We originally picked the Arden Way because it is a reasonable distance (26 miles) that could potentially be done in a single day. The starting point is also very close to where we live in Solihull so it is a perfect route to take.
Both Martin and Wayne were coming with me so it proved to be a great little escape from the stresses of daily life, which I needed. Unfortunately, Wayne fell ill a few days before and was unable to join us. Martin and I decided to go as planned because we’d been looking forward to the hike for a number of weeks.
Being November we were unsure whether we would be able to squeeze the full 26 miles in before it got dark at around 4.45pm so on the day we made the decision to aim at completing 20 miles and then doing the remaining section at a later date. It turned out we were right to do this as we still ended up hiking the final 5 miles in the dark.
The weather was good for hiking as the rain that plagued us all week stopped and the sky was clear. It was cold but nothing too uncomfortable. So it turned out we’d picked a good day for it.
The Arden Way Route
I also ordered the ‘Arden Way Guide’ from the Heart of England Way Trust website, which provides lots of useful information about the route. If you are planning on walking the Arden Way it would be worth picking one of these up as they are only a couple of pounds and are a nice accompaniment to the maps.
We wanted to walk the Arden Way as it was meant to be walked, starting at Henley-in-Arden and following the route anti-clockwise as per the Arden Way Guide.
We decided to drive over to Henley-In-Arden and start with a cooked breakfast at Henley-In-Arden Golf Course, very close to the start point. Their website said they welcome walkers and so we thought it ideal. Martin picked me up at 7.30am and we headed out on our little adventure.
We parked on the road outside the train station, got our packs on and then hit the trail by crossing the railway bridge and taking the footpath on the right, which eventually leads past Henley-in-Arden Golf Club where we planned on having breakfast.
Breakfast at Henley-in-Arden Golf Club
We arrived at Henley-in-Arden Golf Club at 8am and ordered a full English breakfast and strong coffee each.
Aside from the staff, we were the only ones there so early on a Sunday morning. Last night’s football was on the television. It was a nice place, well decorated and well looked after. The breakfast itself was fantastic and I would definitely eat there again if the opportunity arose.
When we were sufficiently full we got our packs back on, thanked the staff, and then continued on the trail from the carpark out front. The path was sodden with this week’s rain and the ground made squelching noises underfoot.
Hitting The Trail
Essentially, this path cut right across the Golf Course with tall hedges on either side and eventually led us past a pond and then over a stile. The footpath continues for a while across fields and then through a deserted farmyard and out onto a winding country road.
It was great being outside and already I could feel my mind easing itself of the stress and depression I’d been suffering with that week. Getting outside really does make a difference. The air was fresh, the sky was clear and blue. The countryside (in terms of the people that live in it at least) seemed to be still sleeping in. It is great to be outdoors!
If you struggle with stress or depression I really recommend just getting outside more. It doesn’t have to be for 20 mile hikes. Just a few hours out and about is good for the mind in my opinion. You just need to find an activity you enjoy.
The Fallen of the Arden Way
At one point of the walk, early on, we crossed a couple of boggy fields and reached a stile or gate in one of the field’s corners. Hedges crowded in on either side of this gate so that you had to pass through before you realised you were standing in the middle of a very old grave yard at the rear of a small country church. It was strange that the footpath passed right through this peaceful little place. We made a joke that it was a cemetery for exhausted walkers who hadn’t yet even reached the 10 mile mark. We exited the tiny cemetery through a small gate set in a white picket fence and continued along the path leaving the little church behind.
Shortly after, we passed briefly through Ullenhall and then out along a small winding country road. The Arden Way continues up this country road and enters a field full of sheep via a stile. Despite consulting the map on a number of occasions we got lost in this one small waterlogged field. Eyed suspiciously by large gangs of sheep we had to pick our way around the perimeter of this field until we found the exit gate, which was only a short distance from the one we entered in by. If only I’d read the Arden Way Guide properly at this point. Essentially, the Arden Way clips the corner of the field and our assumption that the exit was on the far side of the field was wrong.
The Bog of Eternal Stench (1980s Labyrinth Reference)
On the other side of the stile we picked our way through a small thicket that lined the edge of the busy A4189 and then crossed the road a little further up at Cadborough Farm. The Arden Way footpath crosses through this farm. I was a little nervous about passing through this land as there were signs everywhere saying “beware of the bull”. Couldn’t see the thing anywhere but we could hear him voicing his displeasure at our presence from the cattle shed.
We passed through the gate and followed the path across the farm yard and the next couple of boggy fields until our progress was halted for some time at a gate set at the lower end of the next field.
A Nasty Surprise
Right in front of the gate, so there was no way past, was a massive sea of mud and cow shit so deep one step in it and it would go well above your ankles and down inside your boots. On either side of us were fences covered in barbed wire to prevent trespassing. There was no other way around. The field beyond sloped down to this point and all the sludge had evidently oozed slowly down and gathered at the mouth of the gateway – right where we needed to cross. There was so much of it that it blocked our path. There was no way to jump it and it was right up against the fences on either side so there was no way around it either.
What I took for the sounds of the bull’s displeasure originally, I now think was laughter at two hikers passing by, who would soon reach the little surprise he’d left in the next field.
A Narrow Escape
Luckily Martin was quite resourceful – being a scout leader and all. We found various rocks and bricks and logs and tried to build a bit of a bridge across but it all just sank into the sludge, never to be seen again. In the end we had to climb the wire fence itself and work our way around the edge trying to avoid thorn bushes and barbed wire that seemed to want us to let go and fall backwards into the bog of eternal stench.
Following Martin’s lead, I worked my way around the edge of the field on the right hand side of the gate and then dropped down onto the very muddy grass on the extreme side of the bog. We still had to pick our way across the sludge but at this point it wasn’t so deep. I think it probably took about fifteen or twenty minutes to navigate this obstacle and must have looked hilarious. On the other side of the sludge the path continued to follow the edge of the field and then into the next. With the constant struggle of hiking in mud and having to navigate such obstacles it felt like the Arden Way didn’t want us to pass along its route and tried various things to thwart our progress. It was a bit like when Gandalf and the fellowship of the ring tried to cross the mountains of Caradhras, which fought back at them to prevent their passing in Lord of the Rings.
We followed the Arden Way across a few more fields and eventually passed through another farm yard at Manor Farm. The Arden Way then bares right off the main road along a small country path towards Morton Fisheries while the main road continues on.
As we exited the farm yard and followed the path to the right we were met by a very ill-tempered goat who was not happy to see us encroaching on his turf. He had two very big, very straight horns he seemed eager to use. I slowed my pace but Martin, evidently braver than I, continued. The goat looked ready to charge, lowering its head and aiming its black spears at Martin’s crotch. Martin decided to back off and preserve his crown jewels and sense of dignity.
The little devil stood in the middle of the Arden Way, waiting for us to make a move. We consulted the map and found an alternative footpath a little further up the main road that cut downhill across a few fields and would eventually allow us to bypass the furious farm animal.
We made the decision to take this alternative route, and casting a glance back over my right shoulder, it seemed Billy Goat’s Gruff was disappointed he hadn’t got to use his horns on us today.
So we found the alternative footpath and followed it downhill over a number of fields until it eventually spat us out onto a long and winding country road I forget the name of. We had to walk along this road for miles until we eventually took a break on the banks of the River Arrow and then re-joined the Arden Way there. We crossed a very muddy field and walked over a small footbridge into a large patch of wasteland with the River Arrow flowing on our left. I imagine in the summer this is a nice spot to sit and relax. In the late autumn though the mud was hard going. The path seemed to stretch out for a long time with the sounds of squelching loud in the silence.
The Throckmorton, Alcester
Eventually we crossed into a field and Coughton Court was visible only a few hundred meters away. The path led us around the estate and then out onto the main road where a proper rest awaited us.
We decided to pause at the Throckmorton Arms on Coughton Hill. It was a lovely little place with a log fire burning in the hearth. We could smell the wood smoke as we approached the building and crossed the busy road.
This was evidently a popular venue for a Sunday lunch. We found a little table and took off our packs to sit down. I felt a little uncomfortable at the fact it was a seemingly very nice (dare I say posh?) pub and we came in with very muddy hiking boots with mud and cow shit spattered up our trousers.
Back On The Trail
Nonetheless, we had a pint of cold coke each and a bag of crisps while we checked messages and gave our legs a good rest. I think we tarried there for around three quarters of an hour before we made use of the facilities and then prepared to hit the trail again.
We both felt revived and ready to tackle the remaining miles before dark. Retracing our steps along the road, we passed Coughton Court on our left. The Arden Way heads through the estate at this point and back into the fields. We noticed a couple of apple trees at the start of this pathway and a sign saying they’d been planted some time ago for the refreshment of those passing by. I’m sorry to say I forgot the wording of this plaque and thus the details it communicated, but the idea of this really stuck out to me. There were no apples on it for us to pick though, so we went without.
The Ford over the River Arrow and Muntjac Deer
The Arden Way took us along Coughton Fields Lane up to the banks of the River Arrow where there is a ford. The river was flowing very strong as a result of all the rain we’d had over the last few days and I really wouldn’t have wanted to take a car across the ford. We took the footbridge and spent a bit of time taking in the site of it. Dogs were playing in the water and there were people gathered there just watching the water.
We met a nice man and his young son who were both on push bikes waiting to cross the river by the bridge. He told us the last time he’d taken that trip on his bike he’d attempted to cycle across the ford. It had evidently been flowing hard that day too because the current toppled him over and he’d fallen into the river and got totally soaked.
We waved the father and son goodbye and then pushed on across a field and back into the countryside. This bridleway carried on for a mile or so until the ground on our left sloped away downhill and we got some lovely views. We even saw some muntjac deer down there, spotted by Martin’s keen eye.
Stopping for Coffee
Eventually the bridleway crossed a road and then joined the Heart of England Way, both running together for some distance. We passed a lovely looking property on our left and then followed the footpath up into a large coppice. Just at the entrance to this woodland, under the leafy canopy, was a green bench with the words “Heart of England Forest Project” across one of the back struts. This welcome stopping place couldn’t have come at a better time.
We decided to stop for a while and have a rest. Martin lit his little camping stove and boiled up some water for a hot cup of coffee. It was a lovely spot to stop in. I could have spent several hours sat there in the silence just absorbing the atmosphere of the woods. I love woodland of all the terrain types I’ve experienced so far. There is something relaxing and replenishing about being under the outstretched branches of ancient oak trees. This is probably one of the highlights of this trip for me. Both the smell and the sound of the small CampinGaz stove as the light slowly started dimming. The fresh air and the smell of the rotting brown leaves that covered the wood’s floor like a carpet. It was a fantastic place.
The Last Five Miles and the Night Screamer
By this point we’d walked about 15 miles (because of our detour around the angry goat) and still had a good way to go. At this time of year the sun was setting at about 4.45pm and as we sat there enjoying our coffee it was gone 3pm. We knew we’d be walking some miles in the darkness and that these miles would be through Bannam’s Wood and over countless boggy fields.
We’d opted to cut out a chunk of the Arden Way in order to walk a shorter section of it. We intend to come back and complete the remaining 6 or 7 miles at a later date. The darkness and the sheer amount of mud would have made it very difficult to hike those miles today in the darkness. So we took a footpath that led us east to re-join a later stage of the Arden Way at Bannam’s Wood, reaching the wood as darkness settled across the land.
Into The Darkness
We dug our torches out of our packs and then plunged into the darkness of the wood. Hiking through woods at night is an interesting experience. I actually find it very calming, or at least I did on this occasion. There was another bench here in the middle of the woods and we spent five minutes sat there in the darkness listening to the absolute silence all around us. Not even the sound of snapping twigs or falling leaves. When we continued along the pathway, winding its way among the trees, we had a fantastic view on our right and we realised we were actually high up on a hill overlooking the lights of a small town in the distance (not sure of the place name). Fireworks were going off as it was the weekend before firework night. It was strange hearing the loud explosions in the sky off to our right and the dull-coloured lights on the trunks of the trees around us.
After Bannam’s Wood much of the remainder of the journey was through very muddy fields in the pitch darkness. Visually there is not much I remember of this stage of the journey as a result. What I do remember is some creature off in the darkness somewhere with a human-like scream and the never ending struggle to keep my legs moving. My energy levels were depleted.
That scream continued in the distance as we crossed a number of fields and made our way for Henley-in-Arden and the much needed comfort of sitting in a car.
Overall, this was a really good hike and (at the time of writing at least) the longest distance I’ve attempted in a single day. By the end of it I was absolutely exhausted but my mind was cleared and I felt refreshed mentally speaking – so a success in my book!
As with my previous hike, I enjoyed the fact there was a mix of terrain types. We hiked across fields, through woodland and also along dirt tracks that wound through the Warwickshire countryside. We hiked in daylight and also spent three hours hiking through the woods and fields in the dark before we made it back to the car. It was a varied hike in all senses.
The ‘downsides’ were the bogginess of much of the terrain at this time of year. All twenty miles were really muddy and wet, which made it hard to walk and made the leg muscles work twice as hard. It didn’t really cause us a problem apart from the point where we had to traverse the sea of cow shit at Cadborough Farm. But, even this was amusing and presented us with a challenge.
Also, the shortness of the day made it difficult to squeeze the distance in. In hindsight, to avoid this in future it would be better to stick to shorter distances during the late autumn and winter months when the days are a lot shorter.
I’m keen not to let things like this prevent me from venturing out though. I think it is more about preparation and learning. I want to get outside at all times of year. Each of the seasons has its own character and I want to experience them all.
This was a great day out! I can’t wait to hike the remaining section of the Arden Way. I thoroughly recommend the Arden Way to anyone interested in hiking or needing to get outside and escape it all.
As well as my usual hiking gear (click here to find out more) I also used the following on this hike:
I know I included this in my previous gear list but I wanted to add a note here about my experience with it on this trip. It’s not really designed for prolonged use of this type I think. I ended up with sore shoulders where all the weight was on them for the duration. There is no waist strap to ensure the weight is on the hips and this really showed on this occasion. I think I will need to invest in something a bit more suited for the next excursion. It is perfect for short trips with a light weight but for anything more challenging I think something else is needed.
I invested in a basic first aid kit to add to my pack for this trip (and future trips). I got it from Boots and added in some additional items I thought it lacked. This is a basic kit and I am sure there are lots of things that can be added but as we were always going to be close to civilisation on this outing I thought it would sufficient. We were not intending on doing any real cooking or using any cutting tools so that reduced the risk a bit. This kit will probably evolve over time and will depend on the activity I am engaged in at the time.
I’ve not actually had a chance to use this yet. I took it on the trip because it allows for easy and rapid set-up and is perfect for a quick stop. My full cook kit is more involved and would take longer to set up, use and clean up. As we had many miles to cover in a shorter day I opted for this one. Martin has the same one and we used his on this trip. It really worked well and rapidly boiled the pot of water we intended to use for our coffee. I think it is a great little stove and I will make use of it on later trips if speed is a requirement.
I love this stainless steel water bottle. It holds 1 litre of water which I brought along for the noodles and also to clean up afterwards. This is a high quality bit of kit and is part of my cook kit (I will be writing a separate post about my cook kit shortly). It can be used as a water carrier, drinking bottle and can even be put over a stove or camp fire to boil water because it is stainless steel.
This also forms part of my new cook kit and consists of a small titanium pot and a slightly smaller titanium mug – both of which can be placed on a stove or camp fire to boil water or cook food. It comes with a nice little foldable spork which can be used to eat with. I used the smaller 450ml mug when we took a break in the woods and Martin kindly boiled up some coffee on his stove. I love this little set and can’t wait to have a full test of it on my new cook kit.
As with the stove above, I didn’t actually end up using this on the hike but I brought it with me so we could stop and cook up some noodles to keep us going. We actually kept ourselves full by munching nuts and dried fruit as we went along which kept us full and energised.
This is the first time I’ve used one of these water bladders. It holds 2 litres of water which can be drunk through a tube without having to take off your pack. 2 litres proved to be more than sufficient for this trip. In my previous hike I carried a water bottle but this bladder is so much easier. If you are going on any long distance walks or cycle rides then I recommend getting one of these.