From X to Y

Last weekend, I finished a journey that I have been on for more than ten years (with long stretches of inactivity): walking along the Grand Union Canal from London to Birmingham. The morning was beautiful, with a riot of berries in the hedges (haws, elder, sloes, hips, bryony, etc.); coming into the city in the afternoon it rained intermittently but we passed several herons.

In fact I overshot slightly, and continued along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to Edgbaston. The first junction on this canal, where it meets the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, is at Kings Norton. On the way back to London, the train passes through Kings Sutton, on the Oxford Canal.

So, of course, I thought, one could walk from Kings Sutton to Kings Norton, along canal towpaths. It would be a simple enough journey: up the Oxford Canal to its junction with the Grand Union at Napton, along the Grand Union to Kingswood, then the Stratford-upon-Avon to Kings Norton. Both ends are on the railway, so connecting them is no problem.

There are various walks which exist only because of the placenames involved; probably the most famous is the March March March near Cambridge.

But for some time I have had in mind a walk on the same principle but on a grander scale, designed to appeal to the mathematically minded: From Exe to Wye.

So last night I got down the maps and did some preliminary planning. The walk would go, as the name suggests, from the river Exe to the river Wye, and would take in the existing paths along both these rivers, and other long-distance paths between. A rough plan might look like this:

  • Starcross to Hawkridge, Exe Valley Way;
  • Hawkridge to Lynmouth, Two Moors Way;
  • Lynmouth to Minehead, South-West Coast Path;
  • Minehead to Dundas Aqueduct, Macmillan Way and extension;
  • Dundas Aqueduct to Bath, Kennet and Avon Walkway;
  • Bath to Air Balloon roundabout, Cotswold Way;
  • Air Balloon to Chepstow, Gloucestershire Way;
  • Chepstow to Rhayader, Wye Valley Walk.

An alternative (if you want some urban walking) would be to take the Monarch’s Way from Castle Cary to Bristol, followed by the Severn Way to Gloucester. There is also the possibility of cheating (sorry, “using multiple transport modes”), crossing the Severn by train or bus from Bristol to Chepstow.

Even this brief outline has me itching to walk it. What a nice walk, taking in Exmoor, the Quantocks, the Cotswolds, and the Forest of Dean, among many beautiful places, and parts of two national trails. One of the world’s great walks perhaps?

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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One Response to From X to Y

  1. This week I am in Exeter at the British Combinatorial Conference, so I took the chance to take the first few tentative steps on this walk.

    I took the train to Exmouth and then the ferry to Starcross, about 25 minutes. It was a typical lovely English summer day, a mixture of cloud, wind, showers, and occasional sunshine. Then I walked along the Exe Valley Way back to Exeter.

    The first section is on a road (not very busy, but unfortunately what traffic there is is mostly large 4WDs), past Powderham Castle (the seat of the Earls of Devon) to Powderham church. The railway line was between the road and the estuary. After the church (with a good stand of yews, and a churchyard including everyone from a former proprietor of the castle to a woman who was the daughter of a gentleman “of Melbourne, Australia”), the path crossed the railway and went along the sea wall. The tide was out, and the mud flats which might have had lots of waders could show no more than crows and black-headed gulls, with the occasional swan and cormorant.

    Soon I came to the bottom lock of the ship canal (dug because the estuary is so shallow), and the Turf pub, accessible only by a long walk or a ferry ride from Topsham. The canal was in excellent condition, the towpath separate from the cycle path, and lots of vegetation. A few swans were to be seen, and a trio of ducks: one dark, one light, and one spotted.

    Soon the rain started in earnest. My glasses got so wet that I had to take them off, so the rest of the walk was a bit of a blur; when I saw the cathedral looming through the rainclouds, I knew I was nearly back, though it was still quite a long way to the university. By then I was saturated with water, but to add insult to injury, when I reached the campus, the rain finally stopped and a weak sun came out.

    Not ideal conditions, and not the most exciting part of the walk, but a pleasant afternoon anyway.

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