Walk Bournemouth to Oxford - Week Two
Today we have to go to a funeral of a dear friend in Farringdon so have taken a day off from walking. Quite a relief from the constant heat.
Back on the road again and we climb back on to the Salisbury Plain up an extremely rutty path obviously used by military vehicles. We are overwhelmed by the majestic beauty and vastness of this area, no more helicopters buzzing us, so the silence is palpable. We pass a number of Iron Age forts, one particularly large called Scatchbury Castle has very distinctive moats and ramparts and one wonders how many interesting artefacts must be buried under these vast mounds. Also, how many people lived there 2,500 years ago and why did they leave? The wild flowers on the edge of the track are prolific and much enjoyed by butterflies, moths and bees. We met a large group of people from the Bournemouth Ramblers Association and we pass anecdotes about the footpath signage in each county we have passed through and Wiltshire is definitely the best. We encourage them that they are doing a wonderful job keeping these footpaths open as without organisations like themselves we would not have been able to have walked the 2,500 miles we have completed in the past 8 years. Markus meets us on a farm track and takes us to a pub for lunch in Haytesbury that we had passed earlier in the morning and a welcome swim for Moses in the River Wyle. This afternoon we can hear tank manoeuvres in the distance, a rather chilling sound bringing back memories of war movies watched and a hint of the fear they must evoke in many parts of the world to this day. We finally climb off Salisbury Plain and into Warminster, past the large area of military barracks and into the town itself, which I think has a rather rundown feeling with a number of closed or tired looking shops. We finish our day at the other side of the town.
We arrive late at our start point as our charming host of the night before was too kind and it was difficult to leave. As the mobile signal everywhere we have been on this walk has been abysmal, we were not able to contact our walking companion for the day. We arrived 3/4 hour late and just caught him before he gave up. He had very kindly re-routed our original walk, so it was important that he joined us. It was so lovely not to be in charge of the route and to enjoy the countryside fully. We have now left the Plain behind us and we walk along bridle paths between gently rolling pastureland filled with dairy cows and horses. Fields of barley, just turning from green to gold, glimmer and shimmy in the sunlight as the wind blows through it. In the distance to the East we can see a White Horse cut into the hillside, continuously galloping across the Plain.
We stop for lunch at Wingfield and are joined by Richard, who drove for us on our walks in 2012/13. It was lovely to see him and catch up with his news. Our morning guide has left us and the pathway is not as clear. The footpath signs are there but the farmers have not complied as has been the case on previous days. We have to climb many a locked gate and negotiate our way through farmyards and across wheat fields. We arrive in the charming town of Bradford upon Avon having had a very pleasant cooler days walking.
Another happy evening with a lovely widow, living in Frome, who sadly had been married 3 times and each of her husbands had died. We walk through Bradford on Avon, which is one of the most charming middle-sized towns I know, with its beautiful houses, windy streets and converted mills on the banks of the river Avon we leave the town, up an incredibly steep hill which gets our hearts pumping so early in the morning. The rest of the morning is uneventful, walking through gentle farmland and sleepy villages. There is something rather comforting about a quiet village where there seems always to be the sound of a saw, mowing machine or a hammer, people getting on with their lives in this quiet place. We stop for lunch at Box, another charming village in a valley and then spend a happy hour walking along the river, throwing sticks for Moses. Tom has something to do so I leave him waiting for Markus to pick him up and set off alone with Moses. Again, up out of the valley, not an easy climb and walk along the top of the valley with stunning views to the north, so different to the wide open spaces of Salisbury Plain. Small fields, undulating hills and large patches of woodland. The path takes me through a thick forest, out of the sun, which is a relief, but difficult to walk through as there are numerous paths and I make a number of wrong turns before settling on the right one. Eventually, when I leave the forest I am confronted with a very steep hill, which I could do without at this late stage in the day but make it without too many stops to catch my breath. An easy walk then to meet Markus and Tom at an old church in the middle of nowhere which I imagine is part of a country estate nearby.
We stay in a lovely house of another widower who throws a party for us of possible ZANE supporters. It pours with rain as we arrive but clears by the time everyone arrives and we eat all 30 of us on long tables outside. It was a fun evening
The sun is out again this morning as we continue our journey East running parallel as it were with the M4 although not in ear shot luckily. The morning is spent on farm tracks before crossing the A 350 on a overpass into the rather dreary town of Chippenham
Out the other side we meet up for a very jolly lunch with our son Tom and daughter in law and their 3 boys of 9yrs, 7 yrs and 5 yrs and their little cockerpoo. We set off again to walk with them after lunch but disaster strikes!! Having extolled the virtues of the footpath maintenance in Wiltshire, earlier in this blog, we find the footpath here totally impassable. The whole family are in shorts and we are faced with field after vast field of wheat with no designated way through. 2 hours of frustration we find we have progressed little having failed to cross a small river so we battle our way back to a road through a dilapidated farm and call for Markus to pick us up. We have all had enough and we return our family to their car. An adventurous but frustrating time but the boys and their dog are quite happy. I dread that these difficult conditions will continue tomorrow as we have more walkers joining us including my daughter Milly and family.
Today we meet up with old friends and their two dogs at Foxham with the plan to meet our daughter Milly and her two teenage boys at 10am. Great plans often never work as we have another horrendous walk through unmarked footpaths and find ourselves in an impenetrable forest which we have to fight our way through only to find the path we should have been on is a lovely wide track. We meet up with Milly much later than anticipated but it is lovely to be with them and their dog Coru. We are now a party of 4 dogs! The footpaths in this area continue to be dire and we have to trust our satnav Fred when it appears he is pointing us through impenetrable hedges which, on closer inspection, a style or bridge is revealed under the undergrowth. It is useful having younger legs with us to scout ahead for us. At about lunch time we find ourselves miles from any habitation, at an animal food store where the kind owner plies us with drinks while we wait for Markus to come and take us to her recommended lunch stop. Unbelievably we manage to get 8 of us plus dogs into the car and head off for a very jolly lunch. Back on the road the footpaths continue to be bad and we make slow and hot progress to the outskirts of Wooton Bassett
Another lovely evening with supporters, with the added bonus of a swimming pool. Heaven after a long hot day. Today we meet up with our son in law John. He designed our route and has done so over the 8 years of our walks, so the pressure on me to get to the other end today is greatly reduced!! We start off badly, being confronted with a footpath sign, pointing at a totally inaccessible hedge, but managed a slight detour on another footpath to get back on track. I am concerned that this is the start of another difficult day’s walking. However, as it turns out access is not so bad and we walk along pleasant lanes to the outskirts of Swindon. We then walk through a large area of common land which appears to divide much of the city north and south, under the railway line and into a mainly residential area of rather dreary houses. It takes us around an hour to get through the city, stopping for lunch in a large rather empty pub. We are all very glad to be out in the countryside again. We walk through a forested area, alongside a very large crematorium and John and I agree that we much enjoy walking in woodland. Our progress is steady all afternoon and we arrive in good time at our finish point at Sevenhampton, where we have a welcome ice cream at the local farm activity centre at Roves Farm before returning John to his car.
We are a party on 9 today as we are joined by daughter Clare and two of her sons, Micah and Simeon, one of our CEF Trustees, Andrew and his wife Rita and our friend James and his companion, Georgie. Another lovely day but not quite as hot as it has been and we make good, albeit noisy, progress in the morning along well defined paths and tracks. We pass a sign into Oxfordshire and we feel at last the end is in sight. We have lunch in what looked like a rather scruffy, run down pub in Farringdon, which turned out to be rather good, with excellent service considering how many of us that there are. The afternoon goes well, and we are met at St Hugh’s school by our host of last night, Tim and his young son Charles, who attends the school, which had broken up.
We all finish our walk together at Buckland. A fun day,
This is our last but longest day, walking 13 miles. James joins us again today, with his companion Lindsey. After a short period on tracks through woodland, most of the morning is spent walking on minor roads, which I always find hard on the feet and James and I agree it is our least favourite way to travel. We stop for an early lunch at The Plough at Appleton, not one of the better pubs we have eaten at, but we needed the break and then on to complete the last stretch into Oxford. Fred has gone a bit mad, as the track on the Sat Nav is obliterated half the time by showing lots of waypoints, so finding the way proves to be difficult, especially when we climb on to Boars Hill where there are numerous tracks going in all directions. However, it is a lovely place to walk and I vow to return one day to explore it. Eventually, after a few wrong turns we find the right track which takes us towards the A34 ring road. We are joined by a group of lively children from Wheatley Park School, who are on a three-day camping trip and are obviously having a great time. At last, at the top of the ridge we can see the “Dreaming Spires” of Oxford and make rapid progress into the city and arrive at Christ Church just as the clock in Tom Tower strikes 5 o’clock, which was our designated arrival time, which is pretty impressive. We are met by a lovely band of well-wishers and after some photos taken at the main gate, we go and have a very welcome cup of tea in Clare’s office in Christ Church. Moses is promptly sick on Clare’s carpet which I think was his way of saying enough is enough!!
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