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THIS week’s walk is for Worcester News readers Maureen and Jim, of Pershore, who enjoyed last year’s Ilmington and Mickleton walk so much that they requested another. This covers some of the same ground on the basis that it would be a great pity to miss out Ebrington Hill, but instead of then heading west to Mickleton, it heads south to explore part of the lovely Foxcote Estate.
This includes parkland around Foxcote House which is studded with massive ancient trees, mainly oak and lime. On higher ground, bordering the bridleway from Madgcombe Coppice to Foxcote Farm, avenues of splendid beech trees are interspersed with twisted, gnarly old elder trees whose claw-like roots cling to tumbledown, mossy stone walls.
Some of the pastureland at Compton Scorpion is marked with the ridge-and-furrow pattern of mediaeval ploughing, indicating that these fields have not been ploughed for about 600 or 700 years, since strip-cultivation gave way to sheep farming.
The peasants who had previously cultivated the land may have been thrown off it to make way for more profitable sheep, or it may be that they were wiped out by the Black Death.
Traces of their village survive as earthworks about half-a-mile south of Compton Scorpion Farm.
In the gorse-studded valley below Redlands Barn, the pastures are full of ancient anthills, another sign that there has been no ploughing for centuries.
Old anthills add significantly to local biodiversity because their soil structure differs from that of the surrounding pasture, allowing them to support a different range of wild plants. They also attract green woodpeckers, which love to feed on ants.
The once common skylark has now vanished from much of the countryside but it’s clinging on here. Dozens of these small birds with big voices still fill the air with song above Ebrington Hill and Ilmington Downs, adding to the sense of space and freedom which pervades these breezy uplands.
The top of Ebrington Hill is the highest point in Warwickshire, although at a mere 261m (856ft), it’s hardly mountainous. It’s high enough, however, to offer good views of the Cotswolds and the vales of Stour and Avon.
Start: Lower Green, Ilmington, a few miles east of Evesham and south of Stratford; grid ref SP213436.
Length: Eight miles/13km.
Maps: OS Explorer 205, OS Landranger 151.
Terrain: Pasture, parkland, plantation, woodland; a few gentle slopes and one fairly steep descent.
Footpaths: Excellent, apart from a few gaps in waymarking.
Parking: Lower Green, Ilmington.
Public transport: Johnson’s 23/23A operates from Stratford to Ilmington (Lower Green), Mon-Sat only; reach Stratford by bus (First 550/551 to Evesham then Stagecoach 28) or train (London Midland via Birmingham Snow Hill or Moor Street) or, for a faster journey, a combination of both (First Great Western to Evesham then Stagecoach 28); worcestershire.gov.uk/bustimetables, 01905 765765, warwickshire.
gov.uk, 01926 412987, thetrainline.com or 08457 484950.
Refreshments: Two pubs and a shop, Ilmington.
1 Walk along Middle Street then turn right on a footpath to Back Street. Turn left, then shortly right on Hurdlers Lane. Keep straight on at the end of the lane, along a footpath. Ignoring a cross-path, proceed to another junction, turn right on a bridleway and follow it across rolling downland. There is potential for confusion at times as some yellow arrows have mistakenly been used in the waymarking (it should be blue for a bridleway) but if you bear this in mind you won’t go wrong. Fork left when you come to a junction near a house and walk through Stoke Wood. Proceed to a lane at Upper Lark Stoke and climb to the top of Ebrington Hill to find a junction near a telecoms installation.
2 Turn left on a bridleway, follow it to a lane and turn right. Take the next bridleway on the left, after about 400m. Keep left at subsequent junctions, eventually descending to meet an access road. Turn left past Foxcote Farm. After about 300m, fork right by the entrance to Foxcote House, joining a footpath which soon turns right through a plantation. Having left the trees, continue through pasture and turn left when you come to a junction.
Walk to a lane and turn left.
3 Drawing level with Redlands Barn, take a path on the right.
Descend steeply into a valley and turn right at the bottom. Go to the far end where a gate gives access to another plantation. The path through the trees is marked only by bits of yellow tape stuck to branches, but is followed easily enough until a stile gives access to a pasture. Go roughly straight across, passing to the left of Compton Scorpion Farm to meet an unfenced lane. Turn left.
4 Go through a concealed and unsigned metal gate on the left, just before a stile on the right.
Follow the left-hand field edge to the top left corner then keep to the left edge of the next field, go through a gate and follow waymarks through woodland then across downland, climbing to meet a lane. Cross to a bridleway opposite which is also an access road for Foxcote House – press a button to open the gate. Turn right at a junction after 300m and walk to the top of Knowlands Hill.
5 An easily followed footpath opposite leads straight down to Ilmington, if you’re looking for the most direct route. However, if you don’t mind walking a little further, it’s more interesting to turn right along a bridleway. Keep straight on at a junction with a lane but turn left when you reach another lane and follow it to Ilmington. Go straight on at a road junction on the edge of the village then turn right at the next junction to return directly to Lower Green, or turn left instead to explore the village.