Stage 6: Piddington – Stoke Bruerne

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 8.5 miles (13.7km)

Time to walk: The next stage of the Northamptonshire Round is a long stretch, especially on a hot day. Also it’s not the easiest part to navigate, due to the lack of signs. It took us (including going wrong) roughly 4 hours

Difficulty: Pretty much all off road & can be muddy, even in summer. Not many hills, so fairly easy walking

Parking: It’s a linear walk, but there’s plenty of on-road parking in Forrest Road in Piddington

Public toilets: Pubs in Piddington, Ashton & Stoke Bruerne

Map of the route:

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This stage is quite a slog with lots of field walking, so will change depending upon the season. It’s also the first phase where we actually couldn’t find the path at one point & had to retrace & divert as we weren’t sure whether we could pass through a property or not

All will be revealed so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Stage 6 begins outside the Spread Eagle pub in Forest Road, Piddington

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Why is the street called Forest Road? Because it leads straight to Salcey Forest where we’re heading…

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2. Keep straight ahead until the road runs out at a lorry depot with lots of “Private – Keep Out” signs about

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In the picture above you can also see a finger-post indicating a footpath to the right. Ignore this & head straight on into the forest

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3. Over to the right’s the M1 Wind Farm which we’ll pass closer to later…

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…but for now we enter the boundaries of the lovely Salcey Forest

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Salcey Forest is a former medieval hunting forest. In 2005, a tree top forest walk was constructed which rises through the forest to a height of about 49 feet. At the end, a raised viewing platform sits about 59 feet from the ground. Northampton can be seen from the top. The project won the Environmental category of the British Construction Industry Awards 2006

The ‘druids’ or veteran oaks in Salcey are rare & believed to be over 500 years old

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During the Second World War, elephants from circuses were put to use to fell trees. There is a pond named The Elephant Pond where the elephants would bathe at the end of the day. The forest was served by its own railway station on the Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway until 1908

4. The Northampton Round is clearly marked through the forest so just follow the posts…

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Watch out for cyclists – especially the ones that don’t have a bell!

We've got a bit further than that!

We’ve got a bit further than that!

5. What the Round never does is stick to the easiest, most obvious path! After a couple of hundred yards the signpost indicates immediately right down a narrow, overgrown track

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Not good in the winter!

Not good in the winter!

On the right’s one of Salcey’s oldest trees – the Milking Oak

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The tree acquired its name because milkmaids used to milk the cattle that grazed at Salcey Forest in the cool shade under its broad canopy

6. The sound of traffic gets louder now & there’s light at the end of the tunnel…

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…& the reason is we suddenly emerge onto an extremely busy road so please be careful

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7. Cross over into the forest on the other side…

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There’s a sign to tell us we’re still on the right path – it’s a shame there weren’t more like this over the coming miles!

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Continue along the track passing Old Oak Cottage on the left…

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8. After another 300 yards the track reaches a T-junction…

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Take the right track which is the Woodpecker Trail. We weren’t sure we were on the correct path & therefore asked a couple of elderly joggers who confirmed we were…

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Shortly the Woodpecker Trail turns off to the left, but we need to continue straight ahead towards the next road

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9. Cross the road & enter the final part of the forest…

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This area’s much more overgrown & remote & we can definitely understand the rumours of murder victims from London being brought up here to be buried!

10. The noise from the M1 is growing louder with each step &, all of a sudden, there it is in front of us as we exit the forest…

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…turning right under the bridge

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…& then immediately left into the woods again

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11. This is a short stretch before we hit the open fields again. Simply follow the path beside the ditch as it twists & turns to come out into the open again

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Turn right & follow the farm edge round to the left & down to the farm…

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12. The path reaches another T-junction. Take the right path through the gap. Normally you’d head straight for the telegraph pole with the marker on it, but today the field had been ploughed so we had to skirt round the edge…

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…looking for a stile behind in the hedge

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13. Cross the stile & bear right along the hedge to the next one which is hidden in the corner

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This next field was full of young bullocks but, as rain was forecast, they were happy to stay laying down in the far corner. Keep the hedge on the right & pass across another stile into a final open field

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14. Straight ahead now against ever darkening skies is the village of Hartwell…

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Turn diagonally left towards the bungalow in the distance to exit the fields onto the road on the outskirts of the village

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We’ve looked, but unfortunately can’t find any historical references about Hartwell

15. You could now cut about 1/2 mile off the route by turning down the bridleway on the right, which we’ll join shortly. But we want to stay faithful, so turn left down the road out of the village & down the hill to the entrance to the farm

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Head up the track towards Chapel Farm…

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16. As the track bends left, look for a stile into the field

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Cross it & follow to a gate in the right border, passing through then up the hill on the grassy track – yes we are now walking back in the direction on the Hartnell Road we’ve just come down!

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17. Pass through two more metal gates & then walk straight on across the large field. This was a high corn crop when we walked, but the farmer had done a good job of leaving a clear path…

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18. At the end of the field we arrive at the bridleway we mentioned when we left the village 20 minutes ago, which basically means that this part has just literally gone “Round”!!

Turn left onto the bridleway & look for a gate & a gap in the hedge on the right leading into the next field

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19. Head straight across the next field, looking for a hole in the hedge. This point marks a significant place in the Northampton Round as it’s the moment we finally start heading north again towards where we started at Brixworth – we’ve started the home stretch!

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Again it’s straight across the next one…

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Mind those 'chasms' 0 the group was very dry

Mind those ‘chasms’ – the ground was very dry

20. This part of the walk’s becoming like ‘Alice down the rabbit hole’ as there’s another one to go through into the next field – at least this part’s easy to follow as it’s so straight

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Pass through the kissing gate into the grassy track stopping to have a look at the friendly goats

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21. At the end, exit on to the road, turn left &…welcome to Ashton!

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Will the Northampton Round stroll straight along the road into the village? Will it heck…so, as the road turns left, turn right down the bridleway

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22. Follow the bridleway up the hill, then down under the railway bridge…

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…to finally arrive at another road into the village

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Ashton was primarily an agricultural village, but was also noted for its lacemaking

23. Follow the road round past the school to arrive at the church – we couldn’t have a look inside as a very angry robin was protecting its nest full of young in the porch

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This is the the Church of St Michael & All Angels & the oldest parts are 13th & 14th century. It was extensively restored in 1895

24. At the junction turn right &, if you fancy it, stop for some refreshment at the beautiful The Old Crown

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Facing the pub turn right & walk for about 100 yards looking for a signpost on the left…at this point it all started to go wrong

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Climb the stile into the paddock & cross it to the right

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25. Pass through the next paddock & aim for the top left corner…

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…passing through the gates on the left into the stables yard

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26. The final marker is on the gate into the next field which points to another hole in the hedge which the farmer has blocked up

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We would have taken a photo of the blocked route, but at this point we had to climb over the blocking structure as we had a large growling dog stood behind us

27. Safely out we now have no idea of where the path is! We therefore decided to head for the gate in the top left past the manure heap on to the track

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We didn’t have any written instructions for this stage of the walk & the map is hand-drawn. We turned left & spent the next hour trying to find some signs which should have led us to the canal – we found the canal, but there was no access to it across a wide stream

So if you can find it, well done, but we had to give up & walk back to the track above, turn right & follow it to the main Stoke Bruerne road

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28. We therefore now to find a way to get back to the nearest point of the route. Turn left along the road, but be careful as it’s busy & follow it to the junction…

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Cross the main road to the path & turn left down the hill

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Carry on until reaching the gap leading to the canal on the right

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29. It’s good to finally be back on The Round path again, especially beside our old friend the Grand Union Canal. Head up the lock flights…

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…towards the village of Stoke Bruerne

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30. Stoke Bruerne is mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Stoche” meaning “an outlying farmstead or hamlet”. The alternative “Stokbruer” is used in 1254. The village is fairly typical for this area of south Northamptonshire containing many traditional stone & thatched cottages

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The village is home to The Waterways Trust’s canal museum. There’s a couple of decent pubs in the village & the first one we come to is The Navigation

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31. Walk up to & stand on the road bridge across the canal which marks the end of this stage of The Northampton Round

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So there we go. Parts of this stretch have been beautiful, especially walking through the peaceful Salcey Forest. But it’s also been extremely frustrating as the paths, in parts, have not been clearly marked & this is something we will be taking up with the relevant people once we’ve finished

In the meantime…

Go Walk!