Ridgeway

Alfred’s Castle

Field near Ashbury

Alfred's Castle 1

Where:

On and around the Ridgeway near Ashbury.

Season:

Summer.

Weather:

Overcast but warm and reasonably bright.

Route:

Pages 62-63 in this book (“A Circular Walk via Ashbury”)

Length

6.5 miles

Walking Buddy:

My lovely James.

Musings:

I’ve clearly brainwashed poor old James with all this hiking stuff – he asked for some walking books for his birthday! In honour of this, we thought we’d better take one of them out for its maiden voyage.

This walk starts on the Ridgeway near Ashbury. We’d noticed on the map that Ashbury Folly is marked quite close to where we parked the car so we spent some time trying to find it without success – we have since discovered that this is because it no longer exists (just in case anybody else has the same idea!).

Once we’d given up folly hunting and started the walk, we turned off the Ridgeway and headed downhill through fields with various ripening cereal crops before arriving at Alfred’s Castle.
Alfred's Castle 2
Alfred’s Castle is a small bank and ditch enclosure and so called due to a legend that this is where King Alfred gathered his troops prior to fighting the Danes in AD 871. Whether that’s true or not, the castle is actually an Iron Age settlement and therefore much older. It’s recently been excavated by Oxford University, but there is no sign of this now as the meadow grass has well and truly reclaimed the enclosure. It’s really pleasant to walk round as it has lovely views on all sides and we sat on its southern bank for a bit with a flask of tea.

Just beyond the castle, you pass by Ashdown House which was built by Earl William Craven for his beloved, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, in 1662 but sadly she died before construction began. I can’t help wondering what she would have thought of it as, although it is very pretty – sort of like a life-sized dolls house, it seems all wrong. It’s the wrong size, it’s the wrong shape, it’s in the wrong place, and it’s facing the wrong way. Unfortunately it was closed when we were there but I’m so curious to see what it’s like inside!

When we reached the other side of Ashdown House and crossed over the B4000, the landscape seemed to change somewhat. We were at our furthest point from the Ridgeway and found ourselves climbing up a small, but steep hill whilst surrounded by slightly scraggy looking sheep. The fields the other side of this hill were mostly full of oilseed rape (which was mostly around the same height as me!) and it wasn’t long before we came to a track heading back up towards the ridgeway. We took a slight detour here and found a nice spot to sit and eat our sandwiches.

We crossed over the Ridgeway and the landscape changed again, this time to a wide path heading for some trees. Before we reached them, however, we took a fork to the left down a sunken track, through a gate (well, under it actually, but who’s counting?), and the landscape suddenly opened out into a properly stunning valley. We walked down through this towards Ashbury itself, admiring the view as we went. When we reached the bottom, we ambled the village, past the lovely old church, and started the climb back up to where we’d started. With the familiar views of the Ridgeway opening out behind us, we finished the last of our water and made our way back to the car.

Valley near Ashbury

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To the Teapot!

ridgeway to teapot tearoom

Where:

Along the Ridgeway, near Uffington.

Season:

Early Summer.

Weather:

Absolutely gorgeous.

Route:

Wayland’s Smithy to The Teapot Tearoom and back.

Length

4.5 miles (give or take)

Walking Buddy:

A very hungry James.

Musings:

This walk involves one of my favourite things in the world: a cream tea. On a previous afternoon when I’d escaped the office and gone for a walk on and around the ridgeway, I’d noticed a teapot shaped sign (teapot shaped, guys – teapot shaped !!!) for The Teapot Tearoom on which the magic words “Cream Teas” were written. It pointed down the hill across some fields and said it was under a mile away – it was very difficult not to head off then and there, but I remained strong and made a mental note to go back instead. So one sunny Saturday, armed with a James, I did just that.

We’d not actually done the walk between Wayland’s Smithy and Uffington before, we tend to park at one or the other and go in the opposite direction, so I thought it was high time we did. Just a note, there is only space for two or three cars at Wayland’s itself so if your alternatives are either a) the White Horse carpark which will shorten this walk somewhat, or b) Ashbury Hill which will add a bit on.
ridgeway to teapot tearoom
This is a very lovely section of the Ridgeway with gorgeous views across fields and into valleys. It’s very gentle in terms of gradient too, and we had a lovely stroll. We very nearly missed Uffington Castle as we’re not used to approaching it from that angle and were far too busy admiring the carpets of buttercups in the adjoining field. Once we’d twigged where we were, however, I started to look out for that glorious teapot sign.

Naturally it was further on than I’d anticipated – although probably not quite as far as it seemed because things you are anxiously looking for invariably aren’t. Eventually I spotted it and we turned off the Ridgeway and started our descent. The hillside to our right feel sharply away affording us beautiful views across Oxfordshire. We were a little bit early, so stopped at the bottom of one of the fields for a sit.

The farm on which the Tearoom is situated also has a camp site and we could see the campers coming and going far below us. There were kites hovering in the valley and a gentle breeze rustling the crops around us. It was really nice just to sit for a while and watch the world go by. We also had a brief game of “What does that cloud look like?”.

We set off again down a narrow track cordoned off from a field of cows (who we naturally said hello to. And by “said hello to”, I mean mooed at). The walk gets much steeper at this point so I had to concentrate on my footing instead of admiring the view. The last few feet down to the road contained steps and at the bottom we found a sign directing us round to the tearoom itself.

Now I grew up in North Devon so I have pretty high standards when it comes to cream teas. The scones must be large and preferably warm, the cream must be clotted, and everything must be plentiful. In the past when attempting a cream tea outside of the West Country, I’ve been presented with tiny scones, jam in those little packs, and (my personal favourite) whipped cream in a shot glass. This cream tea ticked all my boxes and the garden we ate it in was just lovely – it had bunting and everything! – so I was delighted.

We ate every crumb, drained the teapot, and set off once more. In contrast to Newton’s law, what went down unfortunately had to clamber back up and the hill seemed to have made itself even steeper while we were eating. I feel that our walk back to the car definitely cancelled out all calories consumed!

wh-teapot-header

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Horse in Shining Hillside

Giants Steps White Horse Hill

White Horse Hill

Where:

White Horse Hill, Uffington

Season:

Spring

Weather:

Gorgeous – bursts of sunshine in amongst lots of fluffy white clouds.

Route:

Walk 13 in this book.

Length

Around six and a half miles.

Walking Buddy:

(cue music) “All by my se-ey-elf…”

Musings:

A few days after we returned from Scotland, I found myself with itchy feet. As I’d finished pretty much all my work that day by early afternoon, I decided to shut down my computer and go for a walk. I live not far from White Horse Hill and am up there fairly regularly but had never got round to doing the walk from my local Pathfinder Guide, so grabbed my stuff and set off.
 
White Horse HillThe first thing you notice when walking up on White Horse Hill is that it’s very breezy. This part of the country is pretty flat and the Ridgeway is the only high ground for miles around so there’s nothing to stop the wind from blustering up in all directions. This isn’t a bad thing by any means and on this particular day I needed something to blow the cobwebs out – I find the post-break return to work very befuddling.

I set off along the road back towards the village (detouring to clamber up Dragon Hill, an oddly shaped mound with a brilliant view of the rippling Giant’s Steps in the side of The Manger which were left from the retreating permafrost during the last Ice Age. It’s also where St George allegedly slew his dragon) and turned off after a while onto a grassy path with woodland to its left. From here, the path took me out into open fields, tracing my way from stile to stile. I like being out in the open like this when nobody’s around, it gives you space to think.

This being springtime in the British countryside meant that I did have to do battle with some newly sprung nettles. One small patch of land I passed through had recently been planted as an orchard and the nettles were almost as tall as me and took up every inch of space that wasn’t reserved for the young trees aside from a narrow path that I picked my way along. I was very pleased that I’d opted for relatively thick trousers – shorts would not have worked out too well for me!

It wasn’t long before I started climbing again. The route took me along the edges of cereal fields where the crops were still fresh and green, moving in the breeze with that gorgeous swirly motion. The higher I got, the more spectacular the views became until I finally found myself walking along the wide, familiar path of the Ridgeway with the world dropping away either side of me. I continued on until I reached Uffington Castle, an Iron Age hillfort on top of White Horse Hill which also happens to be the highest point in Oxfordshire.

I walked back towards the White Horse Car Park, pausing on a bench overlooking the monument itself. Something that always amazes me about the Uffington White Horse is that, due to the curvature of the hill it’s carved on, you can’t actually view it from the ground – the best spot is a few fields over where I took the below image from. This means that the people who carved it probably never got to see it, which makes the question of why it was carved all the more intriguing.
 
 
White Horse Hill

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Around the Ridgeway to Scutchamer Knob

Ridgeway Views 1Where:

Cuckhamsley Hill.

Season:

Summer.

Weather:

Hot!

Route:

Walk 7 in Pathfinder Guides Thames Valley and Chilterns.

Length

Roughly 4.5 miles.

Walking Buddy:

The very lovely James.

Musings:

I’m just going to preface this by saying that the key feature of this walk is the views and my pitiful attempts at photography really don’t do them justice! From the moment you leave the Cuckhamsley Hill carpark, you find yourself surrounded by gorgeous scenary. The great thing about this part of the country being so flat is that when you do find yourself on high ground, there’s nothing to prevent you from seeing for miles.Ridgeway Views 2

The first section of this walk is all downhill – a nice warm-up session for your legs, if you will. Owing to the time of year, the ground was dry and the fields were golden so it was both pleasant and easy to make our way down the hill, snapping pics of flowers as we went.

At the bottom of the hill, we walked along the road for a short way before turning off to begin our climb back up towards the Ridgeway through grassy fields dotted with wild flowers and framed with trees. I particluarly enjoyed this part of the walk, the greeness of it all was both cooling and calming.

We found ourselved feeling a little peckish once we were back on the Ridgeway, so turned off and walked a short way down a bridle path until we found a good place to sit. I do like having a packed lunch while sitting in a field and this one was all the nicer for us having, in a fit of Britishness, brought strawberries and cream. While we were muching away and enjoying the view, a fox cub toddled up the path and watched us for a while.

Right at the end of our walk, we reached Scutchamer Knob (a Saxon burial mound, in case you’re wondering – and yes, we had spent most of the walk making immature knob jokes) and went in to have a look. It was pretty overgrown, but walking up it’s vast horse-shoe added an interesting element to the day nonetheless.

Scutchamer Knob

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