chalk hills. These figures, mostly white horses, are visible for many miles. The image at the head of this post is the Uffington White Horse which is thought to date back to the bronze age (3000 years). It is a very precise, stylised figure stretching over the hillside. Even stranger, it can only really be seen properly from the air. Just to throw a bit of legend into the mix, it is on this hill that legend has St George slaying the dragon. There are now long distance walking and hiking trails which link these iconic  figures, some of which date back many centuries, some as recent as the 18th century. Relaxed walking on short, springy grass through a timeless landscape. An unbroken connection with the past – ‘it’s there to find if you have the mind’.

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The Westbury White Horse
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Hackpen White Horse

 

Hot and Happy On The Igneous Malverns

Hot and Happy On The Igneous Malverns

I spent yesterday ‘fleshing out’ a route description for one of our self guided walking tours . This time in the Malvern Hills, a chain of spectacular conical hills rising from the flat valley of the River Severn.

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Worcestershire Beacon, Malvern Hills
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Small Tree, Big Mistletoe. Hangman Hill, Malverns

The Malvern Hills are volcanic rock, much harder wearing than the sedimentary rocks of the valley they rise from. They are famed for their spring water and the town below the ridge of hills is a spa town. The Malverns has the landscape designation as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and a European Union designation as a ‘GeoPark’.

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British Camp (also known as Herefordshire Beacon)
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Malvern reservoir, nestling below Herefordshire Beacon

The southern end of the chain falls within the county of Herefordshire and the northern end in Worcestershire. The highest peaks are Herefordshire Beacon (also known as British Camp due to the presence of the earthworks of an ancient hill fort) and Worcestershire Beacon.

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Stone Path Marker, Malvern Style
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Looking south along the chain from Worcestershire Beacon

Yesterday we decided to walk the whole chain, out and back. The total distance was just over 16 miles in hot, clear conditions. The temperature was 20c (68F) with barely a breath of air. It will certainly get much  warmer this summer but the temperature in England five days ago was 8c (46F) with a biting easterly wind, so the warm sunshine was a bit of a shock to the system, albeit a pleasant one!

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A gorse bush in full bloom.
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Ponies in the mist.

Plenty of other ‘happy hikers’ were out enjoying the trails in the sunshine as well as mountain bikers and paragliders. There was a euphoric feel to the day, almost as though everyone was convinced that springtime really was here to stay. The gorse bushes were in full bloom and their distinctive ‘coconut’ fragrance was everywhere.

Big walk, big landscape, big pack, hot day – a day like this has to finish with a drink, but in Herefordshire with a strong tradition of cider and Worcestershire where beer holds sway – what to choose? We avoided the stress of choice by having one of each!

 

Easter In the Sunny West Country

Easter In the Sunny West Country

The fine weather over the Easter weekend has given us the opportunity to check on how some of the trails on our walking and hiking tours have held up over the winter and. as expected after a winter with few dramatic weather events, they were fine.   Still, that gave us the excuse to venture out into several different walking areas; Dorset’s Purbeck Peninsula, The Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, the Exmoor National Park in Somerset and the Oxfordshire Cotswolds.

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Corfe Castle from Kingston
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Thatched cottage, West Street, Corfe Castle

Thursday saw us walking around Corfe Castle in Dorset. Corfe is set in the Purbeck peninsula in the picturesque county of Dorset. The route we were describing took us through the beautiful village of Kingston with its excellent pub, the Scott Arms. The picture of Corfe Castle was taken from the Scott Arms’ beer garden.

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Heather at the top of ‘Adam’s Grave’.
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The Alton Barnes White Horse

Good Friday dawned cold and grey with a biting easterly wind. We stayed in Wiltshire and checked out a number of trails around the Vale of Pewsey. The historic landscape of Wiltshire is world famous for its standing stones, earthworks, hillforts, burial mounds, carved hill figures and lately crop circles. Our walk took us over ‘Adam’s Grave’, Milk Hill, the Wansdyke and Knapp Hill. The Pewsey Downs are a valuable protected landscape as a ‘National Nature Reserve‘ and a  Site of Special Scientific Interest. Much of it is also protected as a ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument’.  I certainly wouldn’t have envied a Neolithic or Bronze Age man out and about in that wind without the benefits of modern insulated clothing. A stunning area, though, even on a cold grey day.

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The Spring lambs are out in force on Exmoor!
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The bumble bees are working hard in the meadows
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Eat your vitamins!

After Good Friday’s icy blast, the rest of the Easter holiday weekend was warm and balmy. We never need an excuse to visit Exmoor,  this weekend we helped with a grassland management research project  which will benefit the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate. The bees were busy in the meadows and the valley echoed to the excited calls of young lambs. Perfect. The day finished with a walk and tea in Periwinkle Cottage Tearoom. Even more perfect!

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Lonely church between Swinbrook and Burford
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The Maytime Inn, Asthall

Last but not least we paid a visit to the Cotswolds to check out a trail. The Cotswolds is England’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and they cover parts of a number of counties; Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. This weekends’ walk was in the east of the region, in Oxfordshire, and explored the beautiful unspoilt villages along the Windrush river. This walk appears on Footpath Holidays’ ‘Cotswolds Highlights‘ self guided walking holiday. This is based on a ‘tailor-made’ itinerary we set up for travel blogger Debby J. Debby has posted nineteen times about this trip on DebbysDepartures. Here’s a link to her post summarising the trip. Debby has also written a book available from Amazon. The pictures are the lonely chapel outside Swinbrook and in the best traditions of a walk in the Cotswolds, this blog ends with a great pub, the Maytime at Asthall!

 

Off The Beaten Track in the Cotswolds

Off The Beaten Track in the Cotswolds

Many British people and visitors to Britain will have visited the Cotswolds and feel that they’ve seen it and know what it has to offer. Most visitors will have travelled through the Cotswolds on a tour bus or in a car and have visited the very beautiful (and comparatively easily accessible) towns and villages in the north of the region; Broadway, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water, Snowshill, Chipping Campden, Upper and Lower Slaughter – beautiful places all, with that beguiling mix of honey coloured stone cottages, tithe barns and churches. The north of the Cotswolds can boast some splendid walking and hiking too. The trails are never overcrowded but it’ll never be too long before you meet someone to greet along the way.

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Bridge over the Windrush

If, like me, you prefer lonely solitary walking and small less developed villages then head for the south of the Cotswolds. Tiny river valleys containing unspoiled villages and hamlets  tucked away in the folds of the landscape, lonely cottages by millstreams and rustic churches dating back to the time of the Norman Conquest (and sometimes before) typify the area. The roads through these valleys are too narrow for tour buses and, generally, only the locals are prepared to drive them!

Cotswold cottage.
Lonely cottage in the Cotswolds

Shops and amenities are few and far between but you might get a chat with a farmer working in a field or possibly with a friendly villager working in their garden. What you will have done is stumbled across the real Cotswolds, still unique and authentic. You will soon get the feeling that a lot of these villages don’t see many walkers, cyclists or horseriders. The stone is the same, the architecture is the same, but the level of contact with the local inhabitants, makes all the difference. That’s when you know that you’ve happened upon the path less travelled, a feeling that always puts a spring in my step. The other thing guaranteed to put a spring in my step is a good country pub, and you’ll find a few of those too!

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The Swan at Bibury
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14th Century Weaver’s cottages at Bibury

Walking Through The Ancient Landscape of Wessex

Walking Through The Ancient Landscape of Wessex

This morning our latest walking holiday itinerary went ‘live’ on our website. Putting together Walking Through the Ancient Landscape of Wessex has been something of a ‘labour of love’. The area is our adopted home.

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Stonehenge

Where is Wessex then? You certainly won’t see it on a modern map. It came into being after the Romans quit ‘Britannia’ and the Angles and Saxons colonised England, so around 450 AD which certainly justifies the ‘Ancient’ tag. Wessex is short for the ‘Kingdom of the West Saxons’. Wessex covered an area of central southern and western England and took in  some or all of the modern day English counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset and Devon.

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Iron Age eathworks on Hambledon Hill

Wessex disappeared as an entity in 1066 when the Normans defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. The name of Wessex was kept alive by the local Saxons as a symbol of defiance against the new Norman overlords and the name sprung to prominence again in the novels of Thomas Hardy and Wessex still retains a strong regional identity today.

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The mysterious and enigmatic Silbury Hill

The Saxons were, of course, late comers to this landscape. The region was the cradle of humanity in England. Visible remains such as West Kennett Long Barrow, Avebury and Wayland’s Smithy date back over 7500 years to the Neolithic period. By some distance the most famous of the local standing stones is Stonehenge, dating back over 3500 years to the Bronze Age. The area is well known for its tradition of carved white horse figures on its hillsides; some ancient some less so. Latterly the area has become a mecca for people chasing ‘crop circles’ – that sense of Wessex mystique just won’t go away! I won’t even start on the subject Ley Lines!

 

Why not check out the page on our website

 

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Clump of trees and Bronze Age tumulus next to the ancient Ridgeway track
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Clouds swirl above the ancient stone circle at Avebury
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Moth on wild orchid, Salisbury Plain.

More Than Just ‘Special’

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There’s ‘special’ and there’s ‘really special’.

I was born and bred in the South West of England and I regard the whole of the ‘West Country’ as a very special place. Within the West Country there are a few places that I regard as ‘especially special’.

West of St Ives, that last bit of Cornwall before you reach Land’s End (the most westerly point of mainland Britain) has that very special quality. Spectacular cliffs, white sandy beaches and, inland, wild moorland dotted with an incredible number of ‘quoits’, stone circles and standing stones, some dating back to the Neolithic ( a couple of millennia earlier than Stonehenge)!

With its strong heritage of Cornish language and folklore and a rich tradition of mining West Penwith is a ‘must’ to visit. Walk around, there’s something more to the place, a unique atmosphere that’s hard to define. One visit is never enough (you may, of course, end up staying).

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Pedn Vounder Bay
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Lanyon Quoit Cornwall
Lanyon Quoit
Rocky Isles Off Land's End
The Armoured Knight, Lands End
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Boats on the slipway at Sennen Cove

 

Walking The Path Less Traveled in Cornwall

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Rame Head from Whitesands Bay

Sometimes you can get a real buzz from just looking beyond the obvious and discovering something wonderful. One such place is ‘my part of Cornwall’. The Rame peninsula is the south easternmost part of Britain’s most westerly county. It lies on Cornwall’s south coast to the east of the little resort town of Looe and is bounded by the west shore of Plymouth Sound and the  magnificent Tamar Estuary. The coast is dotted with secluded coves, occasional small villages and rugged cliffs. Inland lies lush farmland giving way to the southern edge of mysterious Bodmin Moor.

Access to this beautiful, lonely coast is most easily achieved by ferry from the maritime city of Plymouth. The main arteries, the A38 and A30 whisk the masses down to the surf beaches around Newquay and Perranporth and leave this gem for the discerning and those prepared to make the effort!

The walking on this section of the South West Coast Path is fantastic.

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The cheesewring at Minions
Cliffs, Whitesand Bay, Cornwall
Rocky shoreline at Whitesands Bay
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The twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand

Hello world!

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Welcome to our shiny new WordPress blog. Springtime has arrived here in the UK so we’ve launched at just the right time for getting active in the outdoors. Last weekend we were walking in the Chiltern Hills and beside the River Thames, the spring flowers were at their best and the sun was shining brightly.

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Mapledurham Mill, the oldest watermill on the Thames and still going strong.
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Crocuses at Mapledurham by the Thames.
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Holly Copse Cottage in the Chiltern Hills
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Lonely valley in the Chiltern Hills.
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Goring church by the Thames