36: Ebrington Hill, Warwickshire

Poden Farm
Poden Farm, near Honeybourne

Date: 14th July 2021.

Weather conditions: Another very nice day, making it four CT walks in a row that have been graced by excellent weather. This was the warmest of the four, though not uncomfortably so, and there was plenty of shade on the route, which helped.

County Top bagged: Ebrington Hill, the summit of which lies at grid reference SP187426 and is 856 feet/261m above sea level. There is a trig point nearby (pictured), but this is slightly lower, at 259m.

This is the County Top of Warwickshire, though it lies right on the boundary between that county and Gloucestershire. The borders between the counties have shifted somewhat over time: in fact, there used to be great complexity around here, with bits of Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire all lying within each other. These boundaries were rationalised in Victorian times. Then, in 1974, Warwickshire lost chunks of its former self to the metropolitan boroughs of the West Midlands.

Summit trig point
Ebrington Hill’s rather neglected summit trig.

Throughout all of this, though, the Top has not changed, so Ebrington Hill is both a historic and a modern Top. By altitude it ranks:

This is the north-eastern terminus of the Cotswold Hills, so without particularly meaning to, I have now done all three of the Cotswold CTs; the range starts near Bath with Hanging Hill, and its highest point is Cleeve Hill.

[ << Withins Height, Bradford (35) | (37) Mapperley, Nottingham >> ]

Ebrington Hill
Ebrington Hill, seen on the way to Mickleton.

Start and end point of walk: Started at Honeybourne railway station. This is on the London – Oxford – Worcester train line, though only certain services stop there so do check the timetable.

Ended in the very photogenic village of Chipping Campden. This doesn’t have a train station (although it used to), but from here there are buses to Moreton-in-Marsh and Stratford-upon-Avon, which do have stations. As far as I can tell, though, there is not a bus back to Honeybourne from here. See also the point made about the terminus in the route notes below.

The walk took me about three hours and forty minutes.

Pub at end: The Eight Bells in Chipping Campden, which like the rest of the place, is a fine-looking building of honey-coloured Cotswold stone, and served a decent couple of pints of local brew (Hook Norton).

Eight Bells pub sign
Welcome to the Eight Bells.

I also failed to avoid the lure of a pint in the King’s Arms in Mickleton, about three miles into the walk. This establishment has a huge beer garden out the back, with its own bar. For those on the right kind of schedule this does look as if it might make a good lunch stop.

Distance walked: 9.5 miles/15.3km approx.

Feet of ascent: 900 feet/275m approx.

Difficulty: ★★. There is nothing at all that is difficult, although it is a moderately long walk. With hindsight I would have done it outside of high summer, as some stretches are quite overgrown; it would probably be a more agreeable experience at a less fecund time of year. (Not to mention being easier on the nasal membranes.)

Poppies in field
Summer foliage, near the summit.

Ease of access: ★★★. With direct trains from London to Honeybourne, the journey is easy from the capital. It is also convenient from the West Midlands conurbation, particularly now the new interchange station is open at Worcestershire Parkway. But coming down from Yorkshire was rather fiddly, and you should also make sure to check the bus times out of Chipping Campden. Plan ahead…

Scenic qualities: ★★. There are some very pretty, photogenic sections to this walk, but no panoramic views ever really open up; looking at the map one might think there’d be good vistas to the north but this turns out not to be the case. The summit area is rather drab, in fact.

View from near the summit
View westwards, from near the summit: about as much of a panorama as is seen today.

The area: Warwickshire’s most famous son is, and probably always will be, William Shakespeare, who was (of course) born in Stratford-upon-Avon, about twelve miles north of Ebrington Hill. And just as he represents, for many around the world, a certain aspect of English history and the English psyche, so the area around here is something of an archetype as well. This is the England the Daily Mail think we should look up to, all hedgerows and church spires and 4x4s. I’m not saying it’s unpleasant; just that it’s a bit of a cliché.

Actually, very little of this walk takes place in Warwickshire. The route begins in Worcestershire, and the majority of it lies in Gloucestershire.

Map: Some parts of my route were not easy to follow on the ground, so I recommend bringing along some version or other of OS Explorer 205 Stratford-upon-Avon and Evesham. This doesn’t cover Chipping Campden, which lies just off the southern border of that map, but you will be on the road by the time you leave the sheet.

Map of walk 36

The summary map just about fitted at this scale so I went with it; the starting point is to the top left.

Route: This is the most ho-hum walk I have done for a while. The surroundings are pleasant enough but the hike feels quite long for what one gets out of it and there is too much road walking. Some extensive views are visible here and there but there is nothing dramatic, nor anything particularly interesting en route, and the final stretches are awkward despite the map promising a good path. Nipping up and down from Mickleton would be the simplest and probably most fulfilling way to bag Ebrington Hill, but that would be a fiddly trip on public transport — car drivers might consider it, however.

If you do come in from Honeybourne station, the first 2.5 miles or so to Mickleton might as well be done along the road. Any footpath alternatives either take you on a considerable detour or look like they will be awkward propositions through labyrinths of fields. Despite my worrying a little about this in advance, the road is OK to walk on. Cars come along it quickly, but there weren’t too many of them and visibility is good so there are no safety issues.

Meon Hill
Meon Hill, and part of Mickleton.

Immediately after crossing the railway, you can escape the road by a path on the left, just past the drive of Norton Hall. This path goes behind the old barn, through a little wood and then crosses a corn field, with the spire of Mickleton church dead ahead, and the flat- (and fort-)topped Meon Hill to the left. Past this point the path is clearly signposted, but one stretch is terribly overgrown. You come out into Mickleton — the northernmost settlement in Gloucestershire — through an extensive housing estate.

Whether you succeed in passing the King’s Arms or not, leave the village centre along the lane that goes past the big church. Keep to the left, following the Public Bridleway (rather than Public Footpath) signs, and begin properly climbing for the first time, through fields that get gradually steeper. The bridleway bears right through a hedge and then rises up through a shallow valley, with the palatial Kiftsgate Court up on the left. When you come out onto the lane at the top, go straight on along the drive to Hidcote Manor.

Woods at Hidcote
Woodland at Hidcote Manor.

At the sharp bend by the car park, carry straight on, up a track that rises to the flat and ill-defined top of Ebrington Hill. As you approach the mobile masts, the neglected-looking trig point squats in undergrowth a couple of hundred yards to the left, down the side of the field. But the actual summit of the hill, and of Warwickshire (the county boundary of which you have now finally reached), is found by crossing the narrow lane and stepping momentarily through the gate ahead, and even then, the 261m spot height probably lies just in the (inaccessible) field to the left.

From here, one must again take to the tarmac, heading more-or-less south down the lane, and eventually reaching the signpost pictured here. Thought is worth giving to the question of where you finish the walk. At Ebrington village, there is a pub, but no public transport — although you could always try arranging a taxi from there back to Honeybourne station, or maybe Moreton-in-Marsh (on the same train line). But I had decided in advance to head for Chipping Campden, slightly further on, tempted by the map’s depiction of a path with a prominent symbol and the label of the “Diamond Way”.

Sign at road junction
At the road junction on the way down.

This grand title was, let us say, unjustified by the reality. This path was greatly overgrown, difficult to follow in parts and afflicted by at least one stile that seemed about to disintegrate. By the time I reached the junction at SP168403 I’d had enough, so headed for the road, and went the rest of the way into Chipping Campden on tarmac. The Eight Bells is the first place of refreshment passed on the way into town; the bus stops are outside the Cotswold House hotel, a bit further along the main street.

Commentary: Last week’s walk up Withins Height was a spontaneous decision made at about half-an-hour’s notice. On the other hand, today’s hike has been planned for some time. This is the first walk I have managed to hook onto a work trip since I mourned the outcome of the General Election while walking up Craig y Llyn in December 2019, on my way back from the conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education (as exciting as it sounds).

Chipping Campden
In Chipping Campden.

Despite what must have been great temptations to postpone it — I’m already getting notifications that the same version of that December conference, in 2021, has already ‘gone virtual’ — this week’s gig has stayed face-to-face, so off I went to the Heythrop Park hotel in north Oxfordshire, and Ebrington Hill was the nearest CT, so that got bagged on the way.

Monday this week was a day of constant rain, but the weather certainly worked out today, which is never certain on these walks that need advance planning (see my other Cotswold walk up Cleeve Hill, on a cold, wet day in August, for instance). In fact the conditions were the best thing about what was otherwise a somewhat mundane walk — then again I should have known better to do a walk in such arable surroundings, on a warm day in July… the allergic reaction around Hidcote was not quite as bad as that which afflicted me on Billinge Hill just under a year ago, but it wasn’t far off.

Sheep in field
On the way down.

I’m even absolving Cross Country trains from cancelling the 10:30 service out of Birmingham and obliging me to sit around New Street station for an extra hour. Partly because it didn’t make any real difference to the day, and partly because the fact that Great Western then ran my last train a few more minutes late meant I should be getting my whole fare back. I eventually reached Honeybourne at 12:45, having got up at 6.15am. At least I had a good book to read on the way.

I’ve done a lot of walking in the last ten days or so and my legs and feet are really feeling it. Time to give it a rest for a bit — at least until the weekend after next, when we’re in the Lakes for a 4-day weekend. Back to the Wainwrights therefore. And in August, we’re in Scotland, so time then to get a Munro in.

And there you go, a commentary with no politics whatsoever. Or football, either.

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