Warks Centenary Way Day 7

The Warwickshire Centenary Way
By Mark Walford
Day Seven

Route: Burton Dasset Hills to Whatcote
Date: Sunday October 28th 2012
Distance: 8m (13km)
Elevation: 266ft (81m) to 719ft (219m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 902ft (275m) and 1,191ft (363m)

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Day 7 Day 7, so good he walked it twice ....

This was going to be my second attempt at section seven of the Centenary Way. The previous weekend I had attempted it and through various delays, off route wanderings, taxi failures, and a general lack of mobile phone signal I arrived back at my car several hours late, in the dark, with most of my family convinced that I had fallen into a ditch and expired. Luckily they had refrained from calling the police but it was a close thing. As a result of this ‘adventure’ I had neglected to record any Naff Commentary and my photographs were to say the least sporadic. I reluctantly decided that a revisit was necessary, reasoning that this time, with full knowledge of the route and a second car to utilise, it would all be so much easier ( I am ever the optimist).
The second car belonged to my brother and oft-time walking companion Colin, who just happened to be paying us all a visit the weekend following on from my first attempt, so it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. This journal, and the associated video, is all from the second attempt.
The photographs are a combination of both visits.
The screw-ups are all our own work.

Baggy eyes and waggy tails ....

I prepared for a chilly days walking, as the forecast had predicted light rain and Icelandic temperatures. The car ‘fridge’ was stocked with milk and coffee rather than sports drinks as I believed that on our return to the car there would be nothing nicer than a mug of strong hot coffee as a reward for our efforts. I had arranged for an early start with Colin and so it was that he arrived in the dim light of early morning, a little chastened and a little late because he had been watching a stopped clock for the best part of twenty minutes as he took a leisurely breakfast, but there was no cause for concern - we were still on course for a nice early finish.
An hour or so later we parked up on top of the Burton Dasset Hills (my fourth visit to the place during this journey across Warwickshire) to be greeted by a keen wind and drowsing sheep. We wrapped ourselves in scarves, gloves, hats and – on my advice – gaiters. Colin owned a nice new shiny pair but had always been a bit gaiter-averse, claiming they ‘looked silly’ and so today was, as he put it, going to pop his gaiter cherry. Considering the less-than-flattering hats we sported I suggested that gaiters were the last thing we should be self-conscious about. Colin’s headgear made him look like the world’s worst Ninja and my faithful old grey woolly suggested more than a passing nod towards Village Idiot. We checked we had everything we needed,
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The Burton Dasset Hills

Colin asked me if he could leave his keys safely locked in my car, and we set off along the crest of the hills, enjoying the far reaching views across Warwickshire and Worcestershire, passing through the grounds of Burton Dasset church with its wonky old gravestones, and out across a series of sheep pastures. Each gate and stile presented us with a mini quagmire of churned mud and tan-brown puddles to negotiate which (as I knew) was merely a precursor to the more extensive boggy bits we would enjoy later. It didn’t take very long for me to realise that I was going to have an ‘unfit’ day today. I was breathing harder than usual and kept developing a nagging stitch on hill climbs. This was all self-inflicted of course as I had neglected my exercise and diet plan in favour of an easy life of wine and snacks but it was a reminder (as if I needed it) that hedonism comes at a price.
Across the fields to our left stood a handsome country residence perched halfway up a hillside, its clean Georgian lines painted a cool and elegant buttery yellow , and we imagined what it must be like to celebrate Christmas in such a place, decked out in Victorian Yuletide splendour and with assorted family members and hangers-on making merry with the sherry.

Ed: I hesitated about mentioning Christmas in this journal – it’s not yet November as I write this - but DFS have started their Christmas advertising campaign on TV and the local garden centre has all its Christmas ware on display so I guess it’s now PC to start talking about the thing. One year the adverts will just continue seamlessly from December through to December and that’s when I will sell my house and buy a one-way ticket to the Galapagos Islands.

The world lay under a blanket of low cloud that just kissed the top of the higher hills and suggested that rain was percolating somewhere high above us, however the initial chilliness of the Dasset hills was left behind and we began to warm as we walked, packing away first our scarves and then our gloves. We picked our way across a final paddock before strolling into the village of Avon Dasset, turning right to follow its winding main street. We passed cottages reflecting a distinctly Cotswold style of architecture, being constructed of the famous Oolitic limestone that mellows with the centuries to a warm honey brown. I performed some Naff Commentary, commenting on the state of my eyes (a debauched puffiness that told of a bottle of wine the previous night and not enough sleep afterwards) and on how my hat accentuated the feature (I later referred to it as my Charles Laughton look). As I concluded filming, a cyclist shot past within inches and at suicidal pace. The video ends with the whizzing sound of his fly-by and me shouting ‘You bloody hooligan!’ in my best Mr. Angry from Purley voice.
One of the last cottages we passed presented a pretty flower garden and a little white dog of terrier lineage. She had been there the week before and she had greeted me with wagging tail and happy demeanour. She was just the same this time around and we stopped to make a fuss of her; I hoped she had been let indoors a few times in the intervening week.

On Edge ....

We left Avon Dasset, taking a road past a playground that sported a tall totem pole, and marched down to cross over the M40 and then along a quiet country lane into the village of Arlescote, a bit of an oddity as villages go. Arlescote had no shop, no pub, and no sense of a high street. It had a single track road that wound through it, with a small collection of houses and cottages scattered here and there, each with a broad swathe of grass before it. It was ghostly quiet when I passed through the week before and was equally deserted on this second visit.
Light rain began to fall as we left Arlescote, never enough to trouble us into pulling on waterproofs but enough to make us consider doing so every few minutes. We left the road via a stile into a paddock, swishing through lush damp grass to climb up onto higher ground, a climb which had me blowing like a winded nag by the time I reached the top. We then encountered the first of many large fields that had been recently ploughed, obliterating both the remains of the summer crop and also the path across it. The soil in this region was a reddish-brown clay which had become sticky with all the recent rain and which clung to the soles of our boots, growing in volume with each step. By the time we had reached the far side our feet were improbably large, swollen by the accrued mud, and each foot seemed to weigh around half a stone. We then performed a ritual that involved finding clumps of damp vegetation to scrape our feet through with an exaggerated and eccentric gait a la Ministry Of Silly Walks. This cycle was repeated on every ploughed field we encountered – and there were many. In fact another two ploughed fields followed in succession before we reached more solid ground and popped out from between farm buildings and onto the road leading down to Ratley. I knew Ratley well, having extensively walked around the area, and told Colin it was a beautiful old village with a church nestled up against an ancient pub, and thatched cottages lining the village street as it wound uphill to where we stood.
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The Castle Inn

Sadly, the Centenary Way took us in the opposite direction and we left the best of Ratley behind, passing the more modern houses bordering the village, to walk along a lane, crossing the B4086 to dive into a tiny gap in the hedge and onto Jacobs Ladder, a series of steep stone steps leading down into woodland. I happened to be filming Colin as he descended (perhaps hoping for a You’ve Been Framed moment as the steps were very slippery with wet leaves) when he stopped and began poking his camera into a hollow tree stump. Inside the cavity of the stump there was a thriving colony of fungus, glowing white against the black and rotting wood and Colin Tweeted it for the world to see, asking people to guess what it might be (the most inventive reply was that it was some sort of cream cake) and then we carried on down into the depths of the forest.
We reached a natural hollow in the woodland and almost immediately began to climb up again on a rocky track that threatened a broken kneecap if a slip occurred. At the top of this rise we were presented with the crenelated tower of the Castle Inn, a pub built to commemorate the famous civil war battle of Edge Hill that took place on the great flat plain below the ridge. I knew that the place served good food and ale but we were too early for opening time and had to content ourselves with the rich aromas of Sunday lunch being prepared, wafting out from the open kitchen doors.

Historical factoid: The tower was built in 1742 by Sanderson Miller on the centenary of the battle, and is said to mark the spot where King Charles raised the standard before the two sides clashed. The Tower; also known as the Radway or Round Tower was intended to replicate Guy’s Tower at nearby Warwick Castle. The Tower first became a pub in 1822, when it was sold by a descendant of Sanderson Miller to become a free house. Then in 1922 the Inn was acquired by Hook Norton Brewery. A reputedly active area of paranormal activity, the Edgehill Ghosts remain the only British phantoms to be officially recognised by the Public Record Office. But I bet they don’t pay tax.

The walk continued along the high ground of Edge Hill through light woodland, glimpses of the patchwork quilt of fields and farms far below us occasionally visible through the branches of birch, ash and oak. The ground fell away sharply to our right at times with nothing to stop us stumbling off the path to go bouncing and rolling down into the forest, and I found myself wondering how many people had enjoyed this exciting diversion over the years. Presently we met a group of four walkers coming from the opposite direction. They were Weather Forecasters, the woman opining that the sun might yet make an appearance and the three men behind her offering ‘Cold isn’t it?’, ‘Rains holding off’ and ‘Better than they said it would be’ as they filed past. I love this about the British, the unwritten law that says we can break the natural reserve we hold for strangers simply by mentioning the weather – it’s like a genetic instinct.

A not so civil war ....

The trees around us were losing their leaves at a fast rate now, casting them onto the ground as a thick crunchy carpet and inviting Justin Hayward to start singing Forever Autumn inside my head. We passed one old tree – I think it was an ash – that played host to a mistletoe which itself must have been many years old, the stems of which curled about the trunk like the tentacles of an octopus, as thick as a man’s arm. We reached a lane opposite an old house called Sunrising House where, it was said, King Charles 1st had breakfasted on the morning of the great battle. A lot of the old inns in the area laid claim to a piece of civil war history. The Rose & Crown at Ratley, for instance, insists that a parliamentarian foot-soldier, having fled the field, had taken refuge inside the large open fireplace that even today dominates the small bar area. Royalist troops had discovered his hiding place, pulled him out, and executed him on the hearth. Inevitably it is rumoured that his ghost now wanders the place but for real haunting potential you have to move on to the Castle Inn which, although being built after the civil war, still holds a reputation for being one of England’s most haunted pubs.
We took a wide driveway past Sunrising House to reach a T-junction alongside a riding school where a magnificent chestnut horse was being ridden back to the stables. As he drew level with us he began to get agitated, he stopped and then began to prance about and toss his head. I assumed it was our sudden appearance that had spooked him so I asked the girl riding the horse if we should walk away.
“No,” she replied tersely, “he’s just being an arse!” At which point the horse reared up on its hind legs. I was sure the girl would be thrown but she clung on with amazing skill and with supreme confidence brought the horse back under control. By this point Colin and I had exchanged a glance and backed slowly away, wondering what we would do if the girl hit the deck and the horse bolted. Thankfully we never found out.
“I think he wants to go back to the paddock,” she decided, and wheeled the feisty horse about to disappear around a corner.
We stood for a few seconds.
Colin spoke.
“Bugger that. Horses are just too big.”
We wandered down along a woodland path, passing a small fenced area where horse jumps were arranged in a circuit. The young lady was taking the feisty horse around it, speaking to it sternly whenever it tried to dance about. It was a battle of wills and my money was on the girl who despite, having to control a wilful 1,000lb beast, seemed totally in control. I was full of admiration.
We continued along a wooded path until we reached a gate which led onto Sunrising Hill where the trees parted and a beautiful vista opened up before us, the plain below patched with fields and studded with farms where odd wisps of bonfire smoke twirled lazily skywards.
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Sunrising Hill

Away to the south there was a blue-grey profile of further hills, probably the northernmost Cotswolds, and on the very furthest horizon to the west the suggestion of distant Welsh mountains. Even on this somewhat dour Autumn afternoon the view stretched for miles. The summit of Sunrising Hill was mostly covered in ankle high grass but a lone tree had conveniently keeled over and died a few yards ahead and provided us with a useful seat from which to enjoy our lunch and gaze out on the country far below us. We speculated as to whether the civil war clash on that distant October afternoon in 1642 would have been heard from this spot. It certainly would not have been witnessed, as the battlefield was now around the other side of Edge Hill, but the yells of 12,000 men, the thunder of cannon, and the ring of steel upon steel would probably have carried to this place. No doubt, as the battle drew on and became fragmented, skirmishes and individual soldiers fleeing the field might have reached as far as Sunrising Hill.

Historical factoid: The Battle of Edge Hill was the first pitched battle of the English Civil War. It was occurred on Sunday, 23 October 1642. Almost by accident the opposing forces of King and Parliament found themselves in the same neighbourhood and were obliged to ‘have a go’. Equally matched in terms of numbers around 6,000 Royalists were arrayed at the top of Edge Hill whilst 6,000 Parliamentarians were deployed on the plain below. It was a lovely sunny day and there was a certain reluctance to engage in actual battle. From dawn until late afternoon the world’s biggest staring contest took place until eventually King Charles rode out to encourage his men which provoked the Roundheads into action. A somewhat shambolic battle commenced, with inexperienced troops on both sides deciding to leg it rather than risk a musket ball. On the Royalist side, Prince Rupert became the bravest man with the soppiest name, proving himself to be a skilled and able soldier whilst on the opposing force ‘Faithful Fortescue’ failed to live up to his name and defected almost immediately. Several noblemen never got home to polish the family jewels again and the end result was a rather scrappy draw with neither side able to claim the advantage. A couple of thousand men lost their lives and it is said that many more were saved when the following night turned out be a bitterly cold one, serving to freeze wounds thus preventing death from loss of blood.

By contrast, on this October afternoon in 2012, all was silent apart from the whisper of a breeze and the production of Naff Commentary, during which I thought I heard Colin describing the light rain as ‘spaffling’ and thereby invented a new meteorological term.

And remember, 'mud' spelled backwards is 'dum' ....

The spaffling became a little more insistent so we headed off along the bare crest of Sunrising Hill before ducking under the cover of woodland again for a short while. We soon came to the path leading down, and off, the high ridge, and I warned Colin that this section was particularly muddy and treacherous underfoot. I had carried a walking pole all these miles just for this very spot but as it turned out I needn’t have bothered. The intervening week had seen a lot of leaves deposited over the path and they acted as a sort of raft, protecting us from the worst of the bog underneath them. We left the high ground via a gate and a meadow and then reached another obstacle that I remembered well from my previous visit. We crossed a short pasture near to a farm and then had to go through a space between fences to reach a track - there was no alternative route. The problem here was that herds of cows had also used this space on a regular basis and left behind a foot deep porridge of dung and mud. The muck was inescapable but to add a little spice the farmer had also electrified both fences, requiring us to inch carefully around the edge of the mess taking care not to touch anything live. I was initially annoyed when forced to cross this mud-bath but I suppose, on reflection, the place is first and foremost a working farm and I suppose, logically, cows have more right to use the track than we do. However, it would have been nice to have seen some sort of effort made to help the occasional Centenary Way walker over this trouble spot.
After escaping electrocution we made our way across a few more fields and into the village of Tysoe, walking past its fine church, its pub (The Peacock), and along its winding main street.
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It was an old village and had grown almost organically over the centuries with an interesting collision of architectural styles. Redbrick Georgian elegance rubbed up against Olde Worlde thatch which in turn leaned against Victorian primness. As we left the village we began to walk past pebble-dashed houses from the 1960's. We became bitchy.
‘Ooo that’s council’
‘Could have made an effort with that porch’.
We left Tysoe, turning off from the road to approach a rather grand stone gateway – sans gate – that led into what looked like the private drive of a large property. A diminutive old lady stood before it with an even more diminutive dog on a lead. She watched us approach with a sympathetic expression.
“Oh what a horrible day it’s been for you!” she exclaimed (that good old ice-breaker The Weather again). I assured her we were quite comfortable and we had walked through much worse but she wouldn’t have it.
“Oh no its awful today – cold! And I’m a Yorkshire lass!”
She had a completely undetectable Yorkshire accent.
After agreeing that rum was indeed the solution to it all we continued along the drive, leaving it on a bend to continue along a lovely little path between stone walls. Further back along the drive we had spied a very grand house indeed and I wondered if we had just chatted to its owner. The path opened out into a sort of sheltered glade which I imagine would look at its very best in the spring, with Aubrietia and Alyssum tumbling down the old stone walls in splodges of purple and canary yellow.
We went through a gate and with hardly any surprise we found ourselves crossing another large ploughed field, skirting around its edge whilst taking a mild interest in a couple on the far side who had lost their dog and were calling for it in ever more anxious tones - they fell silent before we left the field so I assume that there was a happy ending. Just as we thought that we had walked across the worst of the mud and slime we were treated to a long diagonal slog across a field of stunted sweet corn where the sludge underfoot became extra sticky and extra slippery. There was a small wooden footbridge at its end and we spent several minutes scraping the stuff off our boots before striking out across more ploughed acreage and getting them just as claggy again. We were very close to the end now and we picked our way around the rear gardens of a line of farm cottages before one last crossing of ploughed earth. This was the last and probably the worst of the lot because the furrows were higher than usual and gave softly under our feet - it was like walking up a sand dune and it was bloody heavy going. The exit from the field could be seen far ahead of us but for quite a while it just didn’t seem to be getting any closer and it was with great relief and singing calf muscles that we eventually completed the crossing.

Epic failures ....

There was one last tiny meadow to cross before we walked into Whatcote, whose neat little rows of cottages could be seen just ahead. I began calculating how long it would take us to get back to my car on the Burton Dasset Hills, and how much I was looking forward to that fresh hot coffee: Just a 20 minute trip in Colin’s car and we would be there. Suddenly, out of the blue, and just as the spaffling become a more persistent drizzle, a Bad Thought occurred to me. I will let Colin tell the rest, via the Tweets he published later that evening ...

“Hugely enjoyed the walk today. We had the advantage of two cars and made use of this. My car was left at what would be the end of the walk and we then drove in @DarkFarmOwl's [Marks] car to the start of the walk about 12 miles away. We could then do the walk and finish by taking my car back to his car, where we would then drive home in our respective cars. Good logistics. Trouble is, I had The Bright Idea. I didn't want to walk whilst carrying my house keys on me, so asked bro if I could leave them secure in his car - he was happy to do so. We enjoyed a good few hours walking and were lucky with the weather, the rain only got going as we finished. We were on the final field and it seemed that @DarkFarmOwl had been ruminating. "Those keys you left in my car," he said, "Did they include your car keys?" My heart sank. So, it was a phone call for a quote from a not so local taxi firm and me staring helplessly at my totally unusable car. It was a piece of absent minded brilliance that cost us £25 to taxi back to bro's car, then a drive back to my car. Sheer Laurel and Hardy.”

... with a resignation born of many such mishaps we called the most local cab firm we could find, assisted by the landlord of the Royal Oak at Whatcote, and then propped up the bar supping pints of local bitter. We chatted to the landlord who, as it turned out, was a Brummie and had run a few pubs in and around Birmingham before heading out into the sticks. He planned to stay for a few years and then wanted to fulfil his ambition of running a seaside pub.
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Sunset at Whatcote

The Royal Oak was very old indeed – parts of it dating back to the year 1100 - and having being built on soft foundations tended to shift about a lot through the year. The locks on the doors had to be changed on a regular basis as the building rose and fell through the seasons. It was a great old pub, all leaning walls and sloping floors, but it looked like an enormous financial black hole in terms of maintenance and I did wonder where his income would be coming from given its relative isolation. Let’s hope for his sake that the local farmers like their ale.
“Oliver Cromwell slept in a room upstairs,” he told us, presenting us with the Royal Oak’s particular claim to fame regarding the civil war.
The taxi arrived fairly promptly and he turned out to be a chatty sort of bloke, hearing with interest about our car key cock-up (but with no hint of reducing the fare out of sympathy) and also wanted to know all about the Centenary Way as he, like almost everyone I met along its route, had never heard of it.
We arrived back at the Burton Dasset Hills to find it equally as chilly as when we had left and I was so glad I’d packed the coffee brewing gear as I had been thinking about hot fresh coffee for the last two hours. The cabbie departed, with all our collective wealth in his back pocket, and we gratefully stripped off our walking gear and I got the coffee things together. The milk was nice and cold as I had packed ice packs into the ‘fridge’ and I had even thought to bring a couple of Thermos mugs with me. What a pity, then, that I had forgotten to bring the flask of hot water along.
It was just that sort of a day really.

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Warks Centenary Way Day 6

The Warwickshire Centenary Way
By Mark Walford
Day Six

Route: Leamington Spa to the Burton Dasset Hills
Date: Sunday September 7th 2012
Distance: 12.5m (20km)
Elevation: 174ft (53m) to 587ft (179m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 846ft (258m) and 466ft (142m)

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A dim view of the world ....

I decided to set off earlier for this section, based on my recent experiences of how long it was taking me to walk 12-plus miles including all the ‘getting lost’ episodes. The forecast for the day was good but as I drove along the M40 towards Gaydon there was a ghostly fog draped across the landscape and it brought with it an autumnal chilliness. Having to use the M40 served to illustrate the distance I had now covered on this long distance path, as the first few sections of this walk had seen me taking the M6 roughly northwards whereas I now took the M40 roughly southwards. I would be passing Gaydon during today’s walking, an area where I have worked several times over the years, and it was quite a thought that these legs of mine have carried me all the way from Kingsbury to Gaydon (and hopefully beyond) without any serious break down. I’m sure it’s all the walking I am doing that is keeping me just the right side of fitness because in many other ways I am as lazy and hedonistic as your average teenager, which is not terribly sensible when you live inside a middle aged body.
I arrived at the Burton Dasset hills and parked up near to the squat circular watch tower on the highest point. Everything was muted and a little sombre due to the fog and there was little to see beyond 30 meters. I was confident that on my return later in the afternoon the sun would be shining from a clear sky and the views would be a nice reward for my days journeying.
I had a new chauffeur today - Jamie had transferred the duty over to Griff, who lives in Kenilworth and had kindly agreed to ferry me about. He arrived punctually and we set off back to Leamington Spa, swapping gossip and rumour about office related stuff (we work for the same company and, quite often, work together and I can honestly say that he is one of the nicest people I have met during my many years of service).

From no path to tow path ....

Griff dropped me off in Leamington Spa, which was having a Sunday morning lie-in judging by the empty streets and scarcity of people, and by luck he left me at the gated entrance to Jephson Gardens which was the official start of today’s route. I set off through the grounds, admiring the fountains, statuary and shimmering colours of the autumn leaves. The gardens were created in the early 19th century, designed originally to be a place where the great and the good of Leamington could gather to be ‘seen’. Public access, at first limited, increased over the years and it is still a popular draw for tourists today. The monuments in the park pay tribute to the more notable residents of the town; a Corinthian-style temple houses a statue of the good doctor Stephen Jephson, chief promoter of the towns health giving spa waters,
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Jephson Gardens at Leamington

Dr. Hitchman (a local philanthropist) is honoured with a fountain, an obelisk memorial celebrates one Edward Willes, and a clock tower is dedicated to Alderman William Davis, who was mayor of the town three times. I also passed by a tropical plant house, all steamed up with its specimens pressing against the glass. I would have liked to have stopped to explore this more but reluctantly decided I didn’t have the time.
After leaving the gardens I followed the river Leam to a leisure centre and tried to work out what the guide book was telling me to do next. A sizeable group of ramblers edged past me as I stood. “You can come with us if you like!” said one of the guys cheerfully as he walked by. I smiled and said that they were going the wrong way and then set off in the wrong direction myself and soon became disorientated. I wandered about for a fair while before deciding that I was unable to get my bearings (even with a GPS) and would have to return to the leisure centre to start again - I was at this point on a small footbridge that crossed the Leam near to a busy road. The leisure centre was ten minutes’ walk away and of course when I finally got the route sorted out correctly it brought me right back to the very same bridge - well that was 45 minutes of my contingency time used up and I had barely started the walk.
Luckily the next several miles of the route were about as simple as a walk could get and, from the bridge, I soon found myself crossing the busy road and onto the tow-path of the third canal of the Centenary Way, the Grand Union. I now had just over three miles of tow-path walking to complete before I needed to consult the guide book again and with this in mind I set off at a fairly leisurely pace. Around the first bend I ran into the back of the convoy of ramblers I had seen at the leisure centre (so they were going the right way after all) while a steady stream of cyclists, joggers, and speed-walkers kept coming up behind me, forcing me to step out of the way. It was all far busier than I expected and being the sort of walker that prefers to be alone I soon decided to step up my pace to get past the knot of ramblers ahead of me.
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On the Grand Union canal

The couple at the rear of the line engaged me in conversation as I approached, wanting to know where I was heading. I told them about the Centenary Way (which they had never heard of) and that I was completing it end to end. The man asked me what that meant and I said Kingsbury to the northern Cotswolds. He stopped and looked at me in disbelief.
“Today?” he said incredulously. Sigh.
Within a mile almost all of the tow-path traffic left to join a green-way at a bridge and the ramblers broke for lunch at a small set of locks. Soon I was walking along in solitude, enjoying yet another beautiful canal-side amble. I love walking along canals but the writers of the guide book obviously didn’t share this pleasure as they suggested an alternative route, which missed the canal out entirely and offered a section of field and road walking instead. Each to their own I suppose, but faced with a choice between a tow-path and a field I’ll go for the canal every time. By now I felt like I had been walking a long time but I had probably covered no more than 10% of the routes total distance. Later in the day I knew that this idyllic canal section would be a distant memory; a memory of fresh legs and early morning sun, and anticipation (rather than tired indifference) about what lay around the next corner. I walked along and the morning slipped by, I waved at the occasional passing canal barge and the steersman, usually male middle-aged and tanned, often smoking a pipe, waved back. A pair of swans glided past me, a trio of almost full grown cygnets in tow, willows dipped their tresses into the still water and once, with a huge splash, a carp rolled, showing a brief flash of creamy white flank. All too soon I came to my exit point and I reluctantly left the canal, knowing that there would be no more tow-paths to follow on the Centenary Way.

Do you come here Ufton? ....

The small village of Ufton lay ahead, where I had decided to break for lunch, and to get there I followed a long track between fields, paved with hefty chips of granite and littered with large puddles after the recent heavy rains. A man was walking towards me exercising a couple of greyhounds, dogs that are always an irresistible draw for me. One hound, a tawny male, walked off leash and treated me with reserve as many greyhounds do with strangers, the other hound was on a long leash and as I approached the man started to warn me, a little late, that he was a jumper. A hefty greyhound taking a flying leap onto your shoulders can be disconcerting but I managed to keep my balance and crouched down to his level to say hello. He was an energetic, friendly young dog with a lovely white and grey marbled coat and I was reminded once again of the vast difference between a young untrained greyhound, a creature of unbridled energy and excitement, and the older retired racers who are almost Zen-like in their outlook on life and are happiest when stretched out on a sofa snoring.
The rough track became a farm drive climbing between grassy meadows and then in turn a small lane leading to a busier road where I turned left and climbed to Ufton village. Climbing of any real note had been a rarity on the Centenary Way so far, but I knew this was going to change as the land for the next day or two would be more undulating, culminating at the escarpment of Edge Hill. I stopped for lunch under the eaves of an old church where a bench had thoughtfully been placed. Diagonally opposite was the White Hart at Ufton perched on the shoulder of the hill and commanding far reaching views across Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
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The White Hart, Ufton

The landlord of the White Hart was doing a spot of gardening out front and he chatted to me amiably as he worked. They had owned the place for just over eight years, rescuing a failing business and making a modest profit despite the economic gloom. He told me that had I been here the week before I would have found the church open to the public and I could have climbed up to its ancient bell tower where fantastic views could be enjoyed. I finished my lunch in this most pleasant spot and then the landlord suggested that I take a look at the views from his beer gardens at the back of the pub, views which were indeed glorious, especially so because of the wide blue sky and clarity of the air.
I was about to set off again, shouldering my rucksack, and as a matter of routine I checked that my sunglasses were sitting on the visor of my baseball cap. They were missing. I retraced my steps back to the bench where I had taken lunch, scanning the ground for them. The landlord looked quizzical so I told him I had lost my sunglasses. He was a nice chap and offered to come back with me to check the beer garden but I didn’t want to put him to any trouble so I made my way back to the gardens alone, eyes on the ground, with furrowed brow. At this point it slowly dawned on me that there was a good reason my glasses were not perched on my hat – I was wearing them. I had just told a man that I was looking for my sunglasses, whilst wearing sunglasses. I guess that either he was too polite to point this out or he had assumed I meant some other pair of glasses and now I had to walk past him again to carry on with the walk; wearing my sunglasses.
I was going to walk by without saying anything but he asked me if I had found them, and feeling ever more ridiculous I said that I had not. And then, in an effort to explain the sunglasses sitting on my nose I added that the lost glasses were a prescription pair, used for reading. This little white lie made things worse because he then became concerned about the cost of replacement so I hastily added that they were insured. He insisted on taking my phone number just in case they were found by a regular and so I ended up giving my number to a perfect stranger who would be on the alert for a pair of sunglasses that would never be found. After all this nonsense what I needed was a good walk to clear my head and so, with a faint sense of relief, I left the pub and the village behind.

After Harbury it's all downhill ....

On the edge of the village I walked past a man busy working an enormous vegetable plot. Either it was a small commercial market garden or he had an awful lot of time on his hands as there were several beds, protected by tall frames of insect mesh, and quite a number of greenhouses and sheds. The man trundled through the midst of all this with a wheelbarrow full of compost and called a cheery good morning to me, reconsidered and changed it to a ‘good afternoon’ and then decided that he didn’t really know if it was either and what did I think? I had to confess that without looking at my phone I couldn’t be sure either but I told him I was reasonably certain it was now PM.
“I’ve been here since six this morning,” he explained, “and I have totally lost track of time.”
What a great way to lose a day.
I made my way through a tiny little nature reserve after Ufton, a place of much flora but curiously little fauna, not even of the feathered kind, and then there followed a time of uneventful field walking before I climbed a footpath to the next village of Harbury, a straggly strung out sort of place with a hotch-potch of dwellings of all ages and styles and a rather nice looking pub. The way into Harbury was pretty straightforward but the way out less so and as I approached its community hall I pulled out my guide book for a quick consultation. There was a kids birthday party going on at the hall, judging by the balloons and banners hung outside, and a small group of mothers were taking a fag break at the entrance. Feeling inexplicably nerdy all of a sudden I edged out of view into a small side road so they couldn’t see me poring over my notes.
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The guide book sorted me out and I left Harbury behind me by following a series of sports fields beyond the community hall. The day had worn on and I felt that there was a late afternoon feel about the weather - the sun seemed so low that it was about to set and the temperature had dropped noticeably, whilst long shadows were thrown across the turf by lines of tall poplars. I checked the time but it was barely 2:30 and I had hours of daylight left. Oddly enough, once I had left Harbury behind me the day seemed to adjust its timer and wound back a couple of hours.
There was a short path across fields and then I reached a lane where the directions told me to turn right, left onto a field past a house, and around its edge for a quarter of a mile to reach double white gates; except after all that walking I discovered that there were no double white gates and I realised that once again, somehow, I had strayed off route. Disheartened I consulted my GPS and could clearly see where the Centenary Way and I had parted company but not, exactly, how I could get back onto it. As far as I could tell I would have to retrace my steps all the way back to where I had joined the lane and then continue along it (left rather than right) to a junction where the Centenary Way could be regained. It was a fair distance and I had already walked quite a way by now so it was with mutterings and ill grace that I began to retrace my steps, passing a couple out for a stroll as I edged back around the large field. I couldn’t work out whether the guide book had failed me or I had missed a turn or just read the instructions incorrectly – possibly a combination of all three – but eventually I reached the junction (adding well over a mile to the overall distance I would walk) to find the double white gates and a drive with a nice shiny Centenary Way marker beckoning me onwards. To add insult to injury within twenty yards the same couple I had met on the field emerged onto the drive from a hedge – I could have just as easily followed them to regain the route.
“Going in circles?” said the woman as we passed. I smiled a tight smile.

Ending on a high ....

My grumpiness was not about to be improved by the next bit of the route as I followed the left edge of a sequence of nine large fields on a track that was composed of muddy clay, made slippery from recent rains. Every other step was also a mini slide and after a time this started to sap my strength, not to mention my sense of humour. I was so busy concentrating on where to place my feet that I rarely glanced up to admire the scenery although I’m sure it was pretty enough. The going got a little firmer once I reached the boundary of Itchington Holt woods where a woman with a large German Shepherd dog was peering into the depths of the trees and shouting ‘Sammy’ repeatedly in various tones of wheedling and exasperation. Sammy crashed through the trees almost at my feet, a large and handsome Alsation, he was excited and his tongue flew behind him like a pink scarf. He shot me a look as if to say ‘I’m in trouble now – but I don’t CARE!’ and loped off back to his owner. The woman scolded him but wasn’t fooling anybody and she was soon scratching his ears.
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Climbing the Burton Dasset Hills

“He only has to think he’s seen a squirrel and he’s in there,” she explained to me, “but he always manages to find his way out again.” The other dog stared out across the fields, maintaining a stolid dignity, aloof and indifferent to Sammy’s antics.
The guide book said that I had to turn left at the corner of the woods, which sounded a bit silly to me, I mean, how many woods have actual corners? But as it turns out, this one did - an almost perfect right angle - and that can’t be an easy thing to achieve with a mature woodland; surely not a natural phenomenon?
Around this corner and beyond sloping fields the M40 ferried cars and lorries, made tiny by distance, south towards London and the signpost for the Gaydon exit could clearly be read, which gave me some idea of where I was and how far I had left to complete the days walk. By now I expected to see the Burton Dasset Hills, my destination, rising above the fields but from this viewpoint the nearest hills looked a long way off and I fervently hoped these weren’t the Dassets. I headed down the side of the woods, watching a family blackberry picking on the far side with a contraption that, no matter how hard I stared, I couldn’t make out. It was either an off road motorcycle, a large pram, or some sort of shopping cart and it niggled me that I never really worked out which. A small lane followed, from which a gate led me across a few final fields before depositing me on a road which I think (and I’d like to be right) was called Pimple Lane. Around the very first bend of this lane the Burton Dasset Hills appeared as if from nowhere, and I could just make out the tiny dot on the skyline that was the watch tower where my car was parked. As I plodded on the hills got imperceptibly closer and I pondered the pros and cons of being able to see the end of a long days walk from such a distance. It was 50-50 really in that you could see that the end was in sight but you could also see just how far there was still to go. In the end I stopped staring at the hills, concentrating on the fields either side or the road ahead, until they were obscured by roadside trees at the T-junction with Blacksmith Lane. Turning right here brought me to the last village of the day, Northend, nestling right up against the Burton Dasset Hills, with the usual random mixture of houses and cottages strung out along
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On top of the Burton Dasset Hills

Blacksmith Lane, and the temptation of a village pub open for business with people sipping cold beers on trestle tables outside. I averted my eyes and left the high street behind, taking a small side road and passing a terraced garden where the world’s most miserable barbeque seemed to be in session with everyone sitting silent, pensive and avoiding eye contact. The road ended and a steep track continued from it, winding up into the hills. As I got higher the track opened up into a wide grassy vale reaching up to the high ridge of the hills. Turning back here gave me the first of several far reaching views across Warwickshire that can be enjoyed from the hill tops. I arrived a little breathless at my car and gratefully downed the cold drink I had stashed in the ‘fridge’ before walking the last few yards up to the watch tower where, as I had predicted at the start of the day, the late afternoon sun shone from a clear sky and a great sweep of South Warwickshire could be enjoyed from this high vantage point. I looked to the south west where the hazy line of Edge Hill could be made out, the direction I would be taking for day seven, the penultimate section of the Centenary Way.
It would be a couple of weeks before I could continue with the walk, time enough for seasons to change, and for summer clothing to give way to thermals and gloves. If I was unlucky I might end up cold and wet, just like on the very first day - the one that took place in August.

See Route on ......

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Warks Centenary Way Day 5

The Warwickshire Centenary Way
By Mark Walford
Day Five

Route: Stoneleigh to Leamington Spa
Date: Wednesday October 3rd 2012
Distance: 12.6m (20.25km)
Elevation: 154ft (47m) to 312ft (95m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 630ft (192m) and 646ft (197m)

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See Route on ......

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
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Church of the Virgin Mary, Stoneleigh

(it worked a treat when I was away in Dorset in a borrowed Ford Galaxy). However, the Land Rover Defender is many things, but technically advanced it is not. The cigar lighter socket accepted the USB device but refused to talk to it. I needed to Satnav from my house to the start of the days walk at Stoneleigh so Mr. Siri took 15% of my iPhone battery life before I ever took a step. And when I did get to Stoneleigh I discovered I had left my camera\camcorder at home so the iPhone would have these additional duties to perform. I doubted it would last the day. It was with some misgivings that I anticipated completing the walk relying on just the guide book and way markers. The former was at times idiosyncratic and the latter often AWOL.
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 The Coventry Way, 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 Kingsbury Water Park 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.
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Abbey ruins at Kenilworth

I selected the most likely looking one and crossed a couple of fairways to end up at a chain link fence, so wrong left hand path then. It was time to fire up the GPS app on the phone and waste precious battery power in working my way out of the place. I did so eventually, crossing more fairways and around greens where golfers eyed me with what I suspect was a species of annoyance – and I don’t blame them either. I reached a small footpath that I was convinced would let me escape but instead ended up on the 15th tee; a man dressed as a hiker standing at the tee-off on a golf course. I felt incongruous. In a parallel universe I wondered if there was a man in a pastel jersey and checked trousers standing at the monument for the start of the West Highland way, golf bag slung over shoulder, with a confused look on his face. This abstract thought cheered me up no end as I retraced my steps and at last escaped the confines of the golf course, sneaking down an alleyway between rear gardens and out onto a metalled lane on the outskirts of 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 Kenilworth 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 Japanese Kobe 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 St. Nicholas church 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
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Thatched cottages at Kenilworth

and crossing the road towards the castle itself. Several school outings were in progress inside the castle estate and I thought I might have to wander through their midst collecting sniggers and titters along the way, but my dignity was to remain intact as the path led me around the left side of the outer castle walls, following the wide ditch of what used to be a moat. This brought me onto a wide causeway with a sign telling me not to enter the castle grounds unless I had purchased a ticket. Well, I only wanted a quick photo so I broke that rule and snapped a few quick images of the castle ruins, all gaunt red sandstone and cliff-like walls, with crows wheeling around the broken summits of its towers. As ruins go, Kenilworth Castle delivers the goods – romantic, compelling, dramatic, sad. But is it eight quids worth? Well that’s the price you pay for getting up close and personal to it all. It seems a bit pricey to me, but plenty of people were visiting that day so who am I to judge.
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,
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Kenilworth Castle

whispering like a distant ocean, while woolly sheep grazed contentedly under their eaves. Overhead, great white clouds sailed across the blue sky like galleons, their shadows chasing them across the landscape. I didn’t see a soul for the entire section and when it came to an end at a gate leading to a road I felt physically invigorated and mentally refreshed (don’t worry – it didn’t last).
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.

Bullied ....

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.
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St. Marys Church at Warwick

“See you in Beef,” I muttered to the unseen bull and then I made my way along this new field, taking a gate opposite and entering (oh no) another golf course. Frankly, for the next 40 minutes, everything went a bit Pete Tong. The guide book started wittering on about a wood and a path through it, which I never did see, and then it described directions through a golf course but not, from the evidence before me, the actual golf course I stood in. None of this was helped by the fact that the perimeter of the course was being redeveloped and was all ploughed up and muddy. I muttered and cursed and wandered about on many footpaths searching in vain for the Centenary Way marker that would let me back out again. Eventually I resorted to using the GPS on my rapidly dwindling iPhone and worked out that I was about as far away from the Centenary Way as it was possible to get on the course. I made my way back to the route, avoiding where possible the games in progress, and ruefully conceded that to get lost on a golf course is unfortunate but to get lost twice on two different courses in one day is just plain stupid. After I had exited the course via a kissing gate I spent a while examining the GPS map and I eventually worked out that, whilst the bull had accidentally shown me the correct way forward, I had also accidentally taken a wrong turn immediately afterwards and had emerged onto the Warwickshire golf course much further up then intended. Had I stuck to the right path than I would have indeed taken a nice little wander through woodland before popping out onto the golf course much further along where, of course, the guides directions would have made perfect sense.
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 Borat Sagdiyev 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 Warwick 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 St. Mary’s church 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 Thomas Oken Tea Rooms 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 Warwick Castle 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
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Warwick Castle

to glow in the afternoon sunshine. St. Nicholas Park or ‘St. Nicks’ to the locals has its origins in the 1930’s and is still a hugely popular meeting place. Geographically it has its advantages as it is laid out in the shadow of the castle and is bordered by the river Leam, but it also has its formal gardens and open green spaces. For me the place also holds some happy memories of boating on the river with my two young daughters, or having ice-creams at the shop by the fountains; so many years gone by. I could have spent the rest of the afternoon reminiscing on my bench but time was pressing. In fact so far as a certain movie date was concerned it had pressed – I would never be back in time – so I had to make a phone call and cancel, which always makes me uncomfortable as I hate to let people down. Then I tried a bit of Naff Commentary during which, to my surprise, rain began to fall from an apparently clear sky.

Elvis, el espaƱol taxi driver de Leamington ....

I made my way to the banks of the Leam 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 Leamington Spa
WCW Day5 Pic 7

Leamington Spa

and I stopped to snap a picture of the Royal Pump Rooms ahead of me which was the end of the route. The iPhone managed one picture and then promptly died of exhaustion. I suppose it had done well to get through the day with everything I had asked of it, but when it went so did all the local taxi numbers I had loaded onto it and I still had to find my way back to Stoneleigh. I walked into the high street and managed to get a couple of local numbers from a hotel and then called for a cab from a phone box. It has been many years since I used a public call box and the charges have gone up a little since those days. The minimum call charge was 60p and for that I had about a minutes worth of time - which is just enough time to call a cab firm, request a taxi, and give them half the information required before the call dies. And I had no more change. Eventually I discovered a taxi rank and haggled a decent price out of a Spanish cabbie who was an Elvis worshipper (no I didn’t make that up) who drove me back through rush hour traffic all the way to tiny Stoneleigh and my Land Rover. The Spanish Cabbie loved Land Rovers. He told me this many times as he walked around the Defender in admiration, telling me stories of the one his dad owned back on the family farm where his 12 brothers and sisters etc. etc. etc. All I wanted to do was get into comfortable shoes and sit down but he really really did like Land Rovers….
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 ......

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