Walk 448 - Fleet Pond and Pyestock Hill
A duck with ducklings and some black-headed gulls on Fleet Pond.
It was a crisp, clear morning when ten of us met up on Sunday 18th April at Fleet railway station. We had an equal mix of regulars and visitors for a revised version of a walk I last led here in 2017. Although we'd started our walk earlier than usual, there were already quite a few other people there, so the walk was frequently punctuated by moments of standing to one side to let others past on the more narrow paths.
Following the path down the western edge of the pond, we stopped at a pier to watch some of the wildlife. A Mallard duck was shepherding her ducklings around while some noisy Black-Headed Gulls fought with each other nearby. In the distance I saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes, a few Egyptian Geese, and much nearer were a couple of Mute Swans expecting to be fed. They were disappointed. We didn't feed them.
Sandy Bay, aka The Beech, at Fleet Pond.
Continuing around the southern edge of the pond, we stopped what the locals call the beech. It used to be a bit more sandy than it is now, but it's still a nice spot to stop and admire the scenery. Next, we doubled back and turned south to follow the stream that feeds the pond from a weir by the Basingstoke Canal at Pyestock Hill.
Reaching the canal, we shared the towpath with a few joggers and cyclists before leaving it as the canal enters Fleet and turning south into the Forest of Eversley. This piece of forest seems a long way from Eversley village in the Hart district of Hampshire, but I'm informed that the word Eversley means "Wild Bore Clearing", so perhaps this is where it got its name. We didn't see any wild boar, just some cows and bullocks of various varieties.
Crossing the stream that links Fleet Pond and the Basingstoke Canal.
Rather than taking the forest track that I normally follow, we took a more circuitous (and picturesque) route through the forest. Turning east, we followed a track through Norris Hill, which emerged from the woods at a massive roundabout that bridges the canal. Crossing this, we re-entered the forest at Pyestock Hill and found somewhere to stop and have our packed lunches.
Heading mostly north, we skirted the new Hartland Village housing estate, which had been a massive industrial complex when I last led this walk. We passed through heathland and woodland, turning west, back to the pond and ultimately the railway station where we had started. See our route on Google Maps. Thanks to our early start and lack of a pub-stop, it was only about 1:30pm when we finished the walk.
Walk 446 - Goring, Aldworth and Ashampstead
The Aldworth Giants at St Mary's Church, Aldworth.
The walk on Saturday 10th April was the second walk that Ian had led for us. Ten of us met up in Goring on a rather cold and grey day for a walk that promised to include hills and churches. After leaving Goring and crossing the Thames into Streatley, we encountered our first steep hill - Lardon Chase. Once we'd got our breath back, we descended through the golf course on the other side of the hill to Thurle Grange.
Turning south, we made our way through fields to Aldworth. Not stopping at the Bell Inn, as it isn't allowed to open just yet, we continued to St Mary's church. As we approached, we could hear it's bell tolling in honour of HRH Duke of Edinburgh, who's death had been announced the previous day. The bell ringers were leaving as we arrived, and they invited us to take a look at the "Aldworth Giants" in the church.
Frescoes at St Clement's Church, Ashampstead.
Originally standing at 7 ft tall, these 14th century statues of the knights of the De La Beche family were damaged by Parliamentarians during the English Civil war. We ate our packed lunches in the church yard before heading off towards Ashampstead.
A mostly woodland walk led us to Ashampstead Green and then we took a small diversion to a farm shop at Cassy Fields Farm, where we we able to make use of their toilet facilities, buy refreshments and consume them at some handy picnic tables.
After our tea/coffee stop at the farm shop, we crossed a field to St Clement's Church to see the medieval frescoes. The paintings are thought to date from C.1230-40 and were plastered over during the reformation and remained undiscovered until 1895.
Heading up to Hartridge Lye Wood, Ashampstead.
A mixture of woodland, fields and hills took as back to Streatley and then Goring. On route, we crossed a part of Grim's Ditch at Bowler's Copse. We'd already crossed another part of it earlier, at Portobello Wood, where our leader announced that no-one knew what Grim's Ditch was. A brief bit of Internet searching suggests that it's a Bronze Age territorial earthwork running between the Pang and Thames valleys. There are other such earthworks with the same name elsewhere in the UK.
Our final hill (slightly steeper and longer than Lardon Chase) brought us out behind the YHA at Streatley, leaving us with about half a mile of road walking back to the car park at Goring. This included a slight detour past St Thomas's church, just to add another one to the list of churches on this walk. See our on Google Maps.
Thank you to Ian for leading this walk.
Walk 445 - Knowl Hill, Bowsey Hill and Crazies Hill
Walking through woodland on Bowsey Hill.
This walk on 2nd April was our first walk this year! Our last walk had been on 12th December. The Coronavirus lockdown put a stop to organised walks before Christmas and these measures have now been eased enough for us to be allowed to resume walking again. Seven of us (including the leader, Julia, who has recently re-joined our group) met up in Knowl Hill to go for a short (5 mile) walk. The morning started off cold and overcast, but the sun gradually showed itself as the walk progressed.
We started the walk by following the A4 Bath Road for a short stretch before turning into Canhurst Lane. This lane soon became a footpath as it headed upwards into Lindenhill Wood. The leader was pleased to tell us that the paths were considerably less muddy than they had been when she'd pre-walked the route a few weeks earlier.
Stopping in Bottom Boles Wood.
The sun came out as we reached the top of Bowsey Hill. The woodland was quite light and airy, as the trees were mostly still bare from Winter, with new leaves just beginning to grow on them. These tiny leaves have such a vivid green colour. The woodland floor was carpeted with the leaves of bluebell plants, yet to flower.
We did see a few patches of blue flowers, which were a similar colour to common bluebells, but the flower shape was quite different. At first we thought they might be Spanish bluebells, but our leader was sure that they were Spring Squill (Scilla Verna). I did an Internet search when I got home and it appears that Spring Squill and Spanish Bluebells do look quite similar, but I think the flowers we saw were more likely to be Spring Squill.
Examining some Spring Squill.
Leaving the woods, we made our way to the village of Crazies Hill, stopping in a field to have a snack and drink. Our leader had brought some mini chocolate bars for the group, as an early Easter present.
We made a large u-turn through the village, taking various lanes, footpaths and alley ways, both wide and narrow. Soon we were heading back to Bowsey Hill, through High Knowl Wood. At the top of the hill, we passed our outgoing route before making our descent on part of the Knowl Hill Bridleway Circuit. This brought us out on Star Lane, which took us back to the place where we'd started.
Although this was a short walk of just 5 miles, it included over 525 feet of ascent. See our route on Google Maps.
Thank you to Julia for leading this walk.