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A Fruity Route Along Cleeve Hill

A low, wooded ridge looks over a rich, fertile plain where the popular Victoria plum is grown in abundance.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 225ft (69m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Paths across fields, stony tracks and village roads, 8 stiles

Landscape Level farmland with distant hills

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 205 Stratford-upon-Avon & Evesham

Start/finish SP 077469

Dog friendliness On leads near sheep; some freedom in arable fields

Parking Outside Littleton Village Hall on School Lane, Middle Littleton, or village street (tithe barn parking for visitors only)

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk westwards up School Lane to the B4085, here called Cleeve Road. Cross diagonally left to take a rutted, stony track, screened by a hedgerow from Kanes Foods. At a junction of tracks turn right to pass beside a gate, following a blue arrow. After 328yds (300m) reach an opening on the right and a line of plum trees making a field boundary; on the left is a stile.

2 Climb over this stile, entering Worcestershire Wildlife Trust's Windmill Hill Nature Reserve. Descend, ignoring crossing tracks, to another stile and across one field to the B4510. Follow the signposted 'Cleeve Prior' footpath through the caravan site. (Keep on the road for 220yds/201m for the Fish and Anchor.) Take a stile out of the caravan park to walk on a stone track beside the river.

3 At a fenced log cabin with lanterns, a satellite TV dish and a basketball net, move to the right to take a double-stiled footbridge - do not be deterred by a ragged sign 'OPAC Private Fishing' - and resume your riverside stroll. Opposite, in season, you'll see the Mill Hotel's guests quaffing on the lawn. Continue through mostly ungated pastures. Through a small iron gate, leave the river by taking the right-hand fork. Ascend through trees to a clearing and a path junction.

4 Turn sharply right, back on yourself, soon walking into trees again, to follow a popular bridleway. In a shade under 1 mile (1.6km) the B4510 cuts through the hill, beside The Hills. Cross over to a fingerpost, but follow the path for just 75yds (69m).

5 Climb the stile into the nature reserve here, and follow the waymarked, contouring path, giving fine views westwards. After 440yds (402m) you will recognise your outward route. Turn left here, up the bank, retracing your steps for just 30yds (27m), to Point 2. Once at the top go straight across, walking with the line of plum trees on your left. When this ends maintain this direction to the B4085, the tithe barn making a clear objective ahead.

6 Cross the road and go straight ahead. Before some young trees take a stile or gate to the right. In 15yds (14m) turn left to visit the tithe barn, or turn right to reach the village road. Turn right again, shortly to reach your car at the start of the walk.

The Vale of Evesham, renowned for its fruit, is virtually flat, but the growers who farm the land are constantly of the opinion that the economic 'field' on which they 'play' slopes against them. The most frequently cited objection is that producers abroad get (more) governmental assistance, facilitating a large supply of cheaper imported fruit, which consumers are willing to accept.

Plums with such evocative names as Pershore Purple and Pershore Yellow Egg used to dominate the region, but nowadays the Victoria accounts for three-quarters of the commercially grown plums. The plum is the first tree to come into flower in spring, showing its delicate white petals even before the sloe (blackthorn).

According to folklore, plums may, apparently, be used to make a love potion. In my experience, however, they are vastly more effective as a laxative than as an aphrodisiac, and I never eat prunes!

One of the ways in which cherry growers have made themselves more competitive is to grow the fruit on dwarfing rootstocks; as the name suggests, this means that the tree does not grow to any great height, making the other labour-costly task of picking the fruit much easier. A further benefit is that the smaller trees can be covered by a plastic tunnel. Although there are now several types of plastic tunnel, in England the so-called 'French tunnel' has been around, coincidentally, since roughly the time that the Channel Tunnel began to be drilled. Such a substantial investment is best thought of as an insurance policy, protecting the fruit from summer rainstorms.

There is considerable potential to be realised from combining these two simple technologies. Perhaps other trees, such as peaches, almonds, apricots and figs, will be grown in tunnels if suitable dwarf rootstocks can be cultivated.

Although growers are anxious to have soft fruits such as strawberries available early in the season, it is also an advantage to be able to prolong the season. This is achieved by taking plants out of the ground during the shortest days of December and January, then arresting their growth by keeping them in cold storage (which of course incurs a cost) until required, not planting out the last until August.

On our behalf, supermarket buyers make the assumption that we will only eat perfectly proportioned strawberries. Hives of honey bees are routinely used to maximise levels of pollination. Two separate studies have suggested that honey bees also reduce the percentage of misshapen fruit from about 30 per cent to below 5 per cent? presumably, as you read this, somebody is trying to work out why!

What to look for

As you walk through the caravan site you may notice that they are raised, standing on breeze-block pillars about 3ft (1m) high. This is a flood protection measure. It seems that a compromise was reached with the site's insurers, for this elevation would do little to save the caravans from a repeat of the 1998 flood.

While you're there

In the 1970s the Middle Littleton Tithe Barn, once used for tithe payments to the Abbey of Evesham, was lovingly restored. It's open from 2pm to 5pm (April to October), so time your walk so as not to miss it. Documents show that the barn was in use in about 1370, but carbon dating puts its construction nearly 100 years earlier. Eleven magnificent bays span its 136ft (41m) length - that's about two cricket wickets - and the apex of its roof is over 40ft (12m) above its stone-slabbed floor.

Where to eat and drink

Rather early on in the walk, and just a couple of minutes off the route, is the Fish and Anchor, which welcomes both dogs and children. South Littleton has a post office stores and a fish and chip shop, open Wednesdays to Saturdays at lunchtimes and from 5pm. In North Littleton the Ivy Inn serves hot food and cask ales. You may sit outside beside a green. It also has some children's play equipment and a skittle alley.

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