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Edge Hill and a Theatre of War

Climb a spectacular wooded escarpment and enjoy fine views over a Civil War battleground.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 280ft (85m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field and woodland paths, country road, 6 stiles

Landscape Edge Hill escarpment

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 206 Edge Hill & Fenny Compton

Start/finish SP 370481

Dog friendliness On lead in Radway and Ratley, under close control on Centenary Way

Parking Radway village

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2013. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Walk through the village of Radway to the church. Veer left here into West End and pass alongside the grounds of The Grange on your left. Curve left by a pond and some thatched cottages. The 19th-century Methodist chapel can be seen here. Follow the lane as it becomes a stony track and go through a kissing gate into a field. Walk ahead to a stile and continue ahead across the sloping field towards Radway Tower, now the Castle Inn. Look for a gap in the hedge by an inspection cover and maintain the same direction, climbing steeply towards the wooded escarpment.

2 Make for a stile and enter the wood. Continue straight over the junction and follow the markers for the Macmillan Way up the slope to the road. With the Castle Inn on your right, turn left for several paces to a right-hand path running between Cavalier Cottage and Rupert House. Make for a stile, turn left at the road and walk along to Ratley. When the road bends left by a copper beech tree, turn right to a fork. Veer right and follow the High Street down and round to the left. Pass the church and keep left at the triangular junction.

3 With the Rose and Crown over to your right, follow Chapel Lane and, when it bends left, go straight ahead up some steps to a stile. Keep the fence on the left initially before striking out across the field to a stone stile in the boundary hedge. Turn right and follow the Centenary Way across the field to a line of trees. Swing left and now skirt the field to a gap in the corner. Follow the path down to a galvanised kissing gate, cut across the field to a footbridge and then head up the slope to a gap in the field boundary.

4 Turn left and follow the road past some bungalows. Pass Battle Lodge and make for the junction. Cross over and join a woodland path running along the top of the escarpment. On reaching some steps on the left, turn right and descend steeply via a staircase known as Jacobs Ladder. Drop down to a gate and then follow the path straight down the field to a stile at the bottom. Go through a kissing gate beyond it and then pass alongside a private garden to reach a drive. Follow it to the road and turn left for the centre of Radway.

The scene may look peaceful now but just over 360 years ago the fields below the tree-lined escarpment known as Edge Hill were anything but quiet. This tranquil corner of south Warwickshire was the setting for the first major battle of the Civil War in 1642.

On the morning of Sunday 23 October Charles I's army departed from Cropredy Bridge, a few miles away in neighbouring Oxfordshire, arriving at Edge Hill, which was already occupied by Prince Rupert's army, at noon. A staggering 14,000 Royalist troops spread out across the entire hillside, from the Knowle to Sunrising Hill, and as many as 10,000 Parliamentarians, under the command of the Earl of Essex, were massed in the fields below.

Led by Prince Rupert, the cavalry of the King's right flank charged and routed the enemy, pursuing the men beyond the village of Kineton, several miles to the north west. They began to celebrate.

Elsewhere, the Royalists were not doing so well. Commanding the left flank, the Commissary-General attacked the enemy's right. At first, his efforts proved successful but on reaching a line of hedgerows and ditches near Little Kineton, he was driven back. At the same time the King advanced his centre, also with some success, until he, too, was forced to abandon further progress - his way blocked by trees and hedges. The Royalist army suffered many casualties.

Open to attack on both sides, the centre gave way and the Royal standard-bearer, Sir Edmund Verney, was killed. The standard was subsequently taken, though later recovered. Prince Rupert re-emerged from Kineton and relieved the King's centre, thus avoiding defeat. The battle still raged as darkness descended over the escarpment and the Earl of Essex and his forces withdrew to Kineton for the night. The King slept in a nearby barn and then breakfasted in Radway the following morning. Neither side seemed keen to continue the battle and the King resumed his march to London unopposed while Essex withdrew to Warwick. Inconclusive though it was, the battle claimed the lives of over 4,000 men that day. 1,200 of them were buried by the vicar of Kineton.

There were to be several occasions during the Civil War when it looked as if Charles might win. But two factors ruined his chances. One was the spirit and military genius of Oliver Cromwell, whose successes at Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645) earned him a reputation as the foremost cavalry leader of his day, and the other was the intervention of the Scots. The first Civil War finally ended in 1646, four years after the Battle of Edge Hill.

Where to eat and drink

The octagonal Radway Tower, now the Castle Inn, was erected by Sanderson Miller to mark the centenary of the first battle in the Civil War. It's certainly an unusual venue for a public house and worth closer investigation. The Castle is open all day for food and drink at the weekend and there is a popular beer garden. The historic Rose and Crown at Ratley is a useful watering hole midway round the walk.

What to look for

The Grange in Radway was once owned by Walter Light, whose daughter married Robert Washington in 1564. The couple were the great-great-great grandparents of George Washington, the first President of the USA. The house was later owned by the architect Sanderson Miller who built the nearby tower. One of Miller's friends was the writer Henry Fielding who is said to have read his manuscript of The History of Tom Jones (1749) in the dining room here. Earl Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces during World War One, also rented The Grange for a time.

While you're there

The parish church at Radway was rebuilt on its present site in 1866. Many treasures from the old church have been incorporated into St Peter's, including all the stonework and windows. Also transferred were some memorials on the walls, two effigies and Renaissance glass. The names of those who fell in both world wars, and those who returned, are recorded by the lychgate.

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