A Walk from Baddesley Clinton to Packwood HousePosted: 2012-05-14
Or, 'A Tale of Two Manors'There can't be many places in England where two historic manor houses open to the public are only a few miles apart. But the historic National Trust manor houses of Baddesley Clinton and Packwood House are located in glorious Warwickshire countryside, separated by only a couple of miles of fields and canals.
On a sunny Saturday in May I decided to take advantage of the proximity of Baddesley Clinton and Packwood House and visit both, and throw in a walk along the Stratford upon Avon Canal. While I could have done a circular walk, family circumstances dictated that I was going to have to start at one manor and be picked up at the other. The first thing I did was go to my favourite online map website, Streetmap.co.uk. I printed off an OS map for the Baddesley Clinton area, which clearly showed all the footpaths, and the Heart of England Way running right through the grounds of Baddesley Clinton estate.
We arrived at Baddesley Clinton, where my wife dropped me off, and made arrangements for picking me up at Packwood later in the day.
I had been been to Baddesley before, many years ago, but I had forgotten how truly special it is. The sight of the manor surrounded by its moat, reached only by a twin-arched bridge, is one of the most memorable of any historic house in Britain. The roots of the manor house go back to the 14th century, though the moat may be even earlier. The house we can visit today is almost entirely a product of the 15th century, with some minor alterations in the following century. The interior is welcoming, homey, with dark wooden panelling and richly carved furniture.
Aside from its scenic beauty Baddesley is memorable for two things; a murder, and three secret chambers for hiding priests. The murder took place around 1483, when the owner of the house arrived home unexpectedly to find the local priest tickling his wife under the chin. Assuming that the couple were having an affair, he drew his blade and killed the priest on the spot, before the fireplace in what is now the library. Guides will point out the dark stains on the floorboards made by the priest's blood. Er, well, maybe not. When the stains were analysed they were found to be made from pig's blood. The murder was real, but it probably occurred elsewhere. According to legend the penitent murderer attempted to make his peace with God by having his body buried under the doorway of the church, so that everyone entering would walk over his resting place.
We are on safer historical ground when it comes to the priest's holes, which are very real and which were put to use on more than one occasion to hide Jesuit priest's from the authorities during the 1600s. You can climb inside one of the holes on the ground floor and see for yourself just how terribly cramped it would have been to hide there for long.
After I had finished exploring Baddesley Clinton, and fortified myself from the excellent National Trust restaurant, it was off on my walk to Packworth.
The first stage of the walk was simple; straight out the Baddesley Clinton drive until a Heart of England Way sign indicated a path to the left. Off the drive and you are immediately in fields, skirting the Baddesley Clinton gardens. This section of the walk could be muddy in damp weather, so be prepared with good footwear. Across a couple of fields, under power lines, and you emerge in a farmyard, marked as Clinton Farm on my OS map. Through the farmyard, out the farm driveway to the B4439, the Old Warwick Road. Turn right on the road, and carry on to an old canalside pub, the Navigation Inn, then cross a bridge over the Grand Union Canal. Here you can either go straight along the road or cross the road to the towpath that runs along the west side of the canal. I chose to go straight, being a little worried about the time, but it would probably make a nicer walk to follow the towpath.
Follow the road under a railroad bridge and you come to the second canal; the Stratford upon Avon Canal. Take the towpath on the west side of the canal, and you have a lovely stretch of the way, past a series of locks where narrowboats navigate their placid way through the green countryside. It really is idyllic, and I found myself envying the people who lived in the pretty cottages beside the canal. The towpath crosses the canal several times, with the final stretch on the south side, to a bridge where the Old Warwick Road crosses the canal towards Hockley Heath. Climb the stairs to the road and cross the bridge to the north bank. Take the right fork and follow the minor road signposted to Packwood House. Though there is no footpath on this section, it is such a minor road that there is no danger, and the going is level. After 1/2 mile take the signposted minor road to the left, and in another 1/4 mile you will see the famous topiary ofd Packwood House ahead on your left.
Unlike Baddesley Clinton, Packwood is a curious jumble of periods and styles. The core of the house is an authentic 15th century building, rebuilt around 1556. In the early 20th century Graham Baron Ash (Baron is a proper name, not a title) decided to recreate the Tudor house, which had suffered greatly from disrepair. He remodelled a nearby barn as a great hall, and joined the barn to the Tudor building by a long gallery. The interior he filled with furniture and furnishings from other period houses which were being torn down. So, though the actual interiors are not original to Packwood, they are very much authentic in period and style. Visitors are free to wander about the interior, and there are stewards in most rooms to answer questions. But though the interiors are lovely, it is the gardens that many people come here to see. The most famous feature is the topiary yew garden, planted to symbolise the Sermon on the Mount. Unfortunately, the yews were suffering from damp ground when I visited, so that area of the garden was off limits. But I poked my nose through the fence to get a notion what it looked like! There is a lovely walk through bluebell woods, around a small lake, and past several canals and ponds, back to the house.
When I looked at my watch I realised I still had time to visit the nearby church, about 1/2 mile north of the house. This was a delight; half hidden in a copse of trees, and featuring a medieval Doom painting by the chancel arch.
And there you have it; from end to end, not counting excursions off the path, the entire walk took not much more than an hour, and enabled me to visit two wonderful historic manors in a single afternoon. Allow a minimum of an hour, more realistically at least two hours, for each house and grounds - longer is better! Would I do it again? You bet!
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