|The Warwickshire Centenary Way|
Home James ....
An Indian Summer had arrived, and England basked under clear skies and unseasonably warm temperatures. So it was that, less than a week after my soaking on Day 1, I set off for the start of Day 2 sporting sunshades and light clothing. Today was to be a solo walk with a little assistance from Jamie Vaughan, a work colleague who was providing transport to the start of the route. I met Jamie at near the which looked very picturesque in the early morning sunshine, but I had no time to admire the scenery as I jumped into Jamie’s car and he whisked me off to Jamie was a local lad and he pointed out several bits of the Centenary Way as we flew by them, providing insights into which fields might have over-friendly horses in them or which farmers were more (or less) walker friendly. It was useful info but it was too early for my brain, and by the time we arrived at Hartshill Hayes I’d forgotten it all. Jamie, who once worked as a warden at Hartshill Hayes, told me the path I needed to take and then he drove off with a cheery wave and I was left alone to start the walk.
Knowing where you are, and when you should be there ....
The last time I had been here was at the end of Day 1 when Dave and I had arrived tired and wet. We had regarded Hartshill Hayes as a finishing post and nothing more, and stayed all of two minutes before heading home. This morning I would be better acquainted with it, with rested body and an alert mind.
I took the path Jamie had indicated which emerged quickly from tree cover and onto a ridge which, as the website blurb
The Centenary Way swiftly dips in and out of Hartshill Hayes so within just a few minutes I was back on Oldbury Lane and climbing the first stile into open country. I may have already mentioned this but the official guide book, whilst adequate, is not reliable enough as a single source of reference for walking this route; there are times when the directions don’t translate too well onto the terrain you see before you. Similarly the way-markers are a little hit and miss, being present throughout the trail overall but prone to disappearing on random sections. As a precaution I downloaded a GPS app for my phone to act as a ‘belts and braces’ measure. It was almost an afterthought but in fact it proved to be an inspired decision. With the 1:25 OS Explorer Maps installed, the Centenary Way is clearly marked, and with a regular GPS fix I always knew exactly where I was - right down to individual field level. I would have been lost a couple of times on today’s walk had it not been for this utility.
In fact I was forced into using the GPS almost straight away as I wandered into a grassy dell with a choice of stiles and gates, none marked with the Centenary Way logo, and the guide book becoming suddenly reticent. I managed to negotiate my way through to a stile that (at last) was clearly way-marked, and then walked along a series of fields, many of which were freshly ploughed, removing obvious tracks across them in the process. I mused on the pros and cons of walking at the end of the summer compared to walking earlier in the year. For me, hay fever would always be a nuisance in the springtime, and of course there would be a lot of young livestock with protective mothers to contend with. However, walking in late September meant that nature had had a long season of growing, and brambles and nettles were at their most vicious. There was also the aforementioned ploughing over of field tracks. It was an inconclusive debate. I think in the end I agreed to disagree with myself.
A step back in time ....
After a bit of wandering needlessly around in a field of lush grass which dragged at my feet I arrived at a farm track that led eventually to the first village of the day – Ansley Common. Like many such settlements in this area, Ansley was originally developed as a colliery village, mining being very much a booming industry in these parts during the early 20th century. The pits have long since closed down but the villages remain and now serve as overspill for the nearby conurbations of Coventry and Nuneaton.
Approaching Ansley Common
I managed to beat a farmer ploughing yet another field before he removed the path and then, skirting Bretts Wood, I picked up a rich vein of Centenary Way markers to take me across fields of ripening wheat. The pictures I took in these fields have evoked a fairly consistent response – quintessentially English. Rolling fields of golden wheat under azure skies, ancient hedgerows of hawthorn and blackthorn, sturdy oaks spreading their shade in quiet field corners. It was all very Elgar, and Chaucer, and Orwell and other famous luminaries I can’t remember, and it could have been 1935 for all the modern world intervened here; a team of Shire horses dragging a plough behind them would not have surprised me at all. This bucolic scenery was a mere seven miles, as the crow flies, from my house in suburban Birmingham - just a few miles of separation and yet a whole world of difference. Inevitably the spell was broken by the intervention of the modern world as, high overhead, a brace of microlight planes whined steadily westward. They were clearly visible to the naked eye and yet, when I attempted to film them, the resulting video shows nothing but blank sky. I still can’t fathom out how I might have missed them with my camera but perhaps I should stick to landscapes.
Follow that local ....
I continued across fields, wondering why the word ‘Porphyry’ had come to mind, and what it meant. I finally arrived at the village of Galley Common, similar to Ansley Common in age and original purpose. My previous experience of Galley Common was through visiting friends who had bought a new-build house on a sprawling estate. I was surprised to find this much older version of Galley Common and, on consulting the map, I learnt that the newer development was away on the east side, whereas the Centenary Way visited the extreme western edge of the older, original village. It was again the briefest of visits as I followed a side road before turning sharp right to take a stile which presented me with a hilly climb of some 150 feet.
Wheatfields near Galley Common
A local man was exercising his dog, an enthusiastic black Labrador, and I decided to ask him if he knew the right way forward. He proved to be very helpful, pointing out the exit from the field and then insisting that I needed to turn immediately right afterwards to gain the road. I mentioned that I was walking the Centenary Way but this drew a blank, as it did with most of the people I encountered along the route, and he just repeated that I needed to go sharp right after the gap in the hedge to join the road. I thanked him and then allowed him to get some way ahead of me by taking a picture or two and consulting the GPS. He was half right in that the gap was how I exited the field, but then I needed to continue along the edge of fields to gain a lane and not perform a sharp right. I must have given him the idea that I needed to reach this other road but no matter, the way forward was now clear. I made the gap in the hedge and went through it to find, to my slight annoyance, that man-with-dog had obviously tarried along the way and was just 50 yards in front of me. He suddenly turned to me. “This path on your right … to the road!” he yelled and waved his arm for further emphasis. I thanked him with a thumbs up.
The Centenary Way courted the village of Robinsons End, taking me to its very edge but then diving back out into horse paddocks where shaggy little ponies eyed me up as a possible source of sugar lumps. From here I emerged onto the busy B4102 and walked past Seeswood Pool, a thirteen acre private fishing lake, reflecting the blue sky perfectly. A little further on and I skirted the edge of – where my ‘chauffeur’ Jamie lived – and followed first a sports field and then a farm track before deciding that lunch was required. I found a convenient log set into the hedge of a field and had a quiet thirty minute time-out, looking back towards the roofs of Stockingford on the skyline and wondering just what Porphyry was, and why the word was now stuck in my head.
I fiddled about with my GPS gadgetry and discovered that I was in fact off route by about a quarter of a mile, and after working out how to put this right (gotta love the technology!) I shouldered my rucksack and retraced my steps, heading down the drive of a farm, crossing the front of the house and on into woodland.
Bermuda - it sounds like but isn't ....
I soon reached a long stretch of cinder track (Harefield Lane) which the guide book informed me would lead to Bermuda Village. An odd name for what turned out to be a bit of an odd place. The village, another mining settlement, was founded in the late 1800’s and owes its name to the (then) landlord, a former governor of Bermuda. I reached the outskirts of the place to find a sizeable new estate (Bermuda Park) representing pretty much everything I don’t like about such places, and continued on, passing gardens presenting an array of white UPVC conservatories and featureless lawned gardens. It might suit a lot of people, but I prefer a community with a bit more soul.
The narrow boat cemetery ....
I dodged left under a subway, paused to capture the interesting graffiti, and then walked back into relative peace and quiet via some woodland paths that led me, finally, to the tow-path of the The guide book told me to cross the next bridge I came to, which turned out to be constructed from old mellow 18th century brick - part of the original canal infrastructure. I could still make out the granite ridges, set into the bridges' humped path, designed to help horses hooves gain purchase on wet winter days.
Now, I try not to criticise writers of walking guides – it’s a thankless task and they usually do it extremely well. But, sometimes …..
On the Coventry Canal
To me that meant I crossed the bridge and then under it to walk along the canal tow-path in the opposite direction. However, the GPS told me that I carried on along the tow-path in the same direction as before and crossed under the NEXT bridge. Quite a difference when you consider that it could have taken me in completely the wrong direction. I mean, common sense please (rant over).
The rest of the walk followed the Coventry Canal tow-path, a nice flat easy path that was a joy to walk along in the afternoon sunshine. After the industry and noise of Bermuda I was once more surrounded by the sounds of nature (and also the gurgling sound of the last of my water being consumed). Boat people, either moored up or chugging along unhurriedly, waved and greeted me. In fact everyone I had met had been extremely friendly on this walk. Only in (you guessed it) Bermuda did I get some unwelcome stares which I suppose tells its own story. The canal ran alongside part of Bedworth where a wonderful waterside jumble of junked boats and bric-a-brac advertised itself as ‘The Charity Dock’.
Historical Factoid: Steve Haywood (Canal Boat Magazine) wrote of this place, in 1984: “More like a scrapyard than a boatyard … squalor with a history. … The dock then was run by the legendary Joe Gilbert, a man not noted for his efficiency, and the place was always full of people for whom he'd promised to complete some job which he hadn't yet got round to. We loved it."
It’s still a sight to behold, like an Elephants Graveyard for narrow boats. Rusting hulks sprouting vegetation, all manner of flotsam and jetsam piled onto the canal bank, and incongruous amidst the chaos, a functioning diesel pump. It’s the sort of place where you could spend the whole day exploring, or pretending to be though it’s probably a death trap many times over.
A mile further on and order was restored as canal-side bungalows presented neatly terraced gardens for me to admire. Potted geraniums, petunia’s and lobelia tumbled in profusion right down to the water’s edge and secluded little benches were placed so that their owners could sit and watch the canal life glide by. One property hosted a wonderful weeping willow - it was immense, and its verdant fronds cascaded down into the canal like a huge green firework display.
Canal, this is dragging on a bit ....
I reached Marston Junction where the smaller canal struck off to the east, and then I continued on the Coventry Canal, plodding along the tow-path as the shadows grew longer and my thirst increased. My thoughts wandered …
Just what is Porphyry?
I began to fantasise about the bottle of Lucozade Sport that waited for me in my car at Hawkesbury junction which, I believed, was just around the next bend in the canal. I rounded the next corner to find a lot more canal and a couple of guys carrying a canoe along the tow-path. I stepped aside for them and they stopped for a bit of a chat – wanted to know where I’d hiked from and where I was headed. When I mentioned the Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury they assured me it wasn’t very far, which was just what I wanted to hear. I walked along the next stretch of canal and convinced myself that the Greyhound Inn was definitely around the next bend.
“Is the Greyhound Inn along here?” I asked her.
“Yes dear,” she nodded. “At Hawkesbury Junction – it’s not much further.”
I thanked her and plodded on.
There is what my brother and I refer to as The West Highland Way Effect, when you near the end of a long days walking. Time slows down and distances stretch like warm toffee, and you never reach the end of the hike quite as soon as you expect. There were several more long stretches of canal and associated bends which I was obliged to navigate before, finally, moored boats became more abundant (as did people) and the Greyhound Inn entered stage left, colourfully busy, with folk sitting at trestle tables enjoying cold beer in the warm sunshine.
I could see my Land Rover!
Never did a plastic bottle of blood-temperature Lucozade taste so good. I stood on the canal bank and downed it in three enormous gulps before unwinding for a while by watching the boats, and the people, and the ducks pestering the people, and the many dogs pestering the ducks. I headed off home with a sunburnt head and a new-found love for GPS technology
So - Day 2 completed. A walk, I think, of two distinct flavours, farmland and canal bisected by the gritty presence of Bermuda village. Day 3 will resume at Hawkesbury, first with more canal walking and then an excursion around the edge of the city of Coventry, terminating at Quite when that will happen is now dependant on that good old regulator – the Great British Weather.
“Porphyry is a variety of igneous rock consisting of large-grained crystals, such as feldspar or quartz, dispersed in a fine-grained feldspathic matrix or groundmass. The larger crystals are called phenocrysts. In its non-geologic, traditional use, the term "porphyry" refers to the purple-red form of this stone, valued for its appearance.”
Why did I even know of this word? It’s still a mystery.
See Route on ......