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CRADLEY is a sprawling village below wooded hills a couple of miles west of North Malvern.
It has plenty of 20thcentury houses but the unspoilt nucleus of the original village still survives.
In addition to a Norman church and some lovely cottages, it has Herefordshire’s most attractive parish hall, a 15th-century timber-framed building which was once the village school.
At nearby Mathon, a much smaller village, there’s another Norman church, and this one retains more features of interest than Cradley’s church, having suffered less from Victorian ‘restoration’. The magnificent yew tree in the churchyard is at least a thousand years old.
Appealing though these villages are, it is the hilly landscape which is the main attraction on this walk. Set against the backdrop of the Malvern Hills, it’s a patchwork of pasture, woodland and orchard, threaded by numerous brooks. The woods are mostly sited on the tops of the hills, which are formed from limestone, giving them a different and rather richer flora than the Malverns. The trees provide cover for a range of wildlife, including muntjac deer, which are present throughout the area. You’re perhaps most likely to spot one on the climb up to Whitman’s Hill or along the delightful ridge-top path from Whitman’s Hill to Croft Farm.
Start: Rectory Lane, Cradley, grid ref SO735471.
Length: 7½ miles/12km.
Maps: OS Explorer 190, OS Landrangers 149 and 150.
Terrain: Pasture and woodland, moderately hilly, occasionally steep.
Footpaths: Mostly excellent apart from a few gaps in waymarking.
Parking: Near the war memorial, Rectory Lane.
Buses: Astons 417 Worcester-Ledbury via Cradley, Mon-Sat; worcestershire.gov.uk/bustimetables or 01905 765765.
Refreshments: Post Office Stores, Cradley. The Cliffe Arms at Mathon is closed. There is a pub at Stifford’s Bridge, on the A4103 north of Cradley.
1 Walk along Rectory Lane, past the church and parish hall. Go into a field at the end of the lane, then through a small gate on the right. Follow a well-trodden path towards Lumbridge Hill Wood.
Cross a brook then turn right, ignoring a stile giving entry to the wood. Enter the wood a little further on at another stile. Keep straight on at an unsigned junction then turn left at the next two junctions, walking beside the brook. When you have to leave the wood, proceed along field edges to a lane and turn right.
2 Take the first path on the left and keep straight on at a junction with a bridleway. Climb past Whitman’s Hill Coppice to the top of Whitman’s Hill then turn right on a ridge-top path. It’s mostly confined to woodland but takes to field edges at times. It also changes status, from a footpath to a bridleway, after about half-a-mile.
However, it’s easily followed – just keep close to the ridge top and go straight on at all junctions.
3 At Croft Farm turn right at a junction with a footpath. Follow the path down through pasture and woodland to meet an access track.
Turn right towards Bank Farm.
Ignore a path branching right at the farm and continue a little further along the track until you see a waymark on a gate on the left. Walk through a dry valley, passing through three fields. In the third one head to a gate at a fence corner on the right, below Rowburrow Wood. Walk along the edge of the wood (NB: not as shown on OS maps), then keep to the outer woodland edge when you enter a field. Keep on in much the same direction when you come to a fence corner, along a fairly obvious path, moving away from the wood. Go past Rose Farm to a lane and turn right.
4 Take the next path on the right, by Wakelands. Fork left on another path after Tythings Cottage. Keep to the left-hand field edge until past a group of houses then keep straight on, cutting across a field corner to pass through a gate in the next corner. Keep left through two more fields to meet a lane. Turn right, walking through Mathon. Turn right on a footpath just before the church. You’ll soon cross Cradley Brook to enter an arable field: look for two whitetopped posts ahead and go to the one on the left. Turn left to meet the hedge – not along an obvious path, but to the right of it. Cross a stile to a lane and turn left.
5 When the lane bends left, take the access track to Ferney Cottage, but then cross a stile on the left after a few metres. Follow a waymarked path across two fields to a lane. Turn right, then soon right again at a T-junction (Hackney Cross). Take the next path on the right, passing through woodland then along field edges. After crossing a brook go straight on across a field to a prominently waymarked junction at a hedge corner. Turn left beside the hedge, go through a gate and proceed along a green lane. Go straight on through pasture when the lane bends right.
Keep straight on at all subsequent junctions, crossing two lanes, until you can go no further forward.
6 Look for a stile to the left, near an old bath which serves as a water trough. Walk up a slope towards a cottage, but before you reach it, cross a stile on the right and go down a field to cross Cradley Brook at a footbridge. Go diagonally left across a field to the far corner, cross an access track and take a path opposite. Follow it to another access track and turn left into Cradley. Turn right by the post office to return to Rectory Lane.