Sadly, Footloose were again one short as met for our 18th walk. A short car ride through very pleasant countryside brought us to Great Whittington, where we parked up at the back of the village hall. There is no church here so it was a quick start down a lane behind the houses, before turning off along a grassy path at the edge of the village, heading south east. We very quickly came to an impressive old windmill, sadly lacking its sails and roof, a remnant of earlier times, but still an imposing structure.
From here we crossed a footbridge over the young River Pont and then along a field edge, climbing towards the group of old beech trees atop Toft Hill. We had a marvellous view over the rolling Northumbrian countryside to the north, whilst we enjoyed a brief coffee stop, and then retraced our steps a little to head off north easterly towards West and North Clarewood farms. Just past here, on our right as we traversed an open grass field, we spied the earthwork remains of a medieval village and the characteristic rigg and furrow field systems.
We crossed two more fields and another footbridge (over the Pont again), passing a very interesting tree beside the path before emerging through a young conifer plantation onto a minor road towards Matfen village. We made straight for Holy Trinity Church, which was erected in 1842 at the sole cost of Sir Edward Blackett. The style of architecture is Early English with single lancet windows, and we admired the unusual spired tower, the fine stained glass and alabaster reliefs. We ate lunch sat on a bench on the village green, amidst the daffodils and bird song – a lovely place to enjoy a warm spring day.
The next part of our walk took us first north out of the village, and then west along the minor road which follows the ‘Reivers’ Cycle Route.
Spring was very evident in the hedgerows here; buds on the sycamore trees just swelling green, willow flowers like little yellow hairy caterpillars filling the air with pollen, and celandines studding the banksides with their starry flowers. The trilling of skylarks confirmed that spring had well and truly arrived – it all made for a wonderful experience.
We soon reached the end of the road, and, deciding to extend our walk, turned off St. Oswald’s Way to slowly climb towards Todridge Fell. I had hoped to walk over the ridge and make towards Bingfield, but the signposts were not helpful and we eventually came to Combe Cott and its fine gin gang conversion. The warbling call of curlews filled the sky in this area – a real resonance of wild places, and a sound to thrill the soul. Our path now led us due south to Todridge Farm with its attendant Shetland ponies and fine gateposts.
From the farm entrance, it was but a short step to the public bridleway back to Great Whittington, crossing the Devil’s Causeway, an old Roman Road, on the way. We approached the village from the north, admiring the lovely stone built houses of this very attractive settlement.
We ended our walk in the time honoured tradition of Footloose – with a visit to a coffee shop. The Vallum tearooms were once again open, so we partook of coffee and cake, and enjoyed another delicious finish to a very enjoyable walk.