I’m holding my waterproof jacket, staring vacantly, hoping for some kind of divine intervention to make the decision for me. My real problem is that today’s walk does not suffer from over preparation: or, indeed, any kind of preparation at all. For the last few days it has been a note in my diary looming inexorably and inevitably nearer. Yet because so many other things have been jostling for my attention: notably getting my MG down to Baldock for much needed and overdue repair. But now all that is behind me and I have the decision before me.
Over the last few days brilliant sunshine had peeped between huge, spectacular showers some bearing large hailstones and often with spectacular thunder and lightning. These storms occasionally very local. I was driven home from my daughters one day only to find my washing, a mile distant, basking in warn sunshine. But today it is warm. The blue sky emphasising the cotton-wool Cumulus clouds that cruised sedately across the heavens.
Even the local radio station had promised dry, warm weather with showers limited to the evening. I sigh and zip up my jacket. Underdressed, I have, too often, ended up soaked to the skin. The next issue in this thoroughly underprepared walk is the route. Perhaps my partner can help. “Wherever you like Martin.” No help at all. Oh well, let’s make it up as we go along. I’ve not been in Oversley Woods since the Bluebells bloomed so I set a mental course to include them.
We crossed The Exercise Yard to exit through the Bleachfield Portal, crossing the River Arrow over the footbridge then turning right onto Mill Lane. Shortly we turn off the lane onto a footpath. This is not just any old footpath. It is, in fact, Icknield St, a Roman Road that runs between Bourton on the Water and Templeborough in South Yorkshire. Locally its route is easily discernible passing Wixford and fording The River Avon at Bidford. Then through Honeybourne and breasting the Cotswold escarpment at Saintbury.
Our ambitions are more modest. We carefully cross the A46 at Oversley Roundabout and follow the path between green hedges. Then turning left onto a farm track uphill towards Oversley Castle. Then left, passing a couple of houses and right passing a farm gate onto a muddy track that takes us towards the corner of Oversley Wood.
This is the point where The Arden Way crosses on its way between Alcester and Exhall. Another path climbs over the hill towards Exhall Cricket Club and another around the perimeter of the wood. However, we plunge into the wood following a narrow meandering path, squeezing between Hazel and Birch, trying desperately not to step on the carpet of spring flowers around us. Later, at the point where a bridleway crosses we leave the wood behind us and follow the way gently downhill along a narrow track with green farmland to our left and a tangle of brambles to our right. And that’s where we found it….
…Well, I say “we”. Actually it was my sharp eyed companion who saw it first. Superbly camouflaged among the brambles and low branches; not a metre from our feet. I followed her outstretched finger and immediately saw it, smooth and sinuous, deep in the shadows. Totally unimpressed by our presence but after few seconds, unhurriedly it eased away no doubt in search of a newt or frog for lunch. Sadly I was too entranced to photograph the moment but found this photograph attributed to The Guardian.
Our sighting was the highlight of the day. I had never seen a Grass Snake before, although, as a boy I had a friend with an unnerving talent for catching Slow Worms which he kept in a Kilner Jar until they escaped. His mother never quite recovered. We continued down the lane in warm sunshine. My companion discarded her waterproof and I followed suit. We turned left through a riding stables, now following The Arden Way between fields and paddocks, very gently uphill until meeting the eastern edge of Oversley Wood. Instead of my usual route home, we opted to walk through the wood: I still wanted to see the Bluebells.
Leaving the wood we re-join The Ardern Way and, thirst taking over, we head for home. Down the hill, over the footbridge and into Oversley village and finally re-enterring The Exercise Yard over the river bridge. And finally, back to The Hermit’s Cave for a leisurely review of the walk over a beer and a glass of wine. All that and I had no need of my jacket after all. What could be better?
To be honest, as part of the lack of planning on this walk, I didn’t set my walking App. However my companion’s Fitbit estimates the walk distance to be around 6.5 miles, taking us about 3.5 hours not including beer and wine.