Another start in the dark. To Euston for a day return to Northampton. Very cold and clear.

It is an odd day, this. Almost the opposite of the last one where there was no obvious route and constant decision making was required.  Today I hardly even need a map.

Dawn breaks as the train hurtles towards Northampton.  By the time I get there sunshine is lighting the golden stone buildings. I noticed last time that the centre of Northampton is quite handsome. A surprise to me as on my only previous visit I missed this, seeing only a club an some suburbs.

And it is the suburbs I head for. The only problematic bit today is this first part. Do I go to the east or west of the little river running north from the centre? I opt for east and it doesn't go so well. I can't get onto the fields shown on the map and I soon run into an industrial estate that I have to detour round before crossing the valley and river on a busy road. I take a track up the side of a council estate. The ground is frozen. Great! Should be able to avoid the mud today, I hope.

The entry to my objective, a disused railway line, now the Brampton Valley Way, is marked by a graffiti splattered post. The path goes under a railway bridge and I meet my first problem. The sides of the path slope steeply to a huge puddle, only partially iced. I manage to edge round it and then I am on the railway line.

This runs all the way to Market Harborough. Almost due north all day. I could put the map away now if I wanted to.  At first it runs by the side of a housing estate and half of  it seem to be taking advantage of the crisp winter sunshine to walk their dogs. Oddly they are all going in the same direction, half a dozen people in front of me, with dogs, going the same way.

There are hedgerows along the side of the route and these are alive with birds. I see a great spotted woodpecker which is a good start to the day.

After a bit I leave the dog walkers and a little further on come to a road where an abandoned, stolen looking, car has been left. Over the road is a sign announcing the Brampton Valley Way and a station. There is a restored section of railway here and the next few miles run parallel to it. I am too early for trains though.

The countryside is strange. There are no mature trees on the railway line,  hawthorn hedge and a few ash trees that look no more than twenty years or so old (though some have been hacked back and coppiced so might be older). And I notice that there are almost none in the landscape either. A few willows by the sides of streams but no hedgerow oaks or field oaks. And not other mature trees either. I cannot remember walking through countryside so devoid of even single trees. Later, I encounter a few little woods but they are all called spinney or coverts, suggesting that they were planted for hunting purposes, likely after parliamentary enclosure. But what would explain the lack of mature trees? Even if this was, as seems likely "champion" country of big communal fields there would normally be woodland between villages.

This walk is wonderful. It might have seemed boring at the start of the trip. But after last week's desperate struggle against the mud, non-paths, poor way marking and idiot caravan site attendants it is just bliss to be able to stride on a well made hogging path in bright sunshine. The only hazard are the occasional cyclists, but these are courteous for the most part.

I pass a dead buzzard. Poisoned, shot or just dead of natural causes? I don't know but am pleased to hear a live one call and see it flying overhead a little later.

I stop for tea near Brixworth and find a solitary picnic table in a little field of its own, waiting for me. Refreshed I carry on.

And on. And on. The route continues straight and level. Cyclists pass from time to time. The odd bird flies by. The sun shines. And on and on.

Untill I get to the first of the tunnels. I knew about these so have no excuse. In front of it there is a sign warning cyclists to beware of walkers in the dark and suggesting that they get off if they do not have lights. At is at this point that I realise I have not brought my head torch.

I keep a tiny mini-maglite on my key ring so get that. But the battery is nearly gone. I get my walking pole out to help feel in the dark.  I take a deep breath and step into the dark of the tunnel. My little torch is far too feeble to be of any help. I cannot see the uneven tunnel floor at all and the light at the far end is small and distant. There is nothing for it though so I set off, using the little torch as a warning, just turning it on when a group of cyclists aproach from the other end, their voices echoing in the darkness.

We exchange slightly strained greetings as we pass, shadowy figures with echoing voices. I stop by an air shaft for a moment and then press on. At last the light around the end of the tunnel becomes enough to see the ground and then I am out into the sunshine once again.

A few miles later, I have to repeat the whole thing once again in a second tunnel. I wonder how long it will be before I need my head torch again. Oh well...

There are trees in the countryside again, now. Not many but it is not so strangely devoid of them as it was just to the north of Northampton. The way curves round giving good views of the countryside and then I come to one of the slightly psychedelic signposts that adorn the way which tells me I am in Leicestershire. Market Harborough can be seen not far away.

I carry on, into Markert Harborough where I am pleased to see a Mansfield Brewery pub, the first I have encountered and a sign that I am getting nearer to Nottinghamshire.

A bus whistles me back down to Northampton. The road generally takes the higher ground so, though it runs roughly parallel to the disused railway line I get very different views.

we pass a lurid purple building on our way to the bus station, which I recognise as the club I went to when I was first in Northampton, many years ago.

Golden sun sets on golden stone as I stroll back down the hill to Northampton station.

Now that was a very enjoyable day.

All I need now is some more weather like this for February.


  1. JaneGS said...

    Great post, Spencer. The darkened tunnel was a surprise to me though--sounds a bit dangerous. The signpost is wonderful :)  

  2. Spencer said...

    They really are something, bizarre and yet cheerful. I have become quite fond of them.  


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