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Circular walks

Day 1 Cleeve Common

We start our first walk full of apprehension as the format for the walks are so different. Instead of walking from one fixed point to another spread over 2- 3 weeks, this year, due to COVID-19 we have had to arrange to do circular walks. Approximately 10 miles long around Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, returning home each night. The downside of this is that we have no backup vehicle to pick us up if anything goes wrong. No lovely hosts to wine and dine us every night and send us on our way, fortified by a cooked breakfast the next morning. Previously we have been entertained all over the country, by donors of my husband's charity ZANE. However, the upside is that it is quite nice to sleep in our own bed each night.

We were supposed to be meeting 2 fellow walkers who cancelled at the last minute. We were, however, joined by our middle daughter Milly and her husband Clayton and their dog Koru, so that was a pure joy.

The start of our walk was up an extremely steep golf course which we discovered was the highest point in Gloucestershire!! We moaned about our son-in-law for starting us off so cruelly. We had to admit the view at the top was stunning with 360-degree views which included Cheltenham, Tewksbury, Gloucester, South Wales and the Malvern Hills. We talk to a number of disgruntled golfers, who complain that there beloved and wild golf course is to close as the clubhouse is to be sold to a developer.

Prehistoric earthworks are visible as we walk up the golf course, including a vast Neolithic Long Barrow burial site, built around 3000 BC.

Off the common, we walk down again into the valley on well-marked tracks. Through beech woods, past a stunning house called Sunley Castle - obviously open to the public as we could see people strolling around the gardens. Eventually, we arrive in the charming ancient town of Winchcombe where we stop for lunch and are joined unexpectedly by a very good old friend. A happy lunch was had, which was far longer than intended. Our route back to the start was uneventful, but the trip had taken longer than planned and we did not finish until 5.30 perhaps we have slowed up from last year! Our new pedometer said we had travelled nearly 13 miles although the route said it was 10.6 miles, so that was a bit of a mystery.

Day 2 Chedworth

The day starts off badly as halfway to our start point I realise I had left behind our GPS navigation system and all we had was our map. Showing the circular route, much through forestry, which is always a problem as there are always hundreds of paths going in different directions. In my experience, this can be very disorientating and difficult to ascertain which direction you are going. I pray for walkers who are good at map reading. Not one of my or Tom's particular skills.

We meet up with 4 fellow walkers, and my hopes rise as 2 of the men in the party show an interest in map reading and an ordnance survey map is produced, so things are looking up. We leave the pretty village of Chedworth and are soon in the Chedworth Woods, and sure enough, we are confronted with numerous paths. It is a beautiful deciduous forest with many fine mature beeches, oaks and ash. After a slight detour and a lot of map discussion, we finally find ourselves on the prescribed route. On the edge of the wood is Chedworth Roman villa, apparently one of the finest in the Cotswolds, owned by the National Trust. Sadly we have not time to visit this 2nd Century home, comprising of 60 rooms including Roman baths and fine mosaics according to the guidebook.

We walk down into the Coln Valley and follow the river Coln into another lovely Cotswold village of Withington on the banks of the river The Mill Inn provides us with a warm welcome. We have a happy lunch in its charming garden. After lunch, we return to the forest, now known as Withington Wood. This is obviously a pheasant shooting area, and Moses has a happy time rushing about chasing them. My feeling is that at this time of year, it does not do the pheasants any harm and it teaches them to fly! I am not sure if the keeper would agree with me. Moses is pretty harmless, and the pheasants perfectly safe. After some excellent map reading from our fellow walkers, we negotiate our way across an old World War 2 airfield back to Chedworth in good time. Our pedometers tally with the length we were supposed to walk today, so this adds to the mystery of the previous day.

Day 3 Wallingford and Cholsey

Today we leave the Cotswolds, and it's rolling hills. We head for the flat country of South Oxfordshire, and the ancient town of Wallingford. We drive past the mounds of Wallingford Castle, once one of the strongholds of William the Conqueror and finally destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's army during the Civil War. Apparently, Wallingford once boasted having 16 Churches, which has now been reduced to 6. The ancient bridge over the Thames is a favourite of mine which we walked towards on a beautiful summers evening last year, during our walk from Canterbury to Oxford. This year we miss seeing the bridge as we approach the Thames Path on the Town side further down from the bridge. There is something wonderfully soothing about walking beside a slow-moving river, and we particularly enjoy the glimpses of large opulent properties standing back from the water's edge. I imagine some of the owners are not too happy about their frontages being a public right of way. About 2 miles further on, we leave the river and head through the village of Cholsey. We get a bit confused negotiating ourselves under the main railway line and the branch line at the end of the village. We had to do some retracing of steps which always makes Tom very cross. In the confusion, we spy a church ahead of us standing alone. I later discover this is the burial place of Agatha Christie. We head across country to Aston Tirrold, north to South Moreton and then back east again to Wallingford. Not the most inspiring of arable farmland scenery.

Day 3 East Challow/ Wantage and Letcombe Regis

We start in the car park of the East Challow village hall This morning we are joined by a long time supporter of ZANE, who walked with us through Winchester 4 years ago. He brought with him a friend with whom he was staying the night, who lived in Letcombe Regis. Yesterday I was having difficulties with my Sat Nav and my son in law John, who organises the routes, kindly met us in the car park and sorted me out. What would we do without the help of the younger generation when it comes to technology?

It is a glorious autumn morning, and the sun is shining as we walk along a pretty wooded path by the side of the Wilts and Berks Canal. Sadly this is no longer in use, and in this section, it is full of stagnant water. I read that there are hopes that it will be reclaimed in the 21st Century. I wonder if this will ever happen? The joy is that this pretty route takes us right into the centre of the attractive town of Wantage, where we pass the statue of Alfred the Great holding a battle axe in one hand and a manuscript in the other. Not just a great British hero and the father of the British Navy, he also won a major battle against the Danes on Ashdown on the nearby Ridgeway, hence his statue. Walking out of Wantage we walk down Mill Street which has the working Wessex flour mill in its ordinal building. Apparently, the flour for Megan's wedding cake came from here! Out of Wantage, we walk along the top of a pretty steep-sided narrow valley, below us is an intriguing landscaped garden at the end of which is a healthy and probably productive vineyard. We then arrive in the pretty village of Letcombe Regis. We had booked for lunch at the highly sought-after pub, The Pheasant, but it was too early to stop. Our fellow walker knew the publican well, and we stopped for a coffee. She kindly put together some sandwiches which we then ate in the churchyard of Letcombe Bassett 3 miles further on. Letcombe Bassett, a charming hamlet of many thatched houses, known for its racing yards including the famous Pitman Stables. The horses train on the gallops on the Ridgeway above the village. Thomas Hardy based the village of Cresscombe in Jude the Obscure on Letcombe Bassett and many of the surrounding villages are featured in his novels. It also was the home of Jonathan Swift in 1714, and he was reputed to have written parts of Gullivers Travels under a mulberry tree in the Old Rectory garden.

From Letcombe Bassett we walk due north through large arable fields recently harvested. I gather it has been a poor cereal harvest due to the hot spring and rain in July/August. We arrive back at East Challow along the same redundant canal. It's been a happy day, and we have very much enjoyed the excellent company.

Day 5 Buckland and Farringdon

We arrive at Buckland on another sunny morning although it soon clouds over during the day but remains dry. We have only one fellow walker today, Charles, who has now done 3 walks with us which is very supportive of him. We get off in good time and walk out of the village, over the extremely busy A420 which we take our life in our hands crossing. Tom is rudely hooted at by a woman which was totally unprovoked. We muse that she must have got up this morning with the cares of the world on her shoulders, sad lady. Up a well-manicured drive, past a newly restored hexagonal dovecote which apparently is to become a holiday let. The wide track then takes us through some mature woodland which includes a canopy of ancient and tall yew trees. Out into the open again we traverse a golf course and have an easy 6-mile walk to Farringdon. We approach the town via the Farringdon Folly which sits on the top of a hill overlooking the town. According to local history, the Roundheads bombarded the Royalists in the town from this vantage point and captured the town accordingly. The Folly, which is reputed to be the last major folly to be built in England in 1937. It was erected by an eccentric aristocrat called Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson 14th Lord Berners, a colourful character by repute, a talented writer, painter and composer. He wanted to build a huge gothic edifice. The architect deplored the idea and built the current more classical tower while his lordship was abroad, much to his fury on his return.

We make our way down into Farringdon. The last time we visited this pretty old town was during our sponsored walk two years ago from Eastbourne to Oxford. Then we had felt it had a run-down feel about it and now we felt that many of the shops and pubs, closed since the pandemic started, were unlikely to open again. Although people were wandering around, the whole centre felt dead and purposeless. Very depressing. We had been told that one of the pubs would be open for lunch, but it turned out it wasn't so after buying and eating a quick sandwich in about the only shop open we set off again. The walk back to Buckland was the same one we had walked 2 years ago along an escarpment, and we enjoyed the spectacular views of northeast Oxfordshire.

We walk through St Hugh's prep school past their well-appointed games fields and hard tennis courts and meet a cheerful group of kids in their highly colourful blue and pink striped sweatshirts as they make their way on to the sports fields.

Back across the scary A420, we pass the beautifully manicured gardens of Buckland house and its adjacent park full of thoroughbred horses and pedigree shorthorn cows. Past the large parish church to the Catholic Church where we had parked.

Day 6 Great Rollright/Long Compton

We arrived at the village hall car park to be greeted by 5 fellow walkers, all well known to us, 3 of whom lived in the area so knew the footpaths well which is a great joy. Our oldest walker is 90 years old and had every intention of walking at least half the way. This was a great encouragement for Tom and me to think that we might be able to continue our walks until well into our 80s. Having looked at the map, it was clear again we would arrive at our lunch stop far too early so it was decided to tackle the walk the other way round which would mean our lunch destination would be near the end of the day.

We set off in high spirits with a lot of chatter and laughter. It was a glorious autumn day, sunny blue skies and wonderful countryside in all directions. We were told that this was an undiscovered part of the Cotswolds, with, few tourists, unlike other parts of Gloucestershire and long may it remain so. A problem is that a larger party always progresses much slower than when there are 2 or 3 of us. It soon became clear we were not going to make our lunch stop in Long Compton by 2pm when the pub's kitchen closed. Incredibly kindly, our walking friends, who lived in the same village, offered to give us lunch in their garden, which was a huge relief to all of and we cancel our booking.

We left our 90-year-old friend and continued on our glorious walk, which included a slight detour to visit the Rollright Stone. Three different groups of standing stones, the Whispering men (a burial Chamber) the Kings Stone Circle, a 77 stone circle, probably a religious meeting place and a single stone called the King's Stone. There is evidence of human habitation in this area from 6500BC to the Saxons era around 800 AD. It was certainly worth the detour.

We arrive down a steep hill into Long Compton just before 2pm, so our predictions on timing were right. We had a delicious impromptu lunch with our kind friends in their beautiful and colourful garden in the warm sunshine. It was tempting to stay put for the rest of the afternoon. However, our consciences got the better of us, and we set off up a steep hill at the other side of the valley with even more stunning views at the top arriving back at Great Rollright by 5.30. We noticed in the car park a statue to 8 American airmen whose aircraft had crashed nearby during the 2nd World War -with no survivors. Sadly there are many such memorials of non-combatant deaths all over Britain during that period.

A day off tomorrow, Yipee!

You can read Tom’s much fuller Blog on www.zane.uk.com


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