For a while, I’ve been wanting to try out the nearest walk to us in Jen and Sim Benson’s book: 100 Great Walks to do with Kids*. According to the book, it was a 5.5mile walk that passes through our local National Trust property Hanbury Hall, which they’d given a difficulty rating of 3/5 (I suspect for the length, it’s not particularly tricky terrain, although I wouldn’t recommend it for pushchairs). On a Saturday in the summer, when Jim was busy with his Arrow Valley Hog Roast business, I spontaneously grabbed the opportunity to spend a day outside with my boy. And oh goodness, it was glorious.
The Hanbury Circular Walk Route
The walk is more or less the same as the Hanbury Circular Walk as detailed in this Worcestershire County Council leaflet, but done in reverse, starting in a different location, without the detour to the Jinney Ring and an additional loop by the canal. That makes it sound like it’s SUPER different, doesn’t it? But it’s not, I promise. And you can mainly follow the signs for Hanbury Circular around the route. I’ve plotted the exact route we took on OS Maps, which you are welcome to download the .gpx file for: Family Friendly Hanbury Circular Walk although please note: the starting route over Piper’s Hill is approximate as we went slightly off-piste there (but would recommend you do the same and it’s an easy route to follow). As we’re National Trust members, we stopped off at Hanbury Hall for a refreshment stop at the cafe and to check out the refurbished playground which added a little bit of distance on, and our whole route from start to finish came in at just under 6.5miles.
Where to Park
I ask you, is there anything better than a free car park at the start of a hike? This one ticks the box! There’s a free car park available on the west side of the B4091, heading towards Stoke Heath from the Jinney Ring in Hanbury, it’s on the left and there is a parking sign post. I don’t have much experience of how busy this car park gets, but when we arrived at around midday to 1pm on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, there were plenty of parking spots available.
The Start of the Walk – Piper’s Hill
Once we’d parked at the top end of the car park, we took what initially we thought was the correct footpath to the left of an information board. This dirt path took us through the trees and eventually over a lovely little wooden bridge (I have a bit of a thing for wooden bridges!) with a short steep incline on the other side. The path then continued through the dappled light of the woodland, with little glimpses of views between the trees that Pickle loved pointing at. It was a beautiful start to the walk and ensured the walk kicked off with a peaceful, tranquil vibe. Once we had completed the walk and returned back to the car, we realised this wasn’t the route Jen and Sim had intended for the start of the walk and we should have started the way we finished – but this little detour at the start definitely was worthwhile!
St. Mary the Virgin Church, Hanbury
Once you leave the Hanbury Woods, there’s a lovely footpath heading up towards a church. I’ve begun introducing Pickle to some map-reading basics and one of the first symbols he learned was the one for a church.
Once you leave the Hanbury Woods, there’s a lovely footbath heading up towards a church. I’ve begun introducing Pickle to some map-reading basics and one of the first symbols he learned was the one for a church (or a religious building). The image here is the one for a religious building with a tower. Being able to show him on OS maps where we were heading and asking him to identify what we’d be walking towards was a lovely moment, and he was so proud of himself!
The path was teeming with crickets or grasshoppers (I’ll be honest, I can’t tell the difference) but either way Pickle was fascinated by listening to their sounds and trying to spot them in the long grass.
Once we reached ‘the dead area’ (Pickle’s name for any kind of cemetery), we took the opportunity to take a seat on a bench the other side of the church before continuing our journey onwards. That’s around the first kilometre of the route completed!
The Hanbury Estate
Once you leave the churchyard and follow the road downhill for a short period, you’ll spot a public footpath sign pointing towards the entrance to the Hanbury Estate. If you’ve ever ran the Hanbury Hall 10km run (the Trust 10k used to be a monthly event but has been cancelled until further notice since the pandemic) you may recognise this next part of the route as part of the loop that made up the Trust 10k. It’s a huge open space, and the path stretches out ahead of you in more or less a straight line until you arrive at the very front of Hanbury Hall. You’re likely to see plenty of sheep on this section of the route, and the lure of the cafe within the Hanbury Hall grounds is a good incentive for little legs at this point!
It’s worth noting that the footpath is going to cut right across the entrance of Hanbury Hall, and you will bypass the main entrance which is where you would usually pay for entry or scan your National Trust membership card. If you wish you enter the NT grounds (through the main gates) you will need to turn left (away from Hanbury Hall) to go through the admissions gate and return back.
There is a lovely little playground for children and nice walks around the estate (although, I wouldn’t recommend exploring too much as you’ve still got a LOT of walking ahead of you on this route). The cafe is very popular so you can usually expect a fairly long queue. There aren’t many tables/seating areas so I would recommend taking a picnic blanket or finding a nice patch of grass to have a rest and enjoy any refreshments. You can also eat and drink your own packed lunches etc in the grounds.
The Real Life Minecraft Field
Once you finish at Hanbury Hall (if you choose to enter the grounds), there is a choice to make. Head back the way you came and return back to the car or carry on with the circular. Heading left once out of the front gates, the footpath crosses through some expansive fields before you get the gate at the end. Pickle found it hilarious that we couldn’t see any other people and he enjoyed feeling like we were the only people in the world.
I did cross-reference between Jen and Sim’s book and my OS Maps app for this next junction to ensure we were on the right track: head out of the gate, and then turn right to follow a path through a wooded area. I think there was some reference to stiles in the book but these may have been upgraded to gates. The path leads you to a field which you journey around the edge off before entering what was Pickle’s most memorable part of the route: the real life Minecraft field (he called it), or what would be more commonly referred to as a wheat field.
You’ll go up and over the wheat field hill and descend towards a farm. Most other people walking at the same time as us went left at the farm. We went right. This section of the route was the part I felt least confident navigating and I did cross-reference OS Maps a lot, knowing that we were needing to get to the bridge over the canal, followed by a bridge under the railway. The path takes you round the right of the farm, and it’s not a hugely obvious route. It felt like we were walking through someone’s garden and I was grateful I had a proper map to refer to otherwise I would not have instinctively gone that way.
We were met by the friendliest farm dogs as we walked past the farm, who took quite a shine to Pickle. This part of the walk offered plenty to look at – lots of farm machinery and plenty of stiles to climb over. It might be a good idea to supervise children fairly closely during this part to ensure they don’t touch anything they shouldn’t be and you should be closing any gates behind you whenever out walking, but really make sure you do so here.
It was a relief when we saw the bridge going over the canal, as I knew we were on the right track. At this point, there is an option to cut down directly on to the tow path and follow the canal straight away up towards the lock. I wanted to explore the additional loop but in all honesty, I’m not sure it added that much value to the walk. Pickle found this section fairly tough going and was tired at this point. There wasn’t much shade and it was the hottest part of the day. We did enjoy seeing the trains whizz past but I think next time, I’d skip this section and walk along the canal for longer. I ended up offering a fair amount of piggy backs during this section!
The Optional Added Loop
Once over the canal bridge, we wandered through the farm machinery graveyard (I’ve honestly never seen anything like it) before going underneath a large railway bridge. Again, on this section, I found it useful to use the OS maps app to ensure I was on the right track, especially as one of the turnings is mid-field.
The field we walked through was bone dry and another piggyback was required through this. At this point, I was feeling every degree of heat as we’d not had any respite from the sun for a while. It’s not a very shaded area and I was seriously regretting not bringing MUCH more water with us. Especially as one us may have backwashed heavily into our shared water after eating a chocolate brownie… thanks Pickle.
You need to make sure you’re walking towards this little clump of trees next to a lovely looking farmhouse. This required us turning right at a crossroads in the path running through the middle of the crop field. We did take a few minutes to have some fun with shadows which Pickle enjoyed, and meant he momentarily forgot to ask how much further we’d be walking. He was feeling pretty tired by this point, and we still had a fair distance left to go. I knew the canal path would be coming up, so I kept my fingers crossed we could find a small patch to sit in the shade for a rest.
Once past the farmhouse, take a right to head back towards and under the rail line as seen below.
The Dead Field
Once under the railway bridge, it took me a moment or two to realise which was the correct way to go. There was a fairly well disguised path heading in a left diagonal that we needed to follow to bring us out at the canal lock. The field looked spooky! Identifying plants is not my forte, but it looked like some kind of pea/bean plant and they were all so dry and burnt and brittle. It looked like a whole field of dead crops to me but maybe this is what they’re meant to look like? Who knows. Either way, Pickle and I found it a bit exciting. I was eager to get to the canal for a much needed rest.
I was excited to capture the train whizzing past too behind us!
Astwood Bottom Lock
Arriving at the canal was very welcome, and it felt like a bit of a turning point in the walk. A change of scenery from crop fields seemed to give Pickle a boost and there’s always something calming about being next to the water. Luckily, almost as we were about to set off after a sit down and a little rest, we spotted a narrow boat in the distance and decided to wait to watch it go through the lock.
In the photo above, you can just about see the path in the middle of the ‘dead field’ leading up to the canal. You will need to cross the canal and this can be easily done by going over the bridge with railings, or, if you’re feeling brave, you can walk across the lock gates. I think Pickle would have quite liked to do that, but I was too nervous to let him! So the bridge with railings it was for us!
It’s always good fun watching boats go through the lock isn’t it? And Pickle was quite interested in the mechanics of it all and how everything worked. We did once spend the day on a narrow boat on the Grand Union Canal but I’m not sure Pickle remembers it that well as he wasn’t very well that day. I’d love to go on a boating holiday now he’s that bit older as I think we’d all love it! One for the bucket list.
After following the towpath up to the next lock, we took a right through a well hidden little gate to head back towards the car park.
The Home Straight
Little legs were definitely getting tired and this last little section was a tough slog. I think it didn’t help that I instinctively want to pick up the pace at the end of the walk to get over that finish line, whereas Pickle was definitely not in a rush to get anywhere. We were both desperate for a drink and it’s a bit of a shame that we wanted to rush this last little part as it was a really beautiful section.
You can see here just how hot and bothered Pickle was.
In the distance, I could see the hill we needed to walk up to get back to Piper’s Hill and it felt like every minute was a countdown until we were finished. ‘How long is left now, Mommy?’ must have been repeated about a thousand times by this point! BUT, we were rewarded with the most glorious view once we headed through the final kissing gate into the woodland area. I wasn’t sure if Pickle would have been bothered, but god bless him, he does love a good view and even made a video showing it to all his ‘subscribers’ (kid thinks he has a YouTube channel, he doesn’t) but his commentary speaks for itself: ‘guys, isn’t this view amazing? You can just see for miles and it’s so beautiful. If you want to see this for yourself, you just need to come here and do a little walk and bam – you get to see this. Pretty cool right?’
From here, it was just a 1/4 mile to get back to the car with big smiles on our faces for an afternoon well spent and a great sense of achievement. To finish off a brilliant day, we headed straight to the pub for a nice cold drink each and a carvery. Perfect! I’d fully recommend this family friendly Hanbury Circular walk, and I’m itching to come back and test it out at other times of the year too. Having read a bit of our experience and seen the photos, do you fancy it? I’d love to hear from you if you do!