Brailes walk

With Peter Jones first published in the April 2016 issue of Four Shires

Last month I was a bit smug about how flat the walk was. This month we paid the penalty for that with a walk featuring two of Warwickshire’s highest hills! Though we came across a church offering free drink, a deserted farm, a golf course and a butcher, a baker, but alas, no candlestick maker!

Oh and in case you’re worried, we found a great pub, a roaring fire and a bottle of red, though last month’s stalker got there before us!

Our starting point was the car park of Brailes village hall about 10 miles to the west of Banbury. A Four Shires reader, Charles, joined us. He told us he was a “resourcer” but as he is a six foot plus, tough Glaswegian we made him very welcome.

As we walked through the village on what was a very sunny day there was the first sign of spring flowers, daffodils, primroses and one garden covered in white winter cyclamen.

Our route took us back up through the village towards the parish church of St George. The road crossed the Sutton brook, which from the flood defences at the doors of nearby cottages must sometimes run high. We will meet it again.

The butchers and bakers are on the opposite side of the road in the Feldon Centre. The butchers has only just opened and sells hot coffee from an impressive looking machine. It was just what we needed.

The road widens into what looks like it might have been the centre of the village many years ago. The 16th Century George Hotel dominates the south side, together with some impressive Georgian houses.

St George’s Church is massive. The tower rises high into the local skyline. Such is the size of the church it is know locally as the “Cathedral of the Feldon”. Our retired airline pilot has assumed the role of historian in our group and explains to us that the area we are in was known as the ‘Feldon’ and was an old English expression for “the land from which the timber has been cleared away’’.

As usual there are lots of interesting features; plaques, stained glass, old clock movements and my favourite, a wicker bath chair. There is so much to see in St Georges and it would be easy to spend an hour or two here but we have our first hill to climb.

On the opposite side of the road to the side of The George is a well sign posted footpath that takes us south and away from the village. This whole walk is very well signposted and easy to follow. Many of the stiles on this walk have been replaced by, easy to use, pedestrian gates.

After just a few yards we have a decision to make. A left fork in the path follows a nice level path alongside the Sutton rook all the way to Sutton under Brailes, or the right fork takes you up Mine hill. We chose the high road.

This steady climb of 300 feet was made difficult by the slippery conditions underfoot from recent rainfall, and the Warwickshire mud sticking to our walking boots. It is worthwhile however, when we reach level ground near the top at the abandoned Rectory farm.

There are several old collapsed and overgrown buildings surrounding what was once the farmyard. Now it is a carpet of snowdrops.

But what really makes it all worthwhile are the views, especially to the west. There is a bit of friendly banter as we attempt to identify distant villages, though architect Roger is too busy to join in as he is planning on converting the farm buildings into a boutique hotel.

Below us on the floor of the Sutton brook valley is Brailes Golf club, known these days as Feldon Valley Golf Club, established just over 20 years ago, it is very popular with local golfers.

Our footpath follows the track that leads from the old farm down to the village of Sutton under Brailes. In theory it should be easy but walking downhill uses different muscles and can be far from easy.

On the path in front of me is a nice fresh mushroom though closer inspection and the word “Titleist” on it gives the game away. I am about to put it in my pocket when a golfer dressed in a combination of yellow and cerise comes out of the hedge looking for his wayward drive.

We have reached the Sutton Lane and turn left into the village where we take a break on a bench overlooking the village green. Just like professional walkers we take time to share a bar of Kendal Mint Cake and admire the stunning properties in this immaculate village.

Just around the corner is our second church of the day, St Thomas A Becket. It dates from the 12th Century. A major restoration took place in 1879 though architect Roger was somewhat distressed by the cement pointing on the inside walls.

There was a large basket of orange drinks, bottles of water and chocolate biscuits. It was adorned with a note of apology, as there was no pub or shop in the village and if you were in need of refreshment to help yourselves with the church’s compliments. A really great and generous gesture.

There are three choices for our return to Brailes, along the Sutton Lane, a fairly low level footpath following a fairly low level contour or a third choice up and over the top of the second highest point in Warwickshire.

Decision was made by tough Glaswegian who was already striding off towards the top 350 feet up. The views back towards Banbury and beyond again make it all worthwhile and before too long we are descending towards Brailes having joined Grove lane that leads to the village.

There are one or two new and fairly impressive properties that the footpath skirts in front of which are carefully screened from walkers by newly planted hedges and fencing but before too long we arrive back to the main road and our cars.

A change of footwear and into The George for soup and sandwiches, though the two Scots in our group pined for “piece and jam” a Scottish delicacy. Well kept Hook Norton and a bottle of Merlot for you know who, a superb fire roaring away we were all very content and lurking in the corner still staring at us, Damien Lewis on the front of February’s Four Shires.

Slightly over five miles this is not the easiest of walks, though it is well marked and easy to follow with plenty of modern stile gates. The rewards of those Four Shires views and the free orange juice make it well worth doing.