Walk 187: Helmdon & Astwell Circular

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4 miles (6.44km)

Time to walk: Roughly one & a half hours 

Difficulty: A mostly flat walk. There are a few hills, but nothing too strenuous

Parking: Carefully & considerately in Helmdon

Public toilets: The Fat Landlord at the start & end of this walk

Map of the route:

I really like Helmdon & very much enjoyed my “Village Walk” here a few years ago. If you can do it at the same time. Here’s the link

This walk was done for me by 003.5 Richard Parkes. Helmdon lies in the south-west of Northamptonshire, roughly four miles north of Brackley. It’s main history relates around agriculture, although as with many Northamptonshire villages, lace making was a cottage industry here

It’s also know for the quarrying of its pale stone which was described in 1712 by John  Morton as “The finest building stone I have yet seen in England”. Easton Neston is built of it & it’s also thought to have been used at Stowe & Blenheim Palace 

The name is thought to have come from “Valley of a man called ‘Helma'” ‘Helma’ also means hill so this may be a reference to one of those surrounding the village

The railways also came to Helmdon, as can be seen from the old viaducts around the area. In 1872 the Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway was opened & passed roughly east–west along the Tove Valley through the middle of the village. Helmdon had its own station 

In the 1890s a section of the Great Central Main Line was built including the nine arch Helmdon Viaduct. By 1966 all the lines had closed

Shall we go & have a look at this walk then?

Let’s Walk!

1. We’re starting our walk in Church Street, at the brilliantly named pub – The Fat Landlord!

The building dates back over 300 years when it was originally a farmhouse, but it’s been a pub for the last 100 or so, & was formerly called The Bell

2. Facing the pub just to the left is our first fingerpost. Follow this & pass through the kissing gate into the field & heading directly opposite…

3. Go through the next kissing gate…

…& follow the well trodden path towards the telegraph poles…

4. At the poles head right & cross over the wooden bridge…

Immediately after that, cross the stone bridge ahead of you

5. We’re now walking on a old dismantled railway line & will follow this for some
time. Make sure you keep to the Permissive Path…this really is a lovely little walk so far…

Even in February this path was nice & dry

6. Head across the bridge in the picture below…

…& then cross the next bridge & head up the field for about 50 yards (shadow time!)

7. Cross the wooden bridge on your right, turn right & follow the field
back down to where you came from…

Once back in the corner follow the tree line to the far corner of the field with the
trees on your right….

8. On reaching the next corner, cross the wooden bridge & head diagonally left to the
tree line opposite…

Look out for the gate in the trees. Go through it into the next field…

9. Once in the field, head to the left of the castle up the hill. Its quite a steep climb,
but once you get to the top, just take a look at the viewsbehind you…

Exit the field through the gate & then walk across to the next kissing gate. Go through this & then keep climbing to the last kissing gate at the top of the hill…

10. Once through the last gate head right up the lane. You’ll soon see a finger post.
Its worth popping over the stile to get a better view of the castle, This is not our route
so remember to come back to the lane so we can continue our walk…

This is the 17th century manor house known as Astwell Castle. The earliest part is the gatehouse which dates back to the 15th century. The property has recently been on the market for £1.5m

11. Keep heading up the lane. The locals told me you’re only ever likely to see walkers
& cyclists on this lane, but bear in mind it is open to cars…

Just keep to the track enjoying the peace & quiet….& the views!!

12. Ignore all tracks going off to the left & right. We are continuing on this lane to the small hamlet of Falcutt, where we arrive at the village pond…

With Astwell, Falcutt forms part the civil parish of Helmdon. With the pond on your right, head up the lane ignoring the sign (its for cars)

13. At the top of the lane just look at this topiary! Our path continues just before the 1st topiary on the left, but its worth looking at someones excellent hardwork – incredible

Okay, back to the walk. Take that left through the small woodland, cross over the stile
& head more or less centrally down through the field to the bottom

14. Once over the last stile, head towards the church & over a further couple of
stiles…

…including the most elaborate stile I’ve seen in a while

15. If you’d like to visit the Church of St Mary Magdalene then head left here. Just come
back to this point to finish our walk afterwards

The church dates back to the 13th century with later additions. Note the massive yew tree in the above picture. Some people have suggested it was planted here on this high ground in connection with pagan rites. The church was then built on what was already considered to be holy ground

Note that the main doorway is on the south side of the church. This is because the village was originally built on the south side. Years ago many bodies were uncovered just inside the doorway. They were buried standing up 

16. Our walk continues right over the two stiles & follows the church wall…

Why not say hello to a couple of new friends

17. Go through two kissing gates & follow the fence line down the hill ahead…

The end to this walk is really beautiful

18. Go through the final gate & turn immediately left down the alley…

On reaching the road turn right passing the Queens Jubilee bench

19. It’s worth looking at the reading room on the left as there’s always something going
on here. For me it was a pop-up café…

Just ahead of you is the Fat Landlord where we started this walk

So that’s the end of this short walk amongst some wonderful rolling Northamptonshire Countryside

It’s fab & I hope you enjoy it too

Go Walk!