September is an ideal time for walking in England as the fields are firm underfoot without too much foliage to hinder the way and the days are still reasonably long and warm. On the farm, an early harvest meant we had some free time before autumn sowing, so we packed our bags and headed to Northamptonshire.
Earlier this year, we started The Jurassic Way, which is an 88 mile trail between Banbury in Oxfordshire and Stamford in Lincolnshire. According to the Jurassic Way leaflet (produced by Northamptonshire County Council) archaeologists in the 1940s believed that the Humber and Severn estuaries were linked by a prehistoric trackway that followed the Jurassic outcrop across Middle England and though the theory of a single track has subsequently been disproved, the Jurassic Way was devised to follow the route it could have taken.
Chipping Warden to Staverton (12 miles)
We picked up the Jurassic Way again at Chipping Warden (about six miles from Banbury) and headed off for Staverton on a beautiful sunny day. Despite being told not to get lost by a cheerful chap driving past us in a muddy Land Rover, we promptly lost the path in a wood amongst bunkers and buildings that look as though they’re used for war games. We eventually found a way marker and set off across the fields to Woodford Halse, which turned out to be a village with probably everything a walker needs – convenience store, butcher, pharmacy, podiatrist and best of all a café with delicious carrot cake. The Old School Café had only opened at the beginning of the month and the menu looked so good that I was rather disappointed that I’d packed sandwiches for lunch.
Our lunchtime sandwiches may not have been exciting, but the peace and solitude of the church and adjacent manor house surrounded by fields at Church Charwelton more than compensated. These medieval deserted villages have been quite a feature of the walk.
Staverton to West Haddon (12 miles)
On Day 2, fortified by a “Full English” breakfast, we headed out of Staverton.
We paused on the bridge at Braunston to admire the narrow boats on the canal and carried on to the pretty village of Ashby St Ledgers with its street of thatched houses and magnificent manor house associated with the Gunpowder Plot.
In short succession, we then encompassed nearly all modes of transport as we walked under the London to Birmingham railway line, along the Grand Junction Canal towpath, under the A5 and then under the M1. We had reached the infamous Watford Gap, where the break in the limestone ridge has made it an important traffic corridor for thousands of years and (some would say) the divide between north and south. In contrast, the village of Watford is tiny and very quiet and the walk to West Haddon uneventful.
West Haddon to Sibbertoft (12 miles)
On Day 3 we walked to Winwick, up Honey Hill with its panoramic views, down the other side of the hill past a stone that marked the place where the Jurassic Trail was opened in 1994 and onwards towards the Hemplow Hills.
For once, a good place to sit coincided with lunch time and with no need to rush, we sat on the thoughtfully provided picnic bench perched on the hillside and enjoyed the sunshine and the views. I had made the mistake of not switching off the audible reports of our mileage and pace from the route tracker on my phone (it’s always a surprise when your rucksack starts speaking to you) and Bill was determined to make up for the slower mile when we climbed Honey Hill, so we set off after lunch at a very swift pace. Next time I shall mute the tracker.
After what looked on the map like a walk across water, but actually turned out to be a concrete causeway between two reservoirs that had been constructed to supply the canal system, we came to another deserted medieval village at Sulby. The village disappeared between 1377 and 1428 (according to my leaflet) probably to make way for sheep pasture. This was just one of the many different styles of stiles that we climbed over the walk, some more sturdy and accessible than others. We made it to Sibbertoft five minutes before the pub closed for the afternoon, so had time for a quick refreshment before heading for home.
All in all, an excellent way to spend a few days in the September sunshine.