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Wednesday 14th February 2018
Route: Train to Warwick Parkway, Hatton Park, Haseley, Hatton Green, Hatton Bank Locks, Warwick Parkway
Distance: 10.3km, 6⅖ miles, 2¾ hours
Ascension: 90 metres, 300 feet
I need to write a 'logical sonnet' in a hurry. Too many distractions here, so I take the problem out into the sticks – on a cold, windy, sleaty Warwickshire ridgeline.
I've always considered writing a bit like breathing; it's something I do naturally, and if I can't then I quickly asphyxiate. An opportunity turned up this morning that requires me to write something very succinct, very quickly. There are too many distractions here to focus my mind, and so I decide to take the problem out into the countryside – to compose my 'logical sonnet' with some surroundings more conducive to its purpose.
If you go towards Birmingham on the train from Leamington Spa and Warwick, beyond Warwick Parkway the train will slow as it climbs Hatton Bank. I've been up and down this track many times over the past year, longingly looking at the ridge-line visible from the train.
However, today is not the sort of day that people ordinarily go walking – which I've always thought of as a great pity.
We all have a certain time available to us. If, for example, you never walked when it was dark, well that's half of the possible time eliminated. If you never walked when it was rainy (taking the figure for nearby Birmingham) then you'd lose half the days in the year.
More than that, the same scene can look completely different in the rain, or in the dim light of dusk or dawn, than it does on a sunny day. And if you want to see wildlife, then there are definite advantages to getting outdoors when others might turn up their noses in horror.
Today is a couple of degrees above freezing, and a stiff wind is blowing the drizzle in splats against the side of the train. There won't a lot to see, but I'm sure that won't diminsh the opportunity to see something!
Warwick Parkway railway station sits at the foot of Hatton Bank. Just 25 minutes from Banbury, it's an easy way to get not just into the countryside, but also onto a totally different geology than that in Banbury – which offers a different range of flowers and wildlife to discover.
There are some easy circular walks from the station, but if you travel to Hatton, Lapworth, Stratford or Wilmcote stations and walk back there are many more routes available.
Today I'm doing a really quick circuit, just long enough to expand-out the idea I need to work on and dictate the main points.
Out of the station and straight up the hill takes you to Wedgnock Park – a deer park that was attached to Warwick Castle. There are some long bridleways that meander over the hills through the remains of the woodland which made-up the park. If you feel like a really good walk, there's a really easy route to Kenilworth Castle from here.
Today is about as representatively 'Winter' as it can be. All is quiet. Apart from a few crows and a buzzard, even the animals are laying low, under cover. It's saturated mud underfoot, and in the hollows and dips where water has collected from the recent rain there's a thin layer of ice on the surface.
It's raining, not hard but noticeably. However the strong wind means that my outer layer isn't getting that wet because it is drying in the wind as fast as it gets wet from the rain.
The ground here is a little sticky. On soil on top of the ridge is made of glacial till – the deposits from the glaciers that covered Britain at the end of the last Ice Age. It's nowhere near as sticky as the boulder clay that you find south of here, and is made up mostly of sands and large pebbles. Each a unique, polished shape that, in the wet, shows the structure of the ground-up rocks it was made from, much of which was carried 50 to 100 miles north of here inside the glaciers.
As you climb the ridge you come upon Hatton Park, a rather incongruous-looking housing estate. This was the 'Warwick County Lunatic Asylum'. Empty for many years, it was rebuit as a housing estate a few years ago. The gothic Victorian buildings that formed the main hospital can still be seen in the heart of the development – now converted to apartments.
I halt on the ridge above Hatton Park to look at the view. Visibility is about ten miles today – the cranes at the Gaydon development being just visible to the right of Warwick town centre:
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As I press on the rain increases – the fine equilibrium with the wind shifted, I'm now getting wet.
As I head towards Haseley there's a section of a couple of hundred metres where the hedgerow has been removed from the ridgeline. All the way here I've had the benefit of this hedge as shelter. As I walk out into the unabated sleety rain blowing across the ridge the word that enters my mind is, 'enfilade'. Large splots of semi-solid water noisily impact down my side, accelerating the process of saturation further.
Back in the trees on the other side of the gap things quieten down, and I continue my plod through Haseley Park.
On the far side of Hatton Green I come to the ice-covered Grand Union Canal, which will take me back down to the entrance of the railway station.
After a short distance I arrive at the top of Hatton Locks – a flight of 21 locks that lifts the canal 45 metres out of the valley of the River Avon onto the North Warwickshire plateau that carries it into Birmingham.
Usually it's really busy here, especially at the height of the touring season in the Summer. Currently though the flight is closed for repairs; it's completely quiet, with not a single boat in the locks. Even the little cafe at the top of the flight is deserted. Apart from a couple of damp sightseers, and a wet jogger, it's eerily deserted.
I descend down the flight with only a few ducks and moorhens for company.
At the foot of the flight, not far from the station, repairs on the lock gates have ceased for the day. It's interesting to look at the array of equipment that they have to manoever the few tonnes of solid oak gate into position – something once achieved by A-frame cranes, ropes and an awful lot of physical man-power.
On top of the old lock gates, dumped on top of a nearby barge, there's a yellow wagtail dancing around (you can see it on the left of the lock gate in the picture above). Perhaps it was finding food in the crevices of the old saturated oak, but for whatever reason it didn't to want to move just because I was passing by.
From the level of the canal I climb up and over the road bridge and walk straight into the station car park. The trains to Banbury are roughly every thirty minutes, and there was only ten minutes to wait for my ride home. Time enough to buy a hot cup of coffee and climb to the top of the stairs for a contemplative ride home.