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The Ridgeway: Overton Hill to Ivinghoe Beacon: 85 miles

The Ridgeway

24th - 29th September 2006: 12 Days

Introduction

Introduction

After a week of packing for Kym’s visit to Australia, Tom to Germany and Joe to France, I finally had a chance to concentrate on my trip. I spent a long time looking for accommodation on the internet and setting video recordings etc then packed and retired to bed. I couldn’t sleep as I was too excited. I must have drifted off about 01:00 and woke and got up at 05:00. I spoke to Kym, had breakfast and left the house at 06:15 for the walk to Hale station and the 06:45 train to Stockport.

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I picked up the tickets for the rest of the train trips and caught the 07:34 to Reading.

I sat opposite a chap en route the Southampton Boat Show. I reviewed the maps and guides for day one. The guy opposite started on about everything that was wrong with this country: crime; immigration; etc etc. ‘Prescot is incompetent!’

I got to Reading on time and met Phil on the platform. We had to wait for the appointed train at 11:11, which took us to Swindon.

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We walked to the bus station and talked to an old lady who used to live in Avebury. She explained how Mr Alexander Keiller, the jam magnate, had bought up the houses and demolished them to reconstruct the stone circle in the 1930s!

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Avebury Stone Circle

We got off the bus in a very crowded Avebury and saw wizards, druids and other new age types about. We wandered round but the place was too busy so we headed off after asking directions from a lady in an antique shop that used to be the hotel of the father of the lady we met at the bus station! It was a long walk just to the start of the walk proper: I found a £20 note on the verge! The traffic was busy but we were finally ready to start ‘The Ridgeway’.

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Phil                                                                                              and me

23rd September 2006 – Overton Hill to Ogbourne St George: 10 miles

Day 13

A long ascent up a deeply rutted track with the odd walker and biker passed. There were many tumuli and standing stones and good views of the surrounding Downs. We lunched after a mile or so then headed past Barbury Castle where the route leveled out a bit. It was fairly easy going but long stretches of path. I got texts from Tom and a call from Joe.

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Smeathes Ridge

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The stable block at Foxlynch

We walked into the village and checked out the two pubs, returning to the ‘Inn with the Well’. We sat outside drinking their very pleasant ale then ordered venison casserole, which was great. We drank four pints then staggered back and watched Match of the day. Lights out at elevenish.

24th September 2006 – Ogbourne St George to Manor Road (Wantage):     18 miles

Day 14

I slept well despite the ridge down the middle of the sofa bed that I chose over the bunk. The tacky electric chimes from the ‘Bell Tower’ were useful to tell me when to get up. We had arranged breakfast for 07:45 but the old fellow was late up so we went for a fruitless search for a paper. On arriving back he was standing outside with a tray shouting at us to come out for breakfast. It was a fine greasy fry up. We paid and chatted to our hosts and some campers. One last look at our room, with its ceiling full of horse jumping rosettes, then off back up to where we’d left the trail.

It was a hard slog uphill along the rutted track: the first of many today. We intercepted the two women who had short cutted up from the B7B and were then hard pressed by them for several miles. The track was quite wet and awkward to walk where rutted. We alternated between open downland and narrow track edged by tall hedges and trees. We kept seeing Swindon, which alerted me to the fact that we had done a large detour around Ogbourne. We eventually turned East at Liddington Hill and descended to the M4, which we crossed during a long stretch of road walking.

We stopped outside the only pub en route (closed) for a rest then made our way up another hill before a long walk to Uffington Castle, which we walked around and where we stopped for a break and to admire the views.

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View north from Uffington

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Trig point at Uffington

We saw RAF Brize Norton in the distance. We then wandered over to the Uffington White Horse and took photos for some of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award lads we met.

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Uffington White Horse

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The Ridgeway YHA

We had a coffee whilst waiting for it to open at 17:00 . We then checked in to our four bunk room, which we had to ourselves and rested. I washed out some clothes in the kitchen into which burst a skinny, belligerent chap in a baseball cap. ‘Why’s it so f***ing hot in here?...F*** this…F*** that…Where’s my f***ing milk – I’m going to see the manager.’ It turned out the cook had moved his milk so he tore strips off her then turned back to have another go at me. I asked, with all the diplomacy I could muster, whether he was walking the Ridgeway and he replied ‘No, I’m minding my own f***ing business!’ and then proceeded to harangue me about the state of the country and said that if I didn’t understand what he was talking about I should go back where I came from!

I showered and Phil ordered a taxi that took us to the centre of Wantage: a very attractive small town with plenty of places to eat. We had a drink in the pub, where I got a call from Brett, then went to a Thai restaurant for a pleasant meal. Phil had plenty of food related experience from his time in Singapore. We caught a taxi back and fell asleep in front of the communal TV trying to catch a weather forecast. Thence to bed!

25th September 2006 – Manor Road (Wantage) to Streatley: 13 miles

Day 15

Slept fitfully because I was being bitten by something in the bed. We eventually got up at 07:15 for a shower and to put on clean dry clothes. A girl in a towel apologised for ‘the other night’, by which I guessed she meant my foul mouthed fellow resident. I spoke to Kym who as having problems with her phone. Breakfast was good value and had in a communal area. The headcase from last night apologised for having a go at me.  He was agitated that he was being council housed whilst people were living for free in a bus on the Ridgeway! We packed and headed out just after 09:00.

It was very misty: great cobwebs on the dead cow parsley stalks. We walked back to the trail and set off with little to show where we were.

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Lord Wantage monument near Wantage

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Didcot Power Station

We walked past many ‘gallops’ including Compton, which was very big.

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Horse country

We turned North and did a descent followed by a long climb before heading East again. Another ridge and we descended down a tree lined path to the Thames Valley. Here we saw more trees, greener grass and some very attractive houses. We met a couple who had done many long distance walks and who took our photo.

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Approaching Streatley

Then onto a road for the final stretch into Streatley. Phil had to join a tele conference at 14:00 so I walked on a little, at on a wall in the pleasant warm sunshine and wrote up my diary as cars sped past on the adjacent road. I texted Chris and Andy to make them feel guilty about missing the walk!

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Phil takes a call

When Phil failed to show I headed on down the road to Streatley. This was the first town through which the route had passed, some 42 miles after starting.

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Streatley YHA

 I checked into the imposing looking YHA: a little less impressive on the inside than the out. I got a bunk in a four person room to myself. The other residents consisted of a party of twelve Australian ladies.

I left my pack and headed across the Thames towards Goring. The pub by the river looked idyllic but was charging £15.50 for afternoon tea!

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The Thames at Streatley

I watched a boat negotiate the lock then sat for a while on the Goring side texting and phoning Phil who had still not appeared. I looked for a paper but the shop had sold the last one so walked up to the station but there was no shop there. I started back to town where Phil rang me. I arranged to meet him in town and bought a paper.

We met just near the bridge and went into the Miller of Mansfield pub for a couple of beers. I had a very nice steak sandwich.

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Phil leaves the walk

We took final (for Phil) photos and eventually left for a final farewell on the bridge heading back towards the YHA. Phil seemed really to have enjoyed the walk and talked of doing the second half one weekend in the future.

I headed back to the YHA where I bumped into some of the Australian ‘girls’ – most over 60!

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My bunk, Streatley YHA

26th September 2006 – Streatley to Park Corner: 15 miles

Day 16

It was hard to get to sleep after my evening nap but I dropped off eventually. I had a reasonably good slep until about 06:00 the padded about until 07:00 before heading back across to Goring for a paper. The traffic was heavy by the time I got back to the YHA. I packed then to breakfast where I sat opposite an American lady who was moving on to Oxford. Also in the room was a group of Australian women from a Melbourne bushwalking club. They were worried about getting sunburnt!

I got a call from Joe to advise that he was going to someone else’s house for the weekend. I then received a call from Kym and we swapped stories. I checked out and headed back across the Thames yet again.

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The path follows the river

 I headed North, parallel to the river, meeting the walking couple from the previous afternoon doing their ‘two car’ bit. The path went through lovely houses with glimpses of the river.

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Rowing eight on The Thames

I heard a megaphone, got the camera out and got a photo of a rowing eight being coached (Oxford?)

I eventually came to the lovely village of South Stoke, where I turned and the path went right by the river. One hour gone, so I stopped on a bench and looked across to a fine looking hotel and houses in Moulsford.

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Moulsford

 I carried on, stopping to photograph a fisherman landing a large bream.

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Landing a bream

I then saw the impressive facilities of Moulsford Prep School. I had to shoo away a herd of cattle to get under the amazing double span brick railway arch crossing the river on the diagonal.

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Beautiful brickwork

A pleasant walk followed all the way to North Stoke where I looked at the 14th century wall paintings and had a rest in the churchyard. I picked a couple of very nice apples from the many fully laden trees in this very attractive village and walked on. I passed a golf course then met the two walkers again before turning East along Grims Ditch. The scenery was again very different. The ditch was an embankment with Ash and other trees along it. I glimpsed Benson airfield and then the embankment became two with a ditch between and headed uphill through larger trees: all very attractive.

As the path neared Nuffield I looked back and saw Didcot power station and the line of hills back toward Ridgeway YHA. I also  saw many Kites flying above. Nuffield church was another pleasant small affair where I took a rest and left a visitors book message dedicated to Kym’s Dad Jack, who would have flown over this church many times, it being the highest point around.

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Nuffield church

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Morris's grave

I spotted William Morris’s grave (Morris Motors) then set off across the golf course to the A4130.

I had a nice pint at the Crown: the traffic was a bit heavy though. I had to cross the road to the woods and then follow a long trail across stubble fields before arriving at an imposing looking concrete country house. From here I skirted woods, went through woods, then down a very steep hill in an effort to cut tomorrow’s distance. I finally arrived at Swyncombe House and church and set off across rolling fields with seven or eight Kites above.

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The woods near Nuffield

I entered woodland and took the long way to where I though Park Corner Farm B&B was. Mike, the owner, spotted me loitering and took me in. I had a cup of tea and a pleasant chat with Mike and Sue. We spoke of Jack and ‘Clemmies’, Benson, my family, their daughter (married this 2nd September). I then had a lovely bath and wrote my diary. Joe called and seems to be enjoying France. Chris Jackson texted  ‘Spent the day in sunny Droylsden today. Trust you have a better view. Enjoy the rest of the walk.’ Also Pete called to wish me luck. Had a long soak in the bath, changed and wrote my diary.

Mike gave me a lift to ‘Clemmies’ – The White Hart in Nettlebed.

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The White Hart in Nettlebed - 'Clemmies'

 It was strange to think that Jack would have been in there 13 years before I was born. Mike then drove me to the Crown, where I’d stopped earlier in the day.

 

Who should I bump into but the two walkers I’d met earlier in the day sitting at the next table! I had a pleasant sausage and mash then called Mike for a lift back to the B&B. We had a brief chat, I arranged breakfast for 07:00 and retired to my room to send texts to all and to finish my diary.

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27th September 2006 – Park Corner to Wendover: 16 miles

Day 17

I had a great sleep and woke about 06:00. Sue had breakfast ready for me at the head of a large dining table set with great style. ‘Rutter’ gave up his paper for me. I packed during which Kym called: tired from preparing the site for Mandy’s wedding.

I set off with two bananas from breakfast after paying my, good value, £30. I got lost trying to find my way back to last night’s stopping off point. I hacked my way through brambles and eventually hit the right trail back to Swyncombe Church. It was a misty morning but the early section of the walk was through very attractive fields and woods. I came across and photographed, first a peacock butterfly and then, a fly tip.

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Beauty......

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...and the beast!

I came across a dog walker who failed to respond to my ‘hello’. I was seething until  I caught up with him and he struck up a conversation about building regulations! A little further on I had what must surely be my last rendezvous with ‘the two walkers’.

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The 'two walkers'

I failed to find any reasonable apples despite finding a tree as I plodded down a long, straight and fairly wide path that skirted Watlington. It was not the most attractive section of the walk. The path was sand and clay and wet, making the going tricky in places. My back has been sore for most of the walk from the heavy pack and today seems worse. My feet are holding up: just the one blister despite my ‘1000 mile blister free’ socks. I changed to the other pair today.

I passed and re-passed two couples and chatted to them just before the M4 underpass. The motorway was very noisy after the peace of the walk and it was some time before the noise was left behind me and I could stop for a quiet rest. I then walked along a very tatty bit of track between the Chinnor chalk pits, just out of view behind the fences that protected walkers from the sheer drops.

The route then improved, progressing through a pleasant wood until I reached the couple of houses that made up Hempton Wainhill. The path then skirted a wood before heading out across large rolling fields of cattle. Ascended to Lodge Hill where I stopped for ‘lunch’: this consisted, as always, of a cereal bar but with the luxury today of a banana and a slurp from the single bottle of water that I hadn’t been able to top up.

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Lunch, with 'added banana'!

The view from the hill was great and the descent to the railway cutting and tunnel was easy going. After the railway I was faced with a newly ploughed field where a tractor was still operating.

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The newly ploughed up path

I re-checked my map and set out for 300 yards straight across his ploughed soil. The farmer said nothing so I must have been right. At the far end of the field someone had pinned up a notice chastising whoever had dumped two ‘defenceless rabbits’. To this notice someone else had added ‘they tasted delicious!’

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I wandered down the busy main road before turning along the south side of the town. I again saw kites flying right near the houses. Leaving Princes Risborough behind I started to climb: perhaps the longest and steepest of the Ridgeway so far. I passed an artist under a fishing umberella. I stopped at several viewing points, each time finding another, even higher one further on.

I walked through Giles Wood, finally exiting at Lower Cadsden where a pub seemed to offer the chance of a much needed drink: not to be, as it was closed. I negotiated a busy road then headed into the woods again and rounded Pulpit Hill. Here there were great views and pleasant walking. I scowled at a chap riding his mountain bike along the ‘walking only’ path before descending to the Chequers estate, with great views of the attractive house. Unusual use was made of old railway lines as fence posts.

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Chequers fence posts

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Chequers

I crossed to the gate houses and across the main drive to the road, then up into another wood of Beech trees.

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Beech trees on Lodge Hill

It was a very pleasant trail but I was really too tired to fully appreciate it. Spirits lifted when I arrived at the Boer war memorial on Coombe Hill.

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Marvelous views were afforded back along the Ridgeway and across the vast plain that extends North from it. It was slightly frustrating that Pulpit hill, which I passed over an hour ago, was only 800 yards away.

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The view back to Pulpit Hill

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The view forward to Wendover Woods

Ivinghoe Beacon was only nine miles away as the crow flies, though I suspect it will be a lot further tomorrow!

I watched as a plane towed and then released a glider overhead. The walk down to Wendover was downhill and easy but I was very weary. Phil called and I updated him on progress. I walked through Wendover, picking up a paper and stopping at the Tourist Information office. I rang two numbers in their window and fixed up with Mrs McDonald just near the centre of town.

She made me a cup of tea and we had a long chat. I then had a shower but bled over the bath and on the light coloured towel!

 

 

 

I headed off for a curry at the Prince of India then back to complete my diary and watch the news.

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28th September 2006 – Wendover to Ivinghoe Beacon: 13 miles

Day 18

Woke early after a good sleep. Breakfast was good and Mrs McDonald very chatty, as last night. I set off about 09:00 and headed down Wendover main street, turning right at the Tourist Information Office. I ambled through pleasant housing and fields to the impressive church. Wendover is a pleasant little town but, as with so many visited on this walk, spoiled by the through traffic and in this particular case, the noise from the nearby A413.

I proceeded along a muddy trail before the steep ascent into Barn Wood which was very pleasant. It would have been perfect were it not for the noise of a power saw. I then followed a stretch of woodlands and fields: quite pleasant walking.

An old Chipperfields Circus trailer caught my eye in one field.

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Old circus wagon

As I neared Tring I entered Tring Country Park: formerly the Rothschild estate. There was good walking down broad tree lined avenues.

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Avenue through Tring Estate

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The Rothschild Mansion

 I saw the mansion and then got my first glimpse of Ivinghoe Beacon and the finish!

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First glimpses of Ivinghoe Beacon

I left the park and crossed the A41 by way of the sloping bridge I had seen so often from the car and train.

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Bridge over the A41

I had to dodge the traffic to cross the A4251 then proceed down a passage and past a dump where horse racing syrup cans had been tossed onto old straw.

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The last 1.4 miles!

I approached Tring station with a spring in my step, looking forward to a near-finish pint and a bag of crisps. I was sorely disappointed to find the pub shown on the maps was now apartments! I pressed on up the road and then climbed up to Aldbury Nowers and Pitstone Hill passing quite a few dog walkers. Pitstone Hill offered tremendous views back along my route, North across the plains and best of all, East to Ivinghoe – the next ridge.

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The view of the finish from Pitstone Hill

I pressed on, rucksack giving me a lot of pain on the shoulder blades. I skirted the impressive ‘Incombe Hole’ and walked through the scrubby trees to the final road crossing.

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The chalky path up Ivinghoe Beacon

Ivinghoe Beacon lay just at the top of the well worn chalky path so I put on a final effort and reached my goal at 13:30.

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The end of The Ridgeway at Ivinghoe Beacon

A much shorter and less demanding walk than the Coast to Coast, so not as emotional to finish. Nevertheless it was very enjoyable and I felt a real sense of achievement, particularly after the last couple of hard days. I took the obligatory photos then sat and texted everyone before eating my final cereal bar which, like me, had just travelled the 85 miles of the Ridgeway!

A chap appeared and asked if I was going far. I explained that I had just completed the Ridgeway and I now had to get back to Berkhamstead: he didn’t take the hint! I walked back to the car park, expecting someone to take pity on me, but no such luck so I strated walking back to the Ashridge Road where I hoped I would be able to catch a bus. When I found a bus stop the timetable showed that there were only two buses a day: no good for me. I pressed on: very difficult walking on uneven verges with busy traffic. I got to Ashridge Visitor Centre entrance where I tried the taxi firm numbers that Ann had given me. They couldn’t get a car to me for ages so I plodded on, my back very sore!

Finally I left the road and headed across country. I came across two suspicious looking characters who asked me the time and complained how tired they were after erecting a fence around a farm. I walked through a housing estate and then onto the canal towpath to Waitrose. I must have looked a strange sight with my ruscksack etc. I bought provisions for dinner then struck out up  the last hill – and what a hill! I mad eit to Ann’s at about 17:00 and used the key under the mat to let myself in. Louisa was already home. I showered, cooked and enjoyed a pleasant meal and wine once Ann belatedly returned home.

Afterward

Afterward

29th September: I said goodbye to Ann at 07:00, showered, packed, ate a light breakfast then said goodbye to Louisa and walked down to Berkhamstead station. I bought a ticket for the 08:53 to Milton Keynes and spent the next few minutes being frightened by the passing Pendolino trains! I caught the 09:48 from Milton Keynes to Stafford.

Musings

Musings

The walk will be remembered for:

  • Conkers

  • Crab apples

  • Red berries

  • Kites

  • Flints

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I now understand the concept of The Ridgeway: a path that attempts to keep to the same contour along the northern edge of the chalk escarpment. One of the implications of this is the large distances travelled on foot for relatively little distance gained as the crow flies. For example, X to Y may be only a few hundred yards but along the path can take one to two hours.

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You'd get a lot more out of walking the trail than defacing the sign!

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