|The Warwickshire Centenary Way|
Geek-speak and a pause for reflection ....
Technology is a double edged sword. With various gadgets you can now film, photograph, plot, track, tweet, and guide every detail of a day’s walking and then edit, produce, blog, and bore people with it when you get home. Fantastic – what did we ever do without it?
The downside is that you really do need those gadgets, a need which eventually turns into a dependency and, when they fail you, there’s an anxiety attack followed by mild self-loathing at your helpless addiction to these little toys. The iPhone is a great example of this, being capable of acting as a satnav, a GPS, a camera, and a camcorder. The trouble is the battery drains faster than a speed-sucked ice lolly and you walk a route with one anxious eye on the power level indicator. To overcome this I have bought additional power units, charged from the mains supply, and inserted into the iPhone socket to provide an extra 40% of battery life when required. Great little devices. I also bought a USB socket for the Land Rover, fitted to the cigar lighter, to keep the iPhone charging during Satnav use
Church of the Virgin Mary, Stoneleigh
However it was a beautiful morning to be out and about and I paused for a moment in the grounds of Stoneleigh’s church, savouring the September mellowness, and the gorgeous colours to the trees, before heading back to the river Sowe and the start of the route. This was, more or less, the halfway point of the Warwickshire Centenary Way and I was now on the last of what I considered to be the two middle sections. So far the Centenary Way had taken me from the north-west of Coventry, describing a clockwise arc around the city parishes, touching on Nuneaton and Ansty before reaching an eastern extremity at Coombe abbey and then tucking under the city to visit Stoneleigh. Now I was to continue on to Kenilworth, Warwick and Leamington and from there would be travelling more or less south, across the gentle countryside of south Warwickshire to the northern tip of the Cotswolds. On a map, the entire route looked like a wonky number 3 with Coventry city centre located inside the top semi-circle.
In the rough ....
From the river I made my way along a dark enclosed track between houses and out onto a vast field of grass. It swept down away to my left and off into the hazy distance where a man was walking his dog all alone, their tiny silhouettes almost lost against the vivid green backdrop. After the field came a small lane which in turn led to a busier trunk road. I had to walk along this for perhaps a mile, during the morning rush, and I was kept from being bored by the expressions on passing motorists. I don’t see anything unusual about a man with a rucksack strapped to his back walking along a roadside but I may be in a minority because I noted amusement, surprise, derision, and confusion as cars sped past me. It was almost enough to make me check my flies.
It was a relief to eventually get away from the traffic and back into more rural surroundings, although the dull roar of the Warwick Bypass stayed with me for the next few fields I had to cross. On one of them I met a couple walking in the opposite direction and we stopped to say hello, which then turned into an ‘I’ve done this walk, have you’ conversation. They were completing a forty mile circuit of the city limits which shares much of the same footpaths as the Centenary Way until I move further south. I have met just two other people who may have been doing the Centenary Way, although this was unconfirmed, and it’s possible that I’ll be the ONLY person to ever complete it: Perhaps I should write to Warwickshire County Council and ask for a prize - free parking at for a year sounds reasonable.
[ED Various searches for completing the walk only return my own journals so I may not be too far from the truth here]
After I left the couple I traversed another field followed by a drive, musing on how relatively easy it had been to follow the route and, if it continued to be so, how soon I might finish. Then I was presented with the Kenilworth golf course and so began my first challenge of the day. I have never liked the prospect of traversing a large golf course. Firstly I am wary of interfering with a game in progress, secondly I am on guard for flying golf balls, and lastly they rarely offer a clear path across them. The guide book told me to bear left and cross two stands of pines which seemed fair enough until I realised that this could be one of three left hand choices - and they all had stands of pines.
Abbey ruins at Kenilworth
What’s a Kenilworth? About eight pounds ....
I recognised the next few streets as I had driven along them on the way to Stoneleigh. I passed a convenience store where I suppressed a huge urge for a chocolate bar and joined a secluded leafy track along a nature reserve. An unseen brook chuckled along beside me, offering a pleasant counterpoint to the birdsong all around, and I noted that whilst autumn was assuming control in the fields and the hedgerows, here, in this secret little valley, summer still held on. I passed by a couple of interesting structures, first some kind of pump house with a stone lintel bearing the date 1864, and then beneath the high arches of a railway viaduct, before climbing up out of the trees and onto a lane called Lower Ladyes Hills. This was a lovely road of characterful villas and cottages overlooking acres of allotments. I knew that was a des-res sort of place (after all it’s where us Brummies move to in order to better ourselves) but I didn’t expect this almost pastoral scene right in its midst. Soon after, the route took me along Kenilworth high street where I looked for, but didn’t find, a restaurant called Beef where I was assured that the best steak in the Midlands could be enjoyed. I love steak so I just wanted to find the place out of curiosity, but probably couldn’t afford the eye-watering prices this place commands for its speciality steak - a 100 grams costs upwards of £30!
[ED – The restaurant was on the Warwick Road and not the high street but since this journal was written it appears to have gone out of business]
I left the high street and entered the grounds of where, if I had read the guide book instructions carefully, I would not have spent the next thirty minutes wandering from A to B to C and back to A again. I cursed the guidebook (unfairly I admit) but really, if I could read things properly, it would all be so much easier. Once the proper way forward was established I left the church grounds via a path lined with old trees and ancient gravestones and then passed under the arch of the ruined remains of the old Abbey to cross Abbey Fields, with its pretty lake, and finally up a grassy knoll via a rising track (you see, it was easy).
I could see the ruins of Kenilworth Castle ahead of me as I walked down Castle Hill, passing a small private estate of thatched cottages (is there a collective noun for a group of thatched cottages? A thatchet? ) before rounding a corner in front of the Rose & Crown pub
Thatched cottages at Kenilworth
I decided to break for lunch at a sheltered spot with a great view of the castle across a wide flat meadow that once formed part of a vast lake surrounding the building, serving both as a defence and a food source. I committed an act of Naff Commentary and enjoyed a tranquil thirty minutes – just me, a steak bake, and an 800 year old ruin.
Historical factoid: Constructed from Norman through to Tudor times, the castle has played an important historical role. A record breaking siege (Siege of Kenilworth, 1266), a base for Lancastrian operations in the War of the Roses (1400’s), the place where Edward II got the elbow from the English throne (1327), the French insult to Henry V in 1414 (sadly not ‘your mother was an ‘amster and your father smelt of Elderberries’), and the Earl of Leicester's lavish bash in honour of Elizabeth I in 1575 for which he no doubt had his head removed from his doublet by the grateful Queen. English Heritage has managed the castle since 1984. The castle is classed as a Grade I listed building and as a Scheduled Monument.
It was perfect walking weather – sunny spells with a nice cooling breeze - and after I left Kenilworth and its castle behind me I enjoyed a couple of miles of open country, following a cinder track across several pastures offering sweeping views across Warwickshire. Stands of old oak and willow radiated a hundred shades of green as they swayed gently to the tune of the wind,
After a short bit of road walking I turned onto a long concrete drive where, just a few yards further by a cottage hedge, a bench seat had been installed along with a water bowl for passing dogs. There was a little sign hung on the seat that said ‘Rest a while’. How kind and thoughtful the owners of this cottage must be, I said to myself, as I glanced over the hedge into the garden. A sour faced old woman was shuffling her two aged dogs around the lawn, she looked up at me but her face didn’t seem to be designed for smiling. “Gerrin’”, she grunted to the dogs, ushering them back indoors.
The seat lost its appeal after this little tableau.
The directions told me to turn off the drive and head across some rough fields of tussocky grass where fresh pools of cow manure alerted me to the possible presence of their owners. Sure enough I started to follow the left hand edge of a very large field and could see ahead of me a herd of brown cows along with their calves. The guide book seemed to indicate that I would have to walk through them as they were clustered together against the hedge I was following, so I watched them warily as I approached. Apart from the calves’ nervous skittering everything seemed calm, with just the occasional incurious gaze or a flick of a tail: Category 2 cows. It was the bull – the one I didn’t at first notice - that caused all the hassle. He emerged from behind his harem bellowing his displeasure at my appearance and telling me to clear off, which I would have been happy enough to do except I had a walk to finish. I slowed my pace and edged nearer, which he took as a personal affront. He started tossing his head in that certain Category 4 way which you really don’t want to see from a bull when he is sharing a field with you. Two steps closer and he began to lumber towards me. Ok – time to be a coward. I had noticed a gate in the hedge and I promptly took it, off-route or not, and got myself out of sight. The bull eventually went quiet and I waited for a few minutes to see if he had followed me to the gate (hopefully not with any intention of going through it) and as I waited I noticed that the kissing gate bore the Centenary Way marker. By happy accident the bull had nudged me back on course or else I would have completely missed this turning.
St. Marys Church at Warwick
I edged around a field, using a very narrow margin between brambles and an electrified fence, whilst a trio of horses watched me with interest, perhaps waiting for the twitching and yelling to commence. Then I made my way, via of an acre of ploughed mud, onto a metalled farm drive. This was Woodloes Lane, which meant that I was about a mile from Warwick town centre, and I set off along it, grateful for a bit of solid road walking. A man passed me going in the other direction towards the farm. He looked like a very angry which almost made me laugh aloud, but then I saw how intense his expression was and refrained from my usual eye contact and greeting - I hope the farmer was expecting him.
Warwickshire’s capital ....
The lane led to a busy suburban road which in turn led down to a railway bridge where (once again) my misinterpretation of the guide books directions resorted to some inventive swearing and another bite out of the iPhone battery as I called up my GPS once more (I like to think that the alternative route I contrived is actually more interesting as you get to visit Warwick railway station and then pass under it via a subway). The thing I always find fascinating about is the sudden change from average suburban buildings to historic architecture; red brick gives way to carved white stone and timbered thatch just by turning a corner. I made my way along Northgate Street towards with its lofty 18th century Gothic tower dominating the far end. This 130ft spire is visible from miles around, but I had never been so close to it before and I admired its beautifully sculptured lines. I noticed a Latin inscription carved into a stone set into its higher reaches.
Historical factoid: A little research has told me that each face of the tower has a different Latin inscription and the full story reads as ”St Mary's Collegiate Church was first established by Roger de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick, in the time of King Stephen [1135-1154]; then, under Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick in the year 1394 it was completely rebuilt, and on the 5th of September 1694 it was reduced to ruins by an amazing fire that spared nothing in it's path. The new church was built by charity, public to begin with, royal in the later stages, and was completed, under the happy auspices of Queen Anne, in the memorable year of 1704."
I walked under the tower’s archway and crossed a street towards a set of even older, half-timbered buildings, including the 16th century serving, the sign outside boasted, thirty different kinds of tea. I was on fairly familiar territory by now so I made my way to where I knew a good picture of could be obtained for free (over thirty quid to visit this place which makes Kenilworth seem like a bargain – except of course Warwick Castle is still intact and has a themed dragon tower, and interactive dungeons, and other such delights) before entering the grounds of St. Nicholas park, where my legs more or less insisted that I take a bench and rest for five minutes.
Historical factoid: Warwick Castle was built by none other than William the Conqueror and traditionally belonged to the Earls of Warwick, serving as a symbol of power since BMW’s weren’t invented until much later. During its long history it has been owned by 36 different individuals ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous (see below for current owners). It has been used to hold prisoners from time to time, a fashion started by Richard ‘The Kingmaker’ Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, who locked up a king or two before meeting a sticky end at The Battle Of Barnet. Much later it became a Roundhead stronghold during the civil war and was used to lock up Cavaliers (probably not laughing) before being purchased as the ultimate country pad by Sir Fulke Greville who passed on its massive maintenance charges down through the generations until 1978 when the Grevilles sold it to Madame Tussauds who later sold it to the Merlin Entertainment Group.
The park was nice and quiet and looked rather lovely, as I think parks often do at this time of the year. The leaves were all turning fantastic shades of red and gold with one specimen in front of me that actually seemed
Elvis, el español taxi driver de Leamington ....
I made my way to the banks of the and then followed the path that ran alongside, leaving Warwick behind me. There were quite a few canoeing schools out on the river and for a while the sounds of laughter, splashing, and startled yells accompanied me, however I eventually left them behind and enjoyed a short period of tranquillity. The guide book told me I would pass underneath a railway and a canal before reaching a road bridge, but it’s a bit hard to tell exactly what sort of bridge you are walking beneath from a riverbank so I climbed steps to what I thought would be a road to discover instead a canal. A canal crossing over a river – you don’t see that very often. It was a clever piece of engineering but not where I was supposed to be, so I re-joined the Leam to walk past the rear windows of modern apartment blocks, whose kitchens looked straight down onto the river, to finally reach the road bridge. There were just two roads leading to my destination so even I couldn’t go wrong from here on in, and I reached Victoria Park, through the arches of a viaduct, with no problems. The park had a distinctly Victorian feel to it, with a lot of wrought iron decoration in evidence, and a band stand set in an elegant square. I made for this, passing families at play, including a father retrieving conkers from a Chestnut tree by hurling a log into its canopy. His young son stood right underneath the tree watching with interest, risking a close encounter with the log on its return visit. The bandstand had no band in residence but Bhangra music rang out from it and a small group of Asian teenagers sang and danced under its canopy. It was an interesting introduction to
Eventually he left, and I celebrated another section of the Centenary Way under my belt with the usual cold Lucozade Sport. This walk, more than any other section to date, had provided a diverse set of locations. From the historic to the bucolic, the noise and traffic of town centres to the almost silently gliding waters of the Leam. There would be no more towns or villages of any size for the remainder of the walk and the final miles would take me ever more southwards, beyond the Burton Dasset Hills, Edge Hill, and on into the quiet backwaters of south Warwickshire.
My final challenge was to find my way home without the use of a Satnav which I did with surprising success. It would seem I am far better at getting lost on foot than behind the wheel.
See Route on ......