Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Ridgeway day 4 – Streatley to Lewknor

After my rest day, I was back on the train to Goring and Streatley. Some would argue that heading home and commuting for the final three days isn’t really in the spirit of long distance walking, but considering I am on a budget and there is no cheap place to stay for the rest of the trail, it made perfect sense.

Leaving Goring and Streatley proved more troublesome than expected. I badly needed a cashpoint to be able to get the bus home later, and the only one in town wasn’t working and the bank didn’t open on Wednesday! The joys of living in a small town! I eventually had to make an unnecessary purchase at a local store to get some cash back.

I eventually headed north out of town, through the picturesque, and affluent village of South Stoke.

The route is flanked by the River Thames and the railway to Oxford, but eventually, as the line crosses the river thanks to the ingenuity of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and one of his bridges, I was left to enjoy the tranquillity of the river.

It’s a pleasant flood plain I was crossing, I remember it being a lot boggier five years ago, and it was a nice way to while away the morning. Eventually I reached North Stoke, and it was time to leave the river behind.

It took until midday to reach the impressive Grim’s Ditch. A 5 mile / 8 kilometre late Iron Age / Early Roman earthwork, from Mongewell to Nettlebed, there are many examples of these ditches across Britain, but their role is a mystery. Whilst too small to be for fortification, they may have been built to signify the borders of territories. We’ll probably never know, but in modern times these earthworks make for pleasant walks.

This section is a favourite of mine. In Spring, the ditch has a splendid display of bluebells and fresh foliage. Now, being in the early throws of Autumn, the leaves aren’t beginning to turn just yet, but I’m sure in the next few weeks, it will be a riot of golden browns.

It took all of an hour and three quarters, including a short lunch break, to reach Nuffield where the trail leaves the ditch.

My legs were holding up; I was pretty impressed by the repairs I made on my left heel, which had blistered on the march into Streatley, and I strode on confidently.

From Nuffield, it was straight across a golf course, always particularly satisfying to me that we have access to ramble across these private places, to the disdain of those playing!

This particular leg, from Nuffield, is where the visualisation of an ancient highway is hard to imagine. I find it is best to forget about the historical references to this trail for a while until you get nearer Watlington, when a wide and straight track makes the history more real.

But that was another couple of hours away; across the A423, I noticed another pub fallen on hard times and looking for someone to let it. I remember five years ago enjoying one of the best rack of lambs I’ve ever had in there.

Onwards and into a changing scene of both open farm land and woodland. One particular surprise is arriving at an 11th Century church; St. Botolphs. It is worth a stop to look around, if it is open, and the grave yard has a handy bench to rest up awhile.

I was well in familiar territory now, having walked in this area many times.

As I crossed a field, I looked back through the hedgerows and could still see Didcot Power Station. I know from previous experience that this blot on the landscape is actually visible right up until the end of the penultimate day!

Later, as I headed down to where the Ridgeway meets the Swan Way, outside Watlington, my camera memory card decided to have a “read error” and give up. For the remaining miles I was unable to take any more photographs or video, and I had the worry that the 71 I had taken today would be lost! Repeated attempts to rectify it proved fruitless.

I reached the turn off for Watlington, but chose to carry on for a couple more miles, to the M40 junction where I could catch a bus back towards home. My timing was impeccable, the bus arrived five minutes after I arrived and my connecting train had me at home in under an hour!

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