Walk 188: Hunsbury Pocket Parks & Bluebell Walk

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 5.16 miles (8.3km)

Time to walk: Just over a couple of hours at a steady pace

Difficulty: Easy & all on decent surfaces 

Parking: In Butts Road, East Hunsbury outside the Collingtree Pub

Public toilets: In the pub at the start or end

Map of the route:

Our Hunsbury Pocket Park Group has been done many times, but as it’s always overbooked, I thought I’d write it up as a self guided walk, especially as, in May it’ll be a flood of bluebells

It’s actually my doorstep walk so I know the parks extremely well  & love them through all the changing seasons. Each is different, both in terms of flora & vegetation. Plus how often do you get the chance to walk into an Iron Age fort

And there’s a cafe, a railway & a lake & stream (oh…& a waterfall!)

So come with me & let me show why I love this walk so much

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts outside The Collingtree pub in Butts Road, East Hunsbury…

East Hunsbury has a progressive parish council & have done an excellent job of looking after & improving the parks. In 2019 East Hunsbury won “Best Large Village in Northamptonshire”

Until the 1890’s where you’re now standing was all agricultural land. From 1897 this area & West Hunsbury were both mined for iron ore, which was taken to the smelting works by the River Nene, to the south of Duston

Quarrying ceased in 1921, but the land remained scarred by it until the large housing estates that we see today were built. Although they are large the estates were built around some of the pocket parks that we’ll visit on this walk. And, because they flow into each other, it’s possible to completely forget you’re on a large housing development

2. Walk past the pub & cross the road into the small green area, which is East Hunsbury Park…

Follow the path to the exit the Grange Road

3. Cross the road & enter the other part of this park…

With paths like this the route’s easy to follow & good underfoot. Eventually it arrives in Rea Close

4. Turn right to the junction with Thames Road. Cross the road & walk diagonally right across the grassy area…

…heading towards the bus stop

5. Cross Penvale Road & enter the park through the gap in the fence. Our route lies straight ahead down the hill

Welcome to Penn Valley Park, quite a long park, built in a valley, with a stream running through the bottom

In this park look & listen out for the green woodpeckers that inhabit it. You can normally see them flying like a switchback & hear their distinctive laugh. Sometimes they can come quite close if they’re looking for grubs in the grass

6. We are going to take the high path through this park so, at the bottom of the slope, turn right over the wooden bridge…

…& then almost immediately left over the next one

7. Keep straight ahead through the birches up the hill…

Continue past the bench & the path begins to fall. As it reaches the trees take the right fork up the slope

8. Eventually you’ll arrive at the gate leading onto Hilldrop Road…

This is a prime example of how one park flows seamlessly into the next. Cross the road & continue into my favourite East Hunsbury area…Grangewood Park…

9. This is a large & extremely diverse park & it doesn’t matter how many times a day you walk here you’ll always experience something different. As we’ll see shortly it’s home to a huge range of birds & also an amazing range of flowers, depending on the season. It has open green spaces, a wonderful wood & play area

Whilst I’m giving you a route through it that will show you all of these, it’s worth coming back just to explore. I did this walk in early March 2022 when the daffodils were in full bloom…

10. Follow the path as it opens up into a grassy area…

At this time there’s always a sea of daffodils down to the right

11. Shortly you’ll arrive at the woodland & this is where the real treats start…

Take the right fork in the picture above. Now look & listen out for Less Spotted Woodpeckers as they hammer on the trees, brightly coloured Jays, numerous Robins, Blackbirds & different kinds of Tits. The birdsong first thing in the morning is incredible

12. The other thing this wood is famous for but don’t tell anyone!) is its flowers. Come in February & you find masses of snowdrops

But it’s in late April / early May when the real spectacle happens when the entire floor of the wood becomes engulfed by carpets of bluebells. And it looks like 2022 is going to be another amazing show…

13. The path quickly forks again…take the one to the right that rises up the slope…

This is a beautiful path that winds it way upwards passing through some “tunnels’…

14. As you reach the end of this section of the wood ignore the gate on the right…

…instead bearing left down to the hard path

15. This is a cross-section of paths. Walk forward about 10 yards, looking for a track on the left that leads down into the trees…

This is my favourite “secret” track in this park & the good news is not that many people know about it. It runs parallel the the main hard path to your left

Enjoy as it descends the slope…

16. At the bottom of the path is a crossroads…turn immediately right & up the track back on yourself

The track you’ve just walked down is now on your right

17. On reaching the grassy area continue straight ahead, keeping the hedge on your left, past the children’s play area…

Just before you reach the gate look to your left to see some of the old quarrying areas, plus a tunnel that was probably part of the railway that used to transport the iron ore to the smelting works

18. Pass through the gate onto Clannell Road…

It’s time to move across to West Hunsbury so carefully cross Clannell Road & walk left along the pavement, passing the Library

19. Pass the church & turn right into Overslade Close…

…& immediately cross over & down the hard path through the underpass

20. On emerging at the junction, turn right…welcome to West Hunsbury, originally called Shelfleys. Follow the path as it bends left & then turn left down the wide track…

A stone monument welcomes you to Hunsbury Hill Country Park

21. Treasures lie in this park & we’re going to explore them! Once again this park’s a mix of woodland & wide open grassy spaces. Walk straight ahead…

Ignore the path going off to the right, but you can see one of the ventilation towers of the Hunsbury railway tunnel that runs beneath your feet

22. Shortly after this you’ll arrive at a crossroads of the tracks. You’ll know you’re there as there’s a dog poo bin on your right

Ready to see something rather special? Immediately after the bin bear left into the woods (you’ll see a large white sign) welcoming you to the site of Hunsbury Hill Iron Age Fort – it’s amazing how many local people don’t know this is here

Turn right & follow the deep ditch as it bends left. As well as the ditch, there was originally a wooden rampart surrounding the fort

23. As you walk around the ditch you’ll see QR codes on posts…

This is the Tree Trail & is really good as the codes open details about the trees in front of you, including their condition

24. The path falls & arrives at another notice board…

Here is also a gap in the ditch walls…this is one of the three entrances into the fort itself. Walk through into the grassy area. Where your standing was once a thriving community. The fort was built between 4th – 7th century BC..yes BC!

It’s also said that on the eve of the Battle of Northampton in 1460, soldiers camped here before marching down to fight at Delapre Park

25. Come back out of the grassy area & continue left, but this time in the ditch itself. It really gives you an idea of the amount of earth that must have been moved to create this ditch…

After a few yards is another of the entrances. Turn right here to exit the ditch

26. Now bear left & follow the narrow track to a crossroads. Stop here for a moment…

The track ahead of you now was once extremely important. This was an ancient Drovers Road which connected Banbury with the Nene Valley. The Drovers Road was used to bring sheep & cattle from Wales to the local markets. It also linked with other Drovers Roads leading down to the south east

27. If you wish you could walk straight ahead down the Drovers Road. My route turns left & then immediately right along the main track once more

To the left is the open grassy area once more & another children’s playground 

28. Now cross the railway crossing…

The Northamptonshire Ironstone Railway Trust operates a 1.5 mile long heritage railway line, mainly dedicated to freight working, featuring many sharp curves & steep gradients which were typical of the industrial railway. Rides are available in a variety of vehicles including a converted brake van & the Trust lays on different theme days throughout the year

29. Before we leave the park there’s a chance of some refreshments at ‘The Drovers Return’ Cafe, located in the car park on the right just before the exit

Exit the park & cross Hunsbury Hill Road & continue through the barrier into a narrow green park…

30. The path now descends through this narrow area to finally emerge onto Ladybridge Drive

From this area a myriad of different paths open up to the walker. For instance you could cross the road, go through the underpass & arrive at the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal. From there you could turn left & follow the canal all the way to its end at Paddington Basin

Alternatively you could turn right & follow it into Northampton, or pick up the area around Sixfields Reservoir. Other paths will take you through Upton Country Park & onwards, including the Nene Way – the options are limitless

31. Today though we turn left along Ladybridge Drive & follow the path past the postbox…

Shortly after this you’ll come to the narrow path entrance into West Hunsbury Country Park, also known as Ladybridge Park

32. Follow the path through the park. The stream you can hear is Wootton Brook which we’ll follow shortly…if you venture to the right, you’ll find a small waterfall

This park is best know for its rather beautiful lake, which has plentiful water birds on & around it. It’s worth sitting on one of the many benches & seeing what birds are around

33. The path meanders beside the lake…make sure you keep to the left one as you approach Ladybridge Drive once more, passing a small, beach-like area where there’s guaranteed to be a gathering of geese

Exit the park & carefully cross the road into the next section of it…

34. This section is rather lovely & follows the aforementioned Wootton Brook, crossing it twice as it meanders towards the lake we’ve just left

Cross the first bridge – the brook is beautiful

35. Follow the brook on the other side now, passing several opportunities to have a swing, but be careful

Cross back over at the next bridge

36. The path now moves away from the brook. If you fancy a seat for a few moments then there’s rather a spectacular ‘throne’ along here

The path bears left into an open space. Leave it at this point & walk across the grass between the bushes in the picture below

37. You’re heading for the humps near the fence. Pass between them & through the gap in the fence to arrive at the road…

Carefully cross the road & it’s welcome back to East Hunsbury once more

38. Continue straight ahead, passing under the railway bridge…

Follow the road as it bends right & after another 100 yards or so, looking for a gate which is the entrance into Grangewood Park once more…

39. Walk up the path & cross the bridge on the right into the woods

Continue straight ahead to rejoin the path that brought us into this park. Now it’s a simple case of retracing your route through Penn Valley & East Hunsbury Parks to arrive back at the Collingtree Pub & the start of this walk

So that’s it…a walk where you’ll see something different every day

And…if you go in May when the bluebells are out…well…

Go Walk!