Walk 98: Kings Cliffe & Blatherwyke Circular: Red Kites & bizarre statues…

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 7.5 miles (12.1km)

Time to walk: Roughly 3.5 hours

Difficulty: Pretty much all off road along forest tracks & fields. There’s no major hills, but the ground can become boggy in wet weather & there’s quite a few stiles, some of which aren’t particularly stable so care’s required

Parking: On street in King’s Cliffe

Public toilets: Pub in King’s Cliffe & the visitor centre at Fineshade Woods

Map of the route:

This is a really lovely walk through some of the Shire’s most peaceful woodland & beautiful villages. The area was once part of the vast Rockingham Forest which was a royal hunting ground

The walk starts in the stunning village of King’s Cliffe & heads north east through Westhay Wood, before entering Fineshade Wood, where there’s a superb opportunity to have a close encounter with Red Kites. The path then turns south towards the small hamlet of Blatherwyke before following its lakes & the Willow Brook back to the start

On the day we walked we only encountered one other person & bizarrely it was someone we knew, but hadn’t seen for years

It’s a warm, sunny day, but also a very windy one so…

Let’s Walk!

1. We start today’s walk by the church in King’s Cliffe. The village has often been described as “a Cotswold town outside the Cotswolds”. The amount of available local wood meant that the area became well known for wood turning & legend has it that, for a bet, one person made 417 egg cups in 8 hours. One of its most famous residents, William Law raised money for the poor & the locals weren’t happy because of the number of beggars this attracted to the village

The central part of All Saints dates back to Norman times with the rest being added over the years. It was open & is well worth a look around

2. From the church walk towards the crossroads…

It’s clear from the posters on the noticeboard that this is a very ‘active’ village with lots of clubs & associations

Nearby’s a memorial dedicated to the coronation of King Edward VI…

3. Turn left along the main street passing the Cross Keys pub which looks attractive & extremely handy for an end of walk refreshment. The Cross Keys Inn is almost 300 years old & was built using King’s Cliffe stone, a Jurassic limestone characterised by it’s warm golden colour. It has a main bar with table skittles & a dartboard, a separate snug bar & a dining room. There is also roaring fire to warm by on a cold winter’s night

The name ‘Cross Keys’ is one of England’s most traditional pub names & refers to the sign of St Peter, the gatekeeper of heaven. Pubs with this name are often found near a church, such as here, as it was traditional for congregations to continue their ‘fellowship’ over refreshments after a church service

4. The street’s full of very attractive properties & there were a few for sale…

On the left’s ‘Rates Lane’ which reminded us of the alleyways of Broadstairs in Kent as it’s a real squeeze, not that we’re going down it today…

…as we’re carrying on to the junction at the end of the main street

5. It’s time to leave King’s Cliffe behind so cross straight over & up Wood Lane…

Ignore the first footpath signs on the left & continue to what was once a wood yard at the top of the lane where the track bends to the left along left a wooded track

6. Welcome to Westhay Wood which is actually the southern part of Fineshade Wood. The track is really easy to follow & this is a great place for Red Kite watching…

…although there weren’t many about today as it was very windy. They were reintroduced here in 1995 with about 50 being brought over from Spain. There are now almost 1000 in these woods alone!

7. The track continues for a mile or so &, depending on the time of year, there’s plenty of wild flowers etc to see including this stunning orchid

8. The path passes from Westhay Wood into Fineshade Wood. As well as being known for its Red Kites, Fineshade also has a regionally important population of adders & other reptiles, as well as scarce breeding birds including nightingale, nightjar, woodcock, grasshopper warbler, tree pipit, marsh & willow tits. Dormice have recently been recorded together with great crested & palmate newts

Here’s a clip we found of an interview with the warden about the Red Kites

9. The short path here is known as ‘Smelter’s Walk’ & a signpost shows that since the Iron Age charcoal has been made in these woods

At the other end of this stretch is a similar sign showing the effect ironstone & the steam railway had on this area

This was the route of the London & North Western Railway from Peterborough to Rugby, via Market Harborough. Steam engines passed through the southern edge of the woods transporting King’s Cliffe stone to Cambridge, & Waverley ores to South Wales

Later the ore was mined & transported to the steel works at nearby Corby

10. After ‘Smelter’s Walk’ the path bends right & eventually passes through a barrier to arrive at Top Lodge

Top Lodge is the Visitor Centre for Fineshade Wood where you can undertake various activities, hire bikes etc. There’s also a cafe if you fancy a stop

11. Suitably refreshed, follow the hard road left down to the old railway bridge…

Immediately after the bridge look for a signpost & path into the field on the left. The views across the fields from here are typical Northamptonshire with rolling hills

We love paths like the one above that stretches into the distance & says “Come on walk me”. The farmer’s done a good job keeping it clear, something that we’ve found is typical in this area of the County

12. Enter the woods again at the end of the field & bear right through the trees – this area will get muddy in wet weather

Emerge back into the open again by climbing the stile…

…& walking diagonally right up the hill across the meadow. These are old country estate grounds

Have a look across to the lake on the right. The house behind it is enormous & goodness knows who lives there

13. In the top right corner climb the stile to enter a narrow corridor between two fences. Be careful as there were quite a few rabbit holes along here which could easily result in a twisted ankle

At the top look right to see the old quarters & stables

14. Climb the stile to get back into the wide fields again & head towards the bridge at the bottom of the hill

However, rather than crossing the bridge keep to the left of the stream & climb another stile…

…before heading diagonally right towards the right of the left hand telegraph post (sounds very technical!)

15. Pass through the gate & then follow the hedge as it starts to bend to the left. As it turns look for a gate to enter another field

Once again, at this time of the year, the path is clear to see, however in winter this could be a ploughed field. The direction is just to the left of the large oak tree in the distance

On reaching the tree stop for a moment & enjoy the magnificent view across the Blatherwyke estate & lakes where we’ll be walking shortly

16. At the hedge, follow it downhill & then turn right keeping the next hedge on the right towards the buildings in the distance. The thistles & butterflies were putting on a great show…

17. Climb the stile at the gap in the hedge & then walk across the meadow towards the road & farm buildings…

Once on the road walk straight ahead &…welcome to the extremely pretty hamlet of Blatherwyke. Follow the road round to the left into the village & down to the bridge…

…where on the left is a superb bench to sit & take in the world, or a bite to eat

18. Blatherwyke was recorded in the Domesday Book under “Blarewiche”. It has several possible explanations including “bllader-plant specialised-farm”, a form of the name “blackthorn” or “settlement where bladderwort grows”

The Hall, built in 1713, replaced an older house, but the new one was demolished in 1948 following being destroyed by troops & prisoners of war. Only the stable block has survived

19. Continue past the entrance to the old hall up the hill…

…&, as the road turns right, walk through the gate next to the barn

20. On the left’s some of the remnants of the old hall gardens & it was good to see that they were being well tended

The Church of the Holy Trinity is partly hidden by the trees. The tower dates back to Norman times. Apparently in the graveyard is a headstone for Anthony Williams who died in 1836. He was a black slave who died rescuing his master from the lake. His headstone mysteriously faces the wall & bears the following inscription…

‘Here a poor wanderer hath found a grave.
Who death embraced when struggling with the wave.
His home far off in the Indian main,
He left to rid himself of slavery’s chain.
Friendless and comfortless he passed the sea
On Albion’s shores his search for aye with toiling brow
He never found freedom until now.’

The stable block can still be seen

During the last century two Roman coffins were dug up & in the larger one was the skeleton of a tall woman. The parts of her legs below the knees were missing! Nearby was found another coffin containing the leg bones & a red urn. It was suggested that this could be the grave of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni who had led a failed revolt against the Romans in AD62. Many speculate that her final resting place is here in Northamptonshire

21. The track bends right up the hill where it turns to grass. Have a look across to the right to see the outline of a statue in the field

This is The Apollo Belvedere, however no-one seems really sure exactly what it’s doing there!

22. However, we’re not going to see Apollo today. We’re actually tracking Blatherwyke lakes to the left

The very large lake was dug by Irish labourers thought to have been brought over at the time of the potato famine in Ireland. In its prime it was a source of water for the ironworks in Corby & was assumed to be the largest man-made lake in Northamptonshire. It really is a beautiful place on a day like this

23. Continue along the right bank of the lake…

…until the grassy track leaves it & bends right uphill towards a sign saying you can go no further. Fear not though as another sign points you left through the gap in the hedge

24. Turn immediately right & keep close to the hedge, ignoring a path that goes off to the left…

…until the end when the target is the farm buildings across the field. Luckily the track through the high oil seed rape had been left fairly clear

25. Walk straight through the farmyard. On the left’s pens for rearing game birds for local shoots

Continue straight ahead on a well marked grassy track again with passes through another hedge & climbs uphill

Look to the left to see the Willow Brook which we’re going to follow pretty much all the way back to King’s Cliffe

The Willow Brook is a tributary of the River Nene & its entire course is in Northamptonshire. It rises north of Corby where, until 1980, water was extracted for use at Corby Steelworks. It then flows through or near Deene, Bulwick, Blatherwycke, King’s Cliffe & Woodnewton to join the Nene downstream from Fotheringhay

26. Keep going straight through fields connected by three brand new wooden kissing gates

In the final field, pass a large fallen tree that’s been left in the field for years. We think it looks like a dragon!

Look for a bridge on the left across the brook which needs to be crossed…

Bear diagonally right & up & through another gate. The path is now dead straight all the way, crossing two fields to arrive at some allotments on the edge of the village

27. Walk down the right side of the allotments & continue along Church Walk…

We met some friendly locals

28. At the junction bear right past the Memorial Hall…

The road becomes a narrow alley at the top of which is ‘The Pytchell Orchard & Quiet Place’

Walk round the corner to arrive back at the church where we started

This is a lovely walk, especially on a day like today. It’s got a bit of what makes Northamptonshire a special place to walk & live…beautiful villages, rolling countryside, lakes & streams…& the whole place to ourselves!!

Shhhh don’t tell anyone, but…

Go Walk!