A visit to historic Polesworth and the Oxford Canal.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 115ft (35m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Canal tow paths, field paths and residential areas, 3 stiles
Landscape Gentle rolling farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 232 Nuneaton & Tamworth
Start/finish SK 262024
Dog friendliness Off lead along tow path, otherwise under control
Parking Hall Court car park (free)
Public toilets Near Fire Station, Tamworth Road, Polesworth
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1 From the car park at Hall Court, walk into Bridge Street and bear left towards the bridge. After walking about 25yds (23m), turn left into an alleyway that leads to a public footpath signed to the River Anker. Cross the footbridge over the river, then bear left through the pleasant gardens by the riverside on a footpath that arcs gently right towards bridge No 51 over the Coventry Canal. Descend to the canal and turn left along its pleasant tow path, which you now follow for the next 1½ miles (2.4km). You may see fishermen trying to catch some of the perch, roach and chub in the canal. Before walking beneath the railway line look up to your right and on the far bank you will see the obelisk on Hoo Hill. Stiper's Hill is visible to the left. Continue beneath the main electrified railway line.
2 Leave the Coventry Canal's tow path when you get to bridge No 49 and ascend on to the road going generally north west past Kitchens Bridge Cottage. Soon after passing the cottage look out for a hedge gap on the left-hand side and proceed through this to cross the footbridge over the railway line. Now climb the hill passing through the farm gate close to the buildings of Dordon Hall farm and continue up to the road. Go left along the road, then turn right when you reach a road junction, following the signpost to Dordon. This will take you along Dunne Lane into the village.
3 Immediately after passing a house called Lyndon Lea, turn to the right down a track that leads to a stile on to a footpath over open farmland. Follow this footpath, heading generally northwards, towards the prominent trees of The Hollies. Continue past the trees, crossing a couple of stiles and soon you will find yourself walking along a stone track that becomes Common Lane on the approach to Polesworth village. Take the pavement of the lane through a residential estate until you reach the B5000 Tamworth to Grendon road. Cross the road, with care as it can be busy, and stroll down to the park area by the River Anker and cross back over the footbridge. The public footpath now leads up to a junction of paths where you go right, towards the abbey. Bear left and leave through the Old Nunnery Gateway on to the High Street. Now turn left and continue along the High Street, past the Nethersole Centre and turn left again into Bridge Street to return to Hall Court car park.
This trip to Polesworth allows you to experience a fragment of monastic England and to see a beautiful, ancient abbey church and vicarage. These buildings date back to ad 827 and form part of a nunnery built by Egbert, who is often claimed to have been the first Saxon King of all England. His daughter Editha was the abbess.
Polesworth vicarage used to be the manor house and displays some ornate chimneys. In the corner of the vicarage garden (sadly, not accessible to the public) is a fine sundial with a square cap displaying the Nethersole and Goodere coats of arms carved on its sides. The abbey's dovecote can be found tucked away behind the village library. The superb 14th-century nunnery gate now has two residential flats in its upper storey. The larger of the two is said to be haunted by a friendly ghost. Apparently this harmless apparition moves plant pots around the building. An ancient tithe barn, declared to be 'newly erected' in the 1655 will of Sir Francis Nethersole, is near the tourist information office. It was used to store the goods paid as a local tax by the manor's tenants. The imposing building of the Nethersole Centre dominates the north end of Bridge Street. Until 1970 it was the village's junior school.
The influence of the local squirearchy can be seen all around Polesworth. Nearby Pooley Hall was built by Sir Thomas Cockain in 1506, although there are records of an earlier Saxon hall on the site. The stones in the walls and the beams in the roof were taken from the ancient abbey, following its dissolution. Sir Henry Goodere became lord of the manor and there are stories connecting him with Michael Drayton (1563-1631), the poet, who was born in Hartshill. He is reputed to have sat dreaming by the fire in a timbered house in Polesworth. In his early years Drayton was a page-boy to Sir Henry at Pooley Hall and William Shakespeare is also said to have been a page-boy here. Certainly Drayton was a regular companion of Shakespeare.
Although the population of Polesworth has expanded to over 9,000 people today, it retains a village atmosphere with its old part largely untouched and its many public houses intact. The River Anker and the Coventry Canal offer a quick step into the countryside, although it has been many years since local people were able to skate along these gentle backwaters. This used to be a favourite wintertime activity for villagers.
The walk starts near the tourist information office and takes you over the River Anker on to the tow path of the Coventry Canal. After the canal's junction 49, you'll leave the tow path, crossing fields and lanes to the peaceful village of Dordon, before returning along Common Lane back into Polesworth.
Spare a little time to visit the old Abbey Church and see the 13th-century stone low relief figure that is believed to be the effigy of the first abbess, Osanna. She lies on the tomb of Sir Richard Harthill with her feet on a stag, attired in a wimple and long straight gown with hanging sleeves. Sir Richard died in the 14th century and the church tower was built in his memory.
Look up to the right, midway through Point 1, for a close up view of Hoo Obelisk on the far bank of the canal. The obelisk was originally erected in around 1848 close to the London Railway Line on the opposite side of the canal, but was moved in the 20th century for safety reasons. The inscription reads: 'Site of the Chapel of St Leonard at Hoo demolished 1538 30th Henry VIII.'
There are several public houses in Polesworth and you will pass by a number along the route of the walk. The Spread Eagle and the Red Lion do not provide food but the Fosters Yard pub on the corner of Market Street and Grendon Road will look after you well. The bar snacks and Pedigree real ale will appeal, and children and dogs are always very welcome.