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THIS is a very easy walk where Gloucestershire meets Warwickshire at the north-eastern tip of the Cotswolds. It makes full use of well-defined, well-used, well-maintained paths and tracks, including sections of the Heart of England Way and the Monarch’s Way.
That means you don’t need to pay too much attention to navigating and can relax and enjoy the panoramic views from Ilmington Downs, which rise above the villages of Ilmington, Ebrington and Mickleton. Though mostly converted to arable production, just enough sheepgrazed, rolling downland survives to provide a glimpse of how beautiful this landscape must have looked in the past.
The highest point of the downs is Ebrington Hill, also sometimes known, rather confusingly, as Stoke Hill, Lark Stoke Hill or Ilmington Hill. At 261 metres, Ebrington Hill is modest in size and crowned by ugly television masts but it is the highest point in Warwickshire, so peak baggers can tick off another ‘county top’ after doing this walk.
The village of Ilmington is possibly the loveliest in Warwickshire, its gracious buildings a mixture of warm-hued stone and mellow brick, with stone, tile and thatch roofs.
Manorial fish ponds and the hilly backdrop of the downs add to its charm. The church of St Mary the Virgin dates from the 11th century and the interior contains oak furnishings made in the 1930s by the renowned craftsman Robert Thompson, of Kilburn, Yorkshire, whose signature of a carved mouse occurs 11 times, though it’s quite a challenge to find them all.
There are more lovely buildings at the Gloucestershire village of Mickleton, but it is best known for its proximity to two famous gardens, both open to the public.
Hidcote Manor Garden is enormously popular. It was created by Major Lawrence Johnston, who devoted 40 years to transforming a grassy hilltop into one of the most influential of 20thcentury gardens. It is designed as a series of small gardens, separated by walls and hedges, each with its own atmosphere, giving rise to the now popular concept of ‘outdoor rooms’. Major Johnston gave the garden to the National Trust in 1948. Kiftsgate Court, opposite, is less visited but many prefer it to the more famous Hidcote.
It was created after the First World War by Heather Muir and continues to evolve in the care of her granddaughter. The design makes the most of the sloping site and there is a fine collection of roses, including the largest rose in England.
Start: Mickleton, a village on the B4632 a few miles east of Evesham, grid ref SP161435.
Length: 9½ miles/15km.
Maps: OS Explorer 205, OS Landranger 151.
Terrain: Mostly pastoral farmland, with some gentle slopes.
Footpaths: Mostly excellent, though slight confusion might be caused by erratic waymarking (a bridleway marked in places with yellow arrows instead of blue) between Ilmington and Stoke Wood.
Parking: Near the phone box or church in Mickleton (or Lower Green at Ilmington).
Public transport: Take the train to Moreton-in-Marsh and change to Johnson’s 21/22 (Moreton- Broadway-Stratford via Mickleton); or go all the way by bus, changing at Evesham and Broadway; there are also buses to Ilmington from Stratford (Johnson’s 23/23A); worcestershire.gov.uk/bustimetables or gloucestershire.gov.uk or 01905 765765 or Traveline 0871 200 2233.
Refreshments: Several pubs and shops in Mickleton and Ilmington, seasonal café and restaurant at Hidcote Manor Garden, seasonal lunches and teas at Kiftsgate Court Garden.
1 Leave the main street by the phone box and walk up a short lane to the church.
Take a footpath on the right, indicated by a fingerpost opposite the churchyard. Walk through fields and woods to a path junction and join the Heart of England Way (HEW), going diagonally right
uphill. Cross a road and follow HEW for a further half-mile or so to a junction with the Monarch’s Way (MW).
2 Leave HEW and turn left to follow MW for about a mile, until you have walked around the outer edge of Hidcote Manor Garden to the village of Hidcote Bartrim. Go through the village, past Hidcote Manor, and then pass through the National Trust car park until you can turn right on a ‘restricted byway’. Follow it to the masts on top of Ebrington Hill and then keep straight on along a bridleway. Descend to a road and cross to another bridleway (Pig Lane) almost opposite. Keep straight on at a path junction and again straight on at the next junction, across a lane and along a track opposite. Turn left at the next junction, along a lane to Ilmington. Go straight on at the edge of the village and then turn right on Front Street to reach Lower Green and the Howard Arms.
3 Walk along Middle Street, passing the village shop, then turn right on a footpath, past ponds and across pasture to Back Street. Turn left, then shortly turn right on Hurdlers Lane and keep straight on at the end of the lane, along a footpath. Ignoring a crosspath, proceed to a bridleway and turn right. Walk across a stretch of rolling downland and when the bridleway forks take the left-hand option through Stoke Wood. Walk to a lane at Lark Stoke and then turn left to the top of Ebrington Hill.
4 Turn right on the ‘restricted byway’ you used earlier and return to the National Trust car park at Hidcote. Go straight through the car park then straight on along a footpath to the left of a lane, through woods and parkland to a road. Turn right, then left on a bridleway just before Kiftsgate Court. Descend through pasture, eventually re-joining HEW. Follow it down to Mickleton.
Worcester News recommends the use of OS Explorer Maps, your ideal passport to navigating the countryside. This walk is based on OS Explorer 205.