Wet and wild in Warwickshire
I’ve always believed that it is always raining in the grim North (anywhere above a line from Tewkesbury to Moreton in Marsh.) So I had a few trepidations when Luke Baker suggested we head up to Warwickshire to try a few routes featured in LRO in October 2014. My mind immediately thought of cloth caps, Whippets and “where are my waterproofs?”
As Sunday dawned it looked like my urban legend was going to be proved right, menacing low cloud and persistent rain greeted the four Nineties (Me, Luke, Mike Stone and Mike Fry) as we met at Evesham for the long perilous journey into unknown territory.
We reached the start of our first track, near the village of Coughton on the A435, without rocks being thrown at us, however, and the days outing really started. To get to our first lane we had to drive through a ford. No probem here at all as it was only a few inches deep and had a concrete base, Turning off the metalled road we drove onto a wide open track, surfaced with crushed building rubble. Eventually this surface ran out and we were back on clay tracks. Although a little muddy and rough in places there was nothing testing and we all sailed safely through.
A quick loop back through Great Alne brought us to the next track. The turning to this was very narrow and Warks Highways had lined either side of the track with thick timber uprights to prevent illegal “off-piste” driving onto land either side. Just wide enough for a vehicle to get through the lane was quite overgrown, made worse by the weight of leaves and heavy rain bending the undergrowth over the track. This lane was in two parts, the second part even tighter and more overgrown than the first.
A short road hop took us to an eagerly anticipated lane that featured a long ford. The LRO article had featured dire warning about checking the depth and not attempting it after heavy rain. There was also a large warning sign at the entrance to the lane reading “Ford impassable at ALL times” You what? It’s a road! If the ford is impassable at ALL times why is it still open? A stupid contradiction if you ask me. And also an open invitation for anyone to try it!
Anyway, we set off up the track, the first indication of the ford was a short, steep drop onto the gravel of the river bed. Round a bend and the full view ahead reveals a wide, smoothly flowing clear river. The far end of the ford is out of sight round a bend and there are no depth indicator boards visible. Easing into the flowing water the depth wasn’t too bad so we pushed on upstream. The bed was firm gravel and depth no more than about 18”. Round to the right and then to the left the far end eventually came into sight after about 100m. An easy climb out onto firm ground. One of the best river ‘crossings’ I’ve done in ages although definitely not advisable after lots of rain.
The next planned lane turned out to be closed off so a quick think took us through Henley in Arden to try a short lane just north of there. Again it was fairly overgrown but no nasty surprises and quickly through. Back through Henley (a pretty town I’m sure but not on a dreary, wet Sunday) and we found the next lane which again featured a ford. The lane itself was fairly overgrown, muddy and rutted in places and the ford presented no real challenge being only few inches deep, 30m across with firm gravel underneath.
Ploughing on ever northward we drove briefly alongside the Stratford Canal with pretty boats on it (Stoner was drooling) and then over the M40 (getting really far north now!) and then over the Grand Union Canal (more boats, more dribbling by Stoner) to reach our next lane.
The turning for this looked like a private entrance to yet another grand house (a very wealthy and desirable area by the number of them), the No Through Road sign being the only clue to it being a real road. An unlocked gate lead us onto our next track. Overgrown in places but showing signs of recent 4x4 use. Stopping at the far end, beside another multi-million pound gaff we had time for a bit of light refreshment before turning back south towards civilisation again.
We headed back past Warwick and then onto the A429 towards Wellesbourne, intending to turn onto a track opposite the Horticultural Research centre. The turning proved to be so inconspicuous that I missed it the first time and we had to double back to it. Showing signs of recent use it was rutted and over grown but easy to follow. It opened out for short distance into a farm track but then narrowed and became very overgrown before turning sharply and heading uphill through the middle of a field planted with oilseed rape. The crop was planted right up to the very edge of the track and was brushing either side of the vehicle. If the farmer had planted so close to the track in an attempt to deter users he had failed! At the end of the field the track was again tight, overgrown, muddy and rutted but we got through without incident.
The next target was a track near the village of Lighthorne, leading over a hill next to the Gaydon Motor Heritage Centre. On arrival in the village we found our passage blocked by a car parked right across the road and what appeared to be a street party taking place just up ahead (we saw a few of these during the day). By the lack of any proper closure signs I’m guessing it was an unofficial closure but rather than upset the locals we decided to cut that one out and head north again to what looked like being the best lane of the day.
The LRO feature had mentioned both another canal crossing and then a viaduct over a disused railway, all on a lane several miles long. Starting out as a good firm farm track the lane soon became rougher and muddier, leading up to a tight little hump-back bridge over the canal (sulks from Stoner this time as no pretty little boats). Onwards through ruts some mud we eventually reached the viaduct.
I had, at this point, offered to allow one of the others to have the honour of being the first CCROC member to cross this important landmark. Or some reason none of them wanted to go first. Could the ominous “Weak Bridge” warning sign have something to do with their reluctance? So, it was left to yours truly to venture out to the edge of space (about 100ft drop) to test the structural integrity of the bridge whilst they all stood watching carefully, listening for the sound of crumbling concrete and metal to signal my impending doom, cameras ready to capture my last moments.
Making it safely across (they seemed very disappointed) they timidly got back in their motors and ventured reluctantly onto the bridge. I soon thwarted their hopes of safety, however, by stopping my landie at the far end of the bridge, just onto firm ground, so that they couldn’t pass me and had to stop on the bridge anyway (tee hee). The world didn’t collapse beneath them, though, so we stopped briefly for team photos and to admire the view.
It was fortunate that we did stop for a while as it was here that we saw the only other users, 2 motorbikes and a Disco, coming the other way. Had we met them further up the track there were no passing places.
As it was now 2.45pm we decided there was time for one more short track before heading back home. The last track proved uneventful and, conveniently, brought us back to The Fosse Way for a straightforward run back towards Moreton and Stow.
Despite the persistent rain, which had eased off through the day, it proved to be an interesting and enjoyable day.
Thanks for the suggestion, Luke!