Length: 21 miles.
Location: Free car park in Wood Street, Southam.
The longest walk I’ve ever done in one go, the Harry Green Way is an enjoyable tramp through the fairly flat countryside surrounding Southam.
I’d seen signposts for this walk several times, on other walks around the Southam area, as it shares part of its route with several other long distance paths, including the Centenary Way, and the Millennium Way. For this walk I followed the route guide which you can download here — there have been some minor changes to the fields in the last ten years, but it is well written, and it would have been possible to follow almost all the route with just the route guide and the waymarkers (the OS explorer maps are a useful backup, though). According to the route guide,
[Harry Green] was the chairman of Southam Ramblers for 20 years, until his untimely death in May 2006… This walk was devised by Harry in 1988.
In the guide the route is pictured, schematically, like this:
As you can see from the route trace at the start of this post, the actual route deviates quite a way from this idealised circle, but the picture captures the essential idea: a walk around all of the villages that ‘surround’ Southam. Overall, it makes for a very satisfying day-long walk around a fairly flat area, making it a good, achievable challenge for people like me who aren’t used to walking overly-long distances. I’m a little surprised, then, that I couldn’t find any other references to other people walking this route, apart from this entry on the website of the Long Distance Walkers Association. The trace shown on that page, though, doesn’t agree with the one described in the route guide between Napton and Ladbroke — either this was an old route before the guide was updated, or the person creating the trace for the LDWA got lost! This is quite possible, as the section after Napton is the one with the poorest waymarking.
I started this walk just before 9am on a cloudy but mild April morning, wondering if I was going to be able to complete it: I needed to be back in Rugby before 5.30pm, which gave me about 8 hours to walk the 21 mile route: fine as long as the ground wasn’t too muddy, I didn’t stop for long breaks, and I didn’t get lost! Luckily, as a circular walk starting in the middle, there were lots of ways to cut the route short, but once I got to Ladbroke I’d be pretty much committed to the whole walk. My initial target was to get to Napton by 11am. I imagine the walk would have been more enjoyable if I could have taken it at a slightly slower pace!
The first part of the walk involves heading west out of Southam, past a pretty church and recreation ground. Within ten minutes you are away from the town, and it’s at this point that you start to see the green way markers for the Harry Green Way, which will appear at regular intervals over the next 21 miles. The first point of interest is the ‘Holy Well’, a natural spring which seems these days to serve more as a dog bath than a well.
The route follows the path of a branch of the River Itchen for a while, crossing over on bridge by a weir which used to be part of a mill on the grounds of Stoney Thorpe Hall. Crossing over several more fields (probably containing horses), you walk through a small wooded area, crossing Welsh Road, which used to form part of the traditional route used by drovers taking their sheep to market. The woodland continues after the road, rising up to some rather barren fields which we walk over, to meet a farm track heading down to a minor road which goes through the hamlet of Bascote.
After Bascote, the road crosses the Grand Union Canal, which we will be joining several times later in the walk. Just after the canal, there is a slightly odd section where the route tells you to turn left, following a public footpath through a field, across a disused railway line, and back around to rejoin the road half a mile on, just before it reaches Long Itchington. There were no particularly exciting things to see on this diversion from the road, so it would probably be easier just to stay on it and save yourself the slog through the field, which didn’t have any public footpath in evidence. Whether you go the straight or the roundabout way, as we go into Long Itchington we join the route of the Millennium Way, which coincides with the Harry Green Way from this point all the way to Napton. Long Itchington itself looks like a decent enough large village, but I didn’t have time to stick around, instead heading in and out, past the church and over some obvious field paths, heading back towards the canal. At the entrance to one field it looks like you have to cross an electric fence, but a small note in black marker pen reassures you: “This fence is NOT electrified”.
We stay on the canal for a little over half a mile, passing one lock, but leaving just before the run of locks at Stockton, via a bridge next to the Blue Lias pub. We will meet up with the Canal again by Napton. Via the pub car park the route next takes us past a fishing lake, and along a fenced field-side path to cross the A426. The path continues directly over the road, heading down into Stockton, with some good views ahead of the hills around Napton and Shuckburgh. Stockton itself is a pretty village, which would have been worth an explore if I wasn’t pushing to get to Napton as quickly as possible.
Between Stockton and Napton the route is a little unexciting, making its way through fields, sometimes on well defined paths, but sometimes requiring you to have a good sense of your general heading. There are no sharp turns between here and the next major road, so moving generally forwards with half an eye out for stiles is the order of the day. Eventually, you get to a path next to the Bridge pub, which continues its record of being closed every single time I’ve walked past it. Passing the Bridge’s front door, you find yourself back on the Grand Union Canal. Here, on the flat and generally well maintained towpath, I put my head down and sped up, following the canal as it slowly contoured around the back of Napton, until eventually reaching the locks, and a shop next to the Folly Inn where I stopped for a well deserved ice cream, and an unexpected ten minute conversation with the shop’s owner about all the private schools his children have been to over the years.
Just as in Stockton, the Harry Green Way leaves the canal just before a flight of locks, to head off via a stile which is right next to the canalside shop. The next mile or so is not well waymarked, and involved climbing over a gate and an electric fence (well, rope). Slowly moving uphill, you eventually find yourself trying to find the entrance into a recently planted wood. The stile marking the official entry point was choked with brambles, but there was a gap in the hedge a little further down. Once through the trees, the route re-established itself. A couple of field-sides later, you are back on the Welsh Road — this time Welsh Road East rather than Welsh Road West. You need to turn right and walk along this for five minutes before turning off to the left, and up a hill to reach Ladbroke Hill Farm.
Once through the farm, you follow a concrete road along the ridge of the hill top, the highest point of the Way, with views southwards to the Burton Dassett Hills and Edge Hill beyond (a pair of binoculars would have been good to have at this point). At a gap in the hedge you start to follow the edge of a field on your right, descending down through a wood to meet and cross another A road: the A423 Banbury Road which here curves eastwards to bypass Ladbroke. Ladbroke itself has a pretty mix of traditional and Georgian houses dotted around the newer builds, and a recreation ground, ‘Ladbroke Millennium Green’, with benches where I stopped for a ten minute lunch break.
This was the point where I needed to decide whether to continue on the Way, or to retreat back to Southam. I was slightly over half-way round in terms of distance, and my timing was on track, so that looked good; four hours into the walk, the GPS was telling me that I had travelled 13.7 miles, but I knew from previous trips that this tends to be a small over-estimate, so it was more likely to be around 12 miles. My legs (and feet!) also seemed to be holding up well. So, after a short rest, I continued along the Way.
After the rest stop, the Way continues over a stream, and past a churchyard, which has a marker post for the ‘Jubilee Way 2002’ that I couldn’t find any information on. The footpath briefly joins a minor road before turning off to the left, heading over a few trackless fields, and around a wood, before heading towards a railway line. As I was walking towards the railway, I was trying to work out if it was a tunnel or bridge, but it is actually a level crossing, the first one I’ve been over for years. It’s a very weird experience to walk across a fairly major railway line, and I know that some counties (such as Leicestershire) have been working to close all of their level crossings. If they close this one, it’ll be interesting to see what alternative route they put in, or if they just make you walk down to a road and cross there. Once over the railway line, you can see Bishop’s Itchington on the hill ahead of you.
The most interesting thing about Bishop’s Itchington looks to be the mildly amusing name. After wending around a few roads, the route out is easily found, signposted to Harbury, and the path to Harbury is easy to follow as it moves through the fields. On the right you look down to an old quarry which has now been turned into fishing lakes, and there is a good spot to get a closer look just before the end of the lakes. The footpath leads to a road into Harbury. Turning next left takes you to Harbury’s church, which looks like it has been altered quite a few times over the last centuries, and a very welcome bench, where I stopped for ten minutes for another break.
Looking at the route, Harbury felt like the beginning of the home stretch for this walk. All that remained was to head up to Ufton, before turning eastwards back to Southam and the car. Passing through Harbury, with some impressively old buildings, the route takes you on a bridge across a railway line, where a lot of building was in evidence (perhaps in preparation for the HS2 line, which is due to be built very close to here in the next couple of years). After the bridge, you are sent around a farm, then on a farm track which turns into a fieldside path, generally heading northwards, with good views over towards Leamington on your left. This is probably the part of the walk where you are most likely to encounter cows.
The route briefly joins a minor road, which you leave by turning left as it turns right, into Ufton Fields Nature reserve. This is a quarry site which has been turned into pools and woods, with a track running around it. On a different day I would have explored it, but by this point I just wanted to get to the end of the walk, so I carried straight on, up to Ufton, and the surprisingly busy A425. Luckily you don’t stay on the busy road for long, quickly crossing left and right to find the back of the church (and the village stocks), and a path which turns right to follow the edge of Ufton Wood, curving right eastwards to head back to Southam. Before you reach the wood, there are more good views over to the west, but I couldn’t enjoy them for long before being herded out of the field by a gang of irate sheep.
As with Cawston Wood the day before, lots of bluebells were in evidence on the fringes of Ufton Wood. The path skirted the edge of the wood rather than entering, but there are some obvious paths in the wood, so it looks like people do go into it (whether or not they are supposed to is another matter!). Before the path meets up with a minor road, you find some farm buildings. The official route goes through the gardens of the buildings, but it’s simpler (and probably more polite) just to continue around their left edge.
Over the road, and only a couple more miles before we are back in Southam. Rather ominously, the route guide describes the next few fields as very muddy and boggy, but they weren’t too bad when I walked them. Perhaps it’s different after rain. After a while you pass through a wooded area, with lots of interesting buildings on the right, which apparently form a polo ground. After crossing the access road to the polo grounds, the field ahead should ring a bell, as it’s one that was crossed in a different direction right at the start of the walk.
The rest of route now follows the beginning of the Way, in reverse, back past the Holy Well and into the car park in the centre of Southam, past several shops if you need to buy something to celebrate the completion of the Harry Green Way.
The walk took me a fraction over 7 hours, including around 30 minutes of rest breaks. Some sections are obviously more walked than others, but it was generally well waymarked, and I felt quite a sense of achievement at completing my first ever walk longer than 20 miles. I hope that other people walk it, before sections of it are altered or obliterated by the coming HS2 developments.