Rural Idyll

Close to home
Close to home

We did not travel far this weekend. A wander up the road took us to the local agricultural show. This was the 132nd show for the Blakesley and District Agricultural Society. This traditional rural show has classes for cattle, sheep,horses and some roots and corn exhibits together with a gymkhana, displays and trade exhibitors.
Blood hounds, they are used to chase human runners
Blood hounds, they are used to chase human runners
We arrived around lunch time and tucked into the hand carved roast beef rolls usefully located in the beer tent. Fortunately the glorious sunshine meant that this was not a Saturday to linger under canvas. We enjoyed a good stroll around the exhibitor stalls and animals.
Jersey cow
Jersey cow
We watched a remarkable display by Atkinsons Action Horses who have “spent twenty years training horses and riders for TV, film and live events”. They provide horses and riders for Poldark (no sign of Ross though!). They galloped at fantastic speeds and carried out amazingly daring stunts, it was truly breathtaking.IMG_5194

On Sunday we enjoyed a 5 mile stroll to a local hostelry via green lanes and fields.

Green lanes originally used for moving livstock
Green lanes originally used for moving livstock
We are surrounded by beautiful countryside and the quiet roads are popular with cyclists, horseriders and walkers. There are many footpaths and bridleways intersecting the roads enabling us to return home via a different 4 mile route after a light lunch.
Rural idyll
Rural idyll

The Macmillan Way, 290 miles from Boston to Abbotsbury

Last weekend we started a new long distance footpath. The Macmillan Way is dedicated to the memory of Douglas Macmillan MBE who founded Macmillan Cancer Relief in 1911. This was after the death of his father to cancer and the charity supports people living with cancer throughout the UK.

Macmillan Way Coast-to-Coast
Macmillan Way Coast-to-Coast

We drove to Surfleet and parked near a cafe. We caught a bus to Boston and walked from the bus station to St. Botolph’s Church in the market square. The impressive tower of the church is known as the Boston Stump. This is the starting point for the 290 mile route to Abbotsbury. We walked south, out of Boston with the river Welland on our left.
A very long walk!
A very long walk!
Avocet image from RSPB website
Avocet image from RSPB website
We then followed the river Haven along a sea bank. This takes you through Frampton Marsh Nature Reserve which is owned by the RSPB. We saw several avocet.
The sea bank
The sea bank
Frampton Marsh Nature Reserve
Frampton Marsh Nature Reserve

The pictures show the fenland landscape. The light soil structure means many fruit and vegetables are grown in this area. We were glad we had thought to buy sandwiches in Boston, as there were no eateries until the Ship Inn near Fosdyke Bridge on the river Welland, after 11 miles of walking.

View from Fosdyke Bridge of River Welland
View from Fosdyke Bridge of River Welland
The church at Surfleet.
The church at Surfleet.

River at Surfleet
River at Surfleet

After a refreshingly cool glass of lager we continued our trek. Eventually the route joins the River Glen at Surfleet Seas End and another Ship Inn. Surfleet is an elongated village and the sight of the leaning tower of Surfleet Church was very welcome after 16 miles of walking.
We rested our weary limbs by staying overnight at the comfortable Cley Hall Hotel. We replenished our energy stores with a hearty breakfast and returned to Surfleet.It was a bright sunny day and we planned a coffee stop at the Spalding Tropical forest at Pinchbeck. After passing the pub there (the Ship Inn!) we found no coffee stop. We reached Pinchbeck West to find the pub there had been demolished. The route continued through Pinchbeck Nature reserve. Before reaching our end point at Tongue end we phoned a local taxi firm and were delighted to find a car waiting for us. We covered 25 miles in two days.
Cow seen near to Pinchbeck nature reserve
Cow seen near to Pinchbeck nature reserve

Bluebells and sheep

A short walk last weekend gave us a break from the normal routine after a week at work. Its great to explore what is on your own doorstep.

Entrance to Badby woods
Entrance to Badby woods

A favourite short walk we have is around Badby woods near Daventry. This time of year the mixed deciduous woodland is carpeted with a sea of bluebells.
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We took a break at Fawsley Hall Hotel for a pot of tea and a couple of scones. It is possible to have the full monty afternoon tea here with sandwiches, cakes and even champagne. The scones were plenty for us and for once Richard could not manage to eat all of the clotted cream. If you book in advance you can eat in the Grand Hall which is especially attractive in the winter with a welcoming open fire.

Fawsley hall from churchyard.
Fawsley Hall from churchyard.

The Knightley Way is a footpath that passes by the lake and Fawsley Church. The remains of many generations of the Knightley family reside in the church. They bought the estate in 1316 and it remained in the family until 1932. In the 13th and 14th centuries there was a village called Fawsley which surrounded the church. In 1377 there were 90 men over the age of 14 paying Poll Tax to Richard II. By 1524 only 7 people were listed as paying it to Henry VII. The Knightleys were great sheep farmers and they enclosed lands for this purpose. They were a powerful family and even condemnation from Henry VII did not stop the village from disappearing. The parkland was landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown and included lakes and a deer park. (Source ‘A Brief history of Fawsley Church and park’ booklet by Ron Wilson available from the church)

Sheep spotting

The green rolling hills west of Northampton
The green rolling hills west of Northampton

The landscape today is still dominated by sheep farming. As a townie I did not appreciate the many different breeds of sheep. By crossing different varieties of sheep, farmers ensure hybrid vigour, producing sheep which are biologically more healthy than a pure bred. In sheep farming they select a hardy hill sheep ewe e.g. Swaledale.
Swaledale sheep
Swaledale sheep (wikipedia)
These are crossed with a blue-face Leicester ram to produce a hardy mule ewe able to produce good quantities of milk.
Blue faced Leicester
Blue faced Leicester (wikipedia)
The ewes are then crossed with a muscular breed for meat production (e.g. Texcel ram).
Texcel ewe seen during our walk.
Texcel ewe seen during our walk.

"Badger faced" sheep
“Badger faced” sheep at Fawsley, love the legs!

Baaaaaaa

In Shakespeare’s footsteps

We enjoy the slower pace of walking to cycling as walking enables you a greater connection with your surroundings. Fortunately it also dispenses with the need for lumpy lycra. In the interests of removing said lumpiness we chose to increase the distances covered when walking by embarking upon a long distance footpath called Shakespeare’s Way. This is a 146 mile way marked path that stretches between Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Globe Theatre in London. Aptly described as “a journey of the imagination” it allegedly winds along a route that the Bard himself may have travelled.

A crochet covered tree at the start of our walk. It was January so maybe the tree was cold?
A crochet covered tree at the start of our walk. It was January so maybe the tree was cold?

We divided the walk into ten 15 mile sections using a little book called Shakespeare’s Way from a website of the same name http://www.shakespearesway.org/ If you buy the book from the website profits go to the Shakespeare Hospice in Stratford-Upon-Avon. They also supply free path updates (our old version of the book suggested crossing an absent bridge across the Grand Union Canal). We found the ordnance survey app downloaded to our phone useful as you see exactly where you are relative to the path even in the middle of a field (£8.99 per region and you only need 2 or 3 for entire walk). We caught buses from the end point to the starting point for the pre Oxford stretches (timetables available online). Post Oxford buses were scarcer so we sometimes caught a taxi to avoid walking in circles (mostly £25 per ride).
The variety of landscapes surprised us from fields of open countryside, quaint market towns, canals, rivers, woodlands, Chiltern hills, M25 and London city

The grounds of Blenheim Palace
The grounds of Blenheim Palace
Walking into Oxford
Walking into Oxford
Oxford
Oxford
There were up and downsides to our trek because the great places we found to eat meant a possible imbalance between calories burned and calories consumed for each walk. Each walk was a great day out and the entirety merges into a long disjointed holiday (of 18 months duration).

Follow the Bard
Follow the Bard

We completed the final walk between Kew Gardens and the Globe Theatre on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s demise. Walking along the south bank of the Thames was a great way to appreciate our wonderful capital city. Historic sights yes, but also green spaces and surprisingly crowd free considering that it was London marathon weekend.

Green banks of the Thames between Kew and the Globe
Green banks of the Thames between Kew and the Globe
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Journeys end- the Globe theatre for a chilled glass of prosecco
Journeys end- the Globe Theatre for a chilled glass of prosecco 23rd April 2016

We had purchased tickets for Hamlet the same evening, but our tired tootsies could not be persuaded to stand for two hours (as groundlings), should have booked seats. Oh well another time……