Walk 426 - Cookhamdean Common and Bisham Woods
Crossing Lower Mount Farm near Cookham Rise.
Sunday 9th August was in the middle of a six-day heatwave, with daily afternoon temperatures in the thirties Celsius. Sensibly, Jane decided to lead her walk starting at 9:30, an hour earlier than originally planned, so that we could complete the walk before it got too hot to walk in comfort.
Eleven of us met up at Cookham railway station for a six and a half mile walk that would include 470 metres of ascent. It seemed both strange and familiar to be in a group of eleven walkers, as group sizes have been limited to six (including the leader) since our walks restarted in July. The Ramblers decided to increase the limit in August to thirty! We feel that thirty is far too large a group to lead, while still trying to maintain social distancing, so we imposed our own limit of twelve for this walk.
Descending a very steep path in Fultness Wood.
The sky was a little hazy and there was a pleasant breeze as we left the station at Cookham Rise. We crossed the recreation ground and followed footpath signs through a housing estate, coming out into the countryside at Lower Mount Farm. Next, our route took us through several large fields before entering some woodland, where the shade was much appreciated.
Emerging from the wood, we crossed Cookhamdean Common and some farmland before getting back into the shade of Inkydown Wood, Fultness Wood and Quarry Wood. A few steep slopes took the path up high, occasionally giving views across the Thames to Marlow, and bring us out of the wood at Winter Hill. There is usually an ice cream van waiting in a lay-by here, but sadly not today!
Marlow as seen from Quarry Wood.
We ate our packed lunches here, sitting on the ridge with views of Westhorpe Park boating lake and Little Marlow, before heading south into the picturesque hamlet of Cookham Dean. We turned off the road by the church and followed a track down the hill and back to Cookham station, this time passing by some of the more up-market houses in the village. See our route on Google Maps.
The early start to this walk had paid off, as we finished the walk at about 12:45, before the real heat of the day had built up. I think we may do a few more early starts before the summer is out. It's easier to get up early this time of year and an early start means less traffic on the roads and fewer people about. Also, an early finish means there is more of the day left to do other things - if it isn't too hot!
Thank you to Jane for leading this walk.
Walk 425 - Dunsden Green, Binfield Heath and Crowsley Park
Thanks to changes in the Ramblers Covid-19 guidance issued at the very end of July, on 2nd August six walkers could become seven on this circular walk starting at Emmer Green on the northern edge of Reading.
Picnic at Crowsley Park.
Leaving the car park next to Caversham Park Tennis Club - where practice for next year's Wimbledon seemed to be in full swing - we walked past Loddon Brewery heading for Dunsden Green. An information board on the Green told us that poet Wilfred Owen had spent several weeks here in the summer of 1911. This attractive hamlet of southern England would have been a world away from the horrors that he was to face on the Western Front just a few summers later.
Leaving Dunsden Green we passed through fields of corn, wheat, barley and flax as footpaths took us in the general direction of Shiplake. We took care as we passed by Sunday morning leisure walkers and Shiplake dog walkers - and their ever happy dogs - all, like us, enjoying the warm sun.
Picnic at Crowsley Park.
Not feeling well enough dressed for passing by the grounds of Shiplake College, we veered off north through Shiplake Woods and then through High Wood to the Bottle and Glass pub at Binfield Heath. Entry to the lovely pub garden has to be by pre-booked appointment in this Covid-19 summer. No pub lunch for us and so we walked on to our own picnic lunch stop in Crowsley Park.
The leader earned points for the attractiveness of the lunch stop but was in danger of losing them as rain drops started to fall. A two percent chance of rain doesn't mean it cannot rain. Luckily for the leader's credibility - and for those without waterproofs - the single offending rain-cloud quickly moved on.
There was just an hour's walking after lunch as we headed back to our starting point. The northern edge of Reading always arrives unannounced; it is a pleasant surprise that the countryside can be so attractive just a few hundred yards before the houses of Caversham Park and the Reading traffic re-appear.
Thank you to Nigel for leading his first walk for us and for writing it up afterwards.
Walk 424 - Upper and Lower Basildon
The 10:00 group of the walk.
On Sunday 26th July, we had a walk with two leaders. This meant that we could do the walk as two separate groups of six people, allowing twelve of us to go walking without infringing the current regulations. One group started at 10:00 and the other group at 10:30, so that we wouldn't meet. I was in the 10:00 group.
From Upper Basildon, we went south down Gardeners Lane and east through Knapp's Wood. Next we followed a lane past a couple of farms and onto to Pangbourne Road. We weren't on the busy road for long, taking a footpath through Barnard's Copse, Berry's Copse and emerging from Sot's Hole onto Shooters Hill.
Here we came across the Berkshire Walkers 20s and 30s group, who where on a walk of their own, going the other way. We chatted briefly - at a respectable distance!
The 10:30 group of the walk.
Crossing the road, we joined the tow path that runs along the Thames between Pangbourne and Lower Basildon, on the opposite bank from the official Thames Path. We passed many fishermen along the way as we followed this path to Lower Basildon, where it left the river and took us to St. Bartholomew's Church.
Here is the resting place of Jethro Tull, the 17th century agricultural pioneer who invented the seed drill, not the 1970's progressive rock band! We had a quick look inside the church before heading off along the lane up to the A329.
We followed this busy road for a short distance before taking a footpath past Hillfields Farm to Harley Hill Wood. Here we stopped for our picnic lunch, while our other group stopped for their lunch by the Thames.
The tow path by the Thames near Pangbourne.
After lunch, we followed the western perimeter of Basildon Park on a quiet lane and then took footpaths through farmland until we arrived back in Upper Basildon, where we'd started. See our route on Google Maps.
The weather had been mostly good. After a sunny start, we had a brief rain shower, lasting long enough for us to put on waterproof jackets before it was replaced by sunshine again - a pattern that had repeated itself from time to time throughout the morning, but none of the showers were heavy.
It was good to have seen the Berkshire Walkers out walking. Not many of the local groups have restarted yet. In fact they met both of our groups on their route, whereas our two groups didn't meet each other at all. This method of doing one walk with two groups, half an hour apart, worked very well and is certainly worth doing again.
Thank you to Ann and Kathy for leading this walk.
Walk 422 - Hurley and Ashley Hill
Feeding the Swans near Hurley.
On Sunday 12th July, six of us met up in Hurley Village, which was remarkably crowded. It was a warm, sunny day and I expect people were keen to get out now that it is permitted as lock-down is being eased. Luckily most of our walk would be away from the crowded areas.
We started off, heading eastward through a static caravan park and then through fields toward Temple Park. Then we joined the Thames Path near Temple Lock, heading west, towards Hurley Lock. The Thames Path was crowded but we managed to maintain social distancing most of the time. The path got wider as we headed away from Hurley.
We came across an elderly gentleman feeding the swans. I think he must do this regularly, as the swans and their cygnets headed straight toward him as he arrived.
Part of the zoo at the Berkshire College of Agriculture.
We left the Thames Path (and the crowds) at Frogmill Farm, taking a track up to Henley Road and crossing it to join a footpath heading south and uphill. We diverted onto some very well-kept permissive paths through Juddmonte Farms (a horse breeding farm, owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia) and then joined the Chiltern Way.
We sat down to eat our packed lunches by Channers wood. Following the edge of the wood, we made our way to Top Farm before heading up Ashley Hill. We pass the Dewdrop Inn on our way, but we're not going into pubs on our walks at the moment. After a pleasant walk down the east side of Ashley Hill, we turned north and followed a track into the expansive grounds of the Berkshire College of Agriculture.
On our way from the Berkshire College of Agriculture to High Wood.
Passing the rather grand Hall Place and walking through the BCA zoo, we then took a small detour to see the statue of Diana the Huntress. Next we followed a wide and grassy path up to High Wood, which enjoyed views of Ashley Hill to the south and Speen Hill to the east. After crossing through the wood, we then had views to the north, looking over Hurley and the Thames to Danesfiled and the Chiltern Hills the other side.
A steep path took us down to Hurley Bottom. We cross Henley Road again before returning to Hurley Village, which was as crowded as ever. See our route on Google Maps. The walk had been a good eight miles that had included a total 515 metres of ascent - and it felt like it once I'd got home!
Thank you to Lawrence for leading this walk.
Walk 421 - Hannington, North Oakley and Cottington's Hill
A view of the North Hampshire Downs from the Wayfarer's Walk near North Oakley.
On Sunday 5th July, we had our first official BWW walk since lock-down began in March. There are now special restrictions to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, which mean that no more than six people (including the leader) can attend a walk. All attendees have to book a place on the walk, in advance and provide contact details. Also, social distancing measures are to be in place and extra care is needed when handling gates and stiles, etc.
Many other walking groups have not restarted their walks yet, so we were rather cautious of how well this would work for us. There was a possibility that no one would want to go on group walks yet, or alternatively we would be inundated with people from all the local groups desperate to get walking again.
North Oakley, on the Wayfarer's Walk.
We had five people, including me (the leader) on this walk, although we did hear from a few others who would have liked to attend but weren't available this time. We started at 10:00 from the free car park on White Hill, south of Kingsclere, and followed the Wayfarer's Walk south-eastward to North Oakley.
I had advertised this walk as 7 miles with an option to extend to 8.5 miles. We stopped in North Oakley to decide whether to stay on the Wayfarer's Walk and take the longer route or to stick to the original shorter route. Being a small group, it was easy to make such decisions and get a unanimous agreement, which was to continue on the longer route. We passed through Freemantle Farm and a newish tree plantation before reaching White Lane, where we left the Wayfarer's Walk.
Woodland path on Freemantle Park Down, near Cottington's Hill.
We followed White Lane to a crossroads where we turned left onto Hannington Road, which we followed north before taking a footpath through Warren Bottom Copse. It was too late in the year to see the bluebells that usually populate these woods in May/June time. Soon we were entering the picturesque village of Hannington, where we stopped on the green to eat our packed lunches (after sanitising our hands).
We decided to take the scenic route back through the woodland on Freemantle Park Down, by Cottington's Hill, which returned us to the car park on a permissive path with a nice view of Watership Down. See our route on Google Maps.
It felt quite like old times, walking in an organised group; the main difference being that we had to leave bigger gaps when passing other people.
I'd like to thanks all those who came on my walk and complied so readily with the new restrictions.