20110306_Shuckburgh _ Napton on the Hill Circular Walk
Who : Me and my 9 year old son Craig.
Where : Warwickshire (near Northamptonshire border), a couple of miles to the east of Southam.
Maps : Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 222, Rugby and Daventry.
Start + End Point : 491,628
Approx Distance : 7 miles, (11 km).
Heights : 2 ascents of about 100m and 60m (about 325 + 195 feet).
Parking : Dirt lay-by north of the church in Lower Shuckburgh, just by the canal bridge (near the sewage works).
Summary : A very pleasant and surprisingly hilly Warwickshire walk including Lower Shuckburgh, Shuckburgh Deer Park and Hills, Napton on the Hill and the Oxford and Grand Union Canals.
My daughter (who plays cello) was off at an orchestra workshop for most of the day at The Temple Speech Rooms (part of Rugby School) and my wife had lots of reading to do for the following day’s university classes (heavy stuff; Post war Russian occupation in Hungary I think). So Craig and I decided to take advantage of some bright and dry although quite chilly weather … Craig wanted to do a particular seven miles long walk, having looked through a guide book that just happened to be out on our dining room table (More Country Walks in the Rugby Area, by Jim Watson) but I didn’t have a map of the route he’d settled on, so we picked out a six-miler around an area where I hadn’t been for donkey’s years.
So, with sandwiches made, flasks filled and boots found we arrived at the start point in Lower Shuckburgh. I parked up on a small dirt lay-by just a few hundred yards north of the A425 main road, past the church, and just before a bridge over a canal. Once booted up, we set off, not on the canal towpath, but instead heading down the country road, to reach the very ornate church of St. John the Baptist. Common with other rural places, the church looks considerably larger than the small community would seem to warrant, perhaps a sign that many more people lived and worked here in the past. Craig took an interest in the memorial’s inscriptions here, commenting on how sad it was that the people had died in the war, and then in a completely different mood, pretended to be trapped in the stocks on the other side of the road.
We now had to cross the A425 main road (linking Southam and Daventry) which was dead easy ‘cause there was no traffic, but I could guess it could be quite tricky to cross when busy. Once over the road we nervously made our way into a field after reading the prominent Beware of the Bull warning sign. I wasn’t that nervous, as I’ve never actually been threatened by a bull whenever I’ve had to walk past them before. Generally they’ve only ever looked at me with a bored disdain, as if they’ve got better things to do, like eat another mouthful of grass, than chase an ugly looking hiker. Craig on the other hand felt a little more wary and grabbed my hand as we headed diagonally across the field towards the top corner of a small group of brick built cottages. The afore mentioned bull was nowhere to be seen and we pressed on, rising up the centre of a broad ridge. This was the first major climb of the day. The climb isn’t in the same league as Lake District Fells or Peak District Dales, but for around here it’s pretty much as hilly as it gets and it certainly raised the heart rate a little. Some wide views opened up looking back from where we’d come. In fact at various times during the day we could make out the plume of smoke emitting from Rugby Cement’s chimney maybe some 10 miles away to the north.
The slope began to ease a little as we passed through a taller than usual fence and kissing gate, to reach a tall and rather wonky post with a beacon brazier perched on top. I guess the villagers must use this at events during the year? We were now in the parkland of Shuckburgh Hall and we continued uphill with woods encroaching on both sides with a couple of small ponds down to our right. As we climbed, some small patches of blue sky started to peek through the uniform grey cloud cover, raising our hopes for some sunny weather for the rest of the walk, the additional brightness bringing a very welcome feel of spring to the day.
We soon started to crest what looked like the top of the rise, however, we had to swing to the right, aiming for another tall fence and gate, which meant we had a bit more uphill to do, although now not as steep as before. On the way, Craig found a pair of old branches protruding from a gnarled and distorted old tree and enjoyed bouncing up and down on the springy limbs and then pretending to be a jockey sat astride a very thin horse; the power of imagination is wonderful.
Just up from here the route lead us to a stile; Under normal circumstances I’d have just crossed over and continued on the other side …. but not this time, because, right next to the official way-marking arrow was a bright orange “Footpath Diversion” sign pointing off towards Home farm at 90-degrees to our intended direction. Obviously this set alarm bells ringing; the only thing was; it didn’t say where the diversion was heading for, for how far and whether it’d eventually take us to where we needed to be. I walked down the fence a short way, looking for the next diversion sign, but there was none to be seen, I walked back up to the stile trying to weigh up what to do? Which direction to go? After a little more umming and arrrring, I decided the diversion had no official signing to go with it, and so further decided to go with the two most certain things I knew :- The official way-mark sign and the green dashed line on my map!
We crossed the stile and headed up the rise ahead, skirting the edge of Long Hill Wood to our right and some half-decent views off to our left. I was really quite wary though and gently encouraged Craig into fairly quick(ish) pace, as I guessed the diversion might have been down to pheasant or partridge shooting and I didn’t fancy being inadvertently shot at. We soon crested the rise and then, continuing on, dropped down to a shallow saddle before again rising over Lodge Hill and thence onto to Beacon Hill, all the time with the woods off on our right.
My map doesn’t make any note of a series of banks and troughs encircling the hill top. I could almost believe them to be the remnants of ancient ridge and furrow farming methods (quite common around here), or the last vestiges of an iron age fort, but according to my guide book, the area is the site of a deserted medieval village. We didn’t head over to the very top, instead choosing to skirt around in a wide arc on top of one of the ridges and then dropped down a little towards the corner of the woods (now called Old Fox Covert) where we passed into a field sloping steeply down ahead of us. There were some super wide ranging views, initially Napton being the focal point of our gaze on its own neighbouring hill, but the vista was much wider, being able to see way past Southam to the west and a big sweep to the north as far as Rugby.
Craig was ready for a rest, and as this was a bit of a sun-trap, this seemed an ideal place to break out some snacks and drinks. As it happened Craig managed two whole bananas – brill’ for energy levels – and we sat enjoying the views and just chatted …. It turned out that he had the chorus of a pop song annoyingly looping around in his head, so I suggested he sing out loud a different tune just to break the cycle, amazingly we both broke into Queens “We Will Rock You” at precisely the same time …. Great minds think alike hey? …. and the next 5 minutes were spent serenading the birds with our impromptu performance. I guess it was “a kind of magic” if you’ll excuse the pun!
Anyway, the sun disappeared behind a large grey cloud and the temperature immediately dropped several degrees prompting us to pack up and move on. Our route was now downhill (skirting the southern extremities of the wood) and then into more open farmland to reach a minor road just to the right of Halls Barn Farm. Once on the road we needed to joggle first left along the road and then almost immediately right into the next field to follow the hedge on our right but only for a short distance before heading westwards across a number of fields passing through various hedges by means of gates and stiles as we went. It was easy walking and we soon emerged onto a minor road.
On the other side of the road are a couple of fish ponds and there were quite a number of men sat around the fringes, poles poised to catch “the big one”. We skirted the northern tip of the northern most pool and definitely not singing Queen songs as we passed by the silent anglers (are they anglers when fishing in ponds rather than flowing streams?) to emerge onto another minor road. This we followed into the outskirts of Napton-on-the-Hill where Craig headed into a child’s playground to clamber about on the climbing frames, monkey bars and the like. Where he got the energy from I just don’t know as he’d already completed well over 3-miles and several hundred feet of ascent and descent – perhaps it was the banana effect!
After ten minutes or so we moved on climbing steeply through the attractive streets of Napton, passing an eclectic mix of old and new houses, perched one above the other on the hill side and after a while reached the top of the hill at the ancient Church of St Lawrence, parts of which date back to the 12th Century.
As we left the churchyard onto a lane we stopped to chat with three fellow walkers (from Coleshill) who had just parked up here and were just starting their days walking; their route being more or less the same circle as ours, but starting and finishing here in Napton. As they headed off towards the windmill, we set off down the lane which soon started to descend quite quickly to join Vicarage Road and then continued downhill on Butt Hill all the way down to the A425 main road where we found our way into The Kings Head pub. There was a really good buzz in the bar with quite a sizeable crowd stood watching Liverpool beating Man Utd. I enjoyed a good pint of Hook Norton beer and Craig had a J2O. The landlady kindly allowed us to eat our packed lunch sandwiches as we sat chatting and I managed another swift half before we set off again.
After crossing the A425 main road we joined Tomlow Road (heading north) for a short stretch of Tarmac walking to reach the Oxford Canal where we dropped down onto the canal towpath right next to Napton Marina with lots of narrow boats moored on the opposite bank. The way ahead was now very easy, being absolutely flat going except for a very brief rise and fall over a bridge at a major junction of The Oxford and Grand Union Canals making a huge watery T-junction (Napton Junction on my map). Also, joining the cut here is another Marina (Wigrams Turn Marina) with many more narrow boats making another colourful scene. An artist was sat here sketching the bridge, obviously making the most of the settled weather and the picturesque surroundings.
The only thing to slow us down now, were the many ‘photo opportunities including narrow boats, ducks and swans and just the canal itself. In the distance every now and again we caught a glimpse of the three fellow walkers we’d met at the church in Napton. Knowing they were heading to near where we were parked, I challenged Craig to a mini game – would we catch them up before they turned off the towpath ?
This certainly kept the pace brisk and even though he’d covered nearly 6-miles Craig every now and then broke into a run far outstripping my pace and ensuring we did indeed catch up with the walkers up ahead, just as we all reached a slender footbridge where they were to leave the canal to head over to Lower Shuckburgh Church.
We stood chatting for a few minutes, part of which was about the respective woes of Aston Villa and Coventry City football clubs (not a good season for either team) … in fact it wasn’t many days after this that the Sky Blues’ manager Aidy Boothroyd was sacked! Once we’d said our good-byes, we continued alongside the canal for just a couple more hundred yards before leaving the towpath to rise to a road bridge and our parked car.
And that was that, a really good walk, lots of variation :- Hills and flat going; open countryside and alongside woods; a decent pint in a friendly pub; an interesting stretch of canal of about 2-miles and the pretty hill-village of Napton on the Hill.
There was one thing that we’d missed though and that was to see the windmill perched on the western fringe of Napton Hill. So within minutes of setting off in the car, we were parked in the lay-by near the church in Napton. From here we strolled along the lane past the church itself and then Church Leys Farm (with Highland Cows) to reach the windmill. This is on private property forming part of a posh looking home so you can’t get up really close, but you can get a reasonable view of it’s sails and then going a little further on, a superb view out over the low lying plain below. Then it was a wander back to the car again, and the drive back up to Rugby. The final task of the day was to head into the town centre, to park up on Badby Road right next to “The Close”, the historic Rugby School sports ground where William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it, inventing the modern game of Rugby Union in the process. There were a group of boys playing under the rugby posts at one end of the pitch, but, in what could perhaps be described as sacrilege they were playing soccer not rugger!!!! Why hadn’t we gone straight home … well that was because my daughter was finishing her orchestra workshop at The Temple Speech Rooms at 5 o’clock and we’d arrived with about a quarter of an hour to spare – Brill’ timing! And that, really was that for the days adventures and here endeth this diary write-up.
Next walk/post = 2011—————– to be decided.