We had a lovely relaxing day on Wednesday and thoroughly enjoyed our day at Chartwell. I particularly enjoyed the garden, which had been beautifully laid out by Lady Churchill and restored by the National Trust. The house was interesting, particularly the memorabilia. Not a pretty house but quite intimate and welcoming
Today we arrived late at the start as we had miscalculated the time it took to get there from our hosts last night. However, we had no fellow walkers today and the route was straight-forward along bridleways and tracks. The only excitement was when we walked on to another shooting estate into a sea of pheasant and Moses shot off. Barely a minute later, he appeared looking extremely pleased with himself carrying proudly a dead cock pheasant which he deposited at my feet as his mother, a working spaniel, would have done! It was quickly disposed of into the bushes and Moses was put on his lead much to his displeasure. A quick lunch in a pub and we were off again. We spend most of the rest of the day in a huge forest, a large part of it being owned by the National Trust. Once again these are mainly deciduous trees but where the National Trust had taken over there were a large number of stunning evergreens such as Scots Pines, Wellingtonias and what I think must be Canadian Red Woods, mainly due to their size. After quite a climb on to the ridge of the forest we have a spectacular view looking North East. We then have the long hike back down the other side. We must have been walking in the forest for at least 2 1/2 hours which will give you an idea of its size. We eventually move into the Wooten Estate, past a spectacular waterfall and fishing lakes below.
We are pleased with ourselves as we arrive at our destination at 4.30pm, despite our late start.
Today we are joined by our son in law John, who designed our route from Canterbury, so I feel very relaxed with far less responsibility as we make our way to Guildford. Actually, it is a very easy route as we spend most of the day on the North Downs along a well marked route mainly through woodland, again owned by the National Trust. We were interested to see a large number of World War 2 pill boxes arranged along a ridge facing towards the south. This was part of the defences of the country in the case of an invasion. Thank God they were never needed! At lunch time we were pleased to leave the confines of the woods and were greeted to a wonderful view over the Surrey countryside. Our finishing point today is Guildford Cathedral. Which I assumed was somewhere in the centre of the city but which turned out to be right the other side up a very steep hill. It is rather forbidding, imposing looking building on the outside. It was started in 1938 but not finished until the 1960s. The inside, however, is very beautiful and altogether a lovely space. We attended said evening prayer. Unfortunately, the choir was still on holiday.
We leave Guildford Cathedral this morning, luckily travelling downhill this time and soon leave the suburban streets and into the countryside. Some of the lanes are less negotiable than on the previous days and we have to scramble through nettles and brambles. Tom sustained a nasty cut on his mouth from a bramble. Today is the day that the brambles have ripened to their sweetest. Up until now it has been hit and miss whether the ripe looking ones would be sweet. We graze on them happily. I remember having a pony who loved eating brambles and would suck them off the bushes, rather like an elephant picking up food. We come to another field festooned with electric tape to keep in ponies and are greeted with a notice to say “Beware of the donkey it hates dogs. Moses is ignored by the said donkey! At our lunch stop we have a surprise visit from good friends who live close by, so this gives us a lift. The afternoon is very pleasant walking along the river Wey on the outskirts of Aldershot. Moses has fun swimming for sticks, although it is rather a wet dog that gets in the car at the end of the day.
Today we are walking with Mathew, who joined us earlier in the walk and we are staying with him tonight.. We start off on a nice track and then on to the road through Frimley which is where Mathew lives. Luckily for us, once we have gone under the M3 he takes us away from the road and along the river path full of Sunday walkers and their dogs and it gives Moses the chance for lots of swims. Mathew leaves us at Sandhurst Village where we have a mediocre lunch and spent most of the rest of the afternoon walking up the busy A321 which luckily had a pavement all the way but was extremely noisy with cars constantly rushing past. I suppose the only saving grace was that it was Sunday so no lorries. I amused myself by trying to guess why people named their houses the way they do, especially the grand ones behind electric fences. After 2 hours of constant noise it was a relief to spend the last 20 minutes walking round a golf course and then into the outskirts of Wokingham.
Today we have had to resign ourselves to walking along busy roads in urban areas. It is on days like this that our island feels over-crowded. Unlike the many days that we have spent in beautiful countryside with not a soul around. Between Wokingham and the outskirts of Reading we find ourselves walking along a very busy road without a pavement. Our rule is not to risk this but we cannot reach Markus on the phone to get him to pick us up. We stop three men in in a battered work van and ask them if they could take us down until the road resumes having a footpath. They kindly agree and we pile into the back of the van and sit on the floor among the sawdust and nails. Luckily it is empty. They drop us off at a school, a couple of miles down the road and wish us luck. More trudging along mean streets, past failing shops and kebab houses and past the University of Reading, with the streets festooned with litter. We are feeling thoroughly fed up! We cross the river and Markus has found us a nice pub for lunch and our equilibrium is restored. I think we are getting tired, not helped by breathing in carbon monoxide from the traffic. The afternoon walk is quite short and the last stretch is along the side of a golf course and the peace is tangible
after the roar of the traffic.
Today we cover 14 miles which is the longest day during this walk. We are keen to get started early despite having to travel 15 miles during the rush hour. Luckily, we find a route without having to go back into Reading and arrive on the dot of 9am. We are met by a fellow walker who knows our route and in fact had helped John to slightly amend it avoiding dangerous roads. We are now in Oxfordshire, so we feel we are on the home stretch. We go through more forestry but this time I notice that this is more commercially managed woodland, with piles of timber on the sides of the tracks and the sounds of trees being felled in the distance. We pass a number of riders as well as the usual dog walkers. We have to keep our wits about us as the paths are numerous and do not always continue to travel in the directions we want to go. We lunch in an old pub in a charming setting on the banks of the Thames. It has recently been taken over by a young Anglo/Italian who has turned it into an Italian restaurant and the food is excellent. We spend most of the afternoon walking along the Thames path, admiring the large opulent houses on the other side with their sweeping lawns and manicured gardens. Many of them have motor cruisers moored on their jetty. We speculate on the cost of some of this real estate! Eventually arrive at the old bridge leading to Wallingford and climb up the steep steps on to it. Back to the traffic after the peace of the river. Out of Wallingford I think we are nearly there as we are stopping at the end of the next village of Brightwell cum Sotwell. Our travelling companion pointed out that it was a very long village and it certainly was! It seemed to go on for ages, especially noticeable when you are tired. It was not until we had passed the second parish church did I realise that it was 2 villages that had amalgamated, hence the name. It was 6.30pm when we eventually arrived at our destination. A very long day’s walking since 9 am!
Our final day has arrived with the end in sight. We had intended to go home on the penultimate night but realised we might get caught in Oxford’s rush hour traffic so booked into a local hotel instead, so as to set off in time. Another long day’s walking ahead of us. We are now travelling due north and have left the Thames to our East. The countryside has changed again, very flat farmland and miles of stubble fields. We see for the first time a hint of autumn colours in the hedgerows. Also, the grass has turned brown since we started our journey. There has been no noticeable rain, so we have been very lucky. The only hill we climb is up to the Wittenham Clumps, some impressive earthworks, obviously built because of their strategic position in the flat lands around them. I remember happy days tobogganing there with our grandchildren some years ago. On through Long Wittenham to the edge of Nuneham Courtney, through the grounds of Nuneham Courtney Manor which is apparently a Global Spiritual Retreat Centre, whatever that is. More, recently ploughed fields, have to be crossed before reaching the outskirts of Oxford at the Kassam Stadium. We then get lost inside the shopping area with its high fences and not on the walkway on the other side where we should be, which crosses the railway line. In desperation we try and cross a slightly lower fence but are saved in mid climb by a lady who tells us there is a gap in the fence at the bottom! I seriously think Tom might have injured himself badly but retracing our steps did not seem to be an option at the time. On through rubbish strewn walkways between Littlemore and Blackbird Leys across the by-pass and on to the Iffley Road and the home stretch. We arrive at the gates of Christ Church to the sound of Alannah playing her trumpet as she had done 15 days ago on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral. It feels like a lifetime ago!
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