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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Kin & Crannog

Loch Ard

Loch Ard

Where:

Around Loch Ard.

Season:

Spring.

Weather:

The sort that has you swapping between waterproofs and shirt sleaves every ten minutes!

Route:

Walk #5 (Aberfyle chapter) in this book which I picked up at the Aberfoyle Tourist Info Centre.

Length

Just over 6 miles.

Walking Buddy:

The man who never complains about being dragged off walking: James
 

Musings:

This walk was so good, Hikers, SO GOOD! The route was easy to follow, the scenary was beautiful, and the changeable weather kept us on our toes. This walk really cleared my head too, to the extent that I actually had a couple of eureka moments – fresh air really does work wonders for the little grey cells.
Loch Ard
We started this walk in Kinlochard, a little village on the banks of Loch Ard, and climbed gently upwards along a wide path which seemed to be popular with cyclists as well as walkers. As we climbed, the views over the Loch became increasingly gorgeous. After a while we turned off down a track, the sides of which were scattered with rhododendrons (although sadly they weren’t flowering at the time), and headed back down towards the shore.

Loch Ard features the remains of an iron age crannog, a small artificial island which would once have been home to a roundhouse, which comes into view around a third of the way into this walk. According to a very well placed bench, there was once at least one more crannog on Loch Ard which has now sunk. We had our lunch on said bench, looking out onto Loch Ard’s island, Eilean Gorm, through the trees – it was a very lovely spot.

As we continued on, we moved away from the Lochside and started to climb again. We moved through various sections of the forest, each with a different variety of tree or trees of differing ages, catching the odd glimpse of the Loch and view beyond until the path narrowed and became noticably steeper. The view from the top was just spectacular, with Loch Ard glistening below and Ben Lomond framing the vista to our right. One of the wonderful things about walking when the weather is changeable is that the light is changeable too. As we sat on another very well placed bench, the character of the view changed by the second with different areas either being highlighted or plunged into darkness.

At this point we rejoined the wide cyclepath and walked towards the distant Ben Lomond with the view over the Loch to our right. The remainder of this walk was pleasant and untaxing, and we soon rejoined the path we’d originally climbed to head back down to Kinlochard.

Loch Ard

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Old Boars and Buttercups

Buttercups in Oxfordshire

Boars Hill 1

Where:

Old Boars Hill

Season:

Spring

Weather:

Totally gorgeous!

Route:

Walk #9 in this book.

Length

Just shy of 5 miles.

Walking Buddy:

Ziggi!

Musings:

We had SUCH a lovely time on this walk – the sun was shining, the air was fresh, and spring had very much sprung. I hadn’t seen my walking buddy and bessie-mate-from-home for a little while, so it was a brilliant way to have a good old catch up. We parked up in Wootton and soon found ourselves walking through fields and envying the occupants of the occasional houses for the beautiful views they no-doubt had.
Boars Hill 2
NB for anyone using the Patherfinder guide: At the end of the first paragraph, the instruction is to “Turn left uphill to reach a T-junction at the top”. For this section of the walk, lots of (amazing looking) new houses have recently been built which makes this slightly unclear (we went round in circles thinking we’d already taken the turning until a very nice builder took pity on us and pointed out the way). Follow the road until you get to a cross roads towards the top of the hill – the “road” directly ahead being a wide footpath – and turn left there. Once you’ve walked a short way, you’ll see the entrance to the Wild Garden.

A nice feature of this walk is the Oxford Preservation Trust‘s Jarn Mound and Wild garden which I’m lead to believe was set up in the 1930s by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. There are a couple of benches in the garden and there were a few picnickers there at the same time as us enjoying the sunshine. We did climb the steps up to Jarn Mound, however as the surrounding trees are now so mature you can’t really see very much by way of a view! Unless, like me, you enjoy high ground for the sake of it (I love heights, will literally climb anything given half a chance) then there’s no need to make it part of your trip.

Once back at ground level, we continued through the trees of Wild Garden until we reached a lane. From here we continued on until we found ourselves in a meadow glowing yellow with buttercups. We walked downhill admiring the view over to the dreaming spires of Oxford in the distance. We left the meadow and started to climb again, finding a conveniently placed log to sit on and drink some tea (note to self, I really must invest in a flask that doesn’t taste of stale coffee…) before setting off for the last part of the walk which includes another of the Oxford Preservation Trust‘s gardens, the Elizabeth Daryush Memorial Garden.

Boars Hill Buttercups

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The Forest of Falls and Views

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Where:

Achray Forest

Season:

Spring

Weather:

Changeable – warm sunshine, chilly drizzle, cold wind.

Route:

Lime Craig Trail (on p3, “1 The Lodge” – print outs of this can be found at the lodge and in local Tourist Info centres.)

Length

Just under 4 miles.

Walking Buddy:

James.

Musings:

This was the first walk we went on after arriving in Scotland. We were staying not far from Aberfoyle, the town just below Achray Forest, and I had a thirst to stretch my legs with a full week of no emails, phone calls, or things-I-really-ought-to-be-doing ahead of me. wh-achray-forest-2

This walk takes you along a section of the Highland Boundary Fault; the point at which, 390 million years ago, the highlands were pushed up and the lowlands pushed down. As such, it affords spectacular vistas every time there’s a gap in the trees. We started at The Lodge – a visitor centre with a cafe, a shop, and gorgeous views in all directions – and set off down a slope in search of the first waterfall. From there, we zigzagged up-hill through the trees on wide slate paths, found another waterfall, and felt a little less stressed with every breath of clean highland air.

Eventually our nice wide path came to a large, circular end and we were faced with a very steep, very shingly track. I’ll be honest with you, I was a little apprehensive climbing it but I needn’t have been as it was actually quite easy. Even if it hadn’t been, the views from the top (actually, even the views from half-way up!) would have made it well worth it. We stayed at the top for a while and ate our sandwiches (trying to ignore our fellow walker who had arrived a few minutes after us and was having a lengthy and very loud phone call).

The descent was through lush green forest with the occasional glimpse of distant hills through the trees. This walk ended fittingly with the sound of rushing water; our visit to Achray Forest really was fresh, green, and thirst quenching.
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Warm Water

Sail Boats on the Thames

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Where:

Port Meadow, Oxford.

Season:

Spring.

Weather:

Pretty warm.

Route:

Down the Thames Path from Godstow Nunnery, past The Perch, over the bridge, and back along t’other side the Isis.

Length

4 miles(ish).

Walking Buddy:

James and bessie mate Zigs.

Musings:

First off, I feel I should tell you that I was not a happy hiker when I started this walk. I’d managed to get sunburnt the previous day (not clever) so was hot, uncomfortable, and covered in Aloe Vera. But there’s only so long you can stay grumpy when faced with Port Meadow in the sunshine, it is just the loveliest place to be and I was soon cheered right up. wh-warmwater-2

The second thing I should note is that there were a lot of cows on the tow path which we had to negotiate. This added an element of challenge to the walk, would we be able to get past them? Would they decide to follow us? Would they moo in our general direction?

Once the cows were safely behind us, we stopped and sat on the bank for a while, watching a group of sailboats. It’s incredibly relaxing, sitting by a river, watching the world go by, and having a good old catch up.

When we did get back on our way, we found that we were all a bit thirsty. The wonderful thing about this walk is that you have a choice of classic old Oxford pubs to visit. We went into The Perch, however there is also The Trout. If you’re going to do this walk, a visit to one or the other is mandatory and they can both therefore get rather crowded should you be doing this walk on, say, a sunny Bank Holiday where the whole of Oxfordshire has flocked to the river.

After a restorative pint of orange juice and lemonade (my tipple of choice for staying hydrated on a hot day) we continued along the towpath a short way until we came to a bridge. We crossed over the river and were greeted with the site of various dogs playing excitedly in the shallows. The two sides of the river are quite different and we were now walking back through the meadow itself. Port Meadow is pretty big so, although it was pretty busy, we could have been the only people there.

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Walking to the Woodman

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Where:

Fernham.

Season:

Winter.

Weather:

Cold but dry.

Route:

Faringdon Walkcards Walk 5, starting from Little Coxwell and working backwards (just to be awkward).

Length

Around 5 miles.

Walking Buddy:

James, who is still lovely.

Musings:

This walk has it all: pretty villages, fields, views, woods, and a brilliant pub! It was a cold January day, so beginning with a climb up through the fields was fantastic as it warmed us up a treat. We took a slight detour up past Gorse Farm which afforded us views across the valley (including the three remaining cooling towers at Didcot) before turning right to walk diagonally across the field towards the trees.wh-fernham-winter-2

There’s something quite magical about walking through woods when the weather’s chilly – I always feel like I’m about to step into one of Grimm’s fairy tales. As you walk along the path towards Fernham, you’ll find lots of gates on which you can lean to take in the view should you so choose. Due to the time of year, it was a little muddy so I was glad to be wearing my trusty walking boots – especially down the one steep drop where I think I would almost certianly have slipped and ended up with a very muddy bottom without them!

Once you reach Fernham, I would highly recommend another de-tour to go and visit The Woodman Inn which is simply a brilliant pub. It’s everything you’d want from a classic British pub: lots of dark beams, roaring fires, casks of local brews stacked up behind the bar, and they served us some excellent pies. If that wasn’t enough, they have an actual medieval banqueting hall – I am now trying to think of excuses to have a banquet (medieval fancy dress not optional).

Once fed and watered, we headed back out into the countryside and through a couple of fields containing various horses. As they were still in the process of being fed and watered, they weren’t overly interested in us so we continued on our way without stopping to say hello. After the fields, we found ourselves back on another path through the trees, climbing back up the hill. Before long, we found ourselves back at the top of the fields we’d first walked through and headed back down towards the village as the sun was setting.
fernhamend

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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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Christmas in Spring

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Where:

Watlington Hill and Christmas Common.

Season:

Spring.

Weather:

Just perfect for walking – sunny but not too hot with a gentle breeze.

Route:

Walk 2 in Pathfinder Guides Thames Valley and Chilterns.

Length

Just under 3 miles.

Walking Buddy:

The lovely James.

Musings:

Hikers, I have such a lovely time on this walk. It was a beautiful spring day, the sun was shining, the air was fresh – one of those that just makes you glad to be alive.

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The walk starts from the National Trust carpark on Watlington Hill. After a short potter down the road, we turned right and found ourselves walking down a narrow path. This soon opened out into a wider track with dappled sunlight through the trees and frequent views down into the valley. You will often come across white arrows painted on trees on the sections of this walk that goes through Lower Deans Wood – a really nice touch.

We ambled on for a while, admired the views, saw some cows, joined another track, passed some houses, turned into a field and found ourselves faced with a hill. It’s a very, very steep hill (as in practically vertical) but you’ll be pleased to know that the view from the top is worth every puff and pant. Once we’d got our breath back, we headed on and back into Lower Deans Woods and were confronted with a carpet of bluebells – so beautiful! I don’t know what it is about bluebells, but they make me feel instantly better.

Another thing that makes me feel instantly better is the sight of a decent pub and The Fox & Hounds in Christmas Common is just that. The weather was warm enough that we were able to sit outside and we were luckily able to get a table. I can very much recommend a baked camembert as a brilliant way to end a beautiful spring day in the country.

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