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Monday 4th February 2019
Route: Warwick Parkway, Hampton Magna, Warwick, River Avon, Grand Union Canal, Leamington Spa Station
Distance: 8km/5 miles, 2 hours
Ascension: 50 metres/165 feet
Can’t work any more, can’t stay still; time for another walk. Still stiff from the last outing I try and think of something short and flat, but preferably a route I haven’t done in a while. There are some nice walks out of Warwick Parkway station; too long. Why not loop back towards Leamington instead, keeping to the River Avon and the canal, tracing a route through the green spaces between the twin towns of Warwick and Leamington Spa? Or, as the kids used to call it after the brown tourism signs, "Histowick Warwick"
I board a train in Banbury and thirty minutes later I emerge from Warwick Parkway – currently undergoing reconstruction. Though not obvious, this is a great location to start and/or finish a walk. Straight out of the station and across the canal (and its tow-path walk), the long straight bridlepaths take the high routes to Hatton, Hasely, or Kenilworth Castle. Wanting something shorter and flatter, today I turn left under the bridge and head up to Hampton Magna.
Usually I turn right at Hampton Magna for the gentle walk to the top of Hatton Bank via Budbrooke; or go straight on for Snitterfield and Stratford. Instead I take a path I haven’t tried for years, left, back across the racecourse and into Warwick.
I reach the top of the low hill looking down on the station, and across into Warwick on the opposite low hill. It’s much warmer today so I remove an outer layer. Then I continue on, skirting the houses and the field boundaries until I arrive at the A46. I’d forgotten this bit. The path doesn’t go under or over this very busy dual carriageway that links to the M40 to Coventry – it crosses it.
There’s a knack to dealing with busy dual carriageways; patience.
Essentially you have to work with the laws of fluid dynamics. People often wonder why on busy roads the smoothly moving traffic will suddenly bunch up and become congested. This is a function of fluid flow between ‘laminar’ and ‘turbulent’ states, which can quickly change the density of fluid/traffic. While that causes traffic to bunch up, the opposite can happen too; out of nowhere gaps will appear in the stream of traffic.
Where the footpath crosses there’s an overlapping break in the central crash barrier for pedestrians to safely shelter between the opposing streams of screaming cars and lorries. Stand and wait at the side of the road, looking as far as possible towards the oncoming traffic. It might take thirty seconds, it might take five minutes, but the miraculous gap will appear – allowing you to cross to the middle.
When sheltering between the crash barriers in the middle you wait, and repeat the whole process again in order to cross to the far side.
Note: For those not willing to take their lives in their hands crossing four lanes of high-speed traffic, it is possible to begin this walk at Warwick station, as shown by the dotted grey line on the route map.
The noise from the traffic quickly subsides behind me as I cross the flat floodplain of the River Avon towards the town. After a short bridge and pushing through the hedge I’m confronted with a big white rail – Warwick Racecourse. On the far side of this (in contrast to the A46) empty grass lane is a litter bin where the track splits into three. I take the centre route, aiming for the squat church tower on the right of the small copse on the hill (not the large pointy tower to the left of the trees).
Lammas Field, in the middle of the racecourse, probably gets its name from the ancient commoner’s Lammas land rights. Following the harvest in the Autumn around Lammas Day, through to the following Spring, local people could graze animals on the land. The remains of the Medieval Ridge and furrow field system in the middle of the site also hint at its past significance for local food production. Many areas such as this were lost during land inclosure between the Tudor and Victorian periods. Today it’s just a place where people walk their dogs, and golfers retrieve lost balls from the adjacent golf course.
Keeping to the right of the copse, and then to the left of the fenced area beyond, I arrive at the main pedestrian entrance to the racecourse on the edge of the town. Straight on and I end up in West Street, where I go left towards the town centre.
At the top of West Street was one of three fortified gatehouses to Medieval Warwick – Westgate. The incongruous looking tower of St. James’ Church is now all that remains of the Westgate, the road having been diverted around it. I could walk-on past the tower through the busy, noisy streets of Warwick. Instead I go right into Castle Lane, just before the church, which quietly skirts the edge of the town along the walls of Warwick Castle.
Castle Lane emerges into noisy Banbury Road. Going downhill, it takes a few minutes to dodge traffic around the roundabout, cross at the pedestrian crossing beyond, before entering St. Nicholas Park just before the bridge. Keep going in the same direction and you’ll find the River Avon – where, if you’re the only person there, you’ll be mugged by the local ducks.
After the ups and downs from Warwick Parkway, from here on it’s pretty flat except for a few steps in a mile or so. I follow the bank of the river, along the route of the council’s riverside walk. I reach the ‘Charter Bridge’ (part of the National Cycle Network) just as the kids are streaming out from school, merging with the throng for a few yards before going right across the grass beyond the bridge to get around the back of the houses.
It’s a muddy undulating walk along the bank. Eventually the path reaches the Avon Viaduct on the Chiltern Main Line. I’ve crossed this bridge this so many times on the train – just a flash of light as the train exits one tree-lined cutting before diving into the next. From down here though, with rippling veins of sunlight moving across the riveted heavy ironwork, it looks far more serene.
Beyond the railway bridge, hidden amidst trees and scrub, is a Tesco’s superstore and an electricity substation. Once this was the ‘Avon Power Station’ and the depot for Warwick’s tram network. Today though it’s all quiet, the ripples on the river creating exotic, Monet-like waterscapes from the brightly sunlit trees on the opposite.
On along the river bank I quickly find a more imposing stone bridge. This is the Avon Aqueduct, built at the end of the 1790s to carry (what is now called) the Grand Union Canal across the River Avon. It’s perhaps showing its 220 year age; a constant stream of water, like a bath emptying from a green spigot of algae and weed, falls from the span above and loudly splashes into the river.
Passing underneath, keeping to the tracks going left, I eventually find the flight of black steel checker-plate steps that rise up to the level of the canal above – where there are great views down the river, and upstream where the River Leam flows into the the tree-lined River Avon.
Now it’s a flat walk all the way to Leamington Spa station. Soon after the Avon Aqueduct, past the bridge at Jephson’s Farm, a pathway forks left away from the tow-path. This is a continuation of the council’s riverside walk, running down to the River Leam and following the river back into the centre of Leamington through the landscaped parks. It’s longer than the canal tow-path route back to the station – and is preferable during the Spring and early Summer due to the wonderful flower displays in the town centre parks.
Today though I press on along the short route, straight down the tow-path. Very soon I emerge above the railway line I had recently walked under, with the canal alongside me. The juxtaposition is a bit surreal, standing on the canal tow-path, swans paddling by, while trains speed beneath. This is the Leamington Railway Aqueduct, built in 1851 when the railway was constructed to fit around the canal. Unlike the previous all-stone Avon Aqueduct, built half a century before, this is a long cast iron trough supported on brick piers.
I plod on into Leamington. The setting sun and gathering clouds are creating some spectacular lighting effects above and on the water. Approaching the location of the railway station, a green-grey wooden rail and steps signal that it’s time to leave the canal tow-path and climb to the road level; just beyond a pedestrian crossing passes straight into front doors of Leamington Spa railway station. Ten minutes to my next train.
As I wait, the clouds gathering over the Art-Deco-styled station look like the clouds on railway posters of the era (some of which are on display on the opposite platform). The best is yet to come though. Half way to Banbury, as the train approached Fenny Compton, the setting sun and gathering clouds created a spectacular orange, red and gold sunset, silhouetting the Burton Dassett Hills. A lovely end to the walk.