HOLT is an old English word meaning woodland but very little of it remains today in the intensively cultivated landscape around Holt Heath and Holt Fleet.
However, thanks to the river Severn, a few small but very lovely woods do survive and they can be enjoyed on this walk. Though the valley is mostly fairly flat, there are a few sandstone cliffs on both sides of the river. Too steep for cultivation or grazing, they retain not only woodland but a colourful ground flora too, including bluebells.
Each wood is different in character. On the west bank at Holt Heath the cliffs are clothed in a variety of trees, including wild cherry, but beech is the most prominent species.
Beech needs well-drained conditions but on the east bank, north of Mutton Hall, there is a completely different sort of wood, wet and wild with a tangled, jungly sort of feel, full of marshy patches where damp-loving plants such as cuckoo flower and yellow flag bloom from April to June.
One thing the two woods do have in common is masses of wild garlic, a woodland plant which seems to flower most profusely beside rivers and streams.
The cliffs are complemented by terraces, such as the one between Mutton Hall and Holt Fleet. Part of it is wooded, but part is covered by a dense mixture of gorse and broom, an uncommon sight in Worcestershire and a striking landscape feature. The broom is flowering now, while the gorse flowers almost every month of the year. The Severn was once this country's most important trade route but it wasn't the easiest of rivers to navigate. In the 1840s, improvements were made to the navigation between Gloucester and Stourport-on-Severn in an effort to stave off the threat from the railways. The lock and weir at Holt Fleet were built at this time, along with a lock-keeper's cottage, a delightful and unusual building which survives unspoilt. Another unusual survivor is a small, round, cast-iron milepost (five miles to Stourport) on the east bank. It's very easy to miss - look for it close to the riverbank just before you draw level with Westfield.
Though this is a short walk it is easily extended downstream, should you wish. Options include a pleasant stroll along the east bank on the Wychavon Way to Ombersley Park, or the Severn Way above the west bank to Holt Castle.
FACTFILEStart: : A443, Holt Heath; grid ref SO815630.
Length: 6 miles/10km.
Maps: : OS Explorer 204, OS Landranger 150.
Terrain: Riverside pasture and woodland, with a couple of gentle slopes.
Footpaths: Mostly excellent, though waymarking is absent in places, there are some nettles and you will have to scramble over a large, fallen beech tree blocking the riverside bridleway near Westfield.
Parking: By the A443 at Holt Heath.
Buses: 293/294/758 on weekdays, 300 on Sundays/bank holidays; Traveline 0870 608 2608 or www.worcestershire.gov.uk/bustimetables Refreshments: The Holt Fleet Hotel and the Wharf Inn by Holt Fleet Bridge; Broomfields Farmshop and Tea Rooms between the bridge and Holt Heath; Premier Cottage Stores and the Red Lion at Holt Heath.
PLEASE NOTE: This walk has been carefully checked and the directions are believed to be accurate at the time of publication. No responsibility is accepted by either the author or publisher for errors or omissions, or for any loss, accident or injury, however caused.
DIRECTIONS:1 Cut through Woodbury Park (a housing development) to the A4133 and cross to Cherry Orchard opposite. Turn second left on Severn Heights to join a footpath which runs along the top of the riverside cliffs before descending through woodland and then through a garden to the B4196. Turn right, then very soon right again on a bridleway at Westfield. Walk through the riverside wood to Holt Fleet Bridge.
2 Cross the river and turn left to walk upstream on the towpath (the Severn Way). Keep straight on at a path junction near Mutton Hall Caravan Site. After passing through a wood, leave the towpath for another path which runs along the right-hand edge of a meadow. Leave the meadow in the far corner and turn right on a tree-lined track, ignoring branching footpaths.
3 Pass a house called Hollies, turn right on a lane and then immediately right again, signed to Ombersley and Holt Fleet. Walk to a T-junction and turn right, signed to Holt Fleet. Leave the lane when it bends sharp left, keeping straight on past Brant House on a footpath which is also the access road to Mutton Hall Caravan Park.
4 Having passed the first half-dozen caravans, join a footpath at a stile. There are two paths and you can take either one. If you want to retrace your steps by the river take the right-hand one. Otherwise, take the left-hand path which runs along the base of a terrace, which is wooded at first, before the trees give way to gorse and broom. The path eventually enters another caravan park - there are two stiles here and no waymarking, but the right-hand stile is the correct choice. Go roughly straight on through the caravan park, guided by a series of hedge gaps until you join a surfaced track. Fork left at a junction, soon passing a farm and proceeding to a lane. Turn left, then take a footpath on the right. Climb through woodland to a track and turn right to the A4133.
5 Cross the road to a path opposite which passes between two pools and then left of the Wharf Inn to meet the Wychavon Way by the river. Turn right, pass under Holt Fleet Bridge and go up to the road. Cross the river again then join the Severn Way at the Holt Fleet Hotel. After passing the pub, the path turns right and climbs through woodland then up through a field to meet a track. Turn right and walk to the A4133. Turn left beside the road, then left again to Holt Heath.