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Ombersley and Holt Fleet

Explore an estate park and the banks of the River Severn.

Distance 5.7 miles (9.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 200ft (61m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Riverside paths, field paths and tracks, village street, 9 stiles

Landscape Estate parkland, riverside meadows and general farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 204 Worcester & Droitwich Spa

Start/finish SO 845630

Dog friendliness Few off-lead opportunities unless very obedient

Parking Towards southern end of road through Ombersley on eastern side (southbound exit from village)

Public toilets None on route

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1 To the south of the village, and beyond the cricket ground, take a path on the right. This is the Wychavon Way. Briefly in trees, walk across a meadow to a stile beside a willow. Go along the left-hand field edge, and briefly by the water's edge. At the corner of the fish pond a waymarker leads out to a track. Turn left, following this track right in 80yds (73m). It becomes a sunken path through delicious woodland. Cross a meadow to the river.

2 Turn right. In a short mile (1.6km) you'll pass two fishing pools to reach Holt Fleet Bridge. Go under this, continuing for about the same distance, passing the staffed Holt Lock. When opposite the Letchford Inn you'll come to a riverside stile.

3 Don't go over this stile; instead, turn right. In the field corner join the access road. At a junction go straight ahead on the public road. In 650yds (594m), at a right-hand bend, keep this line by moving left, on to a farm track. The large area on the right was formerly an orchard, but it has gone completely. It's over ¼ mile (400m) to the top of this field. When you are 30yds (27m) before a rusty shed, turn right. Now, in about 75yds (69m), go left, over a stile.

4 What could be a golf course fairway turns out to be an enormous garden. Aim to pass to the right of the house, by a children's wooden watchtower. Cross the gravel in front of the house, Greenfields, to go down its private driveway. Turn right for 275yds (251m), passing several black-and-white houses, to a T-junction - Uphampton House is in front of you.

5 Turn left for 110yds (100m), then turn right, uphill. In 150yds (137m) don't bend right but go straight ahead, on a shingly track. About 220yds (201m) further, the main track bends right, a rough track goes ahead and a public footpath goes half left.

6 Take the public footpath option, along a field edge. Continue through a small area of market garden, reaching a cul-de-sac. Shortly turn right, along the village street. There are many houses to look at, the churches of St Andrew (current and former), and several points of refreshment to delay your return to your car.

Ombersley must have been awful before the bypass, but now it verges on the tranquil. Ombersley Court was built in the 1720s. Apparently it has a superb interior, but the nearest you'll get to even a reasonable view of it is at the far end of the churchyard (beside a grim memorial tree). Sited on the Ombersley Park Estate, St Andrew's Church was built 100 years after Ombersley Court, but in the decorated style of the early 14th century, presumably to reflect the fragment of the original church (now a mausoleum) behind it.

Along the river towards Holt Bridge, to your right (and left also) is a classic stretch of woodland, adorning the steep slopes of the great River Severn's flood plain. If you were to walk along here at dusk you could hope to see an owl, possibly even a barn owl, but you probably wouldn't. A survey conducted in Worcestershire in 1932 found 184 breeding pairs of barn owls, but a similar survey in 1985 found just 32. There were numerous reasons for its decline. Part of the blame is apportioned to the grubbing out of the hedgerows, thereby removing a good habitat for small mammals. However, much is apportioned to intensive agriculture's use of pesticides, moving along the food chain so that, by the time a barn owl has eaten 100 or so slightly contaminated but well mammals (mice, shrews, voles), the cumulative dosage of pesticide is fatal.

The goal of the Worcestershire Barn Owl Society (WBOS) is to reverse the trend, partly by breeding barn owls and releasing them in carefully chosen locations. Barn owls are quite happy in tree hollows but, no, they rarely approve of barn conversions. The WBOS builds and erects nest boxes in strategic places to compensate for the loss - you can even buy or sponsor one. Like other owls, the barn owl flies silently, a useful hunting trick, achieved by having soft tips to its wing feathers - these tips effectively deaden any airflow noise.

The bridge at Holt Fleet replaced a ferry. It was the last in Worcestershire to cease taking tolls. (In Herefordshire tolls are still taken at the 1802 Whitney Bridge.) Such was the belief in a German invasion that mines were laid under the Holt Fleet Bridge during the Second World War. The Holt Fleet Inn was built well before the bridge, and benefited greatly from the day-tripper business, being the northern terminus for paddle steamer trips from Worcester, about 7 miles (11.3km) to the south. These trips ran until the 1930s. In contrast, the Wharf Inn, on the east bank, marks the site of a coal wharf. Holt Lock, a little way upstream, was completed in 1844.

While you're there

Don't walk past Abberley Hall's clock tower without taking a good look at it. It was built by John Joseph Jones in memory of his father, for whom Abberley Hall itself (all Italianate) was built in 1846. Exceptionally tall, the tower has an octagonal top section, before the spire. Since you are near to a way across the River Severn, this is an opportunity to visit Witley Court.

What to look for

The very ordinary and workmanlike single arch bridge at Holt was built by Thomas Telford in 1828 - he was responsible for six others over the Severn. It is the only Severn crossing between Stourport and Worcester. Before you leave the river, a camp site is seen on the other side. The static caravans are set on pillars, as a flood limitation measure. As for the caravan site this side, how was the speed limit decided upon?

Where to eat and drink

On the route, the substantial Wharf Inn has a riverside terrace and beer garden, and some children's play equipment. Close by, across the bridge, is the Holt Fleet Inn. In Ombersley, just south of the post office, is the Cross Keys, where you can sit on its patio enjoying a traditional ale. Further down in a cluster are the quirkily named Venture In (restaurant), the Kings Arms, the Crown and the Sandys Arms.

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