Walk 153: Barnack & Ufford Circular (Rowdy Rectors & Sequoia Safari)

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 5 miles (8.05 km)

Time to walk: Roughly 2.5 hours

Difficulty: Easy & a mix of surfaces

Parking: The parking is typical for these parts, which is to say, legal pretty much anywhere, but tricky in practice. Best bet is to park up near the church in Main St, Barnack as that’s where this wall is

Toilets: White Hart at Ufford & (after late June 2021) the Millstone, Barnack

Map of the route:

Thanks to Gary Alderton for doing the legwork for me on this walk. It’s a real welcome addition as we don’t have that many walks in the far north of the County

Introduction:

This area of the former Soke of Peterborough has had an interesting history. Like Peterborough, it was officially part of Northamptonshire for most of its history. In 1965 it was transferred to Huntingdonshire, which then became part of Cambridgeshire. Today it is part of the unitary authority of the City of Peterborough. It is an area that shares the Northamptonshire tradition of ‘Squires & Spires’, with Burghley just to the north & the Fitzwilliam/Milton estate to the south

It has, as we will see, a rich tradition of rich & well-connected clergy, which sadly has not been passed down to the current impoverished incumbent!

Barnack & Ufford stand on a low limestone ridge between the Nene (which is pronounced wrongly round here) & the Welland. This walk is a gentle five miles, alternating between slight hills & fen, open countryside & woodland. There is no livestock on this route

Round & About

I’ve deliberately excluded Barnack Hills & Holes National Nature Reserve as it’s got sheep in one quarter of its area most of the time, & dogs are banned from the section with sheep in. But three quarters is therefore available so feel free to have a wander round. It’s wonderful, if a bit weird. As a Dunstablian it reminds me of the burial mounds on the Chilterns, but it’s actually spoil from the limestone quarrying for Barnack Ragstone. The thin, alkaline soil makes it a haven for rare orchids & the Pasque Flower

Also conveniently close is Burghley House, whose grounds are partly in Barnack &, over the river, the market town of Stamford

So…Let’s Walk!

1. Barnack is a gorgeous village. Mostly limestone cottages (Barnack Ragstone). We’ll come back & see the church properly later, don’t worry

Leaving the church behind you, head up the alley way off Main Street near the old Post Office. Just there opposite the flagpole!

Up here…

2. The alleyway is narrow at first with a fence on the left…

…& then it has limestone walls either side. Perfect for plants that like walls

3. It starts to open out, then continues with houses to the right & paddocks & gardens to the left, plus the occasional clump of trees…

4. When the path divides at the sign post, take the left fork, heading out into the fields

…which takes you across with a hedge to your left…

5. When you reach the corner of the field fork right (the signpost was laying in the hedge here)…

There’s a pond which looks kind of a bit desolate in a spinney. Go straight past & through the spinney with the pond on your right

6. This brings you out along the footpath with an open field on your right & a hedge to the left. Follow the path alongside the hedge

Turn sharp right at this signpost just past the bench, which will head you towards Ufford Oaks…

7. So now you’re heading towards the oaks with a hedge on your right. You may notice that this track is remarkably level & straight. You are now walking on the old Wansford to Stamford line, which went via Ufford Station Halt & Barnack Station. Lily isn’t allowed in crops, but I’m afraid at this point she took advantage of my lack of attention I now discover

St Andrew’s Ufford starts to be visible on its slight ridge over the fields…

8. Across the fields on your right, you will see Walcott Hall in Southorpe, another of our squires’ houses…

Full steam ahead!

9. Now it’s more obviously an old railway. This is the old Ufford Halt. Go under the bridge, but don’t carry on for the remainder of the footpath. Instead turn sharp left up the embankment once you’ve gone under…

10. This brings you out up this pathway heading to Walcott Road, Ufford. The area had loads of pubs called the Bluebell at one time. There are certainly a lot of the flowers about, albeit these are hybrid English x Spanish bluebells…

Follow the road up to the right. Cross at the end of the track here & there is a footpath on the other side of the road

A bit narrow for a big collie dog! Keep heading uphill

11. As you near Ufford village, at this right-hand bend you can see the footpath sign on the other side. So walk up level to it & then cross

This the one & only bit with a stile, so if you want to avoid it keep going up the footpath, & then turn right to reach the church at the end of the road

One in the series “pointless stiles”, as if you’re even as un-nimble as me you can walk round it!

12. Basically follow the tractor marks, as the path hasn’t yet been marked out in the new crop, but head straight for St Andrew’s. Lily has just seen a hare in the distance

As you near St Andrew’s you can see the gap with the stile…

St Andrew’s looking increasingly impressive

Now that is a proper stile, not too high!

13. St Andrew’s is a “closed” church. We can use it 6 times a year for services. We’re planning on the feast of St Andrew, & carols at Christmas currently

Among the rectors of Ufford is Thomas Paley. He was grandson of William Paley, who is famous for his “proof” of God, the “watchmaker analogy”, which Richard Dawkins critiqued in his book, “The Blind Watchmaker”

Also John Donne Jr, Son of the saintly poet. Early in his career, Donne beat a child so badly for scaring his horse, that the child subsequently died. Donne was tried for manslaughter, got off & legged it for the Continent. Coming back a few years later, he was ordained & made Rector of Ufford. He never lived or preached there, preferring to use some of his wages for being Rector to pay a curate to do the job for him

And he’s not the most controversial rector we will meet!!

14. The “Arts & Crafts” movement collection of stained glasses of St Andrew’s life are lovely, & by Mary Lowndes, who is listed in Historic Britain’s “Pride of Place: Englands LGBTQ” project

They say on a fine day from the top of St Andrew’s tower you can see Boston Stump. At any rate, we’re looking in the general north-east direction here with nothing higher between us  the Wash. Unusually this isn’t a wonderful Fen sky but it normally is…

15. Down & out through the gates, & then carefully go up hill to the right very slightly, then cross the road

It’s said that pilgrims coming from the North & East Midlands, having crossed the Welland at Stamford, would have a rest in Ufford. I’m not convinced there’s that much evidence, but certainly this would be a bit dryer than crossing the Fens. And maybe they’d be grateful for a drink from Ufford Well…

16. Having crossed the road & climbed up to the pavement, turn left. There’s a nice sign telling you all about Ufford:

17. And head down hill towards the White Hart, a much nicer place for a pilgrim to get a drink. Or, alternatively, to stay for a day or two & see more of John Clare country, which is where you are. Very handy for Helpston, but maybe not today…

Stay on this side of the road, heading gently downhill. Ufford is a lovely village of limestone buildings, which this picture totally fails to do justice to

Ufford Hall. Yes another place where squires would have lived

18. Keep going down, keeping Ufford Hall on your left. After a while you lose the pavement, but it’s only a very short stretch of road. There’s the public footpath to Helpston off to the right just here, but keep straight on following the road

This is the bit without the road. Maybe a quarter of a mile, & it’s quiet

19. Just after the road angles to the right, there’s a footpath sign on the other side…

Cross carefully & head through the gap in the hedgerow…

…coming out into what is now quite obviously the start of the Fens. (But don’t say it too loud – the locals believe the “proper” Fens are the other side of Helpston)

20. The path continues with the hedge to its right, & takes you over the dyke…

At the signpost, follow the footpath diagonally across the field

21. Bringing you across to another signpost. Follow the path round bearing left around the edge of the field now. It’s about now you’ll start wondering if the benches are deliberately sleeper-like to remember the railway!

Carrying along… some more interesting skies now

22. And left here. Now the path is following the Torpel Way, named after the former manor in Helpston. The Torpel Way runs from Stamford to Peterborough

The footpath disappears into the spinney. Beware – the spinney can get muddy

Told you…

23. Coming out of the spinney, the path goes across to the right around the field…

They must have big rabbits round here!

24. Found a bit of the old railway at last! Follow the sign round to the left

More walking along the sides of hedges

25. You can see Barnack starting to appear ahead of you. Bear right following the sign…

Now running alongside another dyke

26. At the end of this field you can see the road through the hedge. But turn left to follow the Torpel Way for the last hundred yards or so…

And now come out to the road. Cross carefully to the footpath on the other side, & turn left up the pavement towards Barnack

27. A wider pavement that Ufford’s as you head into Barnack…

There used to be 6 pubs in Barnack. Which with a population today of 1,000 means there must have been some serious drinkers. This used to be the Red Lion. Look out for the full-sized statue of a horse a little further along in someone’s garden

28. The old dovecote’s across the fields on your right…

Turn left into Main Street

29. The old Wesleyan Chapel is now a house, but still very beautiful…

You keep following Main Street along, around to the right until you come to St John’s Church

Turn right into the gate & up through the churchyard

A sequoia Wellingtonia tree in the churchyard is… impressive…

30. St John the Baptist church is well worth looking inside. The tower dates back before the Norman Conquest, & it contains a lot of treasures – a coffin lid from Anglo-Danish times, a wonderful carving of Jesus which was found after being buried beneath the floor for 400 years, & a lovely carving of the Conception of Christ…

31. Among the former rectors on the notice board are three of note. Charles Kingsley is the father of the famous author; Marsham Argles planted the sequoias & rebuilt what is now the Old Rectory – which you will see shortly

And between them we have Herbert Charles Marsh, who made the national press after a court case including the French lady of the night with whom he had an affair, & two of her colleagues. The young woman came to Barnack to demand money from him, disturbed services 7 banged on the doors of the villagers to tell them what a rogue he was

Today, Barnack is a quieter place!!

32. OK… across the churchyard the other way, & out, turning right up Main Street at the opposite end to the way you came in

Resist the urge to get back in your car! One last short loop, & it’s worth it I think, around the village. It’s a lovely limestone-built village

Walk through the Square, then turn round & look back to see the Old Bakehouse (centre), former butcher’s (right), & the former Fox pub (left)

33. Having walked through the Square, turn left before you reach the memorial tree. Confusingly, this is still Main Street. If you sneak a look to see if there’s an A Frame sign a little way along Jack Haws Lane on your right, it means Mrs Frost’s plant centre is open. Worth a look but priced, let’s say, to the area…

Along to the right is the former school, now the village hall. Over the wall to your right is the garden of Adam Frost, Gardener’s World presenter. We however turn left here up Millstone Lane

34. The Millstone Pub is hopefully opening summer 2021. It looks like being a stunning refurbishment…

Bonus points if you can spot this little stone at the bottom of a gatepost opposite. A lot of local stone buildings are made from stone looted from former monasteries etc. I wonder whether this came from a former chapel & there should be an “S” on the end

35. Walk past the Rectory. Wave if you see the Rector in his study window. He’s a friendly chap!

When you reach the end of Millstone Lane you are directly opposite Hills & Holes. There’s a gate a little way along the road to your left. If you want to wander, just be aware that one of the four quadrants will have sheep & all dogs are banned from that quadrant, even on leads…

However! To complete the walk, turn left out of Millstone Lane & another immediate left through this jitty

36. Although this is a modern development of houses, the avenue of trees tells you it’s something rather more. It used to be the grounds to the Old Rectory. Former rectors were a lot more well-connected than the modern one! Herbert Marsh was the son of a Bishop of Peterborough, & Marsham Argles the son-in-law of the next one. These people were loaded

You will notice the polite signs regarding that old perennial of Facebook groups, dog poop!

37. Follow Bishops Walk round to the left passing Kingsley Walk (named after you-know-who). Surely that can’t be another sequoia? Yes it can. There is a third in the village, on Stamford Road…

Collie for scale…

38. On your left, the Old Rectory is a wonder. Personally I couldn’t afford the staff

It is called Kingsley House, but it isn’t the house Charles Kingsley lived in. It was rebuilt by Marsham Argles, in between planting the giant redwoods. He clearly had time on his hands

And we’re back!

Thanks Gary, that’s a great walk & stories & I think we should definitely reclaim for Northamptonshire!

Go Walk!