Lunch with Three Sources

Saturday 30th April 2016

Bus to Daventry, Newnham Windmill, Newnham, Badby, Arbury Hill, Hellidon, Lower Catesby, Steventon, Daventry
20.5km|12¾ miles 405m|1,330ft

main image
To find this location on the map, click here

Photographs in this series: (click to display)


route map I've a repository of walks I keep promising myself I'll do again. This is one. "Three Sources" isn't a mis-spelt allusion to culinary excess, it's a description of a geophysical anomaly. Meriden might style itself as the heart of England – that's just a "conspiracy of cartographers". I'm off to the true 'natural' centre of England, in a wet field southwest of Daventry.

First bus to Daventry from Banbury, and leave Daventry bus station just before nine. Equipped with a box of left-over own-made cous-cous (with onion, courgette, mushrooms and chopped carrot, and a stirring dash of tamari added before I left) I'm off in search of a wet boggy field.

I want to stop for lunch near the source of three rivers which spring from a group of flat fields to the west of Arbury Hill:

Daventry doesn't have many 'off-road' ways out of the town. Climbing the road out into the countryside towards Newnham, across the A45, on the first bend on the steep hill there's a muddy track which climbs the bank to the right. You climb this not just to avoid the blind bend in the holloway, with nowhere to jump if a car comes speeding around the corner. This takes you to the gate to Newnham Windmill.

Newnham Windmill is a bit of a sorry sight, but concealed behind it – apart from the nice park bench to sit on – is a view across Badby, Arbury Hill and the source of the River Nene.

Panorama across Arbury Hill and the
source of the Nene from Newnham Windmill

Use the scroll bar to pan across the panorama.

I thought I'd take the direct road-route to Newnham, but it's such a nice morning I stay on the ridge and take the longer field path into the village. Opposite is the imposing figure of Borough Hill. The view east, though misty, looks down the Nene valley towards Glassthorpe Hill and, beyond the ridge, you can see the towers of Northampton.

I wind through the village and then go across the fields, alongside the diminutive Nene, to Badby, and then over the ridge beyond.

Going over the top of the ancient ridge route, marked today by the main road, a strong, cold breeze hits me head on. In the distance, across North Warwickshire and Leicestershire, there's a towering black mass of cloud.

I climb the flank of Arbury Hill on the old byway, raised a metre above the fields at points, and still tree-lined in places. The breeze rather puts the chill on my idea for lunch. Instead I stop on the lee side of Arbury Hill, in the shelter of a large ash – which, being south facing and out of the breeze, is a very warm sun-trap today (see picture 7).

After lunch I drop down the short distance to the flat, wet and boggy plateau – where the clayey Whitby mudstone overlies the ironstone. Doesn't matter if you walk on the flat or the raised ridge of the track, it's all wet an boggy around here.

This pasture is the source of the three rivers – the Nene, the Leam and the Cherwell. Strange to think that the occasional gust of wind that's blowing the odd raindrop on my head might, if it blows a little harder to softer, make the raindrop end up a hundred miles in a different direction.

Along the far side of the field there's an embankment marked with short, squat towers. These are the ventilation shafts for Catesby Tunnel, part of the Great Central Railway, which closed fifty years ago this year. This long spoil heap is the remains of what was mined to create the tunnel, accessed via these shafts. Much of the infrastructure remains, and could be reopened for a fraction of the money it is proposed to spend on HS2 – which follows much the same route as the old GCR.

I cross the small rounded hill above Hellidon, which gives a panoramic view of the area around, and which today is covered in a brilliant yellow oilseed crop. Charwelton Tower is somewhat dominant on the landscape, though the domed roof of Hellidon Windmill, glistening in the sun in the trees atop the hill, catches the eye too. And though the ridge at Shuckburgh stands out in the foreground to the northwest, beyond that the weather makes the view rather hazy.

I descend down to Leam Pool, which the small springs which create the River Leam proper empty into – and which is the remains of a series of, perhaps Medieval, fishponds.

Around the north side of the village, and onto the Catesby gated road, I'm presented with a wall of black cloud ahead of me. As a precautionary measure I put on my wet gear. Just before I reach the ancient hamlet I'm hit by a wall of cold rain and I put the camera away too – though just to be annoying, the sun is still beating down on my back as the rain hits me from the front.

Twenty minutes later and the rain's gone – by which time I'm stood looking across the embankment and sturdy twelve blue-brick arches of Catesby Viaduct, which carried the main line across the valley of the River Leam towards Rugby and Leicester. Beyond the silent line I cross the steep-sided notched dingles of the streams which cut the soft clays at the foot of the ironstone escarpment, on the rising path to Staverton.

At Staverton I shed a layer as the strong sun is now evaporating the rain into warm and humid air. From the village the last two and a half miles is on tarmac. First pavements, and then the remains of the old A425 before it was cut-off by the new Daventry bypass – at the end of which a spiral walkway takes me up and over the footbridge across the A45 back into the town. All the way from Staverton another black mass of rain cloud is chasing, which falls in waves on the windows of the bus as I leave Daventry for home.