A walk through an historical town where salt once made a fortune for a local family.
Distance 5.7 miles (9.2km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Pavements, field paths, stony tracks, 6 stiles
Landscape Agricultural lowlands, coppices, historical town
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 204 Worcester & Droitwich Spa
Start/finish SO 898631
Dog friendliness Some country stretches but too urban to be much fun
Parking Long-stay pay-and-display between Heritage Way and Saltway (follow brown signs for 'Brine Baths')
Public toilets St Andrews Shopping Centre
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1 Begin at the tourist information centre. Go along Victoria Square. Cross Heritage Way, noting the especially ugly Orchard House (surely 1960s?) on the corner, into Ombersley Street East. When it bends go straight on, passing the magistrates' court (not much better). After an underpass proceed to St Nicholas's Church. Go round the churchyard to take another underpass. Turn left. Take the road over the railway to a mini-roundabout, filtering right to go through a third underpass. Walk for 65yds (60m) to a fence corner, near a lamppost. Turn left. In 30yds (27m) turn right. At the bottom of this cul-de-sac, Westmead Close, turn left. Soon take Ledwych Close, on the right. At the canal you are effectively out of Droitwich Spa.
2 Turn left. At the bridge turn right, passing sundry sporty places. Turn left just beyond the A38 bridge. In 110yds (100m) reach the Westwood House slip road. Facing some allotments, take a kissing gate to the left. Beyond this woodland go straight across several fields. Within 500yds (457m) of the second driveway is a junction.
3 Turn sharply right. Electric fencing shepherds you between paddocks before you veer left to walk briefly through Nunnery Wood. Aim for two gateposts beside a solitary, squat tree. Keep straight on for ½ mile (800m), beside the big dairy on the left, then curving left past an industrial estate to reach Doverdale Lane.
4 Turn right along the lane. Just before a '30' speed-limit sign, fork left. Cross the A442. Walk through the hamlet of Hampton Lovett to St Mary's Church. (It is asymmetrical, having a curved Norman column on its left side.) Take the meadow path under the railway. In 140yds (128m), at a footbridge, bear right, along a field edge. Keep following this general line for over ½ mile (800m), walking in the trees beside Highstank Pool when the wire fence allows. Then a clear track leads to young evergreens shielding a golf tee.
5 Cross a vast field, then aim slightly left to a metal gate. Follow the road under the A38 into a housing estate. Find a path running between Nos 49 and 53 (51 is hidden). Go through two kissing gates flanking the level crossing. Turn left to pass the Gardeners Arms. In 20yds (18m) turn right over the River Salwarpe, into Vines Park. Veer left to cross the Droitwich Canal. Over the B4090, follow Gurney Lane to High Street - in front of you is Spats Coffee House. Turn right, passing Tower Hill, then left into St Andrew's Street and thence to the start of the walk.
Given that sea water is salty, it is not surprising to find salt pans by the Atlantic or on the Mediterranean coast. But how has salt been produced in Droitwich since prehistoric times? The answer is simply that the ground is rich in rock salt. The brine from the town's salt springs is far denser than sea water - 2½ lbs could be extracted by boiling a gallon of Droitwich's brine (about 250g from each litre).
Droitwich was an important Roman crossroads - the suggested map shows that the A38(T), the B4090 and the minor road to the north, Crutch Lane, all have Roman origins. They had a fort at Dodderhill (just north of Vines Park), and when the railway was constructed in 1847 two mosaic pavements were stumbled upon. Later archaeological work found a Roman corridor house about 130ft (40m) long.
Salt tax was a good earner for the monarch, up until its abolition in 1825. Ownership of 25 salt-evaporating pans contributed to the wealth of the Wintour family, who gained notoriety in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.
In 1845, when aged 28, John Corbett used capital from his father's canal business's profits to buy and update a derelict salt works about 4½ miles (7.2km) north east, at Stoke Prior. He did the right thing at the right time. His works, Europe's largest, made him a fortune, much of which he pumped back into the company, improving working conditions and raising wages (to the extent that wives no longer needed to work), and also into the area, Droitwich Spa in particular. In France, in 1855, he met Anna (or Hannah) O'Meara, who lived in Paris with her French mother and Irish father. Corbett married her the following year. They had six children. Such was her apparent craving for France that he commissioned an architect to build him a French château, Château Impney, completed in 1875 for a staggering £247,000. Despite this, they separated after 28 years of marriage - presumably the house was not the problem. In 1879 Corbett bought, and vastly improved, St Andrew's House. He renamed it the Raven Hotel, after the raven on the Corbett family's coat of arms (from the French for raven, 'le corbeau'? which sounds a bit like 'Corbett').
To some extent, the use of ice and, later, refrigeration, as a means of preserving meats and other foods contributed to the decline of Droitwich's salt production, which ceased in 1922. The Worcestershire Brine Baths Hotel on St Andrew's Road is, in its own way, 'spectacular' for it has been shut for roughly two decades. The site is in the hands of the same people who own the Raven Hotel (just across the way) and Château Impney. It may have been flattened or put to some use, at least, by the time you do this walk.
Go along Tower Hill to peep in at the Pump Room. The brine wells here were constructed in the 1890s but stood idle until 1921. Their function now is to supply the brine baths at Droitwich's private hospital.
Walk an extra 60yds (55m) at the allotments to view the arched gateway to Westwood House, with its distinctive stars and wheatsheaves on the Pakingtons' coat of arms. The drably coloured Westwood House (now upmarket flats) had four diagonal wings added to the 1600 building in the 1660s - presumably this shape was to reflect the stars on the Pakingtons' coat of arms.
Just about every need is catered for here. Along High Street and just before Friar Street is the Star and Garter, offering cheap and cheerful food and a children's menu. The 15th-century, timber-framed Spats Coffee House at 22 High Street has home-made cakes, and you can get coffee all day at Spider's Wine Bar (near Orchard House).