Walk 110: Gayton Circular: A classic Shire stroll around Four Churches

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 9.8 miles (15.8km)

Time to walk: We walked this on a very hot summer’s day in July 2018. With a few water stops it took roughly 3.5 hours

Difficulty: A real mix of on road, field paths & some overgrown bits. It’s quite hilly in places, especially at the end & there are several stiles

Parking: We parked on the road by the church in Gayton. The roads in the village are quite narrow so please park considerately

Public toilets: A couple of pubs in the villages, but that’s about it as it’s real rural walking

Map of the route:

This is a fabulous walk that shows off the rolling countryside of Northamptonshire at its very best. Apart from in the villages, & they’re very quiet, if you see another soul you’ll be very unlucky. So take out the music ear plugs & listen to the screeches of the many buzzards we saw, or the “chit chit chits’ of the finches

Today we’ll visit four of South Northamptonshire’s churches, each very different from the previous one. As we’ve “aged gracefully” we’ve come to appreciate churches more. Unfortunately we couldn’t explore the inside of any of them on this walk, so they may be worth a visit by car at a later date

Shall we get going then….

Let’s Walk!

1. We’ve visited Gayton several times on our walks & it’s always a pleasure to visit the village which sits higher in the Shire than many people think, so look out for many superb views, especially the ones to the north back towards Northampton

Sited near Watling Street, the ancient way from the ports of Kent to Wroxeter, Gayton was not recorded in the Domesday Book survey of 1086, but was probably the unnamed settlement in the Hundred of Towcester held by the knight Sigar of Chocques, who came from the village of that name near Béthune in the north of France. By 1162 it had passed to his relation Robert V of Béthune, being inherited in turn by his eldest son Robert VI, by his second son William II, by William’s eldest son Daniel & then by Daniel’s younger brother. This was Robert VII, who in 1242 sold the manor along with virtually all his other English properties to Robert of Guines. In 1248 Robert sold Gayton to Ingram of Fiennes, who in 1270 passed it to Michael of Northampton, a cleric

Sir Philip de Gayton had a daughter named Scholastica de Gayton (d.1354) & she was said to have murdered her husband. She had a sister called Julianna who bore a child known as Mabila. Julianna later met her fate by burning as it was decided that she was a witch. The facts of this tale have become somewhat confused over the centuries but the de Gayton tombs are in the village church where we start this walk…

This is St Mary’s, most of which dates back to the 12th century, with several changes & additions over the years

2. Facing the church, turn right & walk down Blisworth Road…

…leaving the village & continuing carefully on the road as the path runs out. The corn was looking superb in the hot summer of 2018

3. The road dips down the hill & reaches Britain Cottages, which were probably once part of the old railway line that ran close by – we’ll walk along this later…

For now though it’s time to leave the road & walk up the left side of the cottages to the stile that leads into the field

4. Once over the stile stick to the hedge on the left, the other side of which is the old railway line

Be careful walking along here as there is a massive badgers sett, some of the entrances of which are in the field itself

There are signs in the hedgerow that autumn will soon be coming…

5. A the top of the field look for a gap in the hedge tucked away in the corner – it was quite overgrown & difficult to spot, but it is there & a gate leads to another path running left to right…

A sign on the post reminds us that this is part of the Northampton Round (see under that tab on the blog home page). Turn right & walk down the narrow path past a house, where it emerges into the open besides another fence (it was really overgrown)

6. At the end though there’s some relief as a harder surface runs between some houses, including the magnificent Gayton Wilds. Turn left along Tiffield Road…

…ignoring the fingerpost at the top of the hill on the right. The road bends left & soon reaches the bridge over the old railway cutting. On the right’s the entrance into Tiffield Pocket Park

7. Tiffield Pocket Park (The John Mawby Trail) is a linear park, around 1 km in length, along a section of what was formerly the railway line from Northampton to Banbury. The line was abandoned in the 1960s & was bought by John Mawby, a local businessman & keen naturalist

The intention was to leave the area wild, but in 2001 the Tiffield Pocketeers rented & began managing the site. They’ve done a fabulous job with many wooden stacks being made for animal habitation & numerous kinds of flowers & birdlife

8. At the bottom of the steep steps turn right & enjoy the peace & solitude of this lovely place for the next 15 minutes or so of walking

9. Just past a tree that lies across the path, it reaches some wooden gates & a crossroads. Continue straight ahead, passing a platform overlooking, today, a dried up stream / pond

Shortly afterwards we reach the end of the pocket park and exit onto a recreation field…

Walk diagonally right past the goalposts to arrive at the road

10. Turn left, walk up to the green & welcome to Tiffield, which is very much a linear village along one main street. The village primary school was once renowned as being one of the smallest in the country, but now has links with schools in neighbouring villages

Iron ore was once extracted near the village, but this no longer happens. The village was also formerly the home of the famous Fossett’s Circus, & a number of animals, including elephants, had their winter quarters at Upper Farm

11. Turn right at the junction – as this is a four church walk we need to go & find Tiffield’s…

‘The George’ is well known in the local area for being a traditional British pub serving some really good ales. It’s also part of the thriving local music scene

12. Carry on down the hill…

…where just around the corner we find the Church of St John the Baptist, which dates from the 13th century & quite possibly replaced a wooden Saxon church which existed on the site when the Domesday Book was written in 1086

13. Right…time to retrace our tracks & head for the next village by walking back from where we came & turning left up Meadow Rise…

As the road begins to turn right look for a narrow passage way on the left

Walk up here & then climb the steep steps to arrive at the old railway line once more. Rather than walk along it, this time head straight across & into the meadows…

14. Exit through the gate at the edge of the field & turn left along Gayton Road…

…passing ‘The Folly’ & continuing for a quarter of a mile until reaching a sharp right hand bend where you’ll see a bridleway fingerpost

15. Caldecote is where we want to be heading towards so turn left past the cattery & follow the wide track for a couple of hundred yards

The track soon reaches a junction with a farmyard straight ahead. Turn right & pass through the gate…

16. After walking through the gate, turn immediately left & walk along the side of the hedge to the gate in the corner of the field…

Now…we don’t often have a gripe but, after passing through the gate, the path continues in the same direction. When we walked here it was almost impassable

At the end of this field, it does get better as the path widens once more, so continue straight up to the gate into the next field (this was an ideal stop for a drinks break as the views are fab!)

17. Refreshed we head diagonally right to exit the fields onto another bridleway beside a rather large heap of something that would be good for our allotments!

Turn right onto the bridleway & follow it as it winds & descends to finally arrive in beautiful Astcote

18. Turn right at the road & walk down to the village green..

On arriving at the red phone box (how good is it to see one of those…) bear left up the small road. This now feels quite bizarre as we’re going to walk through / around a private property – don’t worry though as the owners have put out brilliant signs & roped the path off to make sure you stay on  it

19. Pass through the above gate & then follow the path around the house & hedge…

Cross the stile & walk between the ropes

20. At the end of the field cross the next stile & walk through the wooded area…

It’s a long time since we’ve seen some ‘Rasta’ sheep

The area opens out into what looks like someone’s back yard with some surrounding cottages. Look for a gate immediately on the left & pass through it

21. Cross the paddock straight ahead to the stile. There was a mum & her calves in the field, so we gave them a wide berth…

Once over the stile follow the path along the side of the field, keeping the hedge on your right for about 100 yards, looking for a wooden bridge which crosses the ditch through the hedge…

22. Pass through the gap & continue in the same direction with the hedge now on your left. Walk through the next gap & then follow the hedge line as it turns right. Even though the weather was extremely hot, there was still plenty of colour in the hedgerows…

At the end of the hedge bear diagonally left towards the gap in the hedge – the farmer’s done a great job of keeping the path clear

Continue across the next field in the same direction to meet the busy A5

23. Look across the A5 to the left to see a footpath sign showing where our route continues. Be extremely careful crossing the road & then climb the stile into the field

Once again keep the hedge on your right & follow the field edge down & then halfway up the hill, looking for a stile into the field on the right…

24. Cross the stile & walk diagonally right up the hill towards the large trees, crossing another stile into the next field…

If you pass between the large trees you’ll see the gate in front of the houses which will take us into our next village

25. At the end of the narrow path we arrive in Cold Higham, which the local history site claims “is believed to be the highest village in Northamptonshire.” We’re pretty sure that Cold Ashby may have something to say about this…

Directly across the Banbury Road’s our favourite church of the four we’re visiting on this walk…St Lukes

The tower of  St Luke’s was built in the 13th century, with the main part of the church being added during the 14th. It’s one of the few surviving churches in England with a saddleback tower

26. So that’s three of our four churches visited, & it’s now time to head back in the direction of Gayton, so walk down the road towards the A5 once more to arrive in the small hamlet of Fosters Booth, which adjoins Pattishall on the other side…

The name Fosters Booth is thought to come from ‘Foresters Booth’, the inn where the local hunters took refreshments when Whittlewood was an important royal hunting forest

There’s some very impressive small cottages on the left

27. On reaching the A5, take care in crossing again & walk directly ahead down Butchers Lane

Round the back of the garage, on the left’s a narrow passage down which we need to walk…

28. At the end of the alley turn right into into Simon’s Walk & continue to almost the end of the road

Just past the turn to Valley End, look for the alley on the left next to No.55 which leads up some steps at the size of the house

29. At the end of the wooden fence turn right & walk along the path behind the gardens of the properties…

The path eventually arrives in the old part of Pattishall & you can see our final church ahead

The name is derived from the Patishall family, three of whom were eminent judges during the 13th century, including one, Simon of Pattishall, who drafted the Magna Carta. The village was host to a prisoner-of-war camp during World War One, which housed 4500 Germans

30. Walk round to the right to arrive at the Holy Cross Church. There was certainly a Church of Pattishall in 1086, since it is named as the owner of land in Cold Higham held by Godwine of Walter the Fleming. The current church has parts that date back to Anglo Saxon times…

Facing the church, turn right & walk round the corner & down the hill to Banbury Lane

31. Although we’re not going to see the church, the next village we’re going to pass through is Eastcote. To get there walk straight over the crossroads until just before the junction with Birds Hill – look for a signpost leading into the field. All this bit does is cut off the corner so you could actually walk to the junction & turn left

If you’ve entered the field, head diagonally right to the next stile & the road…

32. Cross straight over Birds Hill & into the next field – you can see Eastcote diagonally to the left

Walk straight towards the big tree in the above picture & cross the bridge before walking up past the farm to the wall at the top of the field. We have done this walk when there have been cattle in the field so be careful if you’re walking a dog

Eastcote House stood in 60 acres near here & was owned by a Mr Gresham. The house was demolished around the middle of the 20th century. Just before the start of World War I, it was sold as a retirement home to the National Sailor’s & Firemen’s Union of England. However, the Government took the house over as an internment camp for German merchant seamen. Initially housing 50 men, in 1916 the seamen were moved out & the camp became a Prisoner of War Camp expanding to about 4,500 men by 1919 & complete with a new water supply, sewerage system, hospital, theatre & workshop. There were periodic escapes, seven men escaped in 1917 but all were caught 11 miles east in Denton

33. At the wall turn right & climb the stile to arrive in Eastcote…

Turn left & walk to the top of the lane. Look at the house on the right which has an old mounting stone outside – it was unfortunately somewhat overgrown on this visit

34. Turn right & walk up the hill. It was a very hot day & two local old boys both stopped to say hello & enquire if we were alright – yes, we answered, but were glad we were on the home stretch

At the top of the hill, look for a footpath down a narrow alley on the left…

35. The alley opens out into the fields once more, walking diagonally left under the power lines

At the end’s a sign showing that we’re on the way to Gayton. Climb the stile & keeping the hedge on the right, climb the next stile to arrive in a farmyard

36. The exit from the farm is through the gate & gap in the above picture where you can see the fields. Pass through the gate & down the field to the stile at the bottom – you can see Gayton on the top of the hill ahead…

After crossing the stile bear diagonally left to the large tree where a double stile leads into the next field

37. Walk straight ahead passing through a gap in the hedge & then descend the field keeping the hedge on your right

As the path bends to the left, look for & cross a bridge on the right…

38. Right…now it’s time for the ‘sting in the tail’. From this point it’s uphill all the way back to Gayton, something we hadn’t bargained for on such a hot day. The first couple of hundred yards is quite steep, but after that it steadies out somewhat

If you fancy a breather then look across to the left where there’s great views across the Shire…

39. Eventually we reach Eastcote Road & turn left back towards the village

After the road bends right, turn left up Hillcrest Road & at the top go through the gap on the right past the school to arrive at the village green

40. Cross the road & bear right down Fiveways…

…& then Baker Street (bet you start singing!) to reach the church once more & the end of this walk

So that’s the end of our really good, & slightly challenging Four Churches walk. It’s not one for everyone with its hills & numerous stiles, but if you’re fore-warned at least you know what to expect

Plus it’s well worth just visiting some of the Shire’s lovely villages…so…

Go Walk!