THE SUNDAY WALK: A pleasant stroll. But beware of occultists

A bizarre unfinished folly is the highlight of this walk around Wadenhoe, which also takes in an ancient forest and that all-important pub. By David Walker

Behind the King's Head in Wadenhoe a grassy bank sweeps down to the river. It's actually the mill cut; downstream the water races and foams over the weir. Between us and the river proper the water meadows, despite the drought, are green and the cattle graze contentedly. With a pint of Adnams (the pub is a free house) in your hand, the idyll is just about complete...

But the drink is for later when you have completed this figure-of-eight walk from Wadenhoe, through woodland and meadow, passing two churches and a 17th-century folly. It's about five and a half miles in length. At this time of year you need no more than stout shoes.

Wadenhoe is Saxon for "hill ford". Northamptonshire hills are not high but here the Rockingham Forest plateau falls upon the River Nene down a green cliff. With the pub and village at your back, bear through the gate up the steepish hill to the village church, St Michael and All Angels.

Locals dispute the pronunciation - "Neen" versus "Nenn". The river slowly drains the slopes of Daventry and Northampton, then winds its way through the boost and shoe country round Wellingborough and Rushden to Thrapston. Beyond Wadenhoe the river deepens as it passes into fenland. Beyond the churchyard the path cuts across a sheep field to the metalled road running from Wadenhoe to Aldwincle, another riverside gem. Turn left for about a hundred yards then follow the green footpath sign to the right, at a field's edge for about 250 yards. This puts you athwart the track running from Wadenhoe to Lowick (where the octagonal church tower is a wonder to behold). Cross the track and take the farm road for half a mile, past some lodge buildings on your left before bearing right, on the path/track through woodland.

The next half hour of this walk is through Rockingham Forest. Few of the old stands still exist, true, but in the denser sections of Wadenhoe Wood, to your right, it's not hard to understand why some woodland villages used to place lanterns in their towers to help travellers locate themselves.

Out of the wood, the land opens like a great lawn. Take the track rightwards and contemplate man's folly. Literally: this naked building, standing in a field, is Lyveden New Bield, the never-finished Jacobean mansion built by the Tresham family. (If Sir Thomas had had his way in 1605 the Jacobean dynasty would have been finished, too - he was associated with the Gunpowder Plot.) The house is maintained by the National Trust; if the custodian is not about, there is a bucket on his gate for the entry fee. Why was it built; why was it never finished? Occultists will have a field day for the Treshams also built the mysterious Triangular Lodge on the same leyline near Rushton.

With the building at your back bear diagonally across a field (following the signpost) into Lilford Wood. In the open again, across a bullrush stream, the track takes you after half a mile on to the Wadenhoe-Lowick road. Bear left then left on the metalled road. After 400 yards or so, take the signposted gap in the hedge cutting across a cultivated field to run around the back of a newish house. The river and its meadows are in sight again. Left on the road, then right bearing diagonally across a sheep field to come out on the road running from Pilton across the river.

Its banks are covered with trees, grass and flowers. Noting the lock on your right, follow the road for some 150 yards then bear right on the woodland path which carries you up the escarpment. Through The Linches - as the wood is called - bear right, passing under a strong lych gate into the grounds of 14th-century St John the Baptist. The guidebooks say the tower is fine, but at present it is swathed in scaffolding. Bear left, following the path through the meadows to the bridge over the Nene, then back to the mill race and, the creamy stone of Wadenhoe House to your right, through the village, turning right to the King's Head and that deserved drink.

t Mia Butler's Exploring the Nene Way (Countryside Books, Newbury pounds 4.95) is a useful companion.

t OS: Landranger 141 Kettering and Corby

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