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Badsey's Wartime Memories

A circuit from Badsey, where German prisoners of war helped feed the nation.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 80ft (24m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Meadow and arable paths, tracks and minor lanes, 26 stiles

Landscape Flat, market gardening and pasture

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

Start/finish SP 070431

Dog friendliness Can be off lead away from sheep pastures

Parking Roadside parking, Badsey village

Public toilets None on route

1 Walk south from St James' Church, close to the village stores and post office. Turn left, past the Wheatsheaf and along School Lane then right into Willersey Road. After 150yds (137m), turn left into Sands Lane. Walk for 500yds (457m), passing Greenacres Animal Rescue, to take a fingerpost, right, opposite the freedom paddocks. Follow waymarkers to a lane.

2 At the lane turn right for nearly ½ mile (800m). When this bends right, go straight ahead on a track. After ¼ mile (400m), just after some low corrugated iron sheds, take a stile on the right-hand side (or go ahead, then left at the main road, to visit the Sandys Arms). More meadow stiles lead to Wickhamford's memorial hall.

3 Turn right, passing striking black-and-white houses, some thatched. After 275yds (251m), at a right-hand bend, go left, passing the spectacular Wickhamford Manor House, to pass in front of St John the Baptist Church, of weathered sandstone with a squat tower. A footbridge crosses Badsey Brook; follow the left-hand field edge.

4 Beside a black wooden shed, join a green-centred track to Badsey Lane. Cross to take a similar track to Badsey Road. Cross this, taking the road through Aldington to a junction, past the imposing house and in front of The Old Stables. Turn right then almost immediately left, now on Chapel Lane. Just after the last house go half right, to a footbridge. Over this, cross one field then, in a plantation, is the walk's only ascent, far less taxing than the vicious tree stumps on the path itself. From this elevation Badsey is just to the south, and more distantly is Broadway Tower on Broadway Hill.

5 In front of a dark green barn turn right. At the B4085 go right for just 40yds (37m). Turn right and down this meadow to find a footbridge. Veer left a little to a rickety stile beside a shed with barbed-wire gates policed by alsatians. A green-middled track leads to Badsey Road. Turn right then left to view the Manor House on the right.

6 Continue along this street to the start at St James' Church, where the Manor House's POWs frequently attended services and had their own choir.

This is market gardening country. During the First World War at least 20 locations in Worcestershire were used to house prisoners of war (POWs), as part of the Government's drive to plug the gap left in the farming economy by those who had been sent away to fight. Badsey's POWs were mostly employed by market gardeners - the most labour-intensive of agricultural activities - at a time of low mechanisation.

All the market garden produce had to be collected. Basket-making was a specific skill held by some of the POWs, and was particularly welcomed by their new employers. The POWs themselves received 1d of the 4d their employers had to pay to the Government for their services. In fact, 4d became 5d after grumblings were made about these employers having access to preferential rates.

Towards the end of the First World War, the Manor House in Badsey, then a boys' home, was requisitioned to accommodate POWs. It had originally been built to house monks from Evesham Abbey who fell sick. A striking black-and-white private residence, parts of it date to about 1350, but it is mostly 16th-century. Now flanked by modern, functional houses, it is, architecturally, an oasis.

It's debatable how closely a local (and parochial) newspaper reflects the views of its mainstream readership, and so much has changed since that time. Pockets of resentment certainly existed, for example, the 'local rag' gave a dressing-down to a farmer who gave cider to his workers, among whom were German POWs. Hatred there may have been, but perhaps it was more for the war itself than the individuals who had been flung into it unwittingly.

Although some prisoners attempted to escape, such stories are rare. What was the incentive? Despite the mental strain of being a prisoner abroad, and living in what must have been cramped conditions - according to an edition of the Evesham Journal, about 100 men were held in the Manor House - to be captured, uninjured, and taken away from the front to do essentially familiar, physical work was a dream ticket when set alongside the hell of trench life.

Where to eat and drink

In Badsey the Wheatsheaf serves food (but not on Sunday evening). The village stores is open seven days a week and has supplies to get you round the walk. In Wickhamford the Sandys Arms is a worthy detour on a hot day.

What to look for

Between Wickhamford and Aldington you'll see a long row of water outlets for the intensive market gardening here. Immediately after this, a black wooden shed shows the April 1998 flood level, about 3ft (1m) above the field level. Look out for all manner of produce in season - rhubarb, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, beetroot, courgettes, pumpkins and leeks.

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