Walk 119: The Lyveden Way…stepping back in history

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 10.9 miles (17.5km)

Time to walk: This walk took us roughly 4 hours, mainly because we stopped twice for food & drink. It’s one of those walks to stop & smell the roses as you’re passing through some lovely Northamptonshire countryside

Difficulty: Mainly off road so it could be muddy in places in the winter. The route is pretty flat & stile free

Parking: We parked in the extortionately expensive car park at the Fermyn Woods visitor centre

Public toilets: The visitor centre at the start & end, Lyveden New Bield & the Old Barn in Wadenhoe

Map of the route: 

The Lyveden Way, Northamptonshire’s seventh long distance path, was officially opened in September 2005 as part of the 400th anniversary of the wonderful Lyveden New Bield, an Elizabethan lodge & moated garden, situated 4 miles south west of Oundle

The official start of the walk is at the Fermyn Woods Country Park Visitor Centre & passes through part of the ancient Rockingham Forest taking in Lyveden New Bield, & Wadenhoe, where it turns back across country to return to the starting point. It’s classic Northamptonshire countryside walking so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our starting point, Fermyn Woods forms part of the ancient woodlands of Rockingham Forest, a former royal hunting forest. The area is steeped in history & rich in wildlife, including Red Kites, with a landscape that may have changed little over the years

If you fancy a cuppa or a snack before starting the walk, then we can recommend the cafe. The toilets, should you require them, are located there too…

2. Preparations finished, facing the cafe turn right & walk through the gate in the picture below

The Lyveden Way is well signposted throughout the whole of its route & the brightly coloured plaques are easy to spot…

3. After approximately 100 yards, the signpost tells you to walk diagonally right & pass through a kissing gate which means that it’s already time to leave the country park & head into the fields

Turn left & follow the edge of the field, round & up the hill, keeping the woods on your left…

As you walk around the field you begin to gain height quite quickly & are rewarded with some superb views across the surrounding countryside. We really do have a beautiful County

4. We’ve only been going five minutes & are immediately rewarded with the first of many views of a Red Kite. Up until the 16th Century, Red Kites were one of the most common birds spotted in the nation’s skies. This soon changed after a series of Vermin Acts passed in Tudor times deemed that Red Kites were to be killed, under the fear that they posed a threat to sheep farming

The increase in the number of game keepers in the 18th Century further purged the population as Red Kites were thought to predate upon birds reared for game. The fears of these people were unwarranted as Red Kites are known to primarily feed on carrion & mammals no bigger than rabbits

In 1989 an official reintroduction programme was established in England & Scotland. The initial release of breeding pairs in the Chilterns led to the release of Red Kites at Rockingham Forest in the mid 90’s & what a magnificent sight they are!

5. At the top of the rise, look for a gap in the hedge on the left. After passing through it, turn left & continue with the wood on your left…

We picked a warm, windy day to do this walk & had to dodge the dust that was being created by a combine harvester

6. Ignore all the footpath markers showing paths until coming to a Lyveden Way sign post pointing the direction, diagonally right across a field. A this time of year the path through the cornfield is easy to see, but in winter this area could be muddy

On reaching the other side continue straight ahead through the gap & keep the wood on your right. Look across to the left to see Lyveden New Bield in the distance – a cup of tea awaits!

7. There were plenty of autumn flowers in the hedgerows…

At the end of the wood, walk through the gap in the hedge & then turn left following the hedge once more to reach the car park of Lyveden New Bield

8. Lyveden New Bield, an unfinished Elizabethan summer house, is one of our favourite National Trust properties & one we’ve visited many times. It’s a mysterious place & you always find out something different each time. Walk past the folly & down to the entrance…

It was constructed for Sir Thomas Tresham, the fervent Roman Catholic of Rushton Hall. The exact date is unknown but can be estimated to around 1604, the year of Tresham’s death. The New Bield was on the estate of Tresham’s second home, Lyveden Manor House, also known as Lyveden Old Bield

Just as at Gresham’s smaller folly, Rushton Triangular Lodge, his principal estate, the New Bield has a religious design full of symbolism. The house was obviously meant for occupation, as it has a great hall & parlour on the first floor, kitchen & buttery in the basement, & a bedroom on the upper floor. However, it was probably never intended for full-time occupation

Too close to the main house for use as a hunting lodge, it may have been intended for use as a “Secret House”—keeping a secret house was a custom of the 16th century. Often within a mile of the main house, the secret house was a place where the head of the household would retire for a few days with a minimum of servants, while the principal house was thoroughly cleaned &, bearing in mind the sanitation of the time, fumigated

9. Lyveden New Bield was never completed. It remains as it was when the builders left following Sir Thomas Tresham’s death. Today, it is in the care of the National Trust

If you’re not a member of the National Trust you’ll have to pay an entry fee, but this is excellent value & the Manor House is now open too. We can highly recommend the tea room…

10. Fully refreshed it’s time to move on so retrace your steps back to the entrance & walk straight ahead across the field & through the gate into Lilford Wood…

Take your time passing through the wood as, when we visited, there were Red Kites everywhere & also the autumn flora was in full bloom

11. At the end of the wood, pass through the gate & walk down the hill, crossing the bridge, before walking up the steep slope & out onto the wide track…

Turn right on the track & follow it round to the left, down the slope to a gate leading into another wood – Wadenhoe Little Wood, where we’re now going to follow a lovely path until it turns into a concrete lane

12. The lane passes through a farmyard…

…& eventually reaches a T-Junction, where we turn right & look for a footpath sign on the left after roughly 50 yards. Climb the stile & walk straight along the edge of the meadow. There were some frisky bullocks in the field so beware. At the end exit & cross the road into another field – you can see the village of Wadenhoe ahead

13. The gate out of the meadow into the village lies under the trees in the above picture. Welcome to Wadenhoe, which we’ve visited on other walks & one of our favourite Northamptonshire villages

Turn right & walk to the junction…

It’s time for another refreshment break & normally we would recommend The King’s Head which we’ll pass shortly. However, when we visited in September 2019, the pub had been closed since Xmas. We therefore visited the excellent ‘The Old Barn’ & had a healthy portion of baked potato, cheese & beans!

14. If you want to visit the mill pond & hopefully spot a kingfisher, walk past the restaurant down the hill. Our path though lies down the picturesque Church Street, past the King’s Head pub…

At the bottom of Church Street walk through the gate where there’s a convergence of paths, including the Nene Way

15. The hill up to the church is quite steep &, by this time, we were thinking that the heavily laden jacket potato might not have been such a good idea…

This is the church of St Michael & All Angels & the tower is all that’s left of a late 12th century church. It was used as the backdrop for the opening scenes of the 1999 version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ starring Patrick Stewart

16. Walk through the gate to exit the churchyard & continue over the cattle grid through the field…

Once reaching the road at the other side, turn left & carefully walk about 100 yards to the footpath sign on the right – the Lyveden Way is so well signed

17. Continue by the hedge-side & walk through the gap at the end, being careful of the road. Once more we’re on familiar walking territory again. Turn immediately left & pass through the barrier onto what appears to be an ancient track

The track descends the hill &, after about 10 minutes walking, look for a signpost in the hedge on the right leading into another field

Once again…there were some feisty boys waiting for us!

18. The path is straight at this point so, after avoiding the ‘boys”, pass through the kissing gate where the track becomes more narrow & overgrown

Walk through another gate & short paddock before passing into an overgrown path once more beside Little Wood. Persevere though as eventually the path becomes tree flanked & easier to negotiate

19. Eventually you’ll arrive at a clearing, where a signpost points you left straight through the woods once more…

Just when you think the wood will never end, another signpost appears at a hard track. Turn right down the track & keep on it, bearing right on reaching a fork

20. The track bends to the right & reaches a junction that you might recognise…

The field on the left’s the corn field we crossed near the start of the walk, so turn left & retrace your steps…

…bearing left & following the same path down the hill, back to the start of the walk at Fermyn Woods Visitor Centre – time for another cup of tea!

So that’s our first try of the Lyveden Way, although we had walked large parts of it before on other walks. It’s an extremely varied walk, both in terms of landscape & rural & village life

It also gives some great Red Kite spotting opportunities. The “off-road” parts could easily get quite muddy in wet weather so walking boots are a good footwear bet. It will be even better once The King’s Head reopens!

Go Walk!