Ridgeway Walk

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Sometime last year, when we were out for a walk, Martyn said he fancied walking The Ridgeway, as a personal challenge. I laughed and said he must be joking, but he seemed serious. I was as surprised as he was when I realised I'd rather like the challenge too, so we set about getting in some serious practice at weekends, and equipped ourselves with the right gear. We did toy with the idea of arranging it ourselves and even with carrying our luggage on our backs, but we decided we would be pushing our luck to try that. After some research, I found a company who were flexible enough to offer us exactly what we wanted - accommodation close to the Ridgeway National Trail, for the number of nights we wanted, and who would arrange for our luggage to be moved from place to place. Thus we booked the trip through Freedom Walking Holidays, who proved to be well up to the task, also sending us a detailed map and guidebook to the walk (although there isn't a guidebook explaining the east-west route.) But it's extremely well signposted so that wasn't a problem. The Ridgeway runs between Overton Hill near Avebury, in Wiltshire and Ivinghoe Beacon, near Tring in Hertfordshire, and is reputed to be Europe's oldest 'road', around 5000 years old! The entire route is designated as being in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and it did live up to that claim. We decided it would be nicer to walk towards home than away from it, so arranged to do the walk from east to west, rather less common than the other way around. Gordon, from Freedom Walking checks out all the accommodation on the route and also asks for honest feedback from his clients. He checked up on our progress too, so we felt like VIPs. 

This is our story...........

Day 1: Ivinghoe to Wigginton - 8 miles

We got a lift to our first night's accommodation, Ranger's Cottage in Wigginton, where we dropped or luggage and then on to starting point, about a mile and a half from Ivinghoe Beacon. We proceeded to walk up to the Beacon for our official start, and then back down again and on to Wigginton, a total of around 8 miles. It was very windy up at the beacon but the views were spectacular. Ranger's Cottage is the perfect B&B. Pretty house in a very quiet setting and kind hosts. Our room was comfortable and well-equipped with an en-suite bathroom with bath and power shower and big fluffy towels. There was also a fridge with fresh milk and a welcome drink of wine and beer, and some snacks. Very welcome. That evening we walked down the road to the Greyhound pub where we had a superb dinner. A very good start to our walk.

Day 2: Wigginton to Askett - 11 miles

We had an excellent breakfast, including homemade fish cakes which were delicious. Breakfast was taken with other guests - including a man who was testing out the area in preparation for a 100 mile long distance walk - which he does in 24 hours. And we thought we were crazy! The weather was perfect and our walk was a very pretty one, through the village of Hastoe and into Pavis Wood, Wendover woods and into Wendover where we had lunch at Crumbs Café (no loo, though, had to use those in the car park). The woods were lovely beechwoods carpeted with bluebells much of the time. Why is it always uphill after lunch? We crossed National trust land at Coombe Hill, with the most spectacular views and lots of people out enjoying the weekend sun. We also walked past Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, but much of it was covered in scaffolding. Then past Pulpit Hill and on to the village of Cadsden with its lovely houses and gardens. There were some very steep descents and finally we arrived at our B&B, Solis Ortu, in Askett near Princes Risborough. We were greeted with tea and cake and rested our weary feet whilst admiring the lovely garden. Our hosts were very kind and offered to drive us to a pub as those nearby weren't serving food on Sunday night. But we decided to eat at the Raj Mahal, an Indian restaurant just up the road, and very good it was too. 

Day 3: Askett to Watlington - 14.2 miles

We probably ate too much breakfast because the first few miles felt tough - lots of hills, not enough flat! But we were rewarded with spectacular views, especially across to Princes Risborough. At one point, as we entered a wood, Martyn saw a deer - but all I could manage was a grey squirrel! At one point we were chased by cows - uphill too. We had lunch at the Crown in Chinnor after 8 miles, really needing a good rest. The rest of the walk was comparatively easy as it was flat, but the ground was very dry and hard which isn't so good for the feet. We had some fairly heavy rain as well as plenty of sunshine, but that was during a fairly boring stretch of the walk. We arrived in Watlington at 5pm having walked just over 14 miles, more than we'd ever walked in one day before. Our B&B was several miles away in Chalgrove (Cornerstones) but we were collected by our hostess and were brought back to the Ridgeway the following morning. We walked to the local gourmet pub, the Red Lion, to find they weren't doing food - just bar snacks. Well, the bar snacks were better than many restaurant meals so not a problem. 

Day 4: Watlington to Goring on Thames - 14 miles

The weather was beautiful although it cooled down later on. There were a lot of hills, both up and down, for the first third of the walk, but it was very pretty with great views (Didcot Power Station excepted). The only convenient place to stop for  a pub lunch was in Nuffield, at the Crown, a little earlier into our walk than we'd have liked and we arrived at 11-40 but the wait was worth it. There was a lovely 11th Century church, St Botolph's, just before Nuffield, and the villages of North and South Stoke were very pretty, as was much of the stretch known as Grimm's Ditch. The final stretch of the walk took us alongside the Thames into Goring. We prefer to walk more than half the walk before lunch and that may be why we suffered more on this day than the others. The last few miles were very tough. The ground was so hard and my feet were extremely sore (partly caused by blisters, I found out later). But we made it, arriving at Melrose at 5.15. We had arranged an evening meal, for which we were very grateful as we hadn't the energy to go out looking for a pub. Mrs Howarth fed us on roast pork with all the trimmings and apple pie and custard. Superb value at just £5 each, and we enjoyed it immensely. But it wasn't a good night - my feet were so sore and Martyn's knee, on which he'd had surgery a couple of years ago, was swollen and painful. Would we be OK next morning?

Day 5: Goring to Letcombe Regis - 16.1 miles

Fortunately, we were a bit better in the morning and the excellent kippers helped! I stuck plasters all over my toes and we stopped off at the chemist's for a support bandage for Martyn's knee and some anti-inflammatory tablets. It was the only place we saw with any open shops, so the timing was perfect. This was to be our longest day - 16 miles - so we needed all the help we could get. It wasn't an especially picturesque walk but it was more comfortable, as sections of the path had been harrowed and were much softer underfoot. An interesting visual diversion was seen on the walls of the bridge over the A34 where several murals had been painted. This stretch of the walk is very sparsely populated with no convenient places to detour for a break, so Martyn had arranged for a friend to pick us up and give us a lift to a pub for lunch, which was just as well as the water tap wasn't connected to the water supply and so we'd have gone rather thirsty. So at exactly the appointed hour, we all arrived at the West Ilsley turn off and made our way to The Harrow where we had a lovely lunch -and a lift back to the Ridgeway. The afternoon was uneventful and we were glad of the softer ground. Our accommodation for the night was in Letcombe Regis, in the Old Vicarage, situated just over a mile from the path - down a 1 in 10 hill. We walked past the Ridgeway Centre, a very smart youth hostel, shown in the photos below. Our B&B was lovely, a very comfortable room in a beautiful house - right opposite the pub. After walking 16.1 miles, we were grateful we didn't have too far to walk in the evening. We met friends there for dinner, so all in all, it was a very sociable day and not as difficult as the day before.

Day 6: Letcome Regis to Bishopstone - 12.1 miles

We had a leisurely breakfast in the lovely dining room feeling rather reluctant to leave such a lovely house, especially as my feet were still quite sore. But we were glad of the lift back up the hill. We had a fair bit of rain, which did detract from the views over Uffington Castle and the White Horse, the oldest of the many white horses in the area. So we just admired the horse up close rather than walking down for a complete view. There wasn't anywhere on the route for lunch, so we had a picnic with us, but it was impossible to find anywhere dry to sit. The best we could manage was a stile, where we had a hurried rest and ate our food. We struggled into our waterproof trousers, which was a good move as the rain disappeared 10 minutes later. The highlight of the day was a visit to Waylands Smithy, an old longbarrow with an interesting legend attached to it. And descending into Bishopstone for our overnight stay, we passed a pig farm and watched the piglets charging around. What a pretty village it is, with a big duck pond. We found our B&B, Cheney Thatch, a lovely 400 year old cottage in pretty gardens shared with the ducks. Our hostess, Mrs Boot, is a real character - from such material, sitcoms are written! We had tea and cake and then met another couple who were walking the same route. That evening we ate at the True Heart pub, the landlord of which takes the prize as being the friendliest we met during the week. And the food was good too. 

Day 7: Bishopstone to Ogbourne St George - 9.7 miles

We had breakfast with out fellow walkers - and what a breakfast it turned out to be. The best homemade muesli I have ever tasted, loads of fresh fruit, traditional English breakfast served on enormous oval dishes - I did try but was defeated early on! We were regaled with stories of past walkers, and were thoroughly entertained. And then Mrs Boot brought on the packed lunches ordered by our new friends, Chris & Derek. Martyn & I were making do with our leftovers and 'emergency supplies' but we felt a bit sorry we hadn't ordered a Mrs Boot special! I heard they were still eating it a week later............I was just grateful I didn't have to carry it all. We walked with Chris & Derek, which made a change. They had started the same day as us, but this was the only time we were staying in the same place. Mrs Boot showed us a more pleasant way to rejoin the path and off we went. We'd walked some of this section (Liddington Hill) a few weeks earlier - and it was just as windy this time, making it difficult for us to stay upright. Once in more wooded area, it was a lot warmer and easier. We had our lunch sitting on an old water tank, which was rather cold but better than sitting on the wet grass. Our destination was Ogbourne St George, near Marlborough, so back into our own territory, and at under 10 miles, a stroll in the park! We arrived as the rain started - we were staying in Parklands Hotel. The owner said he had taken one look at our cases and had to upgrade us to a bigger room! Which was nice as we had a huge bed which meant we could stretch out our aching limbs in comfort. We ate in the hotel's restaurant, which was excellent - and even more so since it was raining very hard all evening and night.

Day 8: Ogbourne St George to Overton Hill (and then Avebury) - 11.5 miles

Slept extremely well, which was of some consolation when we looked out the window. The rain was still bucketing down so we put our heads down and got on with it. It wasn't a very good day for a walk. We met up with Chris & Derek at Barbury Castle, where the rain was torrential, and again at the end of the walk at Overton Hill. The walk wasn't much fun. The sun did come out a few times but it wasn't reliable, and a couple of minutes later, it would be dark and pouring with rain again. It was so wet it was impossible to rest anywhere and so we walked the whole 11.5 miles without a rest - certainly something I couldn't have done a few weeks earlier. We discovered what was and what wasn't waterproof. I'm glad to say my very expensive Berghaus coat was worth every penny, it kept me completely dry, but Martyn's cheaper one, which had been fine on all our other wet walks, let him down. And our boots leaked. We did consider walking directly to Avebury instead of the 'actual' end of the walk, the same distance away at Overton Hill, but I felt it was cheating, which is silly really, but I wanted a 'finish' photo. The rain held off just long enough for a photo and then started again but we had some lovely sunshine as we walked on to Avebury, along the Avenue of stones. We walked with our friends to the Red Lion pub, where we found multiple celebrations going on - morris dancing, a wedding and a childrens' party. We had a couple of beers and then our daughter came to pick us up and took Chris and Derek on to their final night's accommodation - they live near the other end of the walk. We'd planned to eat at the pub but were too wet and it was all so chaotic that we came home for Chinese meal and champagne. Strangely, it felt a bit of an anti-climax. I think we were expecting to be physically wrecked but we weren't. My blisters had virtually gone and we didn't ache, either then or the next day. We had to keep reminding ourselves that this really was a great achievement for such sloths as us! 

So it was a very different sort of holiday for us, a challenge undertaken and achieved. I didn't lose any weight (grrr!) but I felt fit and well and would happily undertake something similar in the future.   



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