Day 4: The Ridgeway: Wantage to Goring

Lockridge Farm was the best start to a new day that we had experienced yet.  The exit out the B&B took us immediately to a footpath and then straight on the trail.  No back pedaling, no rain, and no road walking.  The farm is located at the highest point in the local vicinity, so we headed out to more flat ridge walking and the occasional cyclist or jogger out and about on a Sunday morning.

The trail had few other walkers on it the whole time.  Its not as popular as the other long distance trails that I’ve walked, but today was Sunday and we did see a few family day walkers and dad’s out exercising with baby carriers or dogwalkers.

We did fourteen miles today, and most of it was level or down hill.  The few climbs we had were gentle and not very long.  We covered most of it quite quickly in about 5 hours, slowing down only near the end as the road walking started.  Crossing the river from Streatly into Goring, we entered West Berkshire(our third county in four days) and into the world of Sunday afternoon cream teas and day trippers out to enjoy the sun.

A beautiful four day trip.  Nikki was a great walker and we were really lucky with the weather.  48 miles.  DONE!

Day 3: The Ridgeway: Uffington to Wantage

The morning of the third day began with a steepish climb back up Uffington Hill, back to the White Horse and on to the continuation of the Ridgeway trail.  Only six miles today of trail walking, plus a couple of extra miles into Wantage, a small town off the Ridgeway proper.

The walking was pretty easy.  No real ascents or descent after the initial climb, just long stretches of ridge walking – it is called The Ridgeway after all.  Here’s a view of a typical stretch of trail.

It was dry but windy on the trail, and I was feeling a little too windswept today.  The scarf on my head became my new best friend as I tried to the hair out my face.  I got a bit tired of seeing pictures of myself with the thing on my head, but it did keep me sane.

Breaking up the miles of grassy trails, there were another couple of hill forts today, but we decided to keep going.  Pretty though they are, after a while its seen one, seen ‘em all…..

We took a nice long break at the Court Hill Tearooms not far from the end of today’s section.  We made tea and a cake last at least an hour as we took a break from the windy weather.

Of course, the last couple of miles into Wantage were along the road.  There’s some dangerous verge-less strips of road where there’s nowhere safe to stand away from the racing traffic, so we trespassed by taking a safer side route through some farm fields.

Wantage was upon us quickly, though.  It’s a pretty town with shops and restaurants, which came as quite a shock after a few days in villages.  We arrived at around 3pm and decided to stay there for dinner, before taking a taxi out to the B&B farmhouse where we were staying that evening.  After a coffee break, we took a little walk around the town, looking at the small, attractive houses, shops and church.

Around the churchyard

After a yummy Thai dinner at Yummy Thai Food, (yes, it really was!) we headed out to Lockridge Farm B&B by taxi.  No, it wasn’t cheating.  We were off the trail already!  Good stay, early night, and the last and longest day tomorrow….

Day 2: The Ridgeway: Ogbourne St George to Uffington

We woke up to our first rain in the morning.  The weather forecasters were promising brighter spells later in the day, but to start off we needed to don our raingear and head out the door regardless.  Again, we took a slightly different route than the Ridgeway for a short while in the morning, joining the trail a little north of the village.  Again, this meant some road walking but this time on a busier A road in the rain.  The cars whipped by the narrow grass verges where we stood for some protection, and I was glad to reach the Ridgeway trail again after about a mile.  The weather started to brighten and we saw the sun start to come out.  Our walk today was 12 miles with two highlights:  Waylands Smithy, another ancient long barrow, and the White Horse of Uffington, an ancient hill carving.

The view from the ridge in the light rain

There was lots of ground to cover across country lanes and wide grassy tracks.  I loved the wheat fields, splashes of poppies, bright rapeseed fields, and other crops growing around us.  We continued to spot different breeds of cows and sheep, as well as today’s animal highlight, horses, Lots of them.  Unlike the pea-brained sheep, when they saw us coming they all ran to the fence to greet us and watch us with an intelligent curiosity.  I wish I had been able to capture the sight as about 30 horses galloped together to the edge of the field.  Here’s my best effort with just a camera:

A field full of horses came over to greet us

Horses were an important theme of this trip.  Race horses feature prominently in the area.  Grassy circuits called “horse gallops” appeared alongside the trail regularly.  We hoped to catch a glimpse of them in training, but with no luck.  I think we were always too late in the day.  However, we did see them grazing in the fields, and being ridden around on the many bridleways that crossed our path.  And of course, there was the horse, the White Horse of Uffington, waiting to greet us at the end of the trail.

Sitting near the eye of the white horse looking down the valley

You can’t see the White Horse when you are on it, just swoops of bare chalk where the image has been carved.  Here’s a view of it from a distance away:

An explanation of the day wouldn’t be complete without a more detailed mention of Wayland’s Smithy, another extraordinary long barrow tucked away down a country lane.  Unlike the West Kennett Long Barrow we visited a couple of days earlier, we arrived in the afternoon as the sun made a re-appearance and everything seemed so much less spooky.

At the entrance to Wayland’s Smithy

In fact, Nikki managed to get a signal on her phone, and while she caught up on texts, I lay in the damp grass and closed my eyes.

Chillin’ at the barrow

I even managed to get a power nap.  We stayed at least half an hour in that quiet, hidden place until other visitors showed up and the spell was broken.

We spent the night at Norton House in Uffington Village, after about 1.5 miles of road walking to end our day.  A sore finish for the knees was starting to be a regular occurance.  Uffington Village is in Oxfordshire, somewhere today we crossed the border into the next county, and very pretty it is too.

There were lots of chocolate box thatched cottages and pretty English country gardens.  We had a pretty good dinner in The Fox and Hounds, except for the gritty side salad which really let them down.  A shorter day tomorrow – only six miles – almost a day off!

Day 1: The Ridgeway: East Kennett to Ogbourne St George

Today we were official beginning The Ridgeway trail, but we got off to a shakey start.  The B&B owner recommended a non-muddy shortcut to the start of the walk and we took it, and got lost.  It took us 45 minutes to get back on track and at the start of the Ridgeway proper.

Heading out from our first B&B

Both last night and today we noticed a lot of travelers around.  Not really gypsies, but young people attracted by the life on the road, the druids and ancient spiritual stories associated with this area.  They were very friendly, and soon disappeared as we moved away from the Avebury area.

Typical trail view at the start of the walk

Today’s goal was 9 miles to Ogbourne St George, passing through some very pretty country and more ancient sites.  The first stop of the day wasBarburyCastle, one of several iron age hill forts on the trail.  Most people hear the word “castle” and think of traditional stone castles that we all know from watching Robin Hood movies.  However, preceding these more well-known structures were wooden castles built in elevated locations for protection.  Today, of course, all that remains are the raised footings and sloping sides of the moats.  But with a little imagination you can still see their importance  to ancient tribes and how they would have protected them from marauding enemies.

Aerial view of Barbary Castle

Further along the path came the next interesting part of the walk, the beautiful Smeath’s Ridge – a wide grassy trail along the ridge of a hill covered in grazing sheep.  The farmer’s sign on the gate warned walkers to stay to the path as mother were still protecting their young, and we saw plenty of evidence of older lambs with their shaven mothers all over the field.  Along with the horses and cattle in adajecent fields it really was the picture perfect English countryside scene, especially now as the sun had come out.

Walking on Smeath’s Ridge

We relaxed for quite a while on a well-placed bench, enjoying the sun, the views and the white fluffy clouds.

Nikki taking lots of photos

Baby lambs with their mothers enjoying the sun

The last view miles of walking into Ogbury St George involved a little road walking.  We cheated a little, cutting off a corner of the official path as it really didn’t make any sense to walk in a big loop around the outskirts of the village when our room for the night was in the centre of town.  The village was pretty but the pavement walk on top of the previous 9 miles was hard on the legs.

Our bed for the night was at The Inn with the Well, and we have a very acceptable room in purpose built accommodation next to theInn.  The evening was sunny and pleasant, and after a pretty good dinner from the Thurs Curry Night menu, we turned in early for the longer day tomorrow.

Day 0: The Ridgeway: Discovering Avebury

Not strictly part of the Ridgeway, Avebury is a very interesting centre for prehistoric sites in Wiltshire.  We arrived for our walk around 3pm in the afternoon, with plenty of time to do a short 5-mile loop around the Avebury area to explore a little of the sites.  There’s a lot to see.  The Avebury stone circle is the most famous of the sites, but still nowhere near as well-known as the nearby Stonehenge.  The road cuts the stone circle into quarters, so its not really possible to photograph it as a complete circle unless you do it from the air. As I didn’t arrive by helicopter, here’s an aerial shot, courtesy of the internet to give you an idea:

There was so much to see in such a short time and we knew we’d be hungry soon, so we planned a 5-mile circuit tour of Avebury to view the Sanctuary and Avebury Circle first before a stop of a pub dinner. Then, as it’s still light until about 10.30pm, we would still have time to view Silbury Hill, West Kennett Avenue, and West Kennett Barrow, all ancient monuments dating back to the Iron Age or earlier.

The Red Lion pub in Avebury

But we lingered a little too long in the pub. After a nice Scottish salmon salad and a glass of wine, we almost gave up the urge to explore. But there was still plenty of light and once we were out among the stones, curiosity returned and we walked along the ancient West Kennett Avenue, still lined with Sarsen Stones, until it stopped in the middle of a cow field. The cows were blocking the path and with lots of them and only two of us, we felt a little cautious and climbed over the low barbed wire fence to avoid them. Of course this was a wasted effort as they scattered anyway once they saw us get a little closer.

Risking life and limb to avoid the ferocious cows!

Fortunately skin and clothing survived the barbed wire and we headed over the meadow to Silbury Hill, a mysterious hand-built chalk hill.  Who built it and why are still a mystery.

Silbury Hill – Made by ancient man. Photographed at dusk – hence the grainy photo.

From the hillside opposite we could see the West Kennett Long Barrow about ½ mile away. Barrows are ancient grave sites, usually containing the bones of a handful of people or more.  Some are long and narrow in shape, while others are round and hill-shaped.

High view of West Kennett Long Barrow

By the time we reached it, dusk was starting to fall and the barrow looked pretty spooky, spelt dank and quite frankly gave me the creeps.

Entrance to the Long Barrow

We quickly took a couple of pictures and shot away back towards our B&B as the sun got lower. A bit freaky that place.

We managed to view a lot that evening before we had even started the walk, and the trail promised plenty more sites tomorrow.

…and a peek inside. Spooky!