Escape to the Country

Bramcote Ridge is, perhaps surprisingly, something of a shrinking violet when considered in the context of the urban landscape to the west of Nottingham city centre – largely keeping itself to itself, but occasionally to be spotted peering hesitantly over the buildings of the surrounding area.

I’d previously walked along part of this sandstone ridge almost by accident – unaware at the time that it actually had a name – at the end of a walk along an abandoned section of the Nottingham Canal. I spotted it again recently while poring over my trusty OS Explorer 260 map and decided that the time was right for a proper exploration.

The ridge, surrounded on three sides by housing, is part of a green corridor that connects the City of Nottingham to the open land around the Trowell area, and, as such, is part of an environment that is an invigorating mix of the urban and the rural.

I always like a walk to have an element of the unknown – the undecided upon, if you will – and so, on an chilly, overcast, but gratifyingly dry day, I start out with no particular plan in mind other than that of heading west along the ridge and beyond, until either the light or my legs fail me.

As I join the ridge from Coopers Green, there’s immediately a thrilling contrast between the ordered banality of the housing estate and the less predictable scene that I’m heading towards. As I make my way up the muddy incline at the end of the cul-de-sac, I’m rewarded by an impressive view over the vicinity before I vanish into the undergrowth.

Though part of this relatively untamed area is privately owned (the other parts – the Alexandrina Plantation Local Nature Reserve and Bramcote Ridge Open Space Local Nature Reserve, to give them their fancy names, being owned by Broxtowe Borough Council), the whole space seems to be accessible, and I’m able to wander freely through the woodland, grassland and scrub.

Deciding against consulting a map for the time being, I penetrate further into this strangely detached, elevated-yet-hidden liminal space, carefully negotiating the winding paths, low-lying branches, steep slopes and rock outcrops. There are occasional, enticing views to the north through the trees, but for much of the time there’s only the distant sound of traffic to remind me that there’s urban sprawl on both sides of the ridge.

The Robin Hood Way – a long-distance footpath between Nottingham and Edwinstowe, originally planned to link together places in Nottinghamshire that have a connection to the legend of Robin Hood, but subsequently obtaining a somewhat broader remit – runs through here. Contemplating the idea of successfully navigating a path over 100 miles long, I briefly consider the potential benefits of actually learning how to properly use a map and compass, before deciding that it would probably make me feel a little like a lab rat negotiating a particularly lengthy maze.

During my time on the ridge, humanity is largely conspicuous by its absence, though I do encounter two or three dog-walkers, as well as several youths standing behind some bushes, furtively doing whatever furtive things it is that youths do behind bushes these days.

The sudden appearance of a busy road jolts me out of my arcadian musings, and a quick check of my Nottingham A-Z confirms that my navigational instincts are broadly on the money and that I’m still heading in the right direction.

Taking the time of day into account, Stapleford Hill presents itself as a likely final destination, but I’ve little idea what lies between there and the road that I now find myself on. The A-Z shows only white space and I haven’t brought an OS map with me.

I cross the road and am immediately distracted by an abandoned building, a well-preserved sign advertising a golf course, a gap in some fencing (leading up to another section of high ground) and a sign next to the gap stating ‘WARNING TO PUBLIC – PRIVATE PROPERTY – TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED’. The official footpath runs a little further off to the right, to the side of the elevated area in front of me that’s seemingly a continuation of the ridge, but, well, it doesn’t seem right to skirt the high ground, so I nip through the gap in the fencing and begin to climb the slope behind it.

Part-way up the incline, the sensible part of my brain finally kicks in and asks me how exactly I’m going to explain myself to any golfers that I might find at the top. However, since, happily, I’m of the opinion that way too much land is given over to golf courses (it was estimated in 2013 to be around 2% of the country), any scruples are quickly overcome, and I push for the summit.

Cresting the brow of the hill, I’m greeted by the sight of an overgrown open space that is extremely unlikely to be hosting any kind of formal recreational activity anytime soon. There’s definitely something curious about the space, though, and it’s not long before I notice a weathered sign behind some branches that gives the game away, as it were – indicating the name of one of the former holes, along with its length.

The views over the surrounding area are the finest I’ve experienced so far today and, although it still takes a stretch of the imagination to envisage the scene before me as a golf course, the discovery of two bunkers and a further sign leave me in no doubt as to where I am.

The lost world that I’ve inadvertently stumbled upon is, it transpires, the remains of Bramcote Hills Golf Course. Opened in 1978, the course survived until 2008 before closing and consigning the site to an uncertain future. A planning application for a retirement village was submitted and rejected, but an appeal is currently under consideration. It would be a great shame to see this wonderful route between city and country blocked off by development.

After wandering around for a while, energy increasingly sapped by the hummocks of grass underfoot, I reach the western end of the former course and begin to suspect that the eastern point of entry may, in fact, be the only way in and out. Fortunately, one or more generous individuals have flattened a nearby fence, which, together with a gap in the undergrowth, enables me to find my way back out onto the adjacent public footpath.

At this point, I realise that a plan would be good, in order to avoid the now distinct possibility of finding myself at the top of Stapleford Hill in the dark. Another brief check of the A-Z shows that I’m on Moor Lane, but it’s not clear what the best way forward is, so I decide to ask an approaching elderly couple for their advice.

They’re a friendly pair – the chap bearing more than a passing resemblance to Compo from Last of the Summer Wine – and I wait patiently while they enthusiastically debate the various possibilities. Agreement having been reached, Compo points me in the right direction and states that I need to look for a ‘Venetian crossing’. I pause, wanting to ask exactly what a Venetian crossing is, but the moment passes, the conversation moves on, and it’s soon time to set off again. I thank the couple for their help.

I never do discover what a Venetian crossing is.

As I walk in the recommended direction, I see a cyclist slowly descending the incline in front of me towards a steel barrier of the type that is designed to limit access to a path to anyone other than pedestrians and cyclists. Upon reaching the barrier, the cyclist – a gentleman of advancing years – is rather put out to discover that it arrests his forward momentum, bringing him to a sudden and resounding halt. I’m somewhat puzzled as to how this can be, given that his shoulders and handlebars are both within the spatial limits. With no little difficulty, he manages to free himself and continue his stately progress down the hill. As I glance back after he passes me, I realise that he has a spare bike wheel strapped to his back.

I eventually find a suitable route more by luck than judgement – a footpath that leads me to Moor Farm Inn Lane. Emerging onto the lane, I notice a security gate and a sign headed ‘Brethren’s Meeting Room’. The full name of the institution responsible for the sign is The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. The Plymouth Brethren are described by Wikipedia as ‘a conservative, low church, nonconformist, Evangelical Christian movement’. I look elsewhere online to try to find out a little more about the practical implications of their religion, such as the belief (of some elements of the group at least) that it is not appropriate to eat with non-Brethren, but the information seems to differ depending on the source. It would be nice to bump into an adherent, but there’s no-one around.

Moor Farm Inn Lane brings me out onto Coventry Lane and the final approach to the end point of my walk. I’ve decided by this stage to include two further stop-offs on my itinerary – the site of Bramcote Hills House and the Hemlock Stone – but time is now tight and I have to resist the temptation of a detour into Bramcote Crematorium, making a mental note to visit it on a future occasion (through preferably not as a client – cryogenic freezing and subsequent reanimation being the preferred option, with ash-scattering on the North Yorkshire coast trailing in second place).

The Georgian Bramcote Hills House, in Bramcote Hills Park, which I arrive at next, was built in 1805 and had a number of different owners, tenants and uses before being demolished in 1966. The site of the house can be seen, and other elements of the estate infrastructure are still in evidence, but the most affecting visual reference to the past in the park is the Holocaust memorial inside the Walled Garden.

From the Walled Garden, I can see across the road to my next destination, the Hemlock Stone, an isolated sandstone outcrop towards the foot of Stapleford Hill. The officially accepted theory for the presence of the Hemlock Stone is that it is a quarrying remnant, while the most exotic explanation is probably the one that has the devil throwing it here from Castleton (Treak Cliff Cavern supposedly being one of the entrances to hell), having aimed it at Lenton Priory and missed by several miles. Perhaps the Plymouth Brethren should install some sort of early warning system.

I leave the park and, having negotiated a pedestrian crossing, glance back across the road and see Compo, minus his partner, walking in the opposite direction. We raise our hands to each other, comrades of the footpath.

The light is beginning to fade now, so I make a cursory inspection of the Hemlock Stone (or, at least, as much of an inspection as can be made given that its base is surrounded by a fence), before setting off up the hill, which I appear to have all to myself, notwithstanding the fact that this is a designated off track cycling area and a deranged BMX rider could, in theory, appear from around a corner at any given moment.

The climb isn’t a particularly arduous one and before long I’m at the summit. It’s a magnificent spot, with spectacular views, and I pause for some time to take in my surroundings. I’m sure that I can hear a woodpecker, but, as I have a largely untrained ear when it comes to the identification of wildlife, it seems equally plausible that the sound is coming from a piece of heavy machinery in the middle-distance. Every time I move towards a certain set of trees, however, the noise stops, so, unless I’m in the vicinity of a shy and retiring construction worker with particularly good visual awareness, the avian explanation appears to be the correct one.

The summit of Stapleford Hill is also home to a trig point. Trig points were erected by the Ordnance Survey from April 1936 onwards as part of a surveying project that resulted in the OS maps of Great Britain that we use today. Around 6,000 trig points remain out of the original total of approximately 6,500, but they have been superseded by more modern technologies.

It was an Ordnance Survey map that helped to inspire this walk, so the trig point seems a fine place at which to bring it to a close and start heading for home.

Turning around, I begin my descent of the hill.