View from Monarch's Way

An Escape

During our walks along long distance paths in England, we’ve often merged with or crossed The Monarch’s Way and eventually, we decided to discover more about this path, which appeared in so many places.

I’m sure that at some time in my schooldays I studied the Civil War and the flight of Charles II from England, but I regret that I am woefully ignorant of the period. Following a little research (if ploughing through a rather tedious Georgette Heyer novel counts as research), I now know that after a heavy defeat at The Battle of Worcester 1651 and with a price on his head, Charles II spent six weeks hotly pursued by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces as he tried to escape to France. His journey was circuitous as he first headed north, then doubled back down to the south coast and finally across the downs to Shoreham and The Monarch’s Way is a 615 mile footpath based on this escape.

 

Monarch's Way Worcester canal

We thought this walk would keep us busy for a while, so made a start earlier this month. We walked from Old Powick Bridge, just south of Worcester, in glorious April sunshine along the banks of the Rivers Teme and Severn into the hustle and bustle of the city and then headed northwards along the towpath of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which was busy with boats, fishermen, cyclists and dog walkers. We watched the fisherman, sat firmly on their stools with their copious paraphernalia spread within arms’ reach, as they picked bait from their varied selection and then used a catapult to send it flying to the other side of the canal where their line dipped into the water. I was hoping they might mistake their packed lunch for bait and catapult a sandwich across the water or pop a maggot in their mouth but it didn’t happen. Fishing remains a great mystery to me. Leaving that canal and skirting a rather unlovely industrial area we returned to the countryside and finally walked along the towpath of the sleepy Droitwich canal into Droitwich Spa.

Westwood House, Droitwich Spa from The Monarch's Way

The following day we headed out across the fields, past the impressive Westwood House, around numerous fishing lakes, had a chat with a man about ducks as we tried to find our way out of a nature reserve, followed the footpath from the road through a gate in the wall into a private garden where it ran for about ten metres and then emerged back onto the road (which was very strange), across a point-to-point course where they were putting up the rails for the forthcoming races, past a beautifully kept community orchard and into the village of Chaddesley Corbett. For once, our timing was perfect as we arrived bang on lunch time and the pub was open; normally we arrive too early, too late or the pub is shut. After a swift lunch (we were the only customers) we headed off through more green countryside, up and along a ridge with views across Worcestershire and to the West Midlands and finally into Hagley. An enjoyable start to The Monarch’s Way.

Next time we walk the path, we have a dilemma. The first two days were ideal for us – walking through villages and beautiful countryside, exploring a small city and both days there was a railway station conveniently close to the start and finish. The next few sections of the trail are less appealing as they include miles of urban pavement walking, a long stretch of rural road walking and an area with no regular public transport. We are walking for pleasure, not through a desire to retrace the royal escape route nor to tick off a completed long distance trail, so I think we will probably skip a chunk of the trail. It feels a little like cheating but I can’t see the point of walking where I don’t want to be when there are so many places that I do want to explore.

Would you grit your teeth and do the whole thing properly or would you ignore the official trail and walk your own shortened route?

A Little in Love

 

I have fallen a little in love with Devon, though in truth, if you walk through any part of the countryside at this time of the year, it’s difficult not to be smitten when everywhere is green and verdant and the hedgerows and verges froth with blossom and wild flowers.

 

Devon Coast to Coast Path near Wembury

 

Bill had a big birthday to celebrate this year and as he decided how best to celebrate, he remembered a conversation we had last year on the West Highland Way when another walker enthused over his recent walk along the Devon Coast to Coast Path. The path runs between Wembury Beach on the south coast and Lynmouth on the north, passing across Dartmoor and Exmoor, so we decided to walk part of this and also look around the area where the Wheaton family came from.

 

coins in tree trunk 2 Moors Way

Despite the rain, Devon was glorious. We found the farm where Bill’s family farmed nearly two hundred years ago and walked just over a hundred miles through the Devon countryside. We found sculptures on river islands, tree trunks embedded with coins and a giant photo of a family tree hanging in a tree.

 

Exmoor 2 Moors Way

 

I’m glad I walked through the wilds of Dartmoor with its granite tors and boggy ground (I managed to sink my foot below the top of my boot in a wet muddy patch) though rather like The Fens, I don’t feel the need to walk any part again. In contrast, Exmoor (above) seemed less harsh than Dartmoor with easy to walk wide open ridges and steep sided combes covered in trees.

 

Mid Devon on 2 Moors Way

My favourite part of the walk was the middle section where we could stand on a hill and look across the patchwork of fields and woodland. We walked alongside rivers and down lanes banked with wild flowers that led to tiny villages with thatched cottages so different in design to our steeply pitched Essex thatch.

 

Lynmouth from 2 Moors Way

With the exception of our diversion into Widecombe, which was a big mistake, the joy of this walk was the quietness and feeling that we were miles and miles away from everyone and everything for so much of the day. No traffic noise or planes flying above. No phone signal or public transport.

Having visited the area where Bill’s Great Great Grandmother was born, I think that when I reach the grand old age of 60 we should visit the place that my Great Great Grandmother was born. It seems only fair don’t you think? Especially since she was born in South Australia.

Lynmouth

If you’re interested in walking The Devon Coast to Coast Path (Two Moors Way), go for it.

oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Norfolk Coast Path near Stiffkey

If ever you want to go walking in England, choose a fine, sunny day in May when everything is gloriously green and verdant, when wildflowers poke through the grass, arable crops outstrip the weeds, birds sing above and there seems to be a new smell at every turn from the unmistakable tang of the sea, the scent of bluebells in woodland to the glorious sweet coconut fragrance of the gorse flowers. Should you be undecided about which walk to take, although my favourite walk is the Greenwich Meridian Trail, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Norfolk Coast Path, if only because it’s so easy to jump onto a Coast Hopper bus at the beginning or end of the day’s walk.

Cley Next the Sea

Cley next the Sea

Having completed the first section of the Norfolk Coast Path, we returned to Wells next the Sea, and headed for Blakeney along the edge of the salt marsh, threading our way along paths that cut between gorse bushes. After a quick stop for lunch, we walked along the top of the sea bank as it curved out seawards and then inland to the village of Cley next the Sea where bird watchers massed, standing with eyes and binoculars to the skies.

Norfolk coast path Cley

We headed for the beach and hoped our boots were waterproof as dipped our hands in the sea and walked along the sand, then trudged through the shingle. Boy was that hard work. We walked one side of the shingle bank, then on top, then the other side but whichever route we took it was a slog and I was more than happy to cut across the fields to Salthouse.  One of the delights of a walk through villages of pretty flint cobbled cottages is that the resultant tourists mean there’s usually somewhere to buy food and drink so that the walk soon became punctuated with an ice cream here and a drink there.  At Salthouse we ate Cromer crab and  stocked up with local fudge tucked into the rucksack for Ron (later on).

 
Next morning we waited for the first Coast Hopper bus of the day with a crowd of who all seemed to know one another; some were going on a jolly to Hunstanton while one couple were on a booze cruise, planning to go to the far end of the bus route and work their way back on the bus, stopping at every village for a drink. It was standing room only as we travelled west, with no space to pick up passengers waiting at the bus stops, much to their obvious discontent. Most of those waiting seemed to be friends of people already on the bus and there was much cheering and waving as we passed them, followed by phone calls to arrange a meeting place when they finally managed to catch a bus.

 

North Norfolk Railway between Weybourne and Sheringham

Jumping off the bus at Weybourne we walked down to the beach, the shingle (thankfully) gave way to grassy clifftop and the ground rose steadily as we walked towards Sheringham, a steam train passing by en route.

Norfolk Coast Path back towards Water Hill

Looking back towards Weybourne

norfolk coast path Sheringham

ahead towards Sheringham

As we climbed Skelding Hill we looked back at the curving coastline, sheltering small rural villages and ahead to the seaside towns of Sheringham and Cromer. From Sheringham the path cuts inland, past innumerable caravan parks and uphill through woodland to the highest point in Norfolk, followed by a swift descent past yet more caravan parks and into Cromer where we walked down to the beach in front of the pier, ending our 400 mile walk (albeit done in several stages) from Lyme Regis on the south coast along the Wessex Ridgeway, Ridgeway, Icknield Way, a little bit of Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coast Path to the east coast and …

norfolk coast path Cromer

The End

… well, that’s always the problem at the end of these long distance walks. There should be a brass band playing or at the very least a button you can press to play a little fanfare but there’s nothing but a bit of an anti climax. All around us, people milled about eating fish and chips, licking ice creams, sitting on benches or leaning on the railings staring out to sea. I wanted to punch the air and do a little dance but we just smiled at each other and said “we’ve done it”. Then there seemed nothing for it but to celebrate with some fish and chips and a beer. And of course, plan the next walk.