Walk 126: Grafton Underwood & Warkton Circular

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 6.1 miles (9.76 km)

Time to walk: It took me about 2.25 hours, but I was following very old instructions & struggled at times to know whether I was on the right path. I only made one mistake which was quickly realised (you can see the “spike” on the map)

Difficulty: Mainly across arable fields. I have no doubts that this is a summer walk as it would be extremely muddy in winter. It had rained the day before &, although the farmers had marked the paths, they hadn’t been cut. My boots quickly became sodden, despite waterproofing the night before. There are also many stiles, some of which are quite high. The only livestock I encountered was some docile horses (oh & some ducks & a chicken!)

Parking: Carefully on the road in Grafton Underwood

Public toilets: None

Map of the route:

This walk, which I did in July 2020, starts in the beautiful village of Grafton Underwood, which lies about 6 miles to the east of Kettering

As you’ll see it’s a stunning village that’s worth a visit purely on its own & is a designated conservation area. There are many thatched properties that are separated by a beautiful stream that runs between them. As the name suggests, the village lies just under Rockingham Forest

If you’re a fan of the Bridget Jones novels by Helen Fielding then you’ll know that Grafton Underwood was Bridget’s childhood home

The village attracts many overseas visitors each year, mainly from the USA. The area north of the village was once home to RAF Grafton Underwood which was opened in 1941. The original runways were approximately 1,600 yards & 1,100 yards in length. However, these were unsuitable for the operation of heavy, four-engined bombers & the field was upgraded in late 1942

Grafton Underwood was the first airfield in England to be assigned the United States Army Air Forces 8th Air Force in 1942. The airfield became home to succession of Bomb Groups, including the 305th, 96th, & 384th, all equipped with B-17s. At its height over 3000 personnel were based there

The first & last bombs in World War II dropped by American planes flew from Grafton Underwood

Also Paul Tibbets who flew on that first raid was the Commanding Officer flying Enola Gay (named after his mother) which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima

Clark Gable was also stationed there & was a ‘regular’ in the Star pub in Geddington.

The RAF’s No. 236 Maintenance Unit occupied the airfield after the war, before being declared surplus to requirements in 1959. There’s now a memorial just outside the village on the Geddington road that sits at the end of the main runway which can still be clearly seen. The public is allowed access into the nearby woods where there are some derelict buildings

Although it wasn’t open when I visited, the church has a memorial window with the inscription “This window is dedicated before God in remembrance of those who gave their lives for freedom during World War II while serving at Grafton Underwood (1942-1945), especially members of the 384th Bomb Group (H) of the United States 8th Air Force”

Well, for a small village that hasn’t changed much over the years, that’s some historical associations, but now it’s time to get going so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Today’s walk starts at the double footpath sign on one of the small bridges over the stream alongside the main road running through Grafton Underwood…

We’re not sure if the chicken will be there to tell you which of the two footpaths to take, but if not, it’s the one that heads away from the road towards the paddock gate…

2. Pass through the smaller gate on the right side into the paddock…

…& walk up the right hand side. There were a couple of horses in the paddock, but they just ignored me. Have a look at the beautiful large house across to the left

3. At the top of the paddock exit it into another field by carefully climbing the high stile – I nearly stumbled so take your time. Unfortunately the gate by the side of the stile was chained shut so there’s no option than to use the stile

The next field is also a paddock & again there were several horses around, but none of them bothered me. Keeping close to the hedge on the left, walk to the top left corner of the paddock

4. In the corner are two more stiles to negotiate, so again please be careful…

After crossing the second stile, walk to the left to get the hedge in the above picture on your right hand side. Keeping the hedge on your right, walk straight up the field towards the trees ahead. When we did this walk the fields were quite wet, but in winter this could be pretty muddy

5. On reaching the hedge pass through the gap & continue straight ahead, keeping to the left of the telegraph pole to the next hedge…(you’ll be getting a lot of these kind of instructions on this walk!)

At the hedge pass through another gap…

…yet again heading straight forward towards the left edge of the copse & then continuing alongside it

6. The path now reaches a hard small road…

Look for a gap in the hedge over the road to continue in the same direction across the next field

It was at this point that the boots started leaking as, although the path had been marked, it hadn’t been cut or cleared

7. Guess what there is at the end of this field? Yes…a gap in the hedge! But…this one has a bridge to cross…

The sign on the bridge gives you the direction across the next uncut path, but you’re heading for the right side of the wood…

8. On reaching the wood you could clearly see our problem…

Walk straight ahead keeping the wood on your left At the end ignore the first path on the left with the marker. Instead walk through the next hole in the left hedge

9. The path now heads slightly diagonally left towards the next wood…

There’s another gap to pass through over another small bridge. This time the marker’s telling you to continue diagonally right…

We were lucky walking this route at this time of year as it was obvious where the paths were. However this wouldn’t be the case in winter when the fields are bare. Generally though you’re walking pretty much in a straight line

10. At the end of this field pass through the gate, or climb the stile into the next one…

The route now is directly towards the largest tree…

11. On reaching the fence, walk through the gate (or climb the fence) & cross the small road & go through the gate on the other side…

This is the final field before we reach Lime Tree Avenue, so walk along the hedge (keeping it on your right)…

…& at the corner climb the stile into the Boughton House Estate

12. You won’t see Boughton House on this walk & it’s really important that you keep to the footpath. The house is one of the seats of the Duke of Buccleuch & is famed for its beauty, its collections, & the fact it has survived virtually unchanged since the 17th century. While possessing a medieval core, its exterior evokes an opulent French chateau

Boughton House contains a comprehensive collection of art, furniture, tapestries, porcelain & carpets. Once a servants’ hall, located next to the kitchen, the armoury is now home to what many experts regard as one of the finest privately held armouries in the country

Our route heads diagonally left & into the magnificent Lime Tree Avenue…

The historic avenue of Lime trees on the Boughton Estate was originally planted around 1705 by the 2nd Duke of Montagu, with a combination of English elm & ‘Hatfield Tall’ lime trees. Hatfield Tall limes are a distinct type of lime tree commonly used in 17th & 18th-century planned gardens. The Duke became known as “John the Planter”

13. Take your time walking along this beautiful avenue – it really is rather special. If it’s still there, the path bears right away from the avenue just before the large fallen tree..

If the tree’s disappeared then look right to see a large tree &, to the right of it, a stile which is where the route continues

14. Carefully cross the stile & walk down the narrow path which eventually drops down & emerges at another gate & stile which you negotiate & “Welcome to Warkton”

You could just continue this walk by turning left & continuing the route up the hill, but Warkton is such a lovely little village, it’s worth a slight detour to explore. So why not carefully cross the road to the proper footpath & turn right down the hill…

15. Walk down the hill, passing the rather lovely village hall. The River Ise runs through the village at the bottom of the hill, but we’re not visiting it on this walk…

The village really does have some “chocolate box” properties

16. Turn left after the village hall & walk towards the church…

This is the beautiful church of St Edmund, particularly noted for containing four Baroque marble monuments erected between the 1750s & 1830s to members of the local Montagu family of Boughton House. The monuments are housed in four niches in the specially constructed chancel. Unfortunately due to Covid 19 the church was closed, but please go in if it’s open

17. Continue past the church to the t-junction…

Another of my walks which also visits Weekley starts at this point. On this walk our route is to the left so follow the road past more stunning cottages as it bends left & up the hill

18. At the top of the hill this road rejoins the main road once more…

…so now turn right & be extremely careful. The next short part of this walk is along a busy road with no footpath so you have to keep jumping onto the verge

19. If you walk on the right side of the road you get some great views across the Ise Valley towards Kettering…

Continue straight ahead – do not turn down the road to the right. The road crosses Lime Tree Avenue once more…

20. After a short distance the road bends sharply left. At this point straight ahead is a gate. There is the remains of a footpath sign in the hedge, but it’s lost its fingerpost. Walk through the small gate into the field…

Walk straight across the field to another metal gate. The sheep did move eventually!

21. There’s a marker on the gate telling you to continue in the same direction but, from now on the footpath signs are few & far between so follow my guide & trust your instincts. You can see the next gate to the left of the large tree. At least this stretch is mainly grassland rather than knee-high corn!

22. Once again the route remains straight, heading towards the gap to the right of the large tree (the path drops down to it)…

Cross the gap & walk straight up the hill keeping the hedge on your left

23. At the top of the hill by the tree are two posts, presumably part of a former gate?

Pass through the posts & continue straight ahead with the hedge on your right towards the telegraph pole in the distance…

24. The path suddenly drops down into a dip. When I did this walk the wild flowers here were amazing…

Walk ahead through the gap towards the telegraph pole & turn immediately left along a grassy bridleway (there are no footpath signs so just trust me). Now keep the hedge on your left & follow the bridlepath as it twists & rises & falls

Keep on the bridleway as it passes the buildings on the left…

It then bends right, then left. At the end of the next straight bit the bridleway arrive at a hedge with a gap…

25. It was at this point, with the lack of signs that I went wrong. So DO NOT walk ahead through the gap. Turn right & continue along the field edge with the hedge still on your left towards the wind turbine in the distance…

Continue straight ahead along the field edge…

26. Eventually this overgrown, unmarked track arrives at another hedge…

…& here is your way out of this situation. Turn left along the clear, narrow bridleway – at least you can see a path now!

27. This narrow bridleway eventually reaches the busy road we walked out of Warkton on…

Again there’s no footpath so be very careful. Turn left & walk along the road, again jumping on the verge when traffic comes…

28. The road bends slightly left & then right & then look for a footpath sign just after the large tree in the picture below…

29. Walk through the gap in the hedge & straight ahead across the field, heading towards the left of the church spire…

On reaching the hedge, continue through the gap

30. In the next field, walk along the right side, keeping the hedge on your right…

…& then through the gap at the end

31. This next field is the one you entered after crossing the double stile at the beginning of the walk at Point 4. Continue in the same direction along the right side of the field to arrive at the stiles once more…

Now it’s simply a case of retracing your steps back across the two horse paddocks to arrive back in the middle of Grafton Underwood once more

So that’s the end of this short, but quite remote walk. The signage on the return journey from Warkton isn’t good so please follow my directions carefully

Much of the walk, as you’ve seen is across open fields & I’d reiterate that it will be muddy in winter, or after prolonged wet weather

However, if you like beautiful villages & walking without seeing another soul on field paths then this is definitely the one for you

Go Walk!