Blog / Walks

  • Wuthering Heights

    On such bleak and blustery days, a cure for February blues might well be to stride off across the moors. And where more romantic than the setting of Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights?  

    Fay Godwin, Top Withens

    The book is as strange and wild as the landscape but it has captured the hearts of many readers with its tortured, passionate hero and doomed romance.  Striding out on the moors above Haworth lets you feel it.  

    A ruined farm, Top Withens, is thought to be the inspiration for Heathcliff's home. Nobody has lived there since the 1920s.  A plaque on the wall from the Bronte Society notes that the building does not resemble Heathcliff's house in layout but says that Emily Bronte may have had it in mind 'when she wrote of the moorland setting of the heights.'

    The paths above Haworth are well trodden and signposted, even in Japanese.  But don't let that put you off.  Start or end with a visit to the Bronte's parsonage home in the town.  Now a museum, the house is laid out as it would have been when Emily lived there with her sisters Charlotte and Anne. 

    Take the OS map 21 for detailed trails, but a good place to start the walk is at the Penistone Hill Country Park car park on Moorside Lane, a little road between Stanbury and Oxenhope.   Take the track from the car park and follow the signs to Drop Farm and Top Withens. Cross a shallow stream on stepping stones before climbing up to the ruins of Top Withens and the Pennine Way.  

    After Top Withens, take the Bronte Way, following sign to the waterfall, a favourite walk of the Bronte sisters.  Go through the gate to get close. Fast flowing after heavy rains, it can be just a tickle in summer.  Cross over Bronte Bridge and follow the path back to the road, turning right to reach the car park.  

    Back in Haworth, there are plenty of places for a hot cup of tea and an eccles cake. The town is steeply cobbled and charming.

    Distance for the whole thing: about 6 miles.  Can be muddy.  Take good shoes and protective gear for unpredictable changes in weather.




  • Great Expectations in the Wild Marshes of Kent

    Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea... the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.  

    Chapter One, Great Expectations

    The bleakly romantic landscape of the Hoo Peninsula was very familiar to Charles Dickens.  As a young boy, he lived in Chatham until his family moved to London when he was aged 11.  With his later writing success, he bought a fine country house at Gad' Hill Place in nearby Higham.  The story is that he would often admire Gad's Hill when he was out walking with his father  as a boy.  He father said that if he worked hard in life, he might one day be able to own it.  And Charles Dickens did just that.  

    Dickens loved walking: he walked most days, whenever he could, usually 12 miles a day at a fast pace, in all weathers.  He once walked from London to Gad's Hill overnight; he was often seen striding through the Kent countryside or the streets of London and he wrote a book about his night walks in the city.  On holidays, he would sometimes take his family of ten children on picnics to Cooling and the marshes.  They would have known St James' Church with its 13 forlorn gravestones.  The little lozenge shaped graves of the young children of two 18th century families was the inspiration for the setting of the opening scene of Great Expectations, where Pip comes face to face with the convict Magwitch.

    The little church is on the edge of the marshes, the edge of nowhere.  The landscape is Magwitch's spiritual haunt.  The fierce convict would have escaped from one of the great hulk prison ships, moored along the Thames, just off the Kent marshes.  To ease overcrowding in London's prisons, Parliament decreed in 1776 that old merchant ships and Navy vessels should be turned into floating prisons. The first hulks were moored off the deserted marshes at Woolwich, and before long hulk after hulk lined the river, the ships hanging with rotten rigging.  Prisoners were put to work dredging the river and digging canals.  Conditions were horrendous.  Convicts were chained at the waist and ankles and were often flogged or thrown into a 'black hole' as punishment.  Many of them were awaiting news of their fate: to be sent to the colonies in Australia or the Americas.  Magwitch was one such convict.   Pip's encounter with him in the graveyard is one of the most terrifying dramatic moments in literature:

    “Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!” 

    Once you've visited the church, set off for a walk across the marshes.  There are many footpaths in the Hoo Penninsula.  One of best places to walk is at Cliffe Pools for birdwatching on the mud flats; or the Northward Hill Nature Reserve, just a short way from the Pip's graveyard, with long views across to Essex and London.  The bleakness of the landscape with its rolling mists from the Thames is strangely moving.  But it is not all grey and grim. When the sun shines, the flat, open land creates big skies and strong light.   The Saxon Shore Way cuts through the marshland from Cliffe to Cooling and onwards east. 



  • Walks in the Slad Valley: Laurie Lee

    The intoxicating scent of Laurie Lee's languid coming of age novel, brought to life again in the current BBC Sunday night drama, draws us all to the innocent wild of the Cotswold countryside.  Lee set his stories in the landscape of his childhood, the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire.  The bucolic portrait of hay carts and wildflowers belies a harsher world of rural poverty and death in post first world war England.  Lee left home at 19 and walked to London to make his way in the world, playing his violin and writing poetry.  He ended up walking all the way to Spain, scraping a living as a musician and walking his way through the landscape.  In 1937, he went back to Spain to join the International Brigade in the fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War.  The story of his journey is told in As I walked out One Midsummer Morning.  When he came home, he worked as a journalist and scriptwriter before becoming a huge success with his novel Cider with Rosie in 1959. The money he earned from this novel allowed him to buy a little cottage in Slad, the village where he grew up, and to become a full time writer. 

    Slad remains much as it was, with its honey-coloured seventeenth century cottages and welcoming roadside pub, The Woolpack.  Lee lived in a run down cottage here with his mother and six brothers and sisters, now a restored cottage called Rosebank.  Lee's grave is in the churchyard, overlooking his beloved pub; the church has a memorial window.  The wooded narrow valley and steep countryside around the village is laced with footpaths and it is easy to create a circular walk of different lengths to suit.  

    A good place to start is at the lay-by at Bull's Cross (described by Lee as 'that ragged wildness of wind-bent turves') on the B4070 from Stroud.  Follow the footpaths round towards Steanbridge Mill.  Walk in to Slad if you wish to visit the village, otherwise turn left after the pond where Lee would skate in winter, and walk over the fields towards Furners Farm.  Follow the footpaths in a loop back past the disused quarries and through the woods towards Bull's Cross.  That's about 4 miles.  Or explore the ancient beeches of nearby Frith Wood.  The leaves will be wonderful at this time of year. 

    Book at The Woolpack to secure a table.  01452 813 429

    Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust have created a 6 mile Laurie Lee Wildlife Way, following a series of 10 poetry posts

    Map:  OS Explorer map 179


  • Adventures on the Great Fire of London Trail

    Hello.  Last Sunday, the Adventure Walks team hooked up with Muddy Puddles kids clothing company to put on a free event for families.  This time, we decided to create an exciting trail through the City of London, complete with clues to follow and things for kids to spot.  

    And perhaps a little bit of history learning on the way.  Thanks to all the lovely families who came along on a sunny Sunday and followed the trail.  If you missed it, we are putting it up here on our blog for all little adventurers to download and enjoy.  Happy walking!


    The Great Fire of London was one of the most monumental events in London’s history. In the early hours of the morning on Sunday 2 September, 1666 a spark from the oven at a bakers in Pudding Lane caught alight causing a fire that raged through the night. A strong easterly wind fanned the flames along the narrow streets of timber houses that burnt like matchsticks. The flames raced to the river down Fish Street Hill and spread quickly through warehouses crammed full of wine, oil, hemp, tar, coal and timber on the waterfront. By the morning, 300 houses had been destroyed and the fire was out of control. It burned fiercely for 3 nights and 4 days. By the time it was extinguished, over three quarters of London had been razed to the ground. St Paul’s Cathedral, 44 livery halls, 13,200 houses and 87 churches were gone and a hundred thousand people were homeless. The ground was too hot to walk on for several days and the city smoked and smouldered for many weeks afterwards.

    It took 30 years to rebuild London and cost £10 million. The new City followed the footprint of the medieval street plan but with improvements: brick houses; no thatched roofs; wider streets; new pavements and sewers. Sir Christopher Wren was the chief architect of King Charles II’s vision and his work has shaped the city we see today.  The Monument was built by Sir Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire. Its height is 202ft (61m), the exact distance from the base of the Monument to the baker’s shop on Pudding Lane where the fire started.

    And this is where you will start the walk too.

    Turn left down Pudding Lane

    Look for the plaque on the corner. What was the name of the baker who owned the bakery where the fire started?


    At Eastcheap, look up at the dramatic Walkie Talkie skyscraper looming above the streets. Cross the road and head right. Duck down a little alleyway, Talbot Court, by the 15 bus stop



    Seek out the sign that tells the story of The Ship pub.

    What was the name of the coaching inn that stood on this site before the Great Fire?


    Bend round to the left and then turn right on Gracechurch Street

    Cross to other side of the road at the traffic lights on Lombard Street and walk up to Bell Inn Yard

    Spot the golden pheasant high up on the building across the road – can you see another pheasant?


    Cut left into Bell Inn Yard, reminiscent of the narrow, crowded streets of medieval London before the fire

    Find the blue plaque at the entrance. What was destroyed here in 1666?



    At George Yard, take the small right into St Michael’s Alley. Turn left at the church railings, then go straight on, past Todd’s Wine Bar

    Todd’s Wine Bar is one of London’s oldest bars. Find the blue plaque under the hanging Jamaica Wine House lantern down the lane on the right. In the era of the Great Fire (1652), what fashionable grown up drink was served here?



    Go back to St Michael’s Alley and follow the signs to Simpson’s Tavern, turning right into Ball Court. Pop out onto Cornhill and turn left

    By 2pm on Sunday the Great Fire was already raging along Cornhill. By now, London was thick with smoke. People were fleeing the city, thieves were looting abandoned houses and shops; angry mobs roamed the streets. The heat was oppressive, as temperatures began to rise. Samuel Pepys wrote: ‘The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins.’  Carts were piled high with the belongings of those who were trying to escape the burning City. Demand was so great that the price of hiring a cart rose from just a few shillings to £40 or more. The streets were blocked by these overloaded carts and people were forced to flee by clambering into boats or by running on foot to the nearest safe place.


    Take the first left on Birchin Lane. Turn right on Lombard Street

    Lombard Street is one of London’s most ancient streets and was once the centre of the goldsmiths and banking trades. It is named after Lombardy in Italy where many gold traders came from. At the time of the fire it was considered the finest street in London. It is still hung with street signs, once a popular way for businesses to advertise their wares at a time when most people couldn’t read or write. But these vast and heavy signs were extremely dangerous and it was quite common for them to come crashing down on passers-by.


    What hanging signs can you see?




    A wealthy Elizabethan man called Sir Thomas Gresham lived at no 68.

    A creature from the Gresham family crest still hangs outside his house. What is it?




    Turn right through Pope’s Head Alley and back into Cornhill

    Admire the grand columned portico of the Royal Exchange Building. By 2pm on Monday 3rd September the old Royal Exchange was on fire before being completely destroyed. The only thing to survive was a stone statue of Sir Thomas Gresham. By 3pm on the same day Threadneedle Street (opposite) and twenty three churches were ablaze.


    Turn left and cross Lombard Street towards Mansion House

    After the Great Fire, the City guilds raised money to build a house for the Lord Mayor of London so he could entertain in style. The grand Georgian townhouse was completed in 1758. The Lord Mayor of London still lives here during his term of office.


    Describe the flag flying on top of Mansion House?



    Turn left immediately after Mansion House onto Walbrook

    Ahead of you is St Stephen Walbrook church, said to be one of the finest churches in the city. Like so many churches, the original was destroyed in the Great Fire and architect Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild it. Wren decided to build a European style dome for this little church; influenced by those he had seen in Paris and Rome. It was the first such dome in a London church and is thought to have been a practice run for the magnificent dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. You will have to come another day to go inside as this church is closed on Sundays.

    Bend round to the right onto Bucklersbury and cross straight over Queen Victoria Street through Bucklersbury Passage, once the centre of the apothecary trade, also destroyed in the blaze


    Turn left on Poultry and cross over the road to turn right down Ironmonger Lane

    Look out for the rebuilt Mercers’ Hall on the right, one of the great medieval livery halls destroyed by the fire. Over 200lbs of melted silver were recovered from the charred remains, showing just how hot the fire had been.


    Nip down the tiled Prudent Passage to emerge on King Street

    Stop here to catch your breath and turn your head to the right for a view of the magnificent Guildhall. As the flames leapt at Cheapside at 5am on Tuesday 4th September, Londoners stashed their valuables down in the crypt of Guildhall for safekeeping. Thankfully, Guildhall did not burn down: it was the only stone building to survive the fire that wasn’t a church.


    Turn left and at the top turn right onto Cheapside, crossing over to the other side

    Cheapside was the site of London’s medieval food market. Many of the city’s markets were destroyed in the fire and so new markets sprung up across London, such as the fruit and vegetable market at Covent Garden. The history of the city can be told through its streets: street names give clues to what was once sold here.


    Make a note of foodie street names that you spot around Cheapside



    Walk past St Mary-Le-Bow Church

    Can you think of a famous nursery rhyme that mentions this Church? How much money was owed and how many City churches are named in the rhyme?



    Turn left off Cheapside into Bow Churchyard, down the side of the church. Turn right on John Milton Passage

    At Bread Street spot the blue plaque: a famous Londoner was born here what is his name and what is he known for? .................................................................................................................


    Cross Bread Street into One New Change Shopping Centre. Take the glass elevator immediately ahead to the 6th floor roof terrace.

    This is London’s best free view and an amazing vantage point for St Paul’s Cathedral. As you gaze down on the streets below, try to imagine the fire raging through the City. Thousands of Londoners fled to safety and headed to the higher ground at Moorfields or to nearby villages such as Islington and Highgate. Others camped on the banks of the Thames. Prisoners were evacuated across the Thames to Southwark from Newgate prison; some escaped on the way! Children were evacuated from schools at Christ’s Hospital and St Paul’s. Many people took what belongings they could carry to buildings made of stone, thought to be safe from the fire. Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, buried his best Parmesan cheese and a flask of wine in his garden in Seething Lane to protect them from the blaze.


    But not all stone buildings were safe from the fire: on Tuesday 4th September at 8pm, St Paul’s Cathedral caught fire. At the time St Paul’s was surrounded by scaffolding and stuffed to the gunnels with the local booksellers wares and city dwellers belongings. The fierce fire rapidly took hold and there was no way of putting it out. The heat was so intense that the lead melted on the roof and, tragically, the entire structure collapsed. One of the few things to survive was a stone statue of the London poet John Donne.


    Out of the ashes was built the vast new cathedral we can see today. It is Sir Christopher Wren’s most famous building and one of London’s most iconic landmarks. It was an ambitious creation and was the first triple-domed cathedral in the world. During the building of his great dome, Wren would be hoisted up in a basket to see how the work was progressing It took 35 years to complete, at a cost of £7,000, the equivalent of £85 million today. It is as high as 25 double decker buses piled on top of one another and the dome weighs 65,000 tons; that’s the same weight as 65,000 elephants.


    Can you name the famous London Landmarks that you can see

    I am a golden lady holding a sword and scales………………………..

    I go round and round and round……………………………………….

    I am a tall television tower miles away........……………………………

    I have the second largest round dome in the world ...............………..

    I am Europe’s tallest building..............................................................


    Take the lift back down to the Ground Level and turn right. Turn left at Mango and left along Watling Street

    Watling Street dates back to the Romans and is one of London’s most ancient roads. On the corner of Bow Street, look out for the Ye Olde Watling pub the first building in the City to be rebuilt after the fire. It was built out of old ships timbers and it is where Christopher Wren based his drawing office while he built St Paul’s Cathedral.

     At Queen Victoria Street turn right onto Queen Street, heading towards the river

    King Charles II created two notable new streets for London after the Great Fire: King Street and Queen Street. They created a direct processional route from Guildhall to the river so that the king could travel easily from to the City to his palace at Westminster.


    Turn left on College Street

    Stop on this winding lane to admire the Mission to Seafarers Church, originally built by Dick Whittington, the City’s most famous Lord Mayor, in 1397. After the fire, Christopher Wren rebuilt the church, along with 50 other churches.


    Look up the drainpipe on the front of the church to find out the date it was rebuilt after the fire.




    This area was rich with livery companies including: Tallow Chandlers, Skinners, Dyers and Builders Merchants. Look out for the charming Innholders Hall on the right, destroyed in the fire and now rebuilt.


    Turn right on Dowgate Hill, cross the main road and walk down Cousin Lane


    Walk towards the Banker Pub and turn left to walk under the bridge. Turn right then left, following the Thames Path along Hanseatic Walk

    As the fire raged Londoners took the river. King Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York, watched the fire’s progress from the royal barge. Soon the old London Bridge, lined with shops, was under threat as the fire licked the river’s shore. Fortunately, a fire in 1633 had already destroyed a third of the wooden houses on the bridge creating a firebreak too large for the fire to leap. Miraculously, London Bridge, survived. It was the only bridge across the Thames at the time.

    Turn left up Swan Lane to the main road and turn right.

    The old building on your right belongs to one of London’s guilds. The original was one of the first livery halls to catch fire but being next to the river important documents, the money chest and silver were whisked away by boat before they could catch alight. Sadly, the building itself was destroyed.


    Can you guess which Livery Company this hall belongs to? Look for clues on the lamps and railings?



    Walk under London Bridge to St Magnus the Martyr Church

    Enter the church grounds through the original roadway entrance to old London Bridge. The famous bridge was pulled down in 1832 after a new bridge had been built in parallel, alongside it. Two stones from the old bridge still stand in this churchyard. Look out for a piece of wood from an old Roman wharf in the entrance.


    St Magnus the Martyr was one of the first churches to catch fire. It was also where much of London’s fire fighting equipment was kept, so its loss was disastrous, hampering fire-fighting efforts across the city. Rebuilt by Wren, like so many City churches, St Magnus the Martyr is said to be one finest examples of his architectural style: a simple rectangle in shape with an uncluttered interior, flooded with light through large, clear paned windows.


    Push open the heavy door to discover a charming model of the old London Bridge complete with miniature people, houses and shops, made by a liveryman from the Worshipful Company of Plumbers inside the church. Look out for an old fire engine, invented many years after the Great Fire.


    NB the Sunday service finishes at 12.30pm from when you will be welcome to come inside and look around.


    Cross Lower Thames Street and walk up Fish Street Hill back to t he Monument

    Towering above you is the Monument, the tallest isolated stone column in the world standing 61 meters high. When it was built, it soared high above the City skyline. The Monument is crowned like a candle with a golden flame symbolizing the fire. Around the plinth at the bottom of the column is a frieze that tells the story of the events of the terrible days of London’s Great Fire. You can climb the 311 steps to the top.




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    Happy Walking!

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