I promised you that we would be dipping our toes into the Cotswolds. Well, we have, but not before we became extras in a TV film, discovered some classic cars, a massive central heating system and somewhat stupidly had a second bottle of red!
The three of us had recently returned from Northern Italy where there were some pretty serious mountains which we coped with quite well, so a simple stroll round the Cotswolds should have been a walk in the park!
Our starting point was the village of Blockley, south west of Shipston on Stour. It is a stunning village, there are superb Cotswold stone properties, really friendly people, two good pubs and enough to see and do for a fortnight.
We parked outside Blockley village shop and café, which moved to its current premises in 2014. It is owned and operated by the Blockley Co-operative Association which has over 650 members. The shop has stock to rival any supermarket and the adjoining café opens from 8.30am through to 6pm.
We planned our route over a cappuccino, using an out of date and a very small scale map before going through an adjoining gate into the Churchyard of the parish Church of St Peter and Paul. It has stood there for over a thousand years and is full of the many features we have found in other churches on our walks. What impresses us the most however, is the central heating system.
Massive pipes that cut across the backs of the pews across the nave before disappearing below us and reappearing down the side of the south wall, they look like the workings of a transatlantic liner…
St Peters church is used by the BBC as the setting for the series Father Brown. Based on the G K Chesterton the church appears as St Marys with the nearby vicarage transformed into the presbytery.
Filming was in progress during our visit and we offered ourselves as non speaking background actors. A couple of producers conferred and said that whilst three old chaps in walking gear could be used as choir boys, there were likely to be union repercussions!
Time to head out into the country. We take the Paxford road out of Blockley passing The Great Western Arms to which we will return at lunchtime. Immediately after the village sports field we take a well signposted footpath across a bean field towards Northwick Park.
To our right is the tall chimney of Northcott Brick Works and it is belching out black smoke. Master brick makers have been on this site for over 100 years and are still using clay from quarries that have been used for many centuries. Architect Roger gives us a brief lecture on the resurgence of the British brick building industry as a result of the massive amount of house building going on.
We make our first map reading mistake of the day and keep left rather than right. Alongside us is a narrow, long, lake although barbed wire and an electric fence keep us away from it. This is Lower Lake, one of two in Northwick Park which was laid out by William Emes, a disciple of Capability Brown.
Northwick Park was once the home to the Spencer Churchill family and has now been converted into very private and expensive apartments with further exclusive properties in the grounds. We reach the drive of the house and it is obvious from the trampled grass that many others have made the same mistake as us. We follow their tracks over the fences to the other side of the drive, pausing to wave to the security cameras.
In the early 1940s the Americans built a vast field hospital here anticipating casualties from the future invasion of Europe although it was never used for that purpose. The Red Cross commandeered it for the treatment and care of injured POWs and the hospital eventually closed in 1945.
From 1948 the many Nissen huts and facilities were used as homes for displaced people from Poland. such was the demand that additional buildings were constructed and were constantly occupied till the camp closed in 1970.
The public footpath takes us through what is now Northwick Business Park with over 100 different types of businesses operating from the old Nissen huts and other buildings. They range from bespoke boot and window manufacturers as well as many motor car and motorbike related businesses.
I found a grotto with a memorial plaque to the many hundreds of Poles that passed through the camp. It was re-dedicated in 2007 in a ceremony attended by many senior Polish political figures and former camp residents.
We travelled just a few yards and came across the home of The Watsonian Motorcycle and Sidecar Company, manufacturers of classic side cars since 1912. They also sell and service Royal Enfield Motorcycles now manufactured in India.
They have been at Northwick since 1984 and were more than happy to show us around their showroom, not only full of bikes and side cars but some great photographs from years gone by as well.
We eventually leave the business park on a track that runs steadily uphill alongside classic parkland and then through some woodland before emerging on a small lane which we cross into the field opposite.
In front of us are spectacular views across to Chipping Campden and for miles beyond. Looming above the village is Dovers Hill, site of the original English games of 1612, which continue to this day with the annual Cotswold ‘Olympicks’.
It was pretty obvious that we would not get back to Blockley for lunch but below us was the picturesque village of Broad Campden. It is full of typical Cotswold cottages and its small chapel with an unusual round bellcote.
The Quaker meeting house here dates from 1663 making it the oldest in the country still in regular use.
Luckily for us The Bakers Arms was open and we enjoyed an excellent lunch and for the first time since we started our walks, two bottles of red! Broad Campden is on the Heart of England Way that runs for 104 miles from Cannock Chase to Bourton on the Water.
There were many walkers in the pub, most doing about 15 miles a day on planned walking holidays that last a week, their luggage travelling ahead of them by van.
Back in the late 50’s early 60’s I used to visit Broad Campden on a regular basis to use one of the few open air swimming pools in our area. It is still there, albeit very overgrown and difficult to reach – it would make a great restoration project for someone.
We picked up the Heart of England path just opposite the pub and steadily climbed up away from the village, pausing many times to admire the views in every direction. We were at one of the highest points in the area.
A group of derelict farm buildings sent architect Roger into raptures (he was having a good day!) and we followed a long path alongside the quarries that produces the local stone and clay for the brickworks; it brought us out in the woods above Blockley.
We emerged onto the Broad Campden to Blockley road that took us back into the village where there were views through the trees to the upper lake in the grounds of Northwick Park below us.
We returned to the village along Park Road with old quarry workers cottages on our left. The car was where we left it some nine hours earlier and it was home to a hot bath.
This is a really serious walk of just over 12 miles. It has great countryside, great discoveries and proper hills.