The Heart of England Way is a long-distance hiking route that winds through the picturesque patchwork landscapes of the Midlands. It is a journey packed with wildlife, history and beauty.
Starting on Milford Common, the route heads south through Cannock Chase Country Park, Lichfield, Kingsbury Water Park, the Arden countryside and the Avon Valley. The latter stages explore the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); taking you through Chipping Campden, Swell, and Lower Slaughter to conclude in the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, Bourton-on-the-Water.
You explore three counties on the trail; Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. The official route is 100 miles (161 km) long. But with a few detours to nearby attractions and accommodation, this Collection totals 106 miles (171 km).
The landscapes along the way are characterised by rolling farmland, mature woodlands, lowland heaths, wetlands, meadows, and riversides. You pass through some incredibly wildlife-rich countryside. Birdwatchers especially are in for a treat.
Historical sites are abundant, too. On this route, you encounter Iron Age, Roman and medieval history, not to mention countless Grade I-listed churches, monuments, bridges and properties.
Highlights include: Castle Ring, an Iron Age hill fort on the highest spot in Cannock Chase; Gentleshaw Common, a vast lowland heath that is packed with wildlife; Lichfield Cathedral, the only medieval cathedral in the UK with three spires; Middleton Lakes, an RSPB nature reserve that affords year-round birdlife displays and the opportunity to see otters and lizards; Kingsbury Water Park, a wildlife haven on a former gravel pit; the Arts and Crafts-inspired garden at Hidcote Manor, one of the most influential of its kind in the world; and Chipping Campden, which boasts the most beautiful high street in the UK.
In this Collection, I split the route into seven stages, averaging 15.2 miles (24.5 km), a fairly ambitious itinerary for experienced hikers. Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you are comfortable with or walk any single stage. You are well-served by accommodation and places to eat and drink along the way. Public transport links are generally good, too.
The walking is never too strenuous and follows well-maintained and waymarked paths for the most part. Even though the trail explores peaceful countryside, you never stray too far away from civilisation. As such, it is a good choice for seasoned hikers and those finding their long-distance feet.
To get to the start of the trail, you can catch a train to Stafford and then take the 925 bus to Milford (which runs hourly). At the finish, you can catch the 801 bus to Cheltenham, which has rail and bus connections around the country.
The first stage rises and falls through Cannock Chase County Park, where peaceful woodland, wildlife-rich heathland and glorious Iron Age remains combine.
From Milford, ascend gradually through woodland on the …
Wildlife and history fuse on this stage, which visits the magnificent Lichfield Cathedral and some diverse habitats.
To begin, you hike through Lichfield; past the city’s rare three-spired medieval cathedral …
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This stage visits wildlife hotspots and finishes in the ‘historical’ centre of England.
To begin, you hike through the southern tip of Kingsbury Water Park, a series of 15 habitat-rich …
The trail passes some treasured medieval sites on this hike, including a church with one the finest crypts in the country.
With 16.7 miles (27 km) to cover, Stage 4 …
You explore fine Warwickshire countryside dotted with ancient woodlands, historic buildings and Roman towns on this stage.
Hike west through fields from Henley-in-Arden and rise through Bannam's Wood, a remnant …
The penultimate stage takes you into the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) and finishes in one of its prettiest towns.
To begin, cross the River Avon via Bidford Bridge, …
Ancient hedgerows, wildflower meadows, postcard villages and picturesque countryside combine on the finale, which concludes in the heart of the Cotswolds.
You start along the lane to Broad Campden, rise …