Discovering Southwell with Albus

Walk 5: Halam, Norwood park and the Trail part 2.

Stolen stones, orchards and fairy doors:

Church of St Micheal the Archangel, Halam.

So the local legend goes, at the start of the 12th century, stone from Bolsover and Sherwood was transported to Southwell to build the Minster. The route passed through Halam, a village ‘outlier’ of Southwell, where carters would rest before attempting the steep hill out of the village. The inhabitants of Halam would helpfully ‘relieve’ the ladened carts of stone whilst the carters were taking refreshment at the local hostelry. (Obviously they must have been thinking of those poor oxen having to pull all that weight!). So helpful were the diligent villages, that they built their own church at the base of the hill with the spoils.

Always a fan of enterprising communities and a good story, Albus and I (accompanied by D1 again) just had to start one of our walks here. We began just outside the ‘infamous’ church. An absolute little gem. What this Norman church lacks in size compared to its illustrious mother church it makes up for in character. Along with purportedly stolen stones, another quirk is that it unusually lies on a North-west/South-east axis rather than the more normal East/West axis. Possibly echoing the layout of an earlier, pagan building.

13th century West Door

The doors were locked so we couldn’t explore the 12th century interior but we could revel in the exterior and the gorgeous wildlife gardens that have been created within the church yard. Cultivated and wild plants wove their way between ancient grave stones, and nestled the church walls. Affecting a contemporary incarnation of its early status as a ‘chapel-of-ease’ (a medieval tax status of associated churches, in this case to the Minster).

The old graveyard has been turned into a beautiful garden

Footpaths lead off from the churchyard out towards the Halam orchards, reflecting the contemporary continuation of orchards and apples in particular to this area. However we walked along Church Street, enjoying the mixture of ancient and newer houses and old farm buildings. At the base of Halam Hill we thought of those oxen as we headed upwards. Just past the old vicarage the air was suffused with the scent of huge Lime trees, one the great botanical joys of late July in England.

Lime blossom perfumed the air

The lack of a footpath or walkable verge added a frisson of mild peril to our ascent. Though motorist were considerate we could understand why it puts some would-be-walkers off. The relief of the footpath once up the top was somewhat counteracted as it was so overgrown as to be unpassable in parts. Passing along the boundary of Norwood Park we found the footpath, part of Southwell Heritage Trail 6, and entered into the estate’s fruit farm.

Footpath between the tunnels

mmm, delicious strawberries

We walked between the acres of polytunnels were over a thousand tons of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are grown and into the extensive apple orchards for which the estate is known. The first Bramley orchard here was planted over 100 years ago by John R. Starkey. His descendants, Sir John and his daughter Suzannah, still run the fruit farm and make products based on Southwell’s most famous export, the Bramley.

Back in early May Discovering Southwell joined the Starkeys and other members of the community to help plant up the latest section of Bramley orchard and it was great to see those trees thriving today!

The young Bramley Apple trees that Discovering Southwell helped to plant at the community planting day in May

Dooley, Chaz and Albus, not quite posing fro a photo :)

Amongst the more mature trees we meet Mel, a dog walker (Gimme a Break), with retriever Chaz and terrier Dooley. Norwood is a favourite route for her, where she enjoys the quietness and watching the strawberries and apples grow through the seasons.

Whilst the estate dates back to at least 1388, Edward Cludd (Master General of London) built the first hall at Norwood Park house after the Civil war in about 1649. Venerable oaks from this time still stand around the park. The present house was constructed by the Sutton family in the 1760’s when they also landscaped the parkland, complete with requisite neoclassical Temple. The industriousness of it’s current occupants is evident not only in the fruit farm, but the wedding venue, gallery and golf range and course that we wander by.

Norwood Park

Mature orchards at Norwood Park

An ancient Oak, Norwood Park

After leaving the estate we crossed Lower Kirklington Road to join Maythorne Lane. We followed its quiet meanders to where it intersects with the Southwell Trail. Maythorne Mill, destination of walk 4 lay straight ahead, but we turned left onto the section of the Trail heading towards Kirklington.

Southwell Trail between Maythorne Lane and Kirklington

Runners, cyclists and walkers were still out today but it was quieter than the first section had been from Southwell itself on Sunday. Flanked by pastures and crop fields on both sides this section feels more rural, more remote. Natalie, another local dog walker (Natalie’s Pet Care) accompanied us for a while. Jerry, a beagle, and cockerpoo Rosy sped along with Albus enjoying their freedom whilst Natalie explained why she loves walking this part of the trail. The space and quiet of this green corridor, the dumbles, wide fields and views that frequently afford glimpses of other creatures that share the habitat; kingfishers, weasels, stoats, herds of deer and the buzzards soaring above.

Jerry, Rosy, Albus and D1

Fairy Tree on the Southwell Trail

We came upon a fairy tree, with a door set in its base and ‘offerings’ ribboned through its branches. A relatively recent appearance Natalie told us. Presumably part of the new crop of fairy doors that have sprouted in recent years. But the current fad, has ancient origins in British heritage. Special trees, often associated with water, springs and other liminal places, were venerated as marking the dwelling places of fairy folk/pagan genius loci/god/goddesses and became sites of offerings and blessings. Think Janet’s Foss in the Yorkshire Dales, St Madron’s Well, Cornwall and even the ritual of Wassailing apple trees. Both the wells and the wassailing seem particularly adapt in this area.

Southwell’s fairy population has been in evidence for longer than the recent fad though as several people had told me of another tree, another of our destinations for todays walk, that children, parents and grandparents have been visiting for at best part of three decades at least. Natalie too happily recalled childhood visits to see the ‘fairy tree’. Whatever the inspiration for the current trend, it gives families a target or goal that gets kids outside adventuring in nature, and thats has to be a good thing!

As Jerry and Rosy waded one of the dumbles we said farewell and took a field track back towards Halam.

Halam Beck Dumble

Views across the fields

The air danced with butterflies, Large Whites and Tortoiseshells mostly, and we heard the buzzard call from afar and a pheasant nearby deep in the crops.

We crossed back across Kirklington Road and walked to meet School Lane which we followed. Part way along a monument has been erected to remember the seven airmen who were killed at this spot on the 10th April, 1943. The mixed Australian, Canadian and British crew died when their Lancaster bomber crashed during a training flight from RAF Winthorpe near Newark. As we walked down the road the aural phantom of a modern aircraft rumbled.

Memorial to the 1943 crew of a crashed Lancaster Bomber

The story of the young men who died at Halam in 1943

Meadowsweet thrives in the damp of the ditch alongside School Lane

Upright Hedge-Parsley growing along the hedgerow

Rosebay Willowherb along School Lane is an excellent food plant for butterflies and moths; especially the magnificent Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar.

The Halam Fairy Tree: offerings of coins, snail shells, badges and other precious little treasures are left by children for the fairy folk

Nearing the outskirts of Halam again and we found the huge Ash tree in a small layby that we had been told about. Sure enough there at the foot of the tree was a fairy door and garden and more ‘offerings’ tied into the ivy that covered it’s trunk. This is the Halam Fairy Tree. We wondered who had first started the tradition here and when? No-one who had told us about it seemed to know and an internet search revealed nothing. Interestingly the Ash tree has deep roots in British mythology as a tree of protection and healing, and in Viking mythology too (this area was part of the Danelaw),  so however co-incidentally chosen it seems an appropriate choice. If you know any more you could get in touch with Discovering Southwell and let us know. On the other hand, some mysteries are best left unsolved.

Knock knock....

We strolled back through Halam, past beautiful old buildings, the school and crossroads. A last look at the enchanting church and gardens and we headed out of the village towards home. Almost. One final stop was made at the fantastic Real Milk Company at New Holbeck Farm, Halam. We’d heard tell of the ice-cream that they make from milk from their own organic free-range dairy herd, but they are so much more! This amazing little shop, no more than a large shed really, is just the cutest and heart-warming farm shop I have ever seen.

Run entirely on a ‘Honesty’ basis, we are entrusted to pay for the beautiful fruit, vegetables, bread and baked goods, and plants we choose as well as the ice-cream and the fill-your-own containers with milk from the vending machines. Packaging kept to a minimum and reusing bottles for your fresh organic milk this shop is ahead of the trend! Outside two picnic tables allow you to eat your ice-creams under the gentle gaze of two cows as they slowly munch the grass. Lunch items paid for, money in the honesty milk-churn, and we headed home after a great morning discovering this north-western area of Southwell.

Could be the cutest little shop ever?