Friday, 9 September 2011

Ridgeway day 6 – Wendover to Ivinghoe Beacon

Eager to finish today, I caught an early train from Uxbridge, and was leaving Wendover by half past nine. This is a fine village, a little busy, but it has good architecture and a couple of recommended curry houses. It is worth a look if you haven’t been before.

For me, it was all about hitting the trail as quickly as possible. A particular annoyance is that the finishing point is not the end of the walk, there are a couple of kilometres into Ivinghoe for a bus to Aylesbury, to catch a train home. All in all, that can take a good two to three hours if you miss the bus.

I headed south-east out of Wendover, seemingly in the wrong direction. Picking up a partly sealed road passed Boswell’s Farm, where I turned left, I was ascending Cocks Hill through more woodland, on a good path.

As I slipped into the edge of Wendover Woods, the trail joins a deep muddy track, that is not so easy on the feet. It’s high sides, akin to that of Grim’s Ditch, gave me the sense it was an ancient route, and the fact it is also part of the Icknield Way testifies to that. The Icknield Way is another famous byway, some would argue older than the Ridgeway.

Briefly, I came out of the darkness, but was soon enveloped again, as I entered Pavis Wood. In the humidity of the day, the woods were quite muggy, and I felt I could really do with some of those ridge paths on days one to three.

After 1.5 kilometres, I reached a road which was a respite from the humidity.

Through the hamlet of Hastoe, the path diverts left, taking me from its original route, to visit Tring Park. It was 11:30am, and on the grassy corner of the quiet road, I stopped for a short lunch break before heading for the park.

The Tring Park reroute is much better than the permissive bridleway it has replaced; a long tree lined avenue offers glimpses of the Town of Tring below.

Leaving the park, the heart was encouraged by my first glimpse of the end. As I passed a trig point positioned on the edge of a field, it made sense to me that the nearest one should be visible in the distance, and true enough, there it was on Ivinghoe Beacon.

It certainly put a spring in the step, even if it was still a good couple of hours away! Winding my way down to Tring Railway Station, I was looking at my watch and realising I had so much time to spare before the bus went at 4.30pm. Once passed the railway station and off the main road, I stopped to have some coffee, sitting on a bench positioned with a vista looking back to Wendover Woods.

After the break, up into some more woodland and the hints of the start of another earthworks named Grim’s Ditch. The trail veered away from these early signs, but rejoined the ditch later, when the path broke free of the foliage onto open down.

Before then, I met a guy heading purposefully in the opposite direction. We stopped and spoke for a time; turns out he had just finished and was heading back to Wendover, but he had done it in three days, bivvying along the route. He boasted he was a mountaineer and that he had done a last leg of 34 miles, and it was in his nature to push himself, I quietly thought to myself that there was another description for him, and it began with a “W”, had a “K” in it and ended with an “R”!

Out onto the open down, a refreshing breeze livened me. I met a couple heading back to Tring Station, who had finished the second half from Goring to the Beacon.

We remarked how different each half is; they preferred the greater views of the first half to the woodland walking of the Chilterns but I see the charms of both. We did agree it was good to see the back of the power station!

On further, I reached the last hill before the final push. Up Steps Hill, passed the remarkable bowl like feature called Incombe Hole, I headed out over the brow, through a dense but stunted growth of trees, over onto the other side. Sweeping down to the road where a sign tells me the beacon is only 500 metres away, and reminds me how far it has been since Overton Hill, I stopped for a photo opportunity basking in my achievement.

Then it was on to the beacon itself. It was a strange feeling climbing that final chalk hill, and standing at the cairn marking the end of the trail.

I was very proud! I certainly didn’t think I was fit enough to do it, and initially my goal was simply finding out if I had the stomach for a long distance walk. Finishing it proved beyond all doubt that “yes, I did!”

After the mess that I made of the trip to Australia back in April, my self confidence had been given a welcome boost and doubts I had about my capabilities were quashed. I felt rejuvenated!

I hung around drinking in the views for a few minutes, but was mindful that I still had another couple of kilometres to get to the bus stop in Ivinghoe; a long arduous final walk on a very busy road. With plenty of time, I arrived in the village, and managed to get the bus an hour before I anticipated!