In the end, only six-tenths of the Ten
Foot Club showed up on the canal wharf at Stoke Bruerne. Neat, bearded
John White, cheery David Billingham and gently spoken Stuart Knatt
introduced themselves with the grins of people who are about to do
something they really, really like doing.
And they do like walking, these well-seasoned
ramblers. Using their 10 feet to tramp the footpaths of Britain and way
beyond is the great pleasure of the five long-standing members of the
Ten Foot Club (20 years established and counting). The Ten Foot Club has
a stirring motto: Ite Decum Pedum,
Go Forth Ten Feet. And
these men of Northamptonshire are on one particular mission above all -
to raise the walking profile of their native shire.
Northamptonshire is a low-rolling and
modest Midland county. Most ramblers, contemplating the map in search of
a good walk, let their eyes drift briefly across the county before
deciding on the Lakes, the Peaks or somewhere with a bit more elevation
That's why the Ten Foot Club has
devised a 50-mile circular walk, the Northamptonshire Round, to lure
walkers into discovering old deer parks, woods, farmlands, villages and
other secrets and overlooked delights. The four of us were setting out
to explore what John White terms "one of the petals" - a
10-mile circuit that loops away from and then back to the main route of
the Northamptonshire Round.
The murky waters of the Grand Union
Canal were rippled by a buffeting autumn wind as they slapped the leaky
wooden lock gates. Stoke Bruerne, with its waterside cottages and old
warehouses, is a classic Midlands canal village. It boasts a great canal
museum, housed in a former grain warehouse on the quay. Would the Six
Feet mind if I whipped round it quickly? Not at all - in fact, they'd come with me.
From the museum's displays we garnered
snapshot images of the tough lives of those who lived and worked on the
canals - crowds of children raised in spick-and-span narrow boats, tools
of cast-iron and wood, gipsy-like women in men's flat caps, bargees with
forearms like legs, frosts and floods, hard work and hard drinking.
Once we had struck out across the
rolling stubble fields, steering with the wind at our backs to Ashton
and then down the long lane to Grafton Regis, these bygone canal scenes
were overlaid by others - fat black elderberries and blackberries,
scarlet haws and hips and bryony berries cramming the Northamptonshire
Talk flowed, as good talk always does
among walkers. "You know how it is," said John, chewing over
the birth of the Northamptonshire Round.
"You're in the car with friends
after a nice long walk and a few pints, feeling warm and comfortable,
and you find yourself saying, 'I know, let's do our own footpath!' Then
reality kicks in, and a hell of a lot of hard work..."
It took the Ten Foot Club years of prospecting, of mapping and note-taking, of cajoling and persuading, to get their pet project nailed down and laid out on the ground. And the work doesn't stop with the cutting of the inaugural ribbon. I watched Stuart clearing gates and stiles and snipping rogue tendrils and twigs with the secateurs he brought along.
Some of the styles we crossed had been
newly installed by the Northamptonshire County Council as a result of
the politicking and pressure of John. To such modest seers and doers the
rest of us owe the survival in good health
of our footpath network, the best in
A tiny, manic Jack Russell on springs
escorted us from Bozenham Mill all the way into Grafton Regis. In this
lovely village of mellow gold stone houses under thatch, a buttressed
wall on the road is all that remains of the manor house where English
history was made. When the 22-yearold King Edward IV - a tall
golden-haired young god with the grace of a dancer and the debauched
tastes of a rakehell - came hunting at Grafton Regis, he fell like a ton
of bricks for Elizabeth Woodville of Grafton Manor, a young widow.
The couple were married in the village
on May Day 1464. Edward continued with his womanising, while Elizabeth
(between producing 10 royal children) concentrated on family social
climbing, culminating in the marriage of her 20-year-old brother to the
dowager Duchess of Norfolk (79, but rich and well-positioned).
At the White Hart, the Cajun tuna and
home-cooked ham proved just what the doctor ordered. Afterwards, the Ten
Foot Club and I had a special viewing of the murals in the village hall
depicting the royal connections of Grafton Regis Edward IV and Elizabeth
Woodville flirting under an oak tree; Elizabeth 1 sulking because the
beer was bad when she visited Grafton Manor; Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn
in the manor house, listening testily as Cardinal Campeggio conveyed the
bad news of Pope Clement's refusal to allow Henry to divorce Catherine
of Aragon in favour of the green-eyed Anne.
Under a racing sky of slate-grey and
silver clouds, we crunched across the stubble and vegetable fields to
Alderton, talking of cabbages and kings. A knock on the door of
Bramblewood House, and the owner John Kliene was courteously showing us
over the lumps and bumps in his back garden, where an early medieval
manor house and its demesnes wait to be excavated and admired.
So much half-hidden and hinted at; so many treasures beckoning from these Northamptonshire fields and hedgerows. We walked on slowly, turning over the rich soil of the day's expedition as we made across sheep pastures towards the church tower at Stoke Bruerne, with the dipping sun at our backs and our shadows lengthening before us.
OS 1:25,000 Explorer 207. Travel By rail ‑ Northampton (7 miles);
info: 0845 748 4950. By road ‑ M1 Jct15); A508 south towards Stony
Stratford; in 3 miles, right to Stoke Bruerne. Park in village car park
(£1.50). Walk directions Canal Museum (743499) is next to car park.
From museum bear left to cross lock gates; left again to cross road at
bridge. Follow right bank of canal for ¾
mile to cross gates of bottom lock of flight (750488). In 50 yards, go
left (fingerpost) over stile (Northamptonshire Round - NR - waymark). Go
over next stile and along left field edge. At end of second field, bear
left through hedge (752493 - NR) and continue along field edge. Pass
brick ruin; go on over open field. Cross lane (759496 - NR); go through
woodland strip; bear right through two fields with gates. Bear left
(762497) past stables; through wicket gate (NR) and next gate. Go right
down field edge, through double gate, then across field to cross stile
and reach road in Ashton (763499).
right to T-junction
by Old Crown pub; right to T-junction
(767497); then right (Bozenham Mill sign) along lane. In ¾ mile, pass lane on left; in 100 yards bear right (767483) at Bozenham
Mill Farm for 1 mile to Grafton Regis church (759469). Continue along
lane to A508; then right to White Hart pub (755466).
pub, bear right along A508. In 200 yards, opposite village hall on right
(see below), bear left across road, then cross stile in hedge (754468
footpath fingerpost). Cross field and next stile (arrow waymark). Follow
left field edge for 500 yards; bear right by ash tree (747467 -
arrow waymark on post in hedge) across fields and over stile, aiming for
church tower, to road in Aiderton (741469). Bear right to church and The
Mount earthworks beyond.
The Mount, go right down Church lane to pass Bramblewood House (738469).
lane becomes path across fields. In
mile, cross bridge over River Tove (736477); in another third of a mile,
cross footbridge (735483). Pass oak in field beyond to go through gate
by ash tree. Go along right edge of three fields for ½ mile; at end of third
field, bear right (730492 -
arrow waymark) over footbridge. Cross field to gate in far left corner
(728496); go up lane towards Shutlanger. Where lane meets tarmac, go
right through kissing gate (728498 -
footpath fingerpost and NR).
Cross field to telegraph pole (NR); follow waymarks for a third of a mile to cross road (737498) to reach Stoke Bruerne church and village. Length 9½ miles.
Boat or Navigation PH, Stoke Bruerne; Old Crown, Ashton; White Hart, Grafton Regis; Plough, Shutlanger.
Stone House, Stoke Bruerne (01604 864011): £45 double b&b.
Northamptonshire Round leaflets and information from Northampton Visitor
Centre (01604 838 800, www.northampton.gov.uk/tourism