A mostly woodland walk up and down some of Worcestershire's lesser-known hills.
Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 45min
Ascent/gradient 1,150ft (350m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Woodland paths, field paths, tracks, 9 stiles
Landscape Wooded hills and farmed valleys
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 204 Worcester & Droitwich Spa
Start/finish SO 752662
Dog friendliness Will be driven wild by geese! Running in woods but leads needed over grazing land
Parking Large car park of Hundred House Hotel (as a courtesy please phone beforehand, tel 01299 896888)
Public toilets None on route
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1 Cross the A451 with great care. Through an opening, strike sharply right, aiming for the hedge end beside the last house. Step over the fence then turn left on this lane. Walk for ½ mile (800m) along here, soon passing firstly Walsgrove Farm and secondly (most of the year) thousands of strutting, wailing geese. Do not turn right up a lane but go half right, taking the path that becomes a beautiful avenue of conifers, to the top of Woodbury Hill. At a marker post go straight over on a narrower track. In 130yds (119m) reach a farm track above Lippetts Farm.
2 Turn right, descending. At a hairpin bend, aim away from the farm to walk along the inside edge of a wood. Skirt to the left of the buildings at Birch Berrow, resuming on a service road. As this goes up, right, to an exercise ring for horses, take the right-hand of two gates. Go steeply down, taking a stile into thick pines. Very soon, over another stile, turn right along the tarmac road for 100yds (91m), so that you are past 1 Hillside Cottages, not before it.
3 Turn right again, back uphill. Continue north for nearly 1 mile (1.6km), over several stiles, walking mostly in trees but later enjoying fine views westwards. Then, on top of Walsgrove Hill, you'll see the elaborate and magnificent clock tower (1883) of Abberley Hall. Now go steeply down this meadow, to take a stile into a lane. Turn right for 80yds (73m) to the B4203.
4 Cross carefully. Turn left, along the verge. Take the driveway to Abberley Hall School. Leave the driveway as it swings right, keeping this direction close to the clock tower and all the way, on a track, to the A443. Take the road opposite, 'Wynniatts Way', up to the brow of the hill.
5 Turn right. In about 400yds (366m) reach a bright trig point. Walk along the ridge path a further 650yds (594m) to a Worcestershire Way sign at a path junction, just beyond which are four trees growing in a line across the path. (Walk 19 rejoins here.)
6 Take the path down to the right, initially quite steeply then contouring as it veers right, later descending again. Emerge from the woods over a stile to walk down two large fields, meeting the road beside the Hundred House Hotel.
What sort of walker are you - 'any weather' or 'fair weather'? Or are you a 'low pollen count walker', suffering from hay fever? Grasses are the most common cause, but allergy is by no means confined to these - just about any pollen can produce allergenic reactions. Between 10 per cent and 35 per cent of us suffer from 'pollinosis' (allergy to pollen), but these reactions may be species-specific. In addition, some species of tree seem to have more potent pollen than others, birch in particular. Pollen is typically released from grasses from May to August, oilseed rape from April to June, and stinging nettles from May to mid-September. These are all good reasons for getting out walking in the winter, but if you are afflicted in January it could be pollen from alder or hazel, and in March it could be birch. Studies show that the season for birch pollen has shifted to five days earlier every decade over the past 30 years, a clear indication of global warming. Put that way it may not seem much, but it's actually half a month.
The National Pollen Research Unit (NPRU), at University College, Worcester, is at the forefront of the science of 'aerobiology'. Supplying pollen forecasts is just one of the NPRU's diverse activities; others include studying changes in pollen seasons in relation to climate change, and studying asthma in relation to fungi and house-dust mites in homes. The Unit is currently undertaking a local three-year study (2003-6) into chronic bronchitis - properly, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is caused primarily by smoking, but there are other, secondary factors at work - this must be the case, because in some southern European countries people smoke more but there is less COPD. The finger of suspicion is pointed at Britain's higher humidity. The research is focused on whether or not (and if so, how) mists and fogs can increase the likelihood of this illness occurring.
From early spring until mid-December the lane around Walsgrove Farm is awash with geese - about 3,500 of them. This is just another of the diverse activities you can come across in the back lanes of Worcestershire and Herefordshire. They are prepared for sale using an on-site 'low throughput processing unit'. Until then, these free-range birds are allowed to range very freely. Nearly all are destined for the Christmas table, primarily through butchers and retailers, but you can buy one at the farm gate too.
Despite its size, Witley Court, 1¼ miles (2km) south east of Great Witley, is unseen on the walk itself. No public footpaths go near Witley Court, and the road that serves it (and the church) is unadopted. But do make an effort to visit this spectacular building. The Court's 'in-your-face' architecture, mostly Victorian, is just stunning. Only the skeleton remains, since its flesh was burned by a fire in 1937. English Heritage describe it as their number one ruin. Adjacent to Witley Court, St Michael's Church is also worth a visit.
The Hundred House Hotel was once a collecting centre for tithes from the local area's districts or 'hundreds'. Today's hotel has an enclosed beer garden to the side and an extensive menu. Children are welcome but dogs are only allowed in the garden. On Walk 19 the Manor Arms at Abberley has a roadside terrace.