20110529_Ashby St Ledgers – Braunston – Barby Circular Walk
When : 29th May 2011
Who : Just Me
Where : Northamptonshire Villages near the Warwickshire Border, England.
Map Used : 1:25000 OS Explorer Map No. 222 Rugby & Daventry
Start and End Point : SP567,683
Approx Distance : 8 miles, (13 km)
Approx Heights climbed : 420 ft (about 130m) the longest “climb” from Braunston to Barby being about 230 feet spread over about 2 miles.
Summary : A circular walk starting in the pretty village of Ashby St Ledgers; taking in a stretch of The Jurassic Way to Braunston; a short stretch of The Grand Union Canal; footpaths to the outskirts of Barby and then back to Ashby St Ledgers after a mini run-in with a herd of cows.
For larger views of a photo, please click on the pic’ & it should launch on my flickr pages.
It’d been a reasonably nice day and, with the rest of the family working on homework, university-essays and the like and I felt at a bit of a loose end. So, I decided to head out for a bit of a walk, but somehow I just didn’t fancy covering the normal local paths around the Cawston area where we live. So, I took the quick and easy option and flicked through one of my books of local walks and rapidly settled on one based on the villages of Ashby St Ledgers and Braunston. I’ve known these places for quite some time now and I like them both. Although they’re only separated by a couple of miles they have completely different characters.
It was a bit of a dash to get ready as time was pressing on and it was approaching half-past-three by the time I’d parked up on Main Street, not far from The Olde Coach House Inn in the small village of Ashby St Ledgers. This is a very pretty little place with mellow stone thatched cottages but with a very big historical story to tell, but more of that later.
To start with, the walk headed out of the village on Main Street in a roughly westerly direction. This was pleasant enough as it’s a quiet lane, but soon reached the A361 road. This fast road had to be crossed (carefully!) to get to a bridle track on the other side. This was very well signed as part of The Jurassic Way, and the wide path headed off up the rise, in a roughly south westerly direction, sandwiched between a crop of oil seed rape and a sizeable hedge. The rape field was really quite large and must have been a stunning sight when in full bloom, but now the yellow flowers had given way to boring seed pods, now leaving just the odd splash of colour in an otherwise uniform sea of green.
Cresting the rise brought me into a buttercup strewn pasture field, with a herd of cattle that weren’t in the least bit interested in me, apart from a turn of their heads, as I passed by – just the way I like it, and soon after I emerged onto a minor road. A right turn was needed to walk along the road for a very short distance before turning left onto another track, now heading steadily downhill.
The way ahead has a designation of “Byway” on my map. This means that not only walkers, cyclists and horse-riders can use the right of way but it’s also open to all traffic. Not that I saw anything other than another gent’ walking his dog, the first person I’d seen since passing the pub in Ashby. To start with there were some half decent views, including Braunston’s Church steeple and its more diminutive neighbour, a windmill tower (minus sails). The broad Byway is about a mile long and is pretty much completely straight, apart from one small dog leg, and is bounded by high hedges, meaning that as I lost height the views diminished as well. This meant looking for interest at closer quarters and I was rewarded by a selection of hedgerow flowers including some lovely wild dog rose.
One thing that bemused me along the track was a rather odd portrait picture that had been attached to a sign post. The stylised black and white line drawing seemed to have a theatrical feel, obviously of a male face, looking skyward with a rather scared expression; quite odd in its own right but even more so for it being stuck in the middle of a farmland track where few people would ever see it.
As the track rose again, towards Braunston, occasional gaps in the hedges afforded some nice views across the local gentle countryside with lots of subtle shades of green. Just the other day, my son asked what my favourite colour is; Easy answer for football shirts = sky-blue … but in general I might just have to choose green, I love the different shades to be seen in our English countryside. Having said that, when taking photo’s I love having a splodge of bright red; I think poppies are simply stunning or maybe a person’s red shirt or shiny cagoule does the trick. So maybe my son’s question is really answerable in one non-committal reply of “it all depends”.
Continuing on, the track reached the outskirts of Braunston to become a minor road with houses on both sides; one or two with some super displays of bedding plants. After a while this road dropped to reach the main part of the village near The Wheatsheaf pub. My guide book suggests walking straight through the long village on the road, but I wanted to drop down to The Grand Union Canal; so I turned left, passed the village hall and village green and found my way into Braunston Jetty Field via a pathway.
Braunston Jetty Field is a sort of nature reserve cum village facility with a spinney, garden, allotments, wildlife area and main field with medieval farming ridge and furrows. There are a number of paths across the field that I took to drop down to the canal at bridge no.2 and a group of buildings including Braunston Dry Dock. Also here was a shop on the far side of a sizeable lock, wide enough to take two narrow boats.
I bought an ice cream from the shop and spent some time watching various boats negotiating the lock. It’s quite amazing that the lock dates back at least to 1877 (per a plaque on the lock wall). Even assuming there will have been maintenance work done over the years, I find it amazing that the lock’s operation hasn’t changed in well over a hundred years and not been replaced by more sophisticated modern technology; a fantastic piece of Victorian invention and investment.
Moving off down the canal towpath (westwards) soon brought me along side more canal side industrialisation. I assume the building with a tall chimney was some kind of pump house or similar. Continuing down the towpath took me past more narrow boats and I soon reached an attractive iron arched bridge crossing the entrance to the large and very well used Braunston Marina. The sign saying “Braunston 0 miles” made me smile as that seemed to be stating the plainly obvious. The next building over the bridge is “The Stop House”, which was originally constructed in 1796 and was used for the collection of tolls and registration of passing craft between The Oxford and Grand Junction Canals up to the end of the 19th Century.
Continuing on, the canal passes under the A45, and this is where I left the towpath crossed the bridge and then headed up a grassy field towards the Church emerging onto a road at the bottom end of Braunston Village. From here I took a side road around the back of the church yard (bounded by a decorative metal chain) and the neighbouring old windmill. Continuing on I then took another side road into a modern housing estate and followed this round until I reached yet another side road (a short close called simply “Countryside”.
At the end of this dead-end, I then headed north on a footpath crossing pleasant countryside; at first across a field covered in a yellow sheen of buttercups. There now followed a series of fields, the route rising steadily and crossing stiles of varying degrees of difficulty – One in particular was really quite awkward, not so much the stile itself but the metal bar immediately afterwards, stretched between two fence posts at a very difficult height. After just over a mile I reached Braunston Fields (Farm) where the path took a slight dog-leg to the left to drop into a small valley.
I’d just passed over into the next field when a large fox appeared out of the hedge on the left, about 50 feet ahead of me. We both froze and looked at each other and I very slowly started to raise my camera … the fox was having none of that and turned tail and shot back into the undergrowth … all I managed to capture was it’s hind flanks and tail as it disappeared, never to be seen again. Soon after, at the corner of Tiltup’s Wood, I actually had to think about my map reading, the path having disappeared in a field of long grass; I even made a compass bearing to confirm my direction … Just to the side of a prominent tree on the rise ahead.
The next field showed how dry the spring of 2011 had been, with cracks in the hard ground easily large enough to slip my whole hand into. The dryness did make walking across the crop easy though and I’d soon braved an old sign warning of a bull (none was seen) before rising through a small wood (Camps Copse) to meet a minor road just to the south of Barby. A little bit of road walking was now required starting with the final rise to a cross-roads just outside Barby, reached just after a view of an old windmill (looking like a twin of the one in Braunston).
This was now the highest point of the walk since leaving Braunston (a heady 168 feet above sea level). This was not quite the highest spot of the whole round which was just over 170 feet shortly after leaving Ashby. My route headed straight over the cross roads and took the road ahead for maybe another half-a-mile before branching right on a footpath across a field and then down the side of Home Wood. The path took a right turn where this wood meets Briccle Wood. I was disappointed that there was no view of the reservoir just off to my right.
After a short distance of running parallel to the reservoir dam, I crossed into a corner of a field, and as I struggled to close the heavy gate (I’d not seen the stile in the corner) I was confronted by a large group of boisterous and overly inquisitive cattle. As I man handled the gate shut they encroached too rapidly for my liking and by the time I’d made fast the gate the group was rapidly being swelled by even more of the bovine creatures at quite a trot! I didn’t fancy being trapped by the herd and started to feel quite nervous as two or three of the animals seemed quite aggressive and I had to rapidly do a bit of map reading to work out how to accurately extricate myself from the awkwardly shaped field corner. It took some waving of arms and occasional shouting to keep the cattle a few feet away from me as I followed the field edge around to the right and I felt quite relieved when I got into the next field.
I’d become just a little disorientated in the rush and I now took a little more time to take a bearing and confirm that I was indeed heading in the right direction (more or less south now), before rising up over a rise ahead, past a bit more woodland and then down to another stand of trees (hiding a large pond) and then rising once again across the field ahead. Another bearing helped with the accuracy of direction finding, leading me up to pass close by an attractive pond.
It was here that I saw the first person since leaving Braunston (apart from a cricket match near the Barby crossroads). Soon after I reached the A361 and carefully crossed for the 2nd time in the day. The walk was now nearly over, Ashby being just two fields away. However, I followed a footpath running parallel to the village to emerge on a minor road near the very impressive Manor House. This is where the gunpowder plotters of Catesby, Fawkes and co. met to plan their audacious bid to blow up The Houses of Parliament; quite amazing that such a huge story emanates from so small a village.
From the manor all that was needed was to follow the lane round to the right and the wander through the pretty village passing thatched stone built houses and the village hall bedecked in union flag bunting, to reach my parked car. And so ended a local walk with some history (both industrial and political), pleasant countryside with some nice views over gentle mixed use farmland and taking in a couple of pretty villages.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings and pics….