Almost like Christmas

The artisan bakery Bread & Circus in our local town pulled out all the stops by creating a little snow for us at the turning on of the Christmas Lights in Daventry.


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Only passing through

Northamptonshire is a county you pass through to get somewhere else, and this has been the case since the Romans came and built Watling Street found that the easiest route was to pass through Northamptonshire on the way to Chester. They came.  They saw.  They passed right through.  Do not stop.  Do not collect £200.  And it has been the same ever since.   You see it’s all to do with the geology, apparently.   The canal and railway builders searching for the best route from London to the industrialised cities found the easiest way was through the Watford Gap.  Daventry may have been a resting place where you changed horses but it was never a final destination.  Even when the railways came they avoided Northampton altogether – the town’s station was at Roade, some 6 miles south of the town.  Even now Northampton town is on a loop line, a diversion.  The faster trains north and south, skirt the town altogether.

This month’s walk took us near to the place where canals, railway lines and motorways converge – The Watford Gap.


looking towards the Watford Gap

Our walk started in Welton, a village a couple of miles out of Daventry but which is being encroached upon by the nearby town – new housing estates are being built right up to the parish bounds.  Driving off the main road into the village we climbed upwards past the parish church of St Martin and parked by the road side just past The White Horse – which was planned to be our final destination.   Heading upwards and out of the village, ignoring a bridleway finger post on our right which, while that route would have taken us directly to the canal we would have missed out on the views across to Daventry and Borough Hill, so, following our guidebook, we continued along the road, turning left towards Watford.

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We continued along the road until we came to a crossroads, crossing the main road our roadside walk continued until the road bore sharp right and we saw the signpost pointing our way across the side of a muddy field.  Although this was a minor road it was still quite busy with local traffic.



Crossing a bridge over the Leicester branch of the Grand Union canal at Welton Hythe Marina, we walked along the towpath parallel to the A5, though the road itself was hidden from view, and I can’t say that we were aware of its presence.  Toby had to be put back on his harness as he had decided he wanted to slide along the muddy embankment. We crossed back and forth over two more bridges to get on the main Grand Union Canal – the left turn would have taken us to the locks at Watford – we turned right towards the eerie mouth of Braunston tunnel.  Counting the bridges as we walked under them for our guidebook said we should leave the canal at bridge 8, the third bridge, and return along the road to Welton village.  When we came to the third bridge it was clearly marked No 6.  Fearful that we would have to retrace our steps we rechecked the map and decided the book was wrong – either that or someone had renumbered the bridges since 2000 when the book was published.  A quick recce revealed ahead of us was the eerie mouth of Braunston Tunnel and above the road we needed to get us safely home – or at least safely to The White Horse.



Looking across towards the M1 and London-Birmingham Railway line



The White Horse was not serving food that day so it was just a swift but very enjoyable pint of Goats Milk for Alex and Bishop’s Farewell for me, and a treat for Toby.

A quick inspection of the 13th century church of St Martin’s and once back in Daventry an even longer inspection of the menu at The Evergreen Café in Sheaf Street (dogs welcome).






All paths lead to…. Flecknoe

Several sign posts in the village point towards a nearby village, Flecknoe.  In all my 60 plus years I have never visited the village despite the fact that it is only approximately two and a half miles away across the valley.  Today was not the best day to try this walk as the forecast was for rain and it did not disappoint.  A friend from my school days, Alex came over for the day to join me and Toby on a walk from Staverton to Flecknoe.  We had seen the signposts pointing towards Flecknoe on a previous walk round the village and it looked like it might be worth giving it a go.  I had done a short recce with my sister a fortnight or so ago when the weather spoke more of summer than winter.  We had to cross several ploughed fields and the soil is mostly clay.  On the way we crossed an old disused railway line.



The start of the walk through a filed occupied by a solitary alpaca.


This was the first stile.  Toby had to be carried over.


taken on an earlier occasion


The goal is the village on the next ridge.


The path is well signposted – which was good because we hadn’t bothered to bring a map.

The village church – the cracks you can see in the wall are a consequence of the heavy clay soil – a couple of dry summers and the cracks begin to form, but now the rain has come the walls have shifted and the cracks resealed.  The original parish church was at the now deserted village of Wolfhampcote – this simple building was built in the 19th century and was a consequence of the new-fangled railway – the station was a mile away from the village, literally in the middle of nowhere, and the line was eventually closed in 1963.

Flecknoe station  

The yew tree in the church yard was bearing fruit.

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There was an old school nearby but I don’t think the building has been used as a school in my lifetime.



The Old Olive Bush garden

The picture above is from the garden of the village pub.  There has been a pub in the village since the 17th century, although the original building was lost in a fire.  The Old Olive Bush has an impressive menu, serves a variety of beers – we sampled Mad Goose –  a light golden Warwickshire ale.  Dogs are welcome and Toby met the resident dog, Max plus a couple of visiting Jack Russells.




A happy hour later and it was time to return back to Staverton and by now the expected rain had arrived, not too heavy but enough to soak into the clay that we knew would cling to our boots as we trudge back across the fields.


Toby, struggling to keep up



Not much further

Finally, after a few more stiles, we arrived home and Toby crashed out in his bed.

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High Wood

every so often a poem catches my breath and I feel wonder at its impact.  This prophetic poem was written in 1918.  The poet Philip Johnstone appears to be a pseudonym and little else is known about him.  There are some preserved trenches in Belgium and France, and I too have trod the tourist’s path s at Hooge and Vimy Ridge, feeling slightly uncomfortable at indulging in battlefield tourism.  
High Wood

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood, 
Called by the French, Bois des Fourneaux, 
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen, 
July, August and September was the scene 
Of long and bitterly contested strife, 
By reason of its High commanding site. 
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees 
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench 
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands; 
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave. 
It has been said on good authority 
That in the fighting for this patch of wood 
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men, 
Of whom the greater part were buried here, 
This mound on which you stand being… 
Madame, please, 
You are requested kindly not to touch 
Or take away the Company’s property 
As souvenirs; you’ll find we have on sale 
A large variety, all guaranteed. 
As I was saying, all is as it was, 
This is an unknown British officer, 
The tunic having lately rotted off. 
Please follow me – this way … 
the path, sir, please
The ground which was secured at great expense 
The Company keeps absolutely untouched, 
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide 
Refreshments at a reasonable rate. 
You are requested not to leave about 
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange-peel, 
There are waste-paper-baskets at the gate

By Philip Johnstone.