With some time off work this autumn I decided it was about time I tackled another long distance path. I decided on one called the Nene Way. This route does something we walkers rarely seem to do. It heads east!
We are well used to heading north to the Lakes or Yorkshire, or west into Wales. We have regular trips down south to Dartmoor, Exmoor, and even the South Downs. But east? There is nothing much that way is there?
Well yes, there is. There are no spectacular National Parks or steep hills, but there is still much of interest and many opportunities for great days out.
The river Nene, Britain's 10th longest river, is the major river going east from the Midlands, and the local councils along the way set up a long distance path along its 110 mile length in the early 90's. It starts in a village called Badby, just over the Warwickshire border in Northamptonshire. One of the first challenges of the walk is to find out how to say 'Nene'. Apparently, upstream you say 'Neen', but further downstream it becomes 'Nin'.
The first stage, walking alongside a ditch, which soon becomes a babbling brook then a small river is really nice, a bit like the midlands countryside we know and love. But then it visits the sort of things we all dread; The M1, Northampton ring road, industrial estates. Camra members will avert their gaze as the route passes the Carlsberg brewery - it's not as Danish as you may think! After the Grand Union canal joins, the river becomes navigable. It seems to lose its life a bit at this point, it slows down and goes quiet. The water is held back by a series of locks, not the quaint black & white wooden things we see on local canals, but big ugly grey steel frames.
Eventually, the railway viaducts, warehouses and gravel workings are left behind and beautiful country with lovely stone villages starts to appear. Red kites are breeding around here and are a wonderful sight when circling above. The route reaches the historic village of Fotheringhay. Richard III was born here and his Dad, Richard Of York (who gave battle in vain) is buried in the huge church. Someone had tied a tartan ribbon to a fence by the old castle in memory of Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off there. Rather splendidly, on the anniversary of her death an angry Scotsman still turns up here every year waving a placard demanding an apology off the government!
This is as far as I have got so far. Peterborough and the open fens ending at the Wash will have to wait till next year.
I have not met anyone else walking the whole route, and I do not know anybody who has. There is precious little information about it on the web. But walking it, I have been impressed by how many people use the path. None of it is overgrown or difficult to find, and lots of local people are out using it all the time. The bit through Northampton is busy every day with walkers and cyclists commuting to work. The Nene Way may not attract that many tourists from afar, but the route and its connecting paths clearly provide a valuable local resource which contribute hugely to the quality of life in the area.
One great memory of the walk so far is meeting a lady near a stretch of woodland. Her dog was going berzerk trying to catch squirrels who were, rather un sportingly, running up the trees. After apologising for the dog, she started telling me all about the local area, naming all the church spires and woods we could see. She knew every path in the area and walked them most days. She was beaming and full of enthusiasm when she told me. "I have been here nearly 40 years and I love it. It is the most beautiful place to be and I want to be here for ever." Try telling her the east is boring!
By Andy P