Walk 567 - Basingstoke Canal Figure-of-Eight
Squelching our way through Odiham Common.
There had been a downpour on the night before my walk on Sunday 26th March and we'd had a lot of rain in previous days. With a forecast of more rain during the day, I knew this was going to be a soggy walk. Six of us (five regulars and someone trying us out) met up at Odiham Wharf car park for this figure-of-eight walk.
This was effectively two walks either side of the car park, allowing people to do just the first loop or both, depending on how long a walk they wanted to do. In this case, a choice of a 7 mile or an 11½ mile walk was on offer.
We began by following the Basingstoke Canal north-east along the towpath, which was quite muddy in places. We were overtaken by the occasional runner, who hadn't been put off by the slippery conditions.
The Basingstoke Canal, near the Barley Mow, Winchfield.
It wasn't long before we left the canal for Odiham Common. We passed Wilk's Water and Odiham Hunting Lodge, which was undergoing renovation. As we splodged our way through the common, Pat, one of our members who has recently been on a foraging course, pointed out various plants that are edible.
Out of the common, we crossed farmland and re-joined the canal at Sandy Hill Bridge. From there we followed the tow path to Stacey's Bridge where we left it for a woodland path through Hellet's Copse. Next a path through grassy fields brought us back to the canal near Winchfield.
A colourful goat in Dogmersfield Park.
After about a mile of towpath, we left the canal once more and entered Dogmersfield Park, stopping by Tundry Pond to eat our packed lunches and watch the various aquatic birds. We also heard a woodpecker drumming nearby.
After lunch, we crossed through the park, initially wading through a very deep puddle by a swing-gate. Following a footpath that went between two fields, we saw highland cattle on one side, and on the other, we saw ponies and a very colourful goat.
Not the canal, but a flooded driveway.
Water had collected in a paved lane near Dogmersfield Lake, which required more wading. At this point a dark layer of cloud was building up and we wondered whether we'd complete the first loop of the walk before the rain started. We didn't.
Pausing only to put on our waterproofs, we trudged through extremely soggy woodland to get to Broad Oak, just as the rain stopped. Re-joining the canal at Broad Oak Bridge, it was a short walk along the towpath back to the car park.
Wet woodland near Broad Oak.
Three of the group went home while the remaining three of us stopped for a drink at The Waterwitch before doing the second loop of the walk. This followed the canal westward to North Warnborough, where we crossed the River Whitewater at a ford and then visited the remains of King John's Castle. After that, we continued to follow the canal as far as the Greywell Tunnel.
My original route would then have taken us across farmland and fields back to Odiham Wharf, but after a brief discussion, we all agreed it would probably be easier to retrace our steps along the towpath than risk the boggy fields. So that's what we did. See our route on Google Maps.
Rob led this walk and wrote it up.
Walk 566 - Hungerford, Templeton, Totterdown and Prosperous
Heading from Balsdon Farm to Totterdown House through Finch's Copse.
It has rained practically every day in March, so by Saturday 25th there was a lot of surface water and mud to contend with. Although this Saturday was quite windy, we only had one rain shower during the walk. Twelve of us attended Ian's walk.
Starting from Hungerford railway station, we headed south-east across Hungerford Common and through farmland to Templeton Stud. A detour was made so Ian could show us St. Cassian's, a Catholic youth retreat centre near Kintbury, before heading south-west to Balsdon Farm.
A couple of donkeys in the grounds of Totterdown House.
Continuing westward, we soon entered the expansive grounds of Totterdown House, where there were carpets of daffodils in every direction. The footpath through the grounds took us into an enclosure containing two donkeys, who came over to greet us.
Leaving Totterdown, we stopped in Anville's Copse to have our packed lunches, where we found a few fallen trees to use as benches to sit upon. After lunch we headed for Mount Prosperous, which is not a mountain, but a manor house.
Stopping for lunch in Anville's Copse near Mount Prosperous.
On the way, we crossed a field of sheep. Noticing one was lying on its back and struggling to right itself. A couple of us helped the sheep up onto its feet.
In the middle of the field was a strange metal obelisk. Ian, our leader, came up with several made-up explanations as to what it was. At one point it was a rocket and then he had us believing it was a prop used in an episode of Doctor Who.
There is a footpath that passes down the long driveway to Mount Prosperous manor house, which passes a walled rose garden and then crosses a smaller front garden before exiting into fields. This we followed.
An obelisk in a sheep field on Mount Prosperous Home Farm.
Although the footpath remains outside the high walls of the rose garden, there is a viewing platform thoughtfully put there by the owners to allow people to enjoy this otherwise private garden. There isn't much to see in March, of course, but we've been there in the summer and it is very impressive.
The remainder of the walk headed mostly northward, back to Hungerford, passing through mixed woodland and farmland, via Hornhill and Standen Manor. We entered Hungerford from the west, via Smitham Bridge Road and then Church Street back to the centre of town. See our route on Google Maps.
Ian's description of the walk said it was 9¾ miles and relatively flat-as-a-pancake. My GPS made it 10.2 miles, which is close, but with 480m (1,575 ft) of accent in total, it can't really be classed as a flat walk. Ian comes from a land down under, where pancakes are quite hilly.
Thank you to Ian for leading this walk and providing the photo of us at lunch.
Walk 564 - Henley, Hambleden and Fawley
Walking through Culham Deer Park.
Eight of us gathered outside Henley-on-Thames railway station on Saturday 11th March for a 13.4 mile walk that promised hills and a variety of animals. It was a frosty start to the morning, but the sun was shining and there wasn't much of a breeze.
We started by walking along the edge of the River Thames to Henley Bridge, which we crossed and headed up White Hill. Leaving the road, we crossed through Remenham Wood and continued upward to Remenham Hill.
White deer in Culham Deer Park.
Now going downhill towards Culham House, we came across a herd of white deer. Not a common site on our walks, and just the first of many types of deer and other animals that we would see on this walk.
Heading down to the Thames Path, we saw a flock of Guinea Fowl strutting across a small field. Passing through Aston, we saw that The Flowerpot pub was being refurbished. We'll have to make a visit once the work is finished.
Following the Thames Path near Aston.
We crossed the Thames at Hambleden Lock on a long metal bridge over the weir and made our to Hambleden Village, were we stopped to eat our packed lunches. A few of us popped into the local shop, which does teas, coffee and some excellent cakes. We also took the opportunity to have a quick look around this picturesque village after lunch.
Crossing the Thames as Hambleden Lock.
Next, we skirted around Ridge Wood and then headed uphill to Fawley. There is an animal sanctuary at Fawley Hill, where there are 'spare' animals from London and Whipsnade Zoos as well as a deer park. They also look after a number of three-legged deer that have unfortunately lost limbs in road accidents.
Concrete cows just outside Fawley.
We passed a field where we saw a couple of emu, in with a heard of fallow deer. In another field there was a herd of red deer. As we reached the road, there was a small field containing two concrete cows!
Crossing through Fawley village, we then passed the other side of the animal sanctuary, where we saw what looked like a gazelle in a field with some roe deer and a llama. We also witnessed a red kite land on a fence post not far in front of us!
A llama at Fawley Hill Animal Sanctuary.
We joined the Oxfordshire Way, which we followed back to Henley, crossing through Henley deer park on the way. Our leader stopped us in the deer park to point out an interesting ground feature that is practically invisible from ground level. If you look at aerial photography of the park, the Australian flag can clearly be seen, made up of carefully planted tree and shrubs. Take a look for yourselves on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/j5DNM33vfryuGAtDA
Back in Henley, we took a rather indirect route back to the station, which passed by Friar Park - once home to George Harrison. See our route on Google Maps. In our 13.4 mile walk we had done 741m (2,430 ft) of ascent in total. A good workout.
Thank you to Chris for leading this fascinating walk.
Walk 563 - Great Bedwyn, Chisbury, Crofton and Wilton
Walking through mixed woodland in Bedwyn Common.
Saturday 4th March was cold, grey and windy. Amazingly twenty people and a dog turned up at the railway station in Great Bedwyn. Actually, there were only eighteen of us and no leader at 10:30 when the walk was due to start. Ian, who led this walk, had been held up by train problems at Reading. These things happen, but not very often.
Luckily for us, we didn't have to stand in the cold until the next train arrived, which would have been an hour later! Matt, a prospective new joiner to the group, very kindly gave Ian a lift. Much appreciated by all of us. So without further delay, we got going and began to warm up as we headed north-east and uphill through Great Bedwyn, skirting Chisbury Wood into the hamlet of Chisbury.
Sitting on a fallen tree for our lunch-stop in Stock Common.
Next, we turned north-west, crossing farmland to Upper Horsehall Hill Farm. From here, there is straight route called London Ride that heads south-west into Bedwyn Common. We followed the first section of it, which is a quiet lane, but the next part was clearly signposted as Private Land, No Public Right of Way. Not wanting to bring the Ramblers into disrepute, we took an alternative route along the road until the next public footpath to take us into Bedwyn Common.
Wilton Water reservoir with the Crofton Pumping Station in the background.
A few left-turns through the forest brought us back out of Bedwyn Common and into Stock Common, where we stopped for lunch once we'd found somewhere to sit and eat our packed lunches - a fallen tree in woodland by a quiet lane. After lunch, we continued southward through farmland to the hamlet of Crofton, where the Kennet and Avon Canal is at its highest point.
A tree of cormorants by Wilton Water.
There is a steam-driven pumping station here, built in 1812 to maintain the water levels in the Canal. The station contains the oldest working "beam engine" - a type of condensing steam engine with a large overhead beam, pivoted in the middle that connects a vertical steam driven piston at one end with a vertical water pump piston at the other end.
This pumping station can often be seen working and there are open days where you can be shown around by the volunteers that maintain it all. However, it wasn't running today, and in fact the adjacent section of canal had been drained while repairs were being carried out. The towpath was closed while the work was being carried out, so we followed the official detour through farmland.
We continued our walk along the edge of Wilton Water, a reservoir built to supply the pumping station. Along a narrow stretch of the reservoir, we saw several cormorants perched on a dead tree.
Saying hello to the emus in Wilton village.
Soon, we were in the picturesque village of Wilton, where stopped for a drink at The Swan pub. There was plenty of outside seating, which was handy as it would be tricky for twenty of us to find a table inside.
Refreshed, we left the pub and passed a field of emus! They all came up to the low wall to great us. Ian, being an Australian, felt quite at home with these bizarre birds.
Leaving Wilton, we headed north-east through the mixed woodland of Wilton Brail and then followed the canal from Mill Bridge to Bedwyn Church Lock. Here we crossed the canal and the railway line, emerging in the grounds of St Mary's Church. We then followed the road back into Great Bedwyn. See our route on Google Maps.
Thank you to Ian for leading this walk.
Walk 562 - Old Burghclere, Sydmonton and Ladle Hill
The valley between Ware Copse and the dismantled railway.
Saturday 25th February didn't look too promising. It was windy, grey and only 4°C, with a 25% chance of rain. Nonetheless, eight of us gathered in the car park by Beacon Hill near Highclere for a walk that promised hills, views and snowdrops, even if it didn't promise good weather.
I made up this walk from footpaths I knew, footpaths I didn't know and a few quiet lanes to join them all up. I'd pre-walked the route on the previous weekend but found the last part of the walk to be very uninspiring, so I decided to modify the route.
Drifts of snowdrops near Woodwalk Gully.
Not having had time to try the new route, which now contained paths I hadn't recced, I asked the group if they were happy to risk doing the new untried route. They were - and as it turned out, the new route was much nicer. A risk worth taking.
Starting from the car park, we crossed the A34 and followed a footpath into Old Burghclere where the churchyard was carpeted with snowdrops. Turning north, we took a path that ran alongside a dismantled railway and then through a small valley.
Passing through the grounds of Earlstone Manor.
Crossing a couple of farmer's fields, we continued on a path lined with drifts of snowdrops on our way to Earlstone Manor. The footpath goes through some of the grounds, where there were ornamental ponds with wooden bridges and a treelined driveway with a sprinkling daffodils.
Shadows on Well Street by the edge of the Sydmonton Estate.
Crossing a few more fields, we came to Woodside Farm as a few spits of rain started to fall. Luckily it didn't come to anything and the sun came out later. Leaving the farm, we crossed the road into more woodland with more snowdrops, before heading south on a quiet lane - with frequent patches of snowdrops.
Now on the edge of the Sydmonton Estate, we followed Laundry Track, past a row of houses called Laundry Cottages. We discussed what these might once have been used for. Any ideas?
The footpath led us through the impressive grounds of Sydmonton Court, where we were under constant surveillance from cameras, swivelling round to track our progress through the estate.
Ascending from Sydmonton to Nuthanger Down.
Heading south toward Nuthanger Down, we stopped at the bottom of the hill to eat our packed lunches. Despite the sunshine, it was still cold and we didn't sit for any longer than needed before heading up the hill.
Halfway up the hill, the path forked. My route used the left-hand fork, which is a picturesque and winding path with views of Watership Down. The right-hand fork, according to my map was a short-cut to Ladle Hill that crossed a lot of contour lines in a short distance. Two of our group split off to try it, while the rest of us took the longer but easier route and enjoyed the views. We met up again at the top.
Exploring Ladle Hill Fort, with Beacon Hill in the background.
It was distinctly cold when we reached Ladle Hill. Grey clouds obscured the sun, the wind had picked up and there was the suspicion of rain in the air. Nevertheless, we marched around the circular earthworks of the Iron-age hill-fort. Hats and gloves went on to protect us from the chilling wind.
Leaving the hill-fort, we descended along a tree-lined path back to Sydmonton. The path ended at a road junction by the entrance to Sydmonton Court. Through the great wrought iron gates, we could see the long driveway was lined with crocuses. (There were snowdrops as well, but I suspect you're now tired of hearing about them!)
Climbing up Beacon Hill. It's steeper than it looks.
A walk along a lane brought us back to Old Burghclere and then it was a matter of retracing our steps back to the car park. From the footpath, we could see Beacon Hill. Each of us was trying to decide whether we wanted to climb this hill after the walk. (I'd included this as an optional extra in the walk description.)
Egging each other on, and applying a little peer pressure, more than half of us decided to do it. The route up the hill was steep, but not too long. It added an extra mile to the walk and another 400ft of ascent. See our route on Google Maps.
From the top, we could see Highclere Castle and many other local landmarks. Needless to say, it was very windy at the top, so hats and gloves went on again.
Thank you to Emma for providing one of the photos for this write-up.
Walk 561 - Crowthorne and Finchampstead
Following a boardwalk through Wildmoor Heath.
Sunday 19th February was the perfect day for getting out walking – warm, sunny and dry! Twenty-two walkers gathered at Crowthorne Railway Station for a 10am start, following the arrival of the 9:56am train from Reading.
Heading east from the station, we entered the grounds of Wellington College, walking along what is known as “The Kilometre”, connecting Dukes Ride to Sandhurst Road. Crossing over the Sandhurst Road, we then explored Wildmoor Heath Nature Reserve, which provides a rich habitat for wildlife and in particular several rare species of birds such as the Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Nightjar. We headed south east along a well-marked path to join the board walk across the rather boggy water-logged area. Leaving Wildmoor Heath, we retraced our steps by crossing back over the Sandhurst Road, but then headed south west into Edgbarrow Woods Nature Reserve.
Exploring Edgebarrow Woods Nature Reserve.
Proceeding north past the Wellington College playing fields, we then crossed over the railway line into Ambarrow Court (originally part of a Victorian country estate), where it was lovely to see some early flowering daffodils. Walking through a field past Ambarrow Farm took us to Horseshoe Lake where we had a drink stop.
Horseshoe Lake was originally part of an extensive network of working gravel pits that have been flooded and are now a popular location for watersports, bird watching and walking. Here, we were fortunate to witness Fire and Rescue training their Newfoundland dogs to do water rescues. After walking around the southern half of the lake, we headed north and up through Coalpit Copse, which is a favourite local path, especially in the Spring when bluebells can be seen in abundance.
Stopping for lunch on Finchampstead Ridges.
On reaching the top of the copse, we headed west along a road towards Finchampstead Ridges, an area owned and managed by the National Trust, where we climbed up to the top of the ridge. It was here that we had our lunch stop, while enjoying lovely far-reaching views towards the Hogsback Ridge in Surrey.
The final part of the walk took us across Wellingtonia Avenue, with its impressive redwood sequoia trees, and through Simons Wood to Heath Pond, from where we followed a path back to Crowthorne Station. See our route on Google Maps. Before heading home, a few of us enjoyed coffee and craft beer at The Hive opposite the station.
The walk was put together from favourite lockdown paths and although most of the 8.5 mile route was flat, we managed a total of 552ft of ascent.
Thank you to Sue B from leading this walk, for writing it up and providing the photos.
Walk 560 - Wishmoor, Mill Pond, Rapley Lake and Old Dean
Approaching Mill Pond on a slightly boggy path.
Thirteen of us, including two newcomers trying out our group, met up at the far end of Kings Ride in Camberley for a 7½ mile walk on the heath. Sue - the leader of this walk, and not to be confused with other Sues in our group who lead walks - gave a short speech about the area in which we would be walking before setting off.
Entering the heath at Wishmoor Bottom, we turned west and headed toward the army training area and followed its fenced boundary northward. Sue explained that when she did the recce for this walk, she could hear some gunfire, but it was all quiet on the western part of this walk today.
Stopping for lunch by Rapley Lake.
We reached Lower Star Post, which marks the crossing point of four paths, or the joining point of eight paths, whichever you prefer. Anyway, Sue confidently directed us along the correct route out, which headed south-east to New England Hill. This area is much loved by mountain bikers, many of which passed us on our walk. Luckily the paths are wide enough for us all to get along with each other.
We stopped to have a look at Mill Pond and the few ducks it was supporting before heading eastward to Rapley Farm and Rapley Lake. Here we stopped for our lunch break, sitting on a large fallen tree. Very convenient.
Ascending the hill at Bagshot Heath.
After lunch we Headed south-west, passing Cobblers Hole and crossing Vicarage Lane on our way to Bagshot Heath. Here there is a hill and an impressive aerial mast, which I can see from my office on the fourth floor of a building in Aldershot, some eight miles away.
We headed up this hill, with everyone going at their own pace and then congregating at the top to admire the view - and to get our breath back! When we were ready, we continued the walk, taking a slightly zigzag path through Bagshot Heath.
Following a long, straight path heading south-west, we suddenly found ourselves at the place where we had started the walk. See our route on Google Maps. Despite a couple of very minor navigational hiccups in Bagshot Heath, the walk still clocked in at just over 7½ miles. This included 350m (1,150 ft) of ascent in total, so I should sleep well tonight.
Thank you to Sue H for leading this walk.
Walk 559 - Silchester, Bramley and Pamber Forest
A woodland path in Silchester Common leading to Pamber Forest.
Thirteen of us (a mix of regulars, newcomers and visitors from Meetup) congregated in the Wall Lane car park near Silchester for a 10.5 mile walk on Saturday 4th February. The weather was rather grey, but not too cold or windy, and no sign of rain.
Pat, our walk leader, explained how her original route was still flooded in places from all the rain that had fallen over Christmas and New Year. She had devised a new route, which was the same length as the originally advertised walk, but no longer went through Bramley village and therefore there would be no stop at the Bramley Bakery.
We set off, passing the West Gate on the edge of the remains of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum before heading south through Dicker's Copse and then north-west along a lane in to Silchester village.
Some pygmy goats on a farm near Barefoot's House.
The monthly market was taking place at the village hall, so we stopped briefly to have a look before heading through Silchester Common into Pamber Forest. We stopped for a coffee break (or whatever beverages people had brought with them) and Pat handed round a box of millionaire's shortbread that she's bought at the Bramley Bakery. This was a very kind and thoughtful gesture, which was much appreciated.
Following a long and straight path through Pamber Forest, we emerged near Little London, a tiny village south of Silchester that doesn't resemble London in any noticeable way. Next we passed through Latchmere Green before stopping in Bramley Frith Wood for lunch, where we found some fallen trees to sit on.
The Roman amphitheatre by Calleva Atrebatum.
We shared the wood with a large electricity substation, but couldn't see it from where we sat. After lunch we got a glimpse of it as we were leaving the wood. Now heading north-east, we passed a small farm near Barefoot's House, where there were a few pygmy goats.
In their shed were some old Christmas trees that they were feeding on. An abundant food source at this time of year. There was also a children's slide. Needless to say, we didn't see any of the goats sliding down it! One of the goats came out to greet us, while another was a bit more shy, eying us up from behind a wooden gate.
Crossing a ditch to get to the Roman Wall at Calleva Atrebatum.
Heading north-west, we crossed farmland to reach the other side of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum. We visited the 12th century church of St Mary the Virgin, built on the site of a Roman temple, and then had a look around the nearby Roman Amphitheatre. After that, we followed a path that went along the top of the wall to the north of the Roman town. It's amazing how much of this wall still remains after 2000 years.
We stopped at the North Gate and looked at the information panel with its artist's impression of what the town would have looked like in its heyday. Continuing along the wall to the West Gate, we then retraced our steps back to the car park. See our route on Google Maps. A very satisfying walk, with the added benefit of some unexpected bakery treats!
Thank you to Pat for leading this walk and providing treats.
Walk 558 - Hartley Wintney, West Green, Mattingley and Hazeley Heath
Leaving Hazeley Heath on our way to West Green.
Fourteen of us, plus a dog met up in Hartley Wintney on a rather grey looking January day (Sunday 29th January, to be precise). After welcoming the three guests who where trying out our group, we set off along the High Street before taking a footpath that led up to the south-eastern tip of Hazeley Heath.
It wasn't long before we were heading back out of the heath, via Hazeley House to the south-west. A short walk along West Green Road took us to West Green Common. A well-made path through the woods was followed by a muddy path across a cow field. Now heading north along a lane, we crossed another field before a narrow footpath and a gravel road took us into Dipley.
The bridge by Dipley Mill.
Standing on Dipley Bridge, we took a look at the picturesque mill. It was summer when I last led a walk around here, and it looked quite different. Most of the plants are now dormant and the weeping willow that once obscured the mill has been heavily cut back.
We followed West Green Road almost as far as the B3349 Reading Road and turned north through woodland to Mattingley. The end of this woodland path passed by a children's play area, and the path had been decorated with a number of colourful metal butterflies on wires.
Stopping for lunch by Mattingley Church.
We stopped for lunch in the grounds of Mattingly Church - a 14th century grade 1 listed timber-framed building. This unusual church is well worth a look at if you're passing. We didn't have a look inside this time as there was a service taking place. There weren't enough benches for us all to sit, however a stone gulley surrounding the church provided us with some useful but low seating.
After lunch we headed eastward over muddy farmland and passed Dipley Mill again, this time through the gardens at the back. More farmland was crossed on our way back to Hazeley Heath, involving a few stiles over which the dog had to be lifted!
Passing by Crabtree Lodge in Hazeley Heath.
We took a circuitous route that went north-west of the heath before turning south-east, passing the gated entrance and driveway to Bramshill House, used until recently as a police college and now acquired by developers. We speculated on what the developers would do with it and also discussed a gruesome story associated with the house. According to legend, a bride hid in a wooden chest during a game of hide-and-seek on her wedding night and became trapped. The groom and family assumed she'd run away, but many years later a desiccated corpse was found in the chest, wearing her wedding dress.
Following a bridleway south-eastward along the edge of the heath, we returned to Hartley Wintney. See our route on Google Maps. A few of us popped into the Waggon and Horses for a drink after the walk. There was a log fire burning in the snug, which was a perfect way to round off a winter walk.
Rob led this walk and wrote it up.
Walk 556 - Cholsey, South Morton and Aston Tirrold
A large frozen puddle in a field near Cholsey.
Seven souls braved the cold morning to join me at Cholsey Station. After skirting the impressive Cholsey church we headed down Church Road before heading across a paddock/field which has been recently ploughed and planted. The footpath was not easily visible but we managed to find our way to the ridge where we were blessed with excellent views of the Wittenham Clumps. David, our veteran walker, had other names for the clumps but they are not suitable for this publication! David, despite his veteran status, had not so long ago completed two recce's of a thirty mile walk. Impressive to say the least.
Ian making a new friend.
We then proceeded down from the ridge past a frozen pond and joined Mill Brook which took us most of the way to South Morton. Here we enjoyed the luxuries of The Crown pub, a community owned establishment. Coffee, tea and beer were consumed before we once again followed Mill Brook towards Blewburton Hill where we stopped for lunch. We shared the paddock with sheep and donkeys and the latter was very keen to investigate what we had to offer.
Stopping for lunch on Blewburton Hill.
We then headed towards the affluence of the Aston's before passing the recently reopened Chequers pub (highly recommended) and then onwards to Cholsey via the grave of Agatha Christie.
As the walk concluded the train travellers, six of us, headed to the local whilst we waited for our train. On the way three local children, supervised by their mother, were enjoying sliding and playing on the skating rink that had formed in the paddock. Despite their best efforts with large rocks, the ice remained solid. Thanks for those who attended on such late notice. A very enjoyable day overall.
Thank you to Ian for leading this walk and writing it up. Thank you to Ian and Neil for the photos.
Walk 555 - Kintbury, Hamstead Marshall, Kennet & Avon Canal
Titcomb in the mist.
Thirteen of us turned up at Kintbury in freezing fog for Ian's walk. The group was a good mix of BWWs, people from other local Ramblers groups, and people from Meetup - we'd advertised the walk on the Berkshire Ramblers Meetup group.
We started our walk on the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal, going westward as far as the first bridge, which we crossed and then followed a footpath uphill and into the grounds of St Mary's Church. A short walk through the village and we stopped outside The Blue Ball on the High Street while Ian gave us some information about the pub's colourful history, including its part in the agricultural Swing Riots of 1830.
Lunch-stop by Waterman's Copse.
Crossing the High Street, we followed a quiet lane that soon became a track and then a footpath. The fog turned to mist as we passed through Barrymores and Titcomb, where the recent cold snap had solidified the mud. It was like walking on rock, but at least it didn't stick to our boots.
The mist gradually dissipated, leaving a beautiful blue sky as we passed Inkpen Great Common. We stopped for a slightly early lunch in a sunlit field by Waterman's Copse. Despite the freezing temperatures, there was no breeze and the sunshine gently warmed us as we ate our packed lunches.
Frozen puddle blocking the path near Hamstead Marshall.
After lunch, we continued north-eastward to the hamlet of Hamstead Marshall. We passed the pub (which was closed) and the dog rescue centre, before taking a broad footpath toward Hamstead Park. There was a dip in this path that had flooded during all the rain we had at the beginning of the year and with the recent cold spell had now become a lake of ice, blocking the path. Luckily there was a temporary bypass.
Ian asked us if anyone wanted to do an extra section of walk through Hamstead Park, which would add a mile or so to the originally planned length of the walk. Everyone agreed, so we Followed Park Lane and took a footpath into the park.
Leaving St Mary's Church in Hamstead Park.
Despite the sunshine, there was still a lot of ice on the paths to catch us out. Several of us had the odd minor slip and wobble, but no one came to any harm. We passed the lake, which was mostly frozen over, with the ducks and swans walking around on top of it.
We took a detour to visit the Church of St Mary, which must have belonged to the old manor house before it burned down. We had a look inside the church where there was a map showing the original manor house and its extensive gardens.
Canoeists on the canal near Dreweat's Lock.
Leaving the park, we joined the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath at Hamstead Lock. Large sections of the canal were frozen over, with signs of previously broken ice sheets now refrozen onto new ice sheets, like glacial crazy paving.
After a mile, the canal passed through a more open section where it had been bathed in sunlight for much of the day and the ice had melted. As we reach Dreweat's Lock, we were surprised to see a group of canoeists on the canal. I wouldn't want to tip over my canoe in that ice-cold water! The mud on the towpath had also thawed out, making the last leg of the walk somewhat more slippery as we returned to Kintbury. See our route on Google Maps.
Thank you to Ian for leading this walk.
Walk 553 - Calleva Atrebatum and Pamber Forest
The Roman Wall to the south of Calleva Atrebatum.
January has been a wet month so far and we had a particularly wet and windy day before our walk on Sunday 8th. Sunday itself wasn't much better and there was a very heavy downpour before the start of the walk, and so I was surprised when eight optimistic (or foolhardy) walkers joined me in the Wall Lane car park near Silchester.
After introductions, we set off toward the remains of the Roman town of Calleva Attrebatum. The rain had stopped by the time we reached it, so we were able to take in the sights and read the information boards as we circumnavigated the entire wall.
The 14th century church of St Mary the Virgin.
We detoured from the wall to look at the Roman Amphitheatre and the 12th century church of St Mary the Virgin, built on the site of a Roman temple. The alpacas that live on the farm next to the church were looking particularly wet and bedraggled today.
The rain started again as we left Calleva Atrebatum via the West Gate. We now headed south-west through soggy fields and waterlogged lanes towards Pamber Forest. To enter Pamber Forest, we had to cross a very deep puddle on Silchester Road, which called for careful timing as passing cars were creating huge bow-waves.
Each end of the bridge over Silchester Brook was flooded.
Once in the forest, the paths were very muddy until we reached Forest Lane, a section of track that is built up with gravel to allow forestry maintenance vehicles to transport logs, etc. The rain got even heavier as we progressed through the forest.
It was lunchtime but no one wanted to stop, so we pressed on, taking a short-cut to reduce our time in the rain. We joined the Brenda Parker Way, a muddy footpath that descended through the forest to Silchester Brook.
Useful pontoons crossing the stream in Silchester Common.
This path got noticeably more muddy as we approached the brook. There is a small bridge over the brook, but the water level was so high that the approaches to the bridge were submerged, which made crossing quite hazardous. Now in Silchester Common, the rain had eased up, so we found somewhere to stop for lunch with logs to sit on.
Back in Silchester village, we decided against visiting the pub as we were too wet and muddy, so made our way back to the car park by road. Not the route I'd originally planned, which involved a footpath on the Brenda Parker Way that was now completely impassable. See our route on Google Maps.
Rob led this walk and wrote it up.
Walk 552 - Whitchurch, Thames Path and Chiltern Way
Thames Path as it enters Hartslock Wood.
Six of us, including a visitor trying us out, met up in Pangbourne on New Year's Day morning. The town was quiet, as were the roads, confirming the news articles saying that yesterday's New Year's Eve events had been very well attended, being the first without some kind of restriction since the start of the pandemic.
The stone marking the grave of Sir Arthur Harris.
We set off through the town and across Whitchurch Bridge into Whitchurch-on-Thames. Leaving the main road as it began to ascend Whitchurch Hill, we followed Hartslock Bridleway, a lane that is also part of the Thames Path.
The Thames Path eventually became a footpath through woodland but first it dipped and rose steeply at Hartley Steps. We continued through woodland on a high bank above the Thames for some time before the Thames Path descended at Lower Hartslock Wood. Now the path was much more muddy and a decision was made to take a detour on some higher and dryer paths that would re-join the Thames Path much nearer to Goring.
Back on the Thames Path we passed a number of boat houses in various conditions and we had to wade across a section of the path where the Thames had breached the bank before we reached our picnic lunch stop at Ferry Lane Open Space, where there were benches to sit on.
Muddy paths through Great Chalk Wood.
After lunch we passed the house once owned by Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, which was quite apt as one of us had been discussing a film she'd just seen about the controversial WWII bombing campaign.
Trying out a swing near Stapnall's Farm.
Heading out of Goring on the Chiltern Way, we passed the cemetery where Sir Arthur Harris was buried and we stopped to take a look at the grave. Continuing onwards and upwards on a muddy path through Great Chalk Wood, we came across several other groups of walkers.
Leaving the wood at Stapnall's Farm, we found a beautifully made swing with substantial ropes hanging from a tree. A small notice board invited people to enjoy the swing while respecting the nearby garden. A couple of us tried out the swing, which proved to be as good as it looked.
The highest point of the walk was reached at Cold Harbour, after which we descended along a lane to Coombe End Farm. Crossing fields and a beech wood brought us to Beech Farm. From there we headed south across fields and joined the road at Whitchurch Hill, descending into Whitchurch. Crossing Whitchurch Bridge back in to Pangbourne, we followed a river-side path to the car park. See our route on Google Maps.
Rob led this walk and wrote it up.