Chiltern Way Day 7 - Goring to Ewelme
I normally write this blog in the evening after I’ve walked. In the summer, this process was almost as much of a joy as the walking itself, and the rhythm of my day would happily include at least a couple of hours of writing and reflecting. On a walk such as I’m doing at the moment, there isn’t the urgency to get the writing done, as I’m normally not walking again the next day. However, over this weekend I’m hopefully going to do three days in a row, so really I should have finished yesterday’s writing last night. But the Aperol and the delightful company called me more strongly, so I started, but didn’t finish. There’s no way I’d be able to remember everything if I had to write about two walks in a row. So I took some time this morning to recall yesterday’s walk. I did this in the lovely Pierrepont cafe in Goring, where Carly dropped me this morning before she went off to help run a gymnastics club.
I had a happy hour there, listening to a conversation on the adjoining table about the stresses of home schooling, and writing up Friday’s journey. I couldn’t resist a cake for later, coconut and raspberry this time. I had high hopes.
My OS app issues continued. I thought I’d fixed them yesterday, but it’s still losing the planned route as soon as I try to follow it. Very frustrating, even if not a life or death experience. I’d not realised how much I use things like the gradient map and the distance remaining function until I can’t get to them. More work needed on this when I get home.
I didn’t need the map to tell me that I was walking up a hill out of Goring, my CV system was giving me the signals quite efficiently. I’ve partly maintained the fitness I gained this summer, but hills can test it.
As I approached the top, through Wroxhill woods, I could hear what sounded like screaming. It was high pitched and intense, and quite unnerving. As I emerged from the woods, I realised that it must have come from the pigs in the field next to me. They now appeared to be calmly eating, with nothing to show for the frantic panic of moments ago. I follow a pig farmer on social media, and so have seen a bit of how intelligent these animals are. You definitely wouldn’t mess with them though, I was glad that they were safely contained.
Walking past a big field with many porcine pens, I was increasingly treated to some lovely open views. They’re not the heartsinging type, but they’re the best of what we’ve got round here, and so for that I’m grateful.
The first view was over to Ibsden, which the red kites enjoyed as much as me.
Then I could see across to what I thought must be Didcot, but was puzzled to spot the towers of the power station, as I thought it had been demolished. It appears that I was partly correct. Didcot A, a combined coal and oil power plant was knocked down between 2014 and 2020, tragically with four men being killed in the process. Didcot B, a natural gas power plant is still operational, as is Didcot OCGT which is an emergency back up plant.
I skirted Woodcote, past a very impressive course of jumps for horses. Maybe show jumping? Or perhaps to practise for eventing? More things about which I know not quite enough.
There were increasing signs of autumn to be seen, with the rose hips bursting and the other hedgerow berries brightening the lanes. There’s more of a nip in the air in the mornings, and I’m feeling the change in the weather in my aching hands.
An element of getting older that I didn’t sign up for is that I have an issue with my hands that could be exacerbated by the use of walking poles. So although I still carry them with me, I’m trying not to use them all the time. However, the combination of slippy mud and the walking shoes that I’m currently wearing meant I had to revert on a number of occasions today. I think my new stiff boots have started the pain in my foot, so I’m currently in walking shoes that don’t have as much grip. More comfortable but less efficacious, and consequently creating the need for poles to stabilise me, thus causing more trouble with my hands. I wouldn’t do anything cosmetic to pretend I’m not aging, I generally accept it. But where it starts to impinge on something I love, it becomes something I rail against. Probably pointlessly, but at least I’m going down fighting.
Bottom Farm, north of Woodcote, is very grand with impressive parkland surrounding it. I climbed a steep hill that had a large herd of horses in it. They took no notice of me, being much more interested in the hay that had been scattered for them. Another question there, why did they need hay when the field had good grass in it?
Walking through the woods on Braziers Common I could have been back in midsummer. The bright sun was filtering through the trees, and then later the uncut maize, not yet converted to fodder or biomass, was stretching up to a blue sky.
I called in at the Blue Tin Smokehouse to have a look in the farm shop and gratefully use their toilets. Walkers so appreciate the establishments that allow that. And it must be better for everyone in the long run.
A little while later I found a fallen tree in Berins Hill woods. Perfect to sit and dangle my feet whilst providing a ledge for my lunch too.
I’ve been enjoying watching clips on bushcraft recently, admiring the people who can construct log cabins or stone houses from materials found in the wild. I found myself looking at the smaller trees, wondering whether I could create a shelter for myself with the combination of the scant knowledge I gleaned from TikTok and my dodgy hands. I did take comfort though from spotting that I could tell where North was from the position of the moss on the trees.
Coming down the hill, I could have done a little detour and reduced the mileage a tad by staying on the road instead of the footpath. But then, I saw something I’ve never seen before - a sign advising me that the path ahead had ‘animal damage’. I couldn’t let that pass. What might it be? Perhaps desperate beaver activity had blocked the path, or a rampaging bull had run amok and ripped up the fences? I set off with great excitement. Sadly it appears that Oxfordshire County Council were only concerned by the work of some rabbits and perhaps a badger. A few holes on the side of the path. Not that I want to cast aspersions on this valiant mammal effort, but I wasn’t sure they were the biggest setts or warrens I’d seen, and possibly not big enough to warrant the excitable signage.
David and I have done two long distance trails together, the Thames Path and the Ridgeway, both over series of weekends. The latter we did with our good friends Philip and Andrew, and I had a moment of happy reflection of the fun we had as the Chiltern Way crossed the Ridgeway. And then the former ran alongside two other named paths for a little way. The Icknield Way (which is recorded in gothic font on the map) has claims to be the oldest road in England. It runs from Norfolk to Buckinghamshire, and according to the website dedicated to the path, ‘the ancient route of the Icknield Way consists of prehistoric pathways, old when the Romans came.’
Swan Way, which doesn’t merit gothic font, runs from Northamptonshire to Goring. Yesterday, Carly and I were discussing what makes a path a ‘Way’. The National Trails are all ‘Ways’ but there are so many others that have adopted the name, with its implications of length or interest.
Whichever of the Ways I was following, they were beginning to make my foot hurt. I was getting tired and had only had one short break in ten miles. I put on some music, felt my mood immediately lift, and then there was a patch of soft grass in the sunshine to sit and finish my thermos. It really doesn’t take much to make things alright again. As I sat by the side of this quiet field, I thought more about why it is that I need this solitary time. I know to many it seems like an odd way to choose to spend a sunny weekend. Feels good to me though.
Moving on, there was a strange interlude. The Dickensian named Mogpits wood was to the east of the path, with a tunnel of trees enveloping it. Pheasant and squirrels scattered at my approach, like villains avoiding the law. And spiders had been assiduously weaving across the tunnel, meaning my arms, face and hair were covered in their sticky filament. As I emerged from the tunnel, still trying to brush the web away, I saw that to my right were many derelict or crushed cars. They appeared to have been left in the woodland to rot, and were slowly being swallowed up by the undergrowth.
Then over the road I saw a huge hay store at Potters Farm. This appeared to be an industrial livestock operation, particularly for pigs, but there were no animals there, just their housing and the smell of the slurry. It was all strangely quiet, and rather spooky after the cobwebs and the buried cars.
I was glad to make my way into the village of Ewelme, and to find the ancient farmhouse that was also my B and B for the night. The charming landlady has the most impressively cut glass accent, and I met her as she approached me driving down the road on her ride on lawnmower.
Ewelme is almost unbelievably beautiful, famous for its watercress beds which look very healthy and nourishing. Sadly none served with my fish and chips at the local pub though.
I think my foot will cope with walking again, so I'm looking forward to the last of my three days outing tomorrow.
Distance travelled - 13.5 miles
Total ascent - 1188 feet
Calories burned - 1746