This month I have popped over the county boundary into Warwickshire and am again joined by a Four Shires reader who has owned up to having no knowledge of the area we are exploring.
We are in the village of Lighthorne, just off the B4100, north of Gaydon. This sleepy Warwickshire village is full of surprises. There’s a vineyard, an unusual red telephone box, brown signs, a collection of old films and a sad story in the churchyard.
As you enter the village on the left, you find the home of Leamington Khalsa Cricket Club who took over the ground from Lighthorne CC. They play to a very high standard and are a feeder club for the county side. It certainly looks like a nice place to lose a summers evening watching a good quality cricket club.
There are plenty of places to park in the centre of the village where we will return after a very soggy six or seven miles. We start with a collection of signs, the first being the village sign erected on a grass bank at the time of the millennium celebrations.
Made of local materials its base is made of local stone from an old building in the village and it comprises two pieces of carved oak symbolising the hills either side of the village. The valley between the wood contains a stainless steel silhouette with the word ‘Lighthorne’ joining the hills. On the reverse is a copy of the electoral roll of the village for the year 2000.
The village breeds a good sense of humour as attached to a post just below the village sign are three brown signs. One points to a vineyard “Chateau Marron” and two to “Peter’s First Residence” and “Peter’s Second Residence. Peering over a hedge I saw what was, presumably, the vineyard though the vines are very young – sadly, I was unable to find out who Peter is.
We take the road towards the church, as usual, noting properties named after their former use. We found the smithy, the old forge, and Woodman’s Cottage. The usual ‘Old Post Office’ was amongst them and the Smithy had been re-thatched – I was intrigued by the three straw ‘Martians’ on the ridge!
I spoke to the lady who lives there, the chair of Lighthorne Historical Society. She gave me a huge amount of information about the history of the village and gently pointed out that the ‘Martians’ were, in fact, three owls!
Next surprise appears on our left. There’s a classic Gilbert Scott designed red telephone box! The Parish Council bought this off BT in October 2008. It was repainted by nearby neighbours Aston Martin and is now a nature centre full of information about local wildlife, flora and fauna all of which is regularly updated by local residents. It even houses a nesting box which birds access from the outside.
Opposite is the first of two old water pumps within a few feet of each other, one was made by Joseph Evans and sons of Wolverhampton who first started making pumps in the 1760s.
After just a few yards we reach the church of St Laurence, part of The Mid Fosse Parishes. There are traces from the 11th Century in the churchyard including the base of an old prayer cross. The tower was rebuilt in 1771 with the rest of the church being completed around 1875.
As usual there are many stories to be found on the plaques and headstones in and around the church. One rather sad one, was the resting place of a mother and her two daughters. Whilst they all died several years apart they were all 53 years old when they died.
My friends at the historical society are about to start a project mapping and detailing all the headstones amongst which the first snowdrops are poking their heads and it’s not yet the end of the second week of January.
We retrace our steps back from the church and turn right and keeping it to our left we head up past the Antelope Pub (we will be back) and after about a quarter of a mile just before Newbould Barn we turn off the road and pick up a well marked bridleway. Recent rains make the going underfoot very heavy – and it’s going to get a lot worse.
The bridleway ends at a made up track at exactly the point on the map it is supposed to, but here we make a major mistake! As on a previous walk I am holding the map upside down and we turn left instead of right! No problem though, as when we find ourselves in the middle of Heath Farmyard realise our mistake and walk back to where we went wrong.
This however gives us loads of time to look at the huge numbers of sheep in the fields either side of the track, some with horns, some with black faces and some with white faces. We wonder which of these is the Lighthorne Lamb we see on many menus in local pubs and restaurants.
However I discover that Lighthorne Lamb is not a breed but the trading name of Lighthorne Lamb ltd, who supply lamb to the catering sector. They also have a farm shop. Proprietor David Tompkins told me that back in the 1920s his grandfather used to drive cattle along the main road to the cattle market in Warwick.
We have to change our plans as several footpaths are impassable because of flooding. Indeed there were one or two places on this walk that were more like the Florida Everglades than leafy Warwickshire.
Heading west, we reach a fork in the road and take the left hand branch where we come across a very secretive and sinister looking area with several warning signs to keep well away! This was the former special stores for adjacent RAF Gaydon a few hundred yards to the south.
RAF Gaydon was at one time the base of part of our nuclear strike force operating the Valiant bomber. You don’t need to be a genius to work out what constituted “special stores” that needed to be kept under such secure conditions.
The site is now owned by the British Film Institute who bought it in 1976 as storage for its vast collection of film and other media. Acetate and nitrate based films decay over a period of time and the site has been developed over a period of time to allow them to be kept in the ideal sub zero conditions required.
It now houses over 190,000 canisters of volatile nitrate film and 240,000 reels of acetate at a controlled temperature of -5 degrees Celsius in an award winning building specially designed for that purpose. None of this can be seen from the road, apart from the guardhouse, as it is well screened by trees and security fencing
A few yards further on we reach a cross roads. Here you have three choices: turn right up the hill and head back to Lighthorne, turn left towards Kineton or as we did, head across the road onto the bridleway and walk down the valley to Compton Verney.
There is much to write about Compton Verney but as it is closed until the end of March I will leave that until later in the year. The bridleway skirts to the north of the house and brings you out onto the Kineton to Wellesbourne road. Turning left towards Kinteon we pause to admire the house across the lake and walk along the road to the entrance of Lodge Farm.
Another well marked bridleway takes you through the farm and back out onto the road we crossed a little earlier, We cross straight over and walk to Poolfield Osier Beds which are skirted by the footpath. We are just a few feet from the perimeter fence to the former RAF Gaydon and can hear the cars pounding around the test track that now occupies the site.
It is now that you really need to concentrate on the map. There are a choice of several paths back up the hill to Lighthorne, but current conditions dictate you may need to change from one to another en route.
Timing or luck gets us back whilst the pub is still open and we enjoy a glass of wine and a hot pork ciabatta in front of a roaring log fire. I felt a little sorry chatting to the landlord and his wife who have taken over the pub after living and working in the Greek islands, they must feel the weather…
This a great walk. As usual there’s lots to do and see though I would suggest you do it later in the year when the ground has improved and Compton Verney is open, it would make for a great day out.