The Dean de Witney Walk

Never heard of the Dean de Witney Walk? Well, you're not alone. Apart from a few privileged members of the audience for our May meeting, no one else had either. The walk, from Tamworth to Lichfield is the brain-child of Jonathan Smith, who explained that, as a regular commuter between the two towns for many years, he got to thinking why Tamworth Street in Lichfield didn't appear to lead to Tamworth, yet Tamworth Road, across the City, did. From this simple question, he started thinking about life in the two towns in the Middle Ages and particularly the need to travel between both, as he had done for many years. Dean Baldwin de Witney was a well know fourteenth century Tamworth cleric , who rebuilt St Editha's Church following a disastrous fire in May 1354. Doubtless, the efforts he made would have required many visits to see the Bishop at Lichfield. Quite simply, that would mean walking.

Jonathan painted a picture akin to the Canterbury Tales. Travellers would gather at a local hostelry in Tamworth and travel together to Lichfield, that being so much safer than travelling singly. Setting off from Tamworth, they would head south to cross the River Tame by way of Lady Bridge, a long established crossing point. That route would take them onto a shallow causeway towards Dunstall Lane, where two routes were available to them. The lower route, nearer to the river, through the flood meadows, would be taken in summer, but winter flooding would keep our travellers on the relatively higher ground of Dunstall Lane. This would lead them, after an hour's walking, into Hopwas village from the south. But this was old Hopwas, not the Hopwas with which we are familiar, when we drive along the A51, where newer development predominates. Conveniently, a public house awaits our walkers - the Tame Otter.

Suitably refreshed, we set off again along a track which now parallels the canal, into Hopwas Wood. Emerging from the Wood, the path now strikes off in a north westerly direction towards Whittington. Jonathan's theory was that the walk from Hopwas to Whittington also conveniently took about one hour, allowing our travellers to pause at another long established public house, the Dog Inn at Whittington. Unfortunately, the direct link to Whittington has long been lost, but alternatives do exist and with the closure of the army rifle range, easy access to the village is afforded from the south. The last lap for our travellers takes us from the Dog Inn either along Huddlesford Lane (another convenient pub call there!), Cappers Lane or Darnford Lane, into Lichfield. And where do all these routes lead into, but Tamworth Street! Mystery solved.

Jonathan's talk, based on the simple proposition that there must have been a different route between Tamworth and Lichfield in the Middle Ages proved to be the basis for an excellent evening's entertainment. The route deserves to be publicised as a pleasant and not too onerous diversion, yet one steeped in history. Doubtless, if you listen hard as you walk through Hopwas Wood, you'll detect the distant chatter of medieval travellers catching up on the local gossip!

Roger Hockney
May 2011