There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Cowpat Walks: 3* Swynnerton to Whitmore

Swynnerton sits on a ridge on the western side of the Trent Valley. It is home to some 600 people, two churches, a pub and a post office. The ‘big house,’ Swynnerton Hall, is the home of Francis Fitzherbert, the Lord Stafford.

The original Swynnerton Hall was destroyed after the Fitzherberts backed the wrong side in the Civil War. Family fortunes, like the monarchy, were later restored and the present hall was built in 1719. Landscaped parkland was the fashion of the day and as the village blocked the Fitzherberts’ view of their domain, it was demolished and rebuilt on the top of the ridge behind the hall.

The relocated village was actually little more than a hamlet and most of Swynnerton’s current residents, including Lynne and me, live on an estate built in the 1970s in and around the Fitzherbert’s kitchen garden. It was here that Mike, Lee, Francis and Alison arrived for breakfast on Saturday morning.

A big ‘thank you’ to Lynne for doing the cooking; I did volunteer but she shoved me aside.

Full of bacon, black pudding and fried egg we set off on the minor road along the ridge. The views from here can be exceptional. The last time we walked from Swynnerton (Stone Circle Part 1) I photographed the assembled company looking at the millennium toposcope rather than the view because it was misty. This time the visibility was worse, even the huge bulk of the Wrekin was threatening to disappear into the gloom. It was, though, mild enough for Francis and Mike to give an early season outing to their knees.

Naked knees in Swynnerton

We followed the path down to Beech, walked up to and across the A519 and ascended to Harley Thorn Farm on the end of the Hanchurch Hills. Whitmore was now only 4km away, so we took a detour to Trentham Park.

Up to Harley Thorn Farm

Dropping off the Hanchurch Hills on a rhododendron embowered path, we returned to the A519 and followed it for a noisy 800m before turning off onto a footbridge over the M6 and ascending Kingswood Bank.

Descending through the Rhodies

Half way up, a notice informed us that the Trentham Estate has embarked on a five year restoration plan. The first stage involves felling the commercial pine forest and replanting with native sessile oaks. Much as I approve of this, it did spoil our descent into the park. A high metal fence lined one side of the path while the woodland on the other was taped off. Horizontal trees and some impressive forestry equipment did not make for a scenic stroll.

Birches on Kingsdown Bank, with the
condemned pines beind

The Trentham Estate, once the home of the Dukes of Sutherland, retains its artificial lake and Italian Garden but now also contains a retail village, monkey forest and huge Garden Centre. Our route saw little of these except the tip of the lake and back of the Garden Centre, where we turned left across Trentham Park golf course and headed back towards the main road.

Signs of Spring 1
A wild rose on the verge of the A519

Once over the A519 and under the motorway we climbed back into the Hanchurch Hills via the Hanchurch Pools. The day was brightening up, but you would not think so from the demeanour of the anglers sitting hunched over their solitary hobby. Doubtless they gain some pleasure from what they do, but they always look so miserable doing it.

Happy fisherman, Hanchurch Pools

It was a gentle rise to Underhill Farm, then a rather more energetic climb to the ridge. Farmers, not unreasonably, like walkers to close gates after them. This sign (once the property of the LNER) at Underhill Farm underlined the point. Americans and younger readers, even middle aged ones come to think of it, might like to know that 40 shillings was £2 ($3) – a tidy sum in the 1940s.

Warning notice, Underhill

The path across the highest part of the woods was broad and dry, but as we descended towards the misnamed Hobgoblin Gate (a hobgoblin was always a long shot, but surely some sort of gate was a reasonable expectation) the bridleway dropped into a hollow between earthworks. Here the ground had been badly churned up by horses.

Churned up bridleway

We emerged from the woods onto the minor road down to Whitmore. Signs of spring were everywhere, crocuses in full bloom, daffodils almost ready to burst and spring lambs trying out their wobbly legs.

Signs of Spring 2
new lambs

The Mainwearing Arms in Whitmore has a way of looking closed from the outside, but has always been packed whenever I have been inside. It provides a good sandwich and a choice of real ales, though neither of my selections proved to be beers I would seek out again.

The Mainwearing Arms, Whitmore

The Cavenagh-Mainwearing family still live at nearby Whitmore Hall, built in 1676.  The Whitmore Estate owns the pub which is packed with local and family memorabilia. Connoisseurs of toilet humour may like to know that the estate came into the Mainwearing family in the 16th century when Edward Mainwearing married the Whitmore heiress Alice de Boghay. Prior to that the Mainwearings came from Peover. During the 19th century the house was leased to porcelain manufacturer Thomas Twyford, whose name is the most peed over in British history (except possibly Armitage Shanks).

The sun made some sort of effort to come out as we left the pub and I removed my jacket during the walk down the minor road to Shelton-under-Harley. Here we turned up a farm track running alongside the woods. The colours in the still bare trees below the pines were remarkable.

Gentle colours in the bare trees

At the end of the track we turned onto Dog Lane and then onto Common Lane, first passing through Nursery Common Wood and then between fields. The surface was dry but unexpectedly sandy and there were times when it felt like walking on a beach.

Along Common Lane

The lane emerges at Hatton Pumping Station. Built in 1890 in response to increased local demand for water – due, in the main, to the popularity of Thomas Twyford’s flush toilets – it as a magnificent construction. Whatever shortcomings the Victorians had, lack of confidence was not one of them; despite its humble task, the building is a temple to the gods of engineering. The original beam engines were replaced by electric engines in the first half of last century but pumping continued until 1990. After lying derelict for some years the pumping station was bought by developers who converted it into luxury apartments. This has not been the best time for the property market and some of the apartments remain empty, but it is good to see the building restored and well cared for again.

Approaching Hatton Pumping Station

From here we passed through Little Hatton and up the lane past the kennels. The owners store – I can think of no better word – some fearsome guard dogs and I never feel comfortable here until I am over the stile and half a field away.

The final field before our fourth crossing of the A519 had been rough pasture when I walked it recently, but has since been ploughed and we had to pick our way along the field margin among the badger sets.

The final fields into Swynnerton are the working rather than landscaped part of the Swynnerton estate. This is usually a good place to see the village’s resident pair of buzzards, but a smaller bird with a louder voice dominated today’s sky. Skylarks flapped above us in their frenetic way, each generating an unlikely volume of birdsong for their small size.

Returning to Swynnerton beneath the skylarks

A final sunken lane brought us back into the village. The afternoon had been shorter and flatter and walked at a brisk pace. Back at Dandly Towers Lynne had the kettle on and hot cross buns in the toaster.

Back in Swynnerton

*According to Francis this was Cowpat 5, as he insists in counting a couple of inquorate walks. I will humour him by giving a brief mention to Cowpat ½: Codsall (October 2011) and Cowpat 1½: Haughton (December 2011).

The Cowpats

1 comment:

  1. Nice to be reminded of walks I have done many times myself! Christine