Having landed from Singapore early in the morning and suffered the longest four minutes in rugby history I was in need of some exercise this morning. Another section of the Thames walk awaits the availability of my companions, so I have two long distance paths lined up for those weekends when I am on my own. The South Downs Way, to coincide with seeing daughter at the University of Sussex and now The Ridgeway, cause its close. Very close in fact I started and finished today from my house. I had work to do so I was up early anyway given an eight hour time difference to Singapore, so I set off at 0600. My plan was to walk the lanes from Lockeridge to the starting point of The Ridgeway to arrive at sunup, then complete the nine mile first section, catching a bus back from Ogborne St John to Marlborough and then either taking a taxi or walking back home depending how the mood took me. Well that was the plan …..
Rosy fingered dawn was painting pictures on the Curaçao dark sky with the com trails of incoming transatlantic flights and the first snow drops were creating flashes of white in the hedgerows. I walked through the cemetery of Overton Church and then passed what was, the best part of twenty years ago the nearest thing we had to a village shop. Its now a private house. On the gentle climb out of Lockeridge passing the cricket ground I noted how what, had been artisan houses were now been demolished and replaced with near mansions beyond the purchasing capacity of any local worker. The Kennet Valley is a less mixed community then when I moved in when my eldest was five.
East Kennet marked my departure from the Kennet Valley to the Ridgeway, its a small parish but was once a gift to Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII and then transferred to Catherine Howard. East Kennett Manor is where the hunt meets and marked my turning point. As I crested the hill to the old temple (now just markers in the field), which terminates the processional line to the more imposing Avebury stone circle, the sun rose above the horizon and suddenly the ground was transformed, frost brushed fields were thrown into sharp contrast with long shadows and the line of the ancient ridgeway was picked out by the light as I crossed the A4 and set off on the main section of the walk.
Its better here at dawn than at dusk, with the night coming on there is always this sense of other presences as one passes the burial mounds catching glimpses of Avebury to the left. The shadows picked out the neolithic field systems and I passed over the old coach road from Bath to London making good pace. The track is rutted by the all too frequent passage of four by fours and trail bikes. These monstrosities are destroying the ancient pathway and while we have won a particle winter ban it is not enough. I have more tolerance of mountain bikes, this has been one of my favourite trails, but they need to show courtesy. I have had enough of hearing cycle bells demanding I break the rhythm of my walk to give them priority. I am happy to share a track, but only on equal terms and not with those whose pleasure involves ruining the tracks and the peace. This early in the morning I had it to myself, sharing it only with the sky larks.
I soon crossed over Hackpen Hill the ramparts of Barbary Castle, one of many hill forts appeared ahead and I diverted from the main trail to walk around the ramparts. By now the path was becoming busier as there is a car park near the hill fort and it is a favourite place to walk dogs and children and fly model aircraft. From here the path takes a ridge top path with views to either side that are spectacular in the sense of space they give. WIth a winter sun there was an air of mystery as I approached the valley of the River Og in the valley and the main road from Swindon to Salisbury. I know realised that I would arrive in Ogborne St John well ahed of my target time. My planned bus was at 1248 and it would arrive some ten minutes after its predecessor the 1048. I had originally thought I would get there at 1200 which is when the pub opened, sink and pint and get on the bus. But I had done too well, and now faced a long walk so instead of dropping into Ogborne St George I stayed on a delightful bridleway (pictured to the right) until the Church of Ogborne St Andrew came into view.
A small track lead across pasture land to Ogborne Maizey with the rhythmic sound of woodpeckers in the wood to my right. and finally I could no longer the A436 and hazarded a rapid crossing to join another bridleway that would cut round by the old railway track into the back streets of Marlborough. The Railway used to run from Andover to Swindon by way of Marlborough and was closed in the 1950s along with much of the railway network that in these over populated times we could do with restoring. That line alone would carry a large volume of daily commuters, now it is a cycle track. I was also starting to regret by enterprise as it was becoming more of an effort to walk. Our normal daily range on the Thames has been been between then and twelve miles and I was already past that. The walk into Marlborough at least held out the prospect of buying something to drink and eat which I duly achieved on a rapid diversion into Waitrose. I ate a scotch egg and drank two pints of milk on a seat in the Church Yard of Preshute Church having passed through Marlborough's High Street, the widest in the land as they failed to rebuild the middle section after the last fire!
I was now closing down, and being passed by enthusiastic dog walkers with breezy hellos, pride encouraged me to tell them I had already walked seventeen miles, British reticent restricted me to a a polite good afternoon. From Manton to Clatford the road passes a modern mansion, one of those permitted by the Government as a means of getting around planning regulations. I took the side path past Clatford Hall, which has worn into the landscape rather than being a blot on it and finally the smoke of log fires in Lockerdidge was visible. A few more fields and I was home after a walking distance of 19.2 miles at an average speed of 2.6 mph (2.47 if you include the time in Waitrose and sitting on a bench). I was pleased at that, we have only been making 2.3 on our Thames Walk and this was a longer distance with some climbs. However all I could do was head for a bath, and then the sofa as my legs locked down. I will have to get up early, for now I just need to recover. But the satisfaction of a walk of that length at a good pace outweighed any pain. Getting back to fitness was a part of the objective here and its starting to pay off.
Next weekend I will need to spend time working with timetables to manage the next section from Ogborne St George up to and past the Uffington White Horse. The route is shown below and the full photo stream is here.
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