A gentle stroll via a deserted medieval village north of Sleaford, Lincs.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Wide field tracks and woodland paths
Landscape Gentle farmland and broadleaved woods
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 272 Lincoln
Start/finish TF 065536
Dog friendliness Mostly good, care needed around livestock
Parking Stepping Out car park, on lane south of Bloxholm
Public toilets None on route (nearest in Sleaford)
1 The walk begins on a lane 350yds (320m) south of the quiet hamlet of Bloxholm, at the designated Stepping Out car park. Facing the notice board, turn right and walk along the lane away from Bloxholm Hall and its surrounding woods. After bending right the lane bends left, and here walk straight ahead along the farm drive. Where the track curves left, towards Hill Farm, go straight on along a public footpath through the trees. It's a clear and direct route that keeps just inside the southern edge of Spruce Covert and, after eventually swinging right, it then bears left to leave the main wood and follow the middle of a wide strip of trees, known as the Long Plantation.
2 Since the path skirts the edge of the wood there are occasional views out across the open farmland, which to the south includes the site of the deserted medieval village of Brauncewell. For a close-up view of the Brauncewell site take the path across the fields towards Manor Farm that leaves the Bloxholm lane ½ mile (800m) south of the Stepping Out car park.
3 At the point where the Long Plantation is crossed by a wide farm track turn right, past a reedy pond, and follow this permissive route up towards Mount Farm. At the lane at the top turn right and walk along this wide, hedged thoroughfare eastwards for about a mile (1.6km). The distant church spire and distinctive water tower seen away to the left belong to the village of Ashby de la Launde.
The dead-straight track continues over a wooded rise, known as The Mount, and then descends through a couple of fields, separated by a gate and stile, towards the former Bloxholm Hall. The original house was built in the 1600s but, despite subsequent enlargement, most of it was pulled down three centuries later. All that remains are the kitchen wing and stable block (now private), plus parts of the elaborate gardens, laid out over 150 years ago.
4 When you reach the perimeter fence turn right and walk alongside this to the corner of the field. Here go straight on, through a small but obvious gap in the thin line of trees, and turn left. With fields on your right, and some houses and a long red-brick wall on your left, walk as far as the road and turn right to return to the car park.
This easy ramble through the peaceful countryside of mid-Lincolnshire is inspired by one of North Kesteven District Council's excellent 'Stepping Out' walks. They form a series of short waymarked routes that explore the area around Sleaford, south of Lincoln, and take in hidden villages, ancient woodland and medieval castles through to historic RAF airfields. Leaflet guides to all the walks are available in local shops and post offices, or from the tourist information centre at Money's Mill in Carre Street, Sleaford.
A scattering of low, rectangular earthworks is all that remains of up to 25 buildings that stood at Brauncewell, while around the church, rebuilt in 1855, is the outline of what were thought to be once the grand gardens of the Manor House. If you look on the Ordnance Survey map you will see that another lost village, Dunsby, is located less than a mile (1.6km) away by the present-day A15. Across the country there are many more examples of villages simply wiped out during the Middle Ages, and over 235 have been identified in Lincolnshire alone. It's commonly thought that the Black Death, which arrived in England in 1348, was the main culprit, but in fact it was more likely owing to failed harvests and famine, and in particular the clearance of whole communities to make way for sheep grazing.
Ashby, which means 'settlement by the ash trees', is quite a common name in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, but to distinguish itself Ashby de la Launde (like Ashby de la Zouche, near Leicester) has retained the name of its 14th-century Norman landlord.
The woods are rich in birdlife, although to identify them you will have to use your ears as well as your eyes. The pink, pink is likely to be a chaffinch, while the great tit's distinctive call sounds like teacher, teacher, plus a metallic series of zee-de notes. Another common woodland bird, which arrives from late March onwards, is the chiffchaff. Its loud and plaintive hoo-eet is often followed by a monotonous chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff. And out on the open farmland and hedgerows listen out for the yellowhammer's high-pitched little bit of bread and no cheese.
The elegant spire of St Hybald's at Ashby de la Launde will be a familiar landmark on this walk. Hidden away in the woodland surrounding the former hall is Bloxholm Church. The parish church of Dorrington has no spire or tower at all.
No pubs or cafés in Bloxholm or Ashby de la Launde. Try the Red Lion at Digby or, for more choice, visit Sleaford, about 6 miles (9.7km) to the south.
The Airfield Visitor Centre at Westmoor Farm, Martin Moor, near Metheringham, is open weekends, April to October. The former wartime Ops Room at RAF Digby near Scopwick has been painstakingly recreated with exhibits and photographs (guided tours every Sunday morning, May to September).