The White Horse at Uffington lies close to the Ridgway which is the oldest road in the country, and some believe in Europe. Our Lonely Planet guide to Walking in Britain contained a section of the Ridgeway from Avebury to Goring which is 44 miles in length and can be done over three days. Early on, we decided this would be the perfect thing to do to celebrate our sixth anniversary especially as this fell near the first May bank holiday weekend.
So it was we caught a train to Swindon, used the connection time to buy myself a new Platypus straw and then made our way to Avebury on the bus. It was a sunny day with a slight breeze to stop us feeling too warm and so we headed away from the standing stones and sheep with their lambs, up a hill towards the Ridgeway and more sheep with more lambs. As our book said, turn left and walk for three days! The path is clear to see and we soon saw a hare who sat still for a surprisingly long time, not quite long enough for us to get the camera out the bag and take a photo but very nearly long enough. From then, the camera was mainly kept out of the bag.
At lunchtime, we came across a white horse being guarded by a horse in a red coat and her foal. They obviously associated people with food, but despite their disappointment, we were able to get into their field to see the more ancient chalk horse and back out safely. The first day’s walk was 9 miles in length and was a very pleasant start to the weekend, with lots of other friendly walkers and beautiful views over the Wiltshire countryside. Sights included iron age forts which gave our legs am extra challenge as the path took us to the top! However the views made the effort worthwhile.
Our first night was spent at the Foxlynch bed and breakfast, which was a stables and the owner clearly had a great love of horses with memorabilia everywhere to be seen. One of his more pesty dogs did try and drink my cup of tea which I’d put on the side much to my horror as I did feel I had deserved that tea much more than he had! Our room was idyllic as it looked over fields, where rabbits frolicked at the edge, a robin sang near our window, and cows stood in a field just by the Ridgeway path that we would be taking tomorrow. Swapping from my walking boots to my Tevas felt good for when we headed to the Inn with the Well to get dinner. Our starter of mushrooms in a blue cheese sauce received admiring glances from other people in the pub, and for the main course David has pork in a yummy mustard sauce and I had steak with a delicious stilton and mushroom sauce. The pub lived up to its name as close to the entrance is a glass covered well going down to an impressive depth! Tummies nicely full, we enjoyed a pint before heading back the bed and breakfast where we didn’t last long before we fell asleep.
More good food started our day off before we headed back to the Ridgeway for the next stint of the journey which would take us on a distance of around 22 miles. It was going to be a long day and so we were walking by 8:20 when the mist had just about cleared from the early morning drizzle we had awoken to. We had a rather intimidating experience as we walked along a narrow path up a hill, and heard a loud droning noise. Off road bikers were coming down the hill, and there wasn’t a lot of room for them and us! Gladly reaching the wider route of the Ridgeway, we carried on our way listening to the exquisite songs of the skylarks that flew en route. There were several other birds including a hawk of some sort, and it was wonderful to feel the peace that this area brought. Soon we came to some alternative paths for walkers only which took us through a carpet of bluebells, which was a special treat and made me glad we were walking in May.
The path took a few twists and turns, and I found the perfect tree to climb – a little to David’s concern as he hadn’t seen me disappear up here. A rather long steep hill took us near another iron age fort before we started the descent down to cross the M4 and to a pub – the only one actually on this section of the Ridgeway. Slight concerned we may be getting there before we opened, we dreamed of a cup of tea each and half a pint to share (there aren’t many facilities on the walk!) and were devastated to find the pub boarded up and for sale. Further along the route we returned to the more familiar views of the countryside, and pushed onto the Wayland Smithy where we enjoyed our lunch. A woman came up to ask us where the will smithy was. Slightly confused, we asked if she meant the Wayland Smithy to which she said yes, and then we pointed out the long barrow guarded by standing stones just a few metres away from us. Her response was no, there’s supposed to be a smithy who does ironwork and such like around here, at which point she left. I’m not sure which of us was the most confused, but I hope it wasn’t us!
From here, it wasn’t too much further to the point where I recognised the area. We found the geocache that we had found six months earlier, and walked up the hill to the spot where David had proposed. Last time we’d been here, there were very few other people but today the hill was alive with plenty of people enjoying the English countryside on bank holiday weekend. There was a campervan in the carpark that we could see, lots of children and several dogs, some kites being flown but the real attraction that day was the remote controlled airplane complete with a pilot and a passenger teddy bear, especially when it was performing aerial loops. It was fantastic to come back to this place of such significance for David and I, and it was great to see so many other people enjoying it too.
We couldn’t linger for too long though, as we still had a significant walk to do and so it was onwards that we went. The path emptied out at this point, and unfortunately David developed some pain in his hip. Someone has thoughtfully provided taps to fill up water and it was with some sadness that I noticed one had was there in memory of a fourteen year old who had ‘loved the countryside’. The path carried on and so did we as it went up and down some rolling hills, however fatigue was definitely kicking in our pace slowed down. At about 6, we arrived at the point that we were going to meet the owners of the next bed and breakfast where we to spend the night. A pot of tea and biscuits were laid out for us in front of the fire, where we enjoyed the chance to sit down and relax. A table at a nearby pub had been booked for us as the village of Farnborough didn’t have so and we were driven over to another lovely little place. The food was great and very reasonably priced, with David having salmon and myself having fish and chips, although I swapped the chips for new potatoes, from their ‘credit crunch menu which had a good selection of main courses for £5. We finished with dessert to share before being picked up and taken to our accommodation.
A later start the following day found me enjoying a wonderful shower, before eating a great traditional English breakfast and drinking rather a lot of tea. Again we were given a lift, and we picked up our route on the Ridgeway. The day started well however soon we were subject to some small rain showers, and David’s hip and knee were certainly feeling the strain. He found a useful stick while I admired the little lambs jumping on their mothers’ backs and steadily we plodded on. There were less significant landmarks today such as the iron age forts or the white horses, but the walk was still pleasant even with the tiredness from the previous day. However our challenges weren’t over yet as we still had about 13 miles to go and we were at a slower pace. After nearly missing a significant left turn in the path, we were still walking strong as we headed up over the last hills before we entered the Thames Valley. All too soon it seemed we were approaching buildings and we had reached Streatley and then Goring, both of which are beautiful villages, however they signified the end of our wonderful walk in the not quite so remote wilderness. It was sad to see the Ridgeway Path signed to the left in Goring and we walked straight on, leaving what had been a fantastic way to spend three days.