Here’s a chance to enjoy a circular walk taking in the beauty of the Hills and Holes at Barnack and enjoy the delights of the surrounding areas. Compiled by David Alvey, the walk gives you a short or long option depending on your energy levels …
The full walk follows two old transport routes, visits three SSSI sites and passes through limestone grassland, past copses and explores two methods of arable farming.
Start from the main car park at the Hills and Holes on Wittering Road. Enter the reserve through the gate at the top of the entrance path which takes you into compartment 2 (see map above).
Turn right to walk around the western end of the reserve passing through a wooden gate into compartment 1.
Carry on straight ahead along the well trodden path. To your right in the arable fields you will often hear Skylarks singing and in autumn and winter flocks of finches feed in the stubble. This length of path also has several patches of scrub that are home to Green Hairstreak butterflies in late spring.
Marbled whites and Chalkhill blues will be present on sunny days in the summer in the grassland to your left.
Carry on following the path as it runs parallel with the western boundary of the reserve until you reach the metal gate and exit the reserve on to the public footpath that forms the southern boundary.
Turn right and enter the arable fields through a wooden gate, walking west along the edge of the field alongside the high stonewall that surrounds the grounds of Walcot Hall.
Ravens nest in the woodland behind the wall and the field demonstrates the direct drill method of farming.
At the end of the path you emerge onto the road and turn sharp left to join the old route of Ermine Street.
Pass through the white gate and a second wooden gate to follow the western boundary of Walcot Hall grounds. The sheep pasture on your right has a variety of grasses which provide interest and colour at different times and dependent upon the grazing. Please do keep your dogs on leads as requested along this path. A gap in the boundary wall on your left provides an excellent view of Walcott Hall framed by the woodland on either side of the avenue.
The track carries straight along the route of the old roman road with the sound of the modern equivalent (the A!) usually carrying on the prevailing wind from the west.
On through the next set of gates you walk past a corner of Southorpe Roughs (SSSI) unfortunately overgrown with scrub on this corner and closed to the public. From this point looking south you have a wide view of the landscape over the Nene valley with the communications mast a Morborne clearly visible on the horizon.
Choose between a short or long walk
For a shorter walk
Follow the track which turns left and heading through a gate the track passes through woodland and down to the end of the road at the north end of Southorpe village re-joining the route of the full walk.
For the full walk
Carry straight on through the gate. Please note this field very occasionally has cattle in it and is actually L-shaped so you may come upon them around the corner of the end of the boundary wall on your left. Keep straight on across the field to the gate in the hedge straight ahead walking along the hedge line at the edge of another more traditionally cultivated arable field which rises up to your right giving an unusually close horizon for this area.
Through the next gate you are back walking across pasture land. Keeping straight ahead you walk along a slightly raised footpath evidence of the old Ermine Street, to the southern end of Southorpe. The view to your left overlooks Southorpe village and on the ridge in the distance as well as the buildings of High Farm you can see the western edge of Southey Woods.
Exiting the field onto the country road you turn left to walk thorough Southorpe village, a mixture of converted barns, farmhouses and new builds. The footpath does come to an end after about 100 metres and the road is narrow but the road now has a 20mph limit and cars should be going relatively slowly! Do take care especially where the road bends and visibility is more limited.
After about 200 metres rejoin the footpath on the left hand side of the road and shortly afterwards you can cross the road and enter Southorpe Meadows your third SSSI of the walk. Elsewhere on this site is a description of what you can expect to find on this wildflower haven.
After exploring the site rejoin the road and continue north through the village until the short cut rejoins from the left and you exit the village.
At this point you have a choice of routes.
Shorter (but note: often with cattle in one of the fields)
Take the gate straight in front of you and cross the first pasture field to the gate straight ahead. Proceed through this gate and walk straight across the arable field in front of you coming out near the cottages on the Walcot Road. Here the road bends sharply and you should take care to cross at a suitable point onto the wide verge opposite. Head to the metal kissing gate in the fence opposite and walk straight ahead to the corner of the hedgerow in front (not the field often contains cows and they are not always visible until you reach the corner of the hedgerow. Carry on straight ahead following the hedgerow. On your left you can see the clock tower on the stables at Walcot Hall and the main entrance to the hall.
Carry straight on and exit the field onto a narrow path behind Barnack Bowls club. Here you can climb over an old stone stile into some scrub land between the bowls and the cricket club a second higher stone stile exits this scrub onto the Walcot Road. Here you rejoin the full route next to the entrance to Barnack Cricket club.
The full route ( there is a length of road walking)
At the north end of Southorpe head slightly right along the road. It is outside the 20mph speed limit but is straight and has good visibility of traffic apart from at either end but here the verges are wide enough to walk along and the entrance to High Farm on the right hand side provides plenty of space to avoid traffic at the far end.
As you turn this corner you will see a white metal gate which provides the entrance to the old Stamford to Wansford railway track. As you join you will notice the road bridge that carried the road to Ufford over the old railway line. It is just after this that if you look closely you can see the remains of the platform of Ufford Bridge Station, this is potentially the only really muddy bit of the route in winter.
Carrying along the railway track you walk between a mixture of hedgerows. arable fields and past a copse on your left. To your right you can see the clock tower on the stables of Walcott Hall and the main entrance.
When you come to the end of the railway track turn left along the hedgerow pass through the small copse which contains a spring fed pond and keep following the hedgerow along the edge of the next field.
At the end of this path you can either turn left and follow the stone wall around the edge of the cricket club entering the grounds over a low wide stile in the wall or turn slightly right and then left to enter the cricket ground without having to negotiate any stiles. Cross the cricket ground to the pavilion and the car park exiting by the car park entrance onto Walcot Road at the edge of Barnack village.
At the car park entrance cross the road very carefully as it is on an “S” bend (the mirror for cars leaving the car park can be useful) you enter back into the Hills and Holes via the small pedestrian wooden gate slightly to the right of the metal vehicle gate.
You are obviously free to explore the reserve from here but my suggested and shortest route back to the Hills and Holes car park is as follows.
Walk straight ahead on the public footpath between the wall and the perimeter fence to the reserve ignoring the first metal gate into the reserve almost immediately on your left.
As you get to the edge of the wooded area you will see a large metal vehicle access gate and a small metal pedestrian gate.
Enter the reserve (compartment 4) through this gate and walk straight ahead through the woodland. you emerge from the woodland into quite a “barren” landscape. This area was cleared of trees and topsoil back in circa 2000. Stripped right back to bare limestone quarry waste what you see is the regeneration some 20 years on. Mulleins and Eyebrights are amongst the plants to be found here as well as a slow re-colonisation of orchids.
Take the path heading along the outside edge of the woodland and follow this until you reach a ridge, turn left and pass through the wooden gate into Compartment 1.
As you go straight ahead the route of the reserves waymarked Limestone Walk crosses and you turn right to join this as it heads to the central gate of the reserve. The grassland either side of this path is full of flora as compartment 1 was the earliest to come under management as a reserve in the early 1970’s.
Orchids and Pasque flowers can be seen here at the relevant time of year but the flowers extend well into autumn and are supplemented by various grasses and sedges.
A short pause on the seat by the gate can give time to look across the reserve and the sky above. If you have not already spotted one a Buzzard or Red Kite may well be seen. plus green woodpeckers, the full range of corvids and the odd kestrel may also make an appearance looking for the voles and mice that live here.
Carrying on through the gate and straight ahead compartment 2 offers a final array of flowers in spring, summer and autumn as you head back to the main gate down to the car park.