IDEAL for an autumn morning or afternoon, this is a very pleasant and mostly very easy, relaxing walk in the parish of Astley and Dunley, near Stourport-on-Severn.
The parish comprises numerous farms and small settlements scattered across the landscape between the river Severn and Abberley Hill, with good views of the latter.
The oldest building still standing is St Peter’s church, which is Norman, dating from about 1160.
The exterior south wall has a notable corbel table of grotesque and comic carved heads, both human and animal.
Sadly, the soft sandstone wears badly and the carvings are seriously eroded.
It’s worth going inside St Peter’s to see a copy of the Astley tithe map of 1840, which is on display.
Like all maps, it is full of clues about the history and nature of the parish.
The field names, for instance, tell us where there were once shops, brickworks, limekilns, perry orchards, fish ponds, hopyards, malthouses and mills.
Redstone Rock, which is passed close to the halfway point of the walk, is a sandstone cliff riddled with caves. It may have been inhabited in the Stone Age and is known to have been used by hermits
between the 12th and 16th centuries. It later provided homes for some of the parish’s poorer residents and was inhabited until the mid-20th century.
Just south of Redstone is Larford Lakes, a fishery developed on a site which was formerly worked for sand and gravel.
The man-made pools are now a magnet for water birds. Little egret, gadwall and goldeneye are just a few of the species that have been recorded.
The surrounding grassland, woodland and scrub is attractive to species such as green woodpecker and greater spotted woodpecker.
FACT FILE Start: Bull Hill, Astley, where Bull Hill Lane and Church Lane form a crossroads with the B4196, between Shrawley and Astley Cross; grid ref SO801678.
Length: Seven miles/11km.
Maps: OS Explorer 204, OS Landranger 138.
Terrain: Pasture and arable; mostly flat, with only a few gentle slopes.
Footpaths: Variable. Many are excellent but several are let down by poor waymarking and a few have been over-cropped with brassicas. One path is badly overgrown with brambles and nettles.
Parking: Roadside (without obstructing either of the bus stops) at Bull Hill, or maybe ask for permission to park at the Hampstall Inn (licensing hours only).
Buses: First 294/295 Worcester- Kidderminster travelling to Bull Hill, Red House Road and Redstone Lane, Monday to Saturday only; worcestershire.gov.uk/bustime tables or 01905 765765.
Refreshments: Hampstall Inn at Hampstall Burf, Astley Cross Inn, King’s Arms at Astley Cross and café at Larford Lakes.
1 Walk along Bull Hill Lane and keep straight on at all junctions to reach Hampstall Grange. Turn left and follow the river Severn upstream. When the public footpath (Geopark Way) moves away from
the river you can choose between following it or continuing beside the river on a permissive path, until eventually you have to turn left to rejoin the right of way. Turn right after crossing a
stile (or keep straight on if you took the public path) and turn right when you meet Seedgreen Lane, passing Larford Lakes.
2 Take the Geopark Way and follow it through scrub then along a field edge to meet Redstone Lane at the Walshes (Redstone Rock is down steps on the right).
Turn left along Redstone Lane and go straight on at Astley Cross, along Red House Road. After 150m turn left into King’s Arms Lane and follow it to Pearl Lane (B4194).
Cross to a well-made footpath opposite, going diagonally left across an arable field. Follow it to a track, turn right and then immediately left along a field edge.
At a junction in the next field go diagonally right and follow the path to a lane.
3 Turn right, then right again by Pool House. Follow a track past Syntley Farm to reach Dark Lane and turn right. After 600m take a track on the left. Walk along a field edge, passing the entrances
to Hillcrest and Sunrise. A little further on the track bears right through a hedge gap – don’t go with it but go diagonally to the far left field corner instead. Pass a redundant stile, proceed
along the next field edge, then bear right across another field on a well-made path. Reaching the far side, follow the right-hand edge to a junction and go straight on. At the next junction pass
another redundant stile then turn right along a field edge.
4 Turn left along a track and keep straight on when you meet a lane, then shortly fork left on a no through road to St Peter’s Church.
Walk past the church and straight on along a stony path to a stile. Go straight on across a field to another stile, then along the left edge of the next field for a short distance before changing
to the other side of the hedge. Keep straight on through more fields but don't miss the point where you change sides again.
5 Reaching a track, turn right to find a waymarked junction.
Turn left across a field to a stile at the far side. Walk through the next field then cross a stile into a wasteland of brambles and nettles.
The path should go diagonally across, but it’s impossible to follow the correct line so walk along the left edge instead, to a shed. You can see that people tend to choose the line of least
resistance here, going straight on, climbing over a fence and pushing through a hedge gap to meet Church Lane.
However, a right turn through encroaching brambles will take you to a stile instead. Turn right along Church Lane to return to the crossroad at Bull Hill.