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Brampton Valley Way (Northampton)

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The park has great cycling trails for outdoor enthusiasts. Park is located in Northamptonshire.

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      07.07.2009 11:09
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      Watch out for mad cyclists.

      When the good folk of Northampton feel the urge to escape the town in search of exercise and good clean country air there are two key venues that act as magnets for their attention and both of these are not far from where I live. They are Brixworth Country Park and the Brampton Valley Way.

      The Brampton Valley Way runs along the now-disused railway line which used to join Northampton to Market Harborough. During the mass railway closures of the 1960s, this line was a victim although local rail enthusiasts succeeded in keeping parts of the line running for another 20 years before finally having to admit defeat. With the typical 'silver-lining' approach that characterises our nation, a good use was found for the old line and it was developed into the Brampton Valley Way - a walking and cycling path that runs for 14 miles (or 22 km) with several car parks along the way from which people can choose how far they want to go.

      A couple of years ago I'd walked part of the southern part of the BVW with my sister, her partner and their mad dog Finlay in December. We'd parked up at the Brampton Halt, a very popular local pub (review already posted) just outside the idyllic village of Chapel Brampton and we'd started our walk from that point. This is a great place to see the BVW because the old railway keeper's cottage has been converted into a pub and a group of steam railway enthusiasts have kept a short stretch of the line open in order to run steam trains up and down the line. We walked only a fairly short section before turning off the line and heading towards the Bramptons on a circular route.

      On a sunny spring Sunday afternoon, my husband and I decided we'd better go and have a look at the stretch that's closest to our home. We parked at the car park that lies between Brixworth and Spratton. Already in April it was quite full on a Sunday and we couldn't get one of the marked parking bays. It was clear from all the bike racks on the back of the cars and all the doggy-doo boxes that this was a popular spot for cyclists and dog walkers. We had neither bikes nor dogs and set off in the northerly direction towards Hanging Houghton.

      It was fun to get a different perspective on our village, looking up at it from below. Brixworth has the oldest Saxon church in Europe and seeing its spire peeping up about the fields was quite inspiring. We continued along past the village of Hanging Houghton and towards Lamport but after a while, just walking along a paved path in a straight line started to become - I'm sorry to say - a bit boring.

      That for me is one of the two big problems with the BVW. It's basically just a long straight line and there's not a lot to see along the way. There fields are pretty, we had tonnes of butterflies flitting around, stopped to watch some model airplane enthusiasts flying their models, and took a few photos but ultimately there's a sense of futility that you're just walking in a straight line and sooner or later you'll have to stop, turn round and walk back in the footsteps of where you've already been. The second problem is that you really do have to watch out for cyclists who seem, when faced with no cars, lorries or motorbikes, to take on some of the worst road behaviour of the absent motorists. It's a path that needs to be shared, but the pedestrians will always feel the most at risk of getting hurt when dozens of bikes, many ridden by people who've not been on them for a long time, come belting past.

      If you are a cyclist, I can't help thinking that it's not really all that exciting to just be going along a straight path, knowing sooner or later you'll have to turn round and ride back again. I guess you could try to approach of doing a stretch of the BVW then coming off at one of the crossing points and making a circular route by going back along the A508 but that rather negates the benefit of having a cycle path if the only way to make things more exciting is to take your life in your hands on the public highway.

      If you are looking for a free and healthy place to go and you want to bomb around on your bike, horse, rollerskates etc through some beautiful countryside, then Brampton Valley Way is not a bad choice. The paved surface should be fine for wheelchair users and there are not steep inclines to challenge anyone unsteady of their feet. However, for my money, a circuit round Brixworth Country Park might be a better bet - at least they've got an ice-cream van to inspire you!

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