Sunday, 27 July 2014

Never mind the bullocks - I've got a walk to complete

Day 6
Thornton Reservoir to Beacon Hill
13 miles
Weather - yes, you've guessed it - hot.

So here we are on the last day and what a super day to finish this epic journey.  The stages today were Thorton to Bradgate Parl and Bradgate Park to Beacon Hill. It had it all - beautiful woodlands (obviously), interspersed with cattle, tea and cake, hoards of day trippers and one of the best endings to a long distance walk.

So I began the day at Thornton Reservoir and paused a while to enjoy the tranquillity of this lovely place along with the early morning joggers and dog walkers.
I headed out of the village and crossed the first stile of the day into a large field with a herd of resting  bullocks.  Just my luck.  I gave myself a good talking to and strode purposely by them.  They all stood up, I walked a little quicker and made it safely to the next stile.  With a pounding heart and breathing heavily I peered apprehensively into the next large field and there was another herd - bullocks again.  Trapped!  I assessed the situation, considered my options and stepped into the field.  They were over the far side and, it seemed, preoccupied with grass eating.  Next minute they were cantering along the hedge, but not towards me, so I kept walking.  They reached the corner and then I realised they were heading for the same destination as me, the stile.  What to do?  I started jogging -  with a heavy rucksack, heading uphill and with soaring temperatures.  I know you are not supposed to run but I needed to get to the stile before them.  Suddenly they stopped and I managed to reach the stile and clamber over.  I looked back and the blighters were stood in a line watching me...sniggering.  Cows 1 - Hazel 0.

A deep breath and then onwards and upwards and along a bridleway and past a golf course. I entered the first woodland where two horse riders trotted by whilst the butterflies and dragonflies flitted ahead of me.  Ratby Burroughs was a splendid maturing woodland with dappled sunlight and squirrels everywhere.  An ornamental bench beckoned and I enjoyed a quiet moment in the sunshine.

At the edge of Pear Tree Woods- a woodland created in 1997,  I had a rendezvous with a friend who was making a guest appearance for a few miles - Mrs YC. Together we plunged into Martinshaw Woods which is a magnificent mature woodland. The sound of the M1 may have been the backdrop to this section but the trees were beautiful as they towered above us.

A movement on the path ahead caught my eye and I spotted a shrew disappearing into the undergrowth.  By now the sound of the motorway could not be ignored and we were soon crossing a bridge over the fast and furious vehicles.  Within minutes of making the crossing, the continuing delights of the Martinshaw woods muffled the sound behind us and we were back in peace and tranquillity.  Then another blast of urgent traffic as we quickly trotted over the A50 and then the busy, noisy roads were behind us.

As we approached Newtown Linford, thoughts of refreshments were at the forefront of my mind.  The village was busy with families making the most of the glorious weather so we retreated to the peaceful church yard to enjoy our packed lunch.  Next stop was one of the many tea rooms where we tucked into tea and cake.  Suitably refreshed we continued our journey.

Bradgate Park was full  of families picnicking, paddling in the river and sunbathing.  A group of Fallow Deer sheltered in the shade of a tree by the main path and seemed unperturbed by the people strolling by and stopping to take photographs.

We turned left by the ruins of Bradgate House and started our ascent to Old John Tower.  We walked along broad paths surrounded by bracken.  At one point we startled a fawn and it leapt up and disappeared into the bracken further ahead.  After many pauses to turn and admire the view opening up behind us, we reached the tower. We rested in the shade, had a drink and looked out over the landscape.  We could see up to 30 miles away and it was splendid.

We descended the hill and headed on to Swithland Woods.  A fine woodland which once echoed to the sound of quarrying as Swithland slate was a major industry in this area.

Mrs VC left me at Woodhouse Eaves as I continued on the final stage of the journey through Broombriggs Farm to Beacon Hill. A steady climb past fine wooden sculptures, a woolly herd of Alpacas and some Highland and Longhorn Cattle soon brought me to the summit of Beacon Hill.  And what a view I had from there.  I admired the fine vistas in all directions and shared the moment with a grandma and grandad who had brought their young granddaughter for a visit.  I told them it was the first time I had been here and grandad asked me where I'd been all life.  I said 'Manchester' and he laughed.

Somebody asked me why I chose to do the walk West to East rather than East to West.  At the time I said I wasn't sure but it just seemed the right way to do it.  Looking out over that fine landscape I knew why I chose this way - it was the perfect end to a super walk.

 I would not have been able to do this walk without the support of my husband, Mr McD.  Each day he has ferried me to the starting points and picked me up at the end of each stage Thank you very much husband.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Churches, Monuments and Memorials

Day 5
Ashby de la Zouch to Thornton Reservoir
13 1/2 miles
Weather - Hot and sunny

So here we are on day 5 with two stages - Ashby to Sence Valley and Sence Valley to Thornton Reservoir.  The day began at the Loudoun Memorial (erected in memory of Lady Hastings and designed by Gilbert Scot) and I was soon heading out of Ashby in the early morning sun.

I followed the Gilwiskaw Brook through fields next to the A42 and eventually crossed the busy dual carriageway via a bridge. The first staging post today was Packington Village which has a fine church with tower.
The Gilwiskaw brook runs through the village and the bridge crossing it was financed by another member of the Hastings Family.  

I left Packington via a footpath adjacent to a bungalow where the owner was watering her plants.  She was very interested in the walk and knew which paths I should follow and, more importantly, she knew which field the cows were in! Local knowledge is so useful.  

My next destination was Normanton le Heath.  The church here was also very beautiful.  This time a church with a tower and spire and some very old gravestones and memorials.  It's worth a closer look but I'll that for another day as I had paths to follow and woodlands to enjoy.

Leaving Normanton I plunged into  the newest National Forest woodland called the Diamond Jubilee Wood.  There are ambitious plans to plant thousands of trees here and they have made a good start.  Amongst all the new plantings are some lovely mature trees to enjoy and admire.

Sence Valley Forest Park is an older woodland and hides the scars of its mining past very well.  This was a good spot for lunch in the welcome shade of a grove of trees.  I was joined by a grandad and his grandaughter who were having a day out together.  We happily munched our picnic lunches - the four year old granddaughter seemed a bit of a foodie as she tucked into salad with balsamic dressing. 

Now the next stage from Sence to Donington le Heath was an interesting section.  The path was very difficult to follow due to its disappearance under crops and also rampaging nettles, brambles and thistles hiding stiles and  way markers.  It was a relief to finally reach Donington le Heath and get back on track. 

 Ellistown, Battram and Bagworth all have new woodlands springing up around them and they are looking splendid.  I came across a couple of council workers who were painting way markers and clearing away the undergrowth.  They were doing a great job and I hope they reach the offending section soon and give it a spring clean.

The last section from Battram to Thornton was great.  Battram woodland had wide grass paths and Bagworth Woods had a beacon on the hill with fine views over the surrounding countryside.

I soon reached Thornton and enjoyed a walk by the reservoir.  Tea was purchased at the boat yard and I spent a pleasant hour enjoying the view and the cooling breeze.

Reservoirs, Refreshments and a Rendevous

Day 4
Hartshorne to Ashby de la Zouch
12 1/2 miles
Weather - cloudy and cool to start, then hot and sunny

Right then - fourth day and the combined stages today were: Hartshorne to Ticknall and Ticknall to Ashby.  It was a cool start in Hartshorne but the sun soon joined the party and made its presence felt for the rest of the day.  Again this was a day filled with woodlands, ancient and modern but there were also reservoirs, bogs and ponds.

 I walked steadily uphill through Hartshorne's new plantations and  these were followed by older woodlands.  A path led
me past mossy, gnarled trees whilst a thrush sang overhead.  It was early and I had the woods to myself again.

I soon arrived at  Carver Rocks.
I hadn't seen this rocky outcrop before and it was an amazing place.  Towering, looming gritstone cliffs suddenly appeared amongst the trees.  A group of wrens hopped amongst the rocks. An atmospheric spot which stirred the soul.

The first reservoir of the day was Foremark.  I wasn't the only early bird here - the fishermen were out on the water, dog owners were just arriving with their hounds and the water board man was emptying the bins.  After a short break to enjoy the water and watch the ducks I was on my way again. The hamlet of Millom, the Hangman's Stone, Windmill Wood were all soon walked by and I arrived in Ticknall village.  The village hall is an excellent place with very handy public toilets.

The trail continued out of the village and on to the Calke Abbey Estate - an area I know well.  Past Betty's Pond and its water lilies, the ancient oak trees and lots of day trippers, I found the cafe and enjoyed a delicious scone and a refreshing cup of tea.

 Before leaving the park I also visited the bird hide hiding in full sight in the corner of the car park.  It's well worth a visit as I think every variety of bird must visit this place. I sat in there for 5 minutes and saw at least 10 different types.  A quick scoot around the deer park and then a walk by Staunton Harold Reservoir - a great expanse of water  with swans, herons, ducks, grebes and dinghies from the local sailing club.  Next I was off to Dimminsdale, a woodland managed by the Wildlife Trust.

I was immediately plunged into a green, lush, cool oasis.  It is hard to imagine that this area was once an industrial landscape where limestone was quarried and processed.  The scars of industry have been replaced by a haven for wildlife, plants and trees.  Such a peaceful place now - the old quarries submerged beneath tranquil pools.  If you like snowdrops then do visit in February when the woods are full of them - a legacy of the workers' cottage gardens.

I reluctantly left the welcome shade of Dimminsdale and headed across fields dotted with mature oak trees under which sheep were sensibly avoiding the heat of the midday sun.  A brief encounter with a large herd of cows was quickly dealt with;  as always discretion is the better part of valour.

I had spotted an area on the map called Black Ditches which sounded intriguing.  I cross a stile into a woodland and there it was- a bridge over a deep gorge.  It seemed an ancient and interesting spot and worth exploring.  I now plunged in to a plantation area near Old Parks Farm.  This was planted roughly 10 years ago and doesn't appear to have been managed during that time.  The path was completely overgrown in places with tree branches, nettles, brambles, thistles all trying to block my progress.  I felt like Frodo and the gang being thwarted by the Old Forest but, alas, Tom Bombadil wasn't around to help me through.  I slogged on slashing back the undergrowth, plagued by biting insects and nettle stings whilst the sun beat down and the encroaching trees blocked the cooling breeze.

  I finally escaped, had a drink and staggered on towards Ashby and civilisation.  I had a rendezvous with Carol and Richard from the National Forest Company and I had been promised a nice cup of tea.  Suddenly my feet had wings.  It was quite a shock to the system to be suddenly amongst traffic and people after my mainly solitary, peaceful day.  I walked down Market Street and was soon spotted by Carol and Richard - after all I was the only person clutching a map, carrying a ruck sack and perspiring freely on Market Street that day.

Shade was found and tea was enjoyed whilst we discussed the walk.  Another fine day's walking was over so time to head home.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Penguins, a Snowman and a dead Dane's Bottom

Day 3
Rosliston to Hartshorne
Mileage 13 3/4
Weather - still hot

OK, day three completed and half way there.  Today I covered another two stages: Rosliston to Moira and Moira to Hartshorne. Again the weather has been exceptional.  I have now emptied my rucksack of all wet weather gear, thermals and Kendal Mint cake and filled it instead with water and sun screen.

I was on the path by 8:15am to collect a good number of miles in the relative cool of the morning sun. Rosliston Forest Centre was deserted except for me and the rabbits.

I found the correct path after passing an assortment of animal sculptures and was soon walking along the edge of a maturing woodland.  A bit muddy but good signage here.  I walked across the middle of a huge wheatfield with ears of corn in all directions.  The sun beat down and the wheat ripened.

The next stage sounded intriguing - Penguin Wood and Botany Bay.  Was  I slipping into another dimension where the landlocked counties of Staffordshire and Derbyshire had relocated to the coast?  I plodded past the lovely new trees of Penguin Wood and I did not see any penguins  tap dancing to Happy Feet.  Also, Botany Bay was sadly lacking in ships and salty sailors.  Still, the landscape was beautiful, in particular, Top Wood which had splendid mature trees demonstrating, to excellent effect, how Penguin Wood will look in thirty years.

From Penguin Wood to Grangewood, the number of trees which have been planted is amazing.  42,000 trees on the Grangewood estate.  It is a wonderful sight to see.

Soon I reached Neatherseal and met some bullocks who just did not care if I walked through their field or not so I was able to trot to the next stile without intimidation. A small triumph.  Another intriguing place name next - Dead Dane Bottom.  A lovely spot in another new woodland at the base of Cadborough Hill.  This was the site of a deadly battle between the Vikings and the Anglo Saxons.  There weren't any naked Danes running around dead or alive today..

I quickly walked through Overseal and was surprised to see a snowman on such a hot day.
No, I haven't a clue as to why it was there but I thought it was worth mentioning and a photograph shared.  Soon I could hear the sound of Conkerchoo at Conkers Waterside.  The trail would wend its way there via a caravan park full of holiday makers and a brand new youth hostel.

My next destination was Blackfordby via Boothorpe.  Again, this whole stretch is bursting with new woodlands.  I paused for a while in Blackfordby to eat lunch and meet a friend, Mrs L, who was joining me for the rest of this section.  Before, meeting her I decided to take advantage of Blackfordby's medieval spring. I removed boots and socks and dabbled my feet in the freezing, sparkling waters which gush out of the ground here.  It was a special moment and worth trying if you pass this way on a hot day.

So now I had a companion for the last few miles.  We had a swift half in the Tap House pub after walking through a beautiful field of ripe barley.  The village of Smisby was looking good in the sunshine.  We left Smisby via a path behind the church and progressed through a potato field, meadows, more wheatfields with Swifts swooping and diving around us and a woodland called Severals Wood (another strange name).  We arrived in Hartshorne hot and tired but very happy to have experienced this super walk.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Crossings, Butterflies and Cows

Day 2
Rangemore to Rosliston
9 1/2 miles
Weather - even hotter

Today I completed two sections again; Rangemore to Branston and Branston to Rosliston.  The areas were new to me and I was walking solo, which was also new for me on a long distance walk.   There weren't any novelty canal boats are dancing ladies to entertain me today but there were other delights.

I left Rangemore via a sun dappled woodland alive with bird song and, in particular, wrens.  I watched them flitting about in the undergrowth.

I passed through lush meadows and there I had my first cow encounter.  Those who have followed my previous walking blogs will know how I felt when I saw three heifers staring at me as I climbed the stile.  There wasn't an alternative route, there were only three of them and I had to get on with the walk.  So I entered the meadow and one brave heifer trotted straight towards me.  I brandished my stick and shouted at him which stopped him briefly.  He kept following me whilst the other two edged nearer.  Luckily, it was a small field and I was soon over the next stile. Hazel 1 - Cows 0.

Battlestead Hill was cool and green and a welcome respite from the hot day.  The view from the top was splendid and I enjoyed the short hill top walk before descending to Tatenhill.

It was good to join the Trent and Mersey Canal again and  I completed my first crossing of the day as I tramped over Tatenhill lock and bridge and followed the towpath into Branston Water Park.

 My next crossing was the A38 - a very busy road.  The town planners had thoughtfully provided a subway which eased the crossing.  I walked through Branston and passed a fine row of Victorian cottages which nestled by the busy dual carriageway. Next, past The Gate Inn pub and then I was out on the river plain and heading for the railway line.

 Considering it is so close to Burton this was a very remote part of the day's walking.  There was me, some sheep, the quarries, the occasional train trundling by and then there were the butterflies, dragonflies and bees.  The place was alive with them all making the most of the thistles, the abundant nettles, blue geraniums and a multitude of other flowers - marvellous.  The path, in parts of this section, was hard to follow.  Sections are swamped in nettles and brambles and some of the waymarkers are hidden. Third crossing of the day was then made as I climbed a footbridge over the railway lines and I got a wave from a train driver.

 Under the baking sun I eventually reached the River Trent and made my fourth crossing of the day and walked over the footbridge  into Walton on Trent. 

I had lunch in the church yard and then a swift half at the White Swan.  Here I met a group of walkers who were just setting out to do the stretch of the trail I had just done. They were being led by a 'Walking for Health' volunteer.  We had a chat, swapped notes and then I was off on the last two miles to Rosliston. 

By now it was very, very hot and it was hard work to keep plodding on.  In quick succession I  had two more cow encounters.  The first meeting was easily dealt with - a wide circuit of a bull, cows and calves and I don't think they knew I was there.  Hazel 2 - cows 0.  The second meeting a few fields further on took a bit longer.  A herd of cows all lying next to the stile I was heading for.  I was feeling brave after my earlier conquests so entered the field,  they all stood up and started to head towards me.  I beat a hasty retreat, checked the lie of the land and made alternative arrangements.  Hazel 2 - cows 1.

After a hot, sweaty day filled with a wide variety of vistas, landscapes and wildlife I eventually arrived at Rosliston Forest Centre.  Forecast is for another hot day tomorrow - I think I might melt.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Parrots, Darth Wader and Tea on the Lawn

Day 1
National Memorial Arboretum to Rangemore
12 1/2 miles
Weather - Hot

Lots of water and lashings of sun protection today as it was a scorcher.  A great day's walking.

The National Forest Way is a new long distance path which was launched in May 2014.  It begins at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and wends its way to finish at Beacon Hill, Leicestershire; a distance of 75 miles.

The first day's walk began with obligatory photos at the Arboretum and then we were off, that is, me and my walking buddy for the day - Jean. It was a  difficult start as the A513 is a busy road with quarry lorries and tankers whizzing by, two fast slip roads to negotiate and an overgrown, grass verge which was a poor substitute for a pavement.  I would suggest missing out this short section and start the walk in the first village of the day - Alrewas.  Still, it was exciting to see the first way markers for the trail guiding us over the roundabouts.

Alrewas was a peaceful haven after the noise and hustle and bustle of the A513 and A38.  We crossed a bridge and joined the tow path by the Trent and Mersey Canal. It was very peaceful here and there were some interesting narrow boats.  The Darth Wader is a great pun and a very smart boat...

We also liked the grey parrot on the next boat who chatted away to us as we tottered by.  A narrow boat negotiated a canal lock and completed the scene. We left the canal and crossed the River Trent which looked pastoral and benign in the summer sunshine. A gaggle of geese splashed into the river as we passed.

Potters Meadow was a delight; a rural idyll with lush sweet grass being enjoyed by the cows.  I'm glad to say the cows were down the other end of the meadow.

We were soon entering the grounds of Wychnor Park Country Club from where we could here loud music.  We rounded a bend and saw an unusual sight - a troop of young ladies practising disco dancing moves  on the lawn in front of a beautiful house.

Jean had a splendid idea and suggested a cup of tea at the hall.  We sauntered in with rucksacks and hiking boots still in place.  Tea was ordered and we were soon settled comfortably on the lawn with a lovely cup of tea and a marvellous view over the countryside with the spires of Lichfield cathedral in the distance.

As I always say, never miss an opportunity for a refreshing cup of tea because, especially on a long walk,you never know when the next opportunity will present itself.

Yoxall was our next destination and a good spot to stop for lunch.  With two fine looking pubs (both closed today), shops and a post office it's got everything a long distance walker could need.

5 miles down and another 7 1/2 to go and it was very, very warm.
Section 1 of the walk finishes in Yoxall but we were soldiering on to Rangemore today.  We were now heading for Hoar Cross and followed a quiet road for 1800metres (precisely as stated in the guide available on the website).  A right turn by a farm where we met a chatty farmer who was keen to let us know he was sixty years old and asked us if we were lost...!  Then we crossed a small river by a ford where we met a family paddling in the cool inviting water.  We left the family enjoying their day out and we plunged into the cool greenness of a mature woodland surrounded by butterflies and dragonflies.  Soon we were on the last lap - past Newchurch, the airfield and St George's Park National Football Centre.  Rangemore was soon upon us and we found a suitable shady spot to await our transport home.