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I'm going to be busy for a few days, and so decide to head out now while chance, and the weather, coincide. February being a bit of a write-off, I saved a cash birthday present for a special occasion – a train ticket beyond the bounds of Banburyshire. Today seems a good day to use it.
When the ground is wet and muddy locally I sometimes go to the Chilterns, or the high tops along the Evenlode valley. Instead I chose to go north, into the sandy heathy central parts of Warwickshire, to do a loop between stations that's been on the 'to do' list for a while.
I forgot quite how flat, relatively, Warwickshire is. North of the Avon the land seems to undulate for miles without really 'climbing'.
The other big difference is trees – there are so many more around here. In part that's due to the lack of arable farming, meaning not so many of the hedgerows and copses have been cleared.
From Lapworth station, after a gentle stroll across the fields, I arrived at Baddesley Clinton quite quickly. This National Trust honey-pot was doing well today. As I paused to remove a layer and take a drink, a car was passing up and down the driveway every 20 or 30 seconds.
I leave via the daffodil-strewn churchyard and dive into the comparative unmechanized peace and solitude of Hay Wood.
Today my recently cleaned and waxed boots have developed a layer of fine sandy mud. In the woodland, with its occasional fallen confers, you can see why – and why it's easier going here than at home.
The area is covered with glacial sand and gravel deposits, with only a shallow layer of soil on top – good drainage. This also gives it an acid heathland ecology, distinct from what we have further south on the more alkaline sandstone and limestone – which is why this area is less favourable for arable.
Beyond the woodland, after a dull road section I get back onto fields at Honiley – where you can get a view of the distant skyline of Coventry. Here begins the long, almost straight cross-country route to Kenilworth Castle.
On the way, while photographing some trees, a couple of boxing hares burst out of a bramble patch in front of me. After a moment's jumping and twisting they finally noticed a weird hot rambler clicking a camera and sped off across the field.
After what seemed an undulatingly long slog I pass The Pleasance, and then stop for a late picnic lunch on the ridge which overlooks the castle – more relaxed than the area around the town-side of the castle. I used to come here in the early 80s with friends, and found the best places to picnic by trial and error.
After twenty minutes or so I move off again, circling the castle moat and crossing the tiltyard to reach the bridleway on the far side. This takes me on a slowly rising course southward to the ridgeline above the Avon valley.
Beyond Rouncil Lane the ridge gently undulates all the way from Leek Wootton to Hatton. Since I was last here the non-descript blockhouse ruins have sprouted an information board. It was apparently a World War II anti-aircraft battery and POW camp.
I go deeper into what was once Wedgnock Park. This track runs all the way to Hatton, where I could walk down the flight of locks back into Warwick. Unfortunately I started out a little later than intended today, and the sun is starting to get low in the sky. I decide to take a left and head directly back into Warwick and the 'parkway' station.
Across the tops of Leamington, the low-angle sun is catching the northern end of the Ironstone hills, the ridge at Shuckburgh in particular, accentuating the folds and woodlands which describe the identity of each lump and bump.
Further along the ridge, where the long ridge route meets the local roads, the towers of the former 'County Lunatic Asylum' (now an exclusive housing development) stand out in a sharp silhouette against the setting sun.
Just below the ridgeline, from Prospect Farm, the church and castle tower in Warwick stand out from the urban landscape. And beyond, dark on the horizon, the long limestone ridge that demarcates the northern edge of the Vale of Feldon frames the scene.
The visibility is really good today. It's possible not only to see Brailes Hill, Meon Hill and the Ilmington/Ebrington Downs, but also the wide dome of the Cotwolds disappearing away into the haze down the Severn Valley.
It's a long downhill plod into the fringes of Warwick's rush-hour. There I pick-up the Grand Union Canal which will take me around to Warwick Parkway station (the scramble from the canal up to the road is the most energetic climb of the day). Arriving into the station there were only a few minutes to wait for my train. Many Birmingham commuters vacate the train here, so I was able to plonk down onto an empty seat, empty the last dregs from my water bottle, and watch the setting sun cast lengthening shadows all the way to Banbury.