Sunday, 9 February 2014

Kingston Blount to Swyncombe (The Ridgeway 5)

Shirburn Hill

We met up with Merv and Pud to resume walking the Ridgeway, pleased that it was not raining, but wondering what it would be like underfoot. These unvoiced concerns increased when we approached Kingston Blount to find the road closed because of flooding! However, we were able to park in nearby Aston Rowant and walk along a track to join the Ridgeway. There was some debate about whether we should go back and do the missing bit some time in the future, but it was agreed that the section from Aston Rowant was more or less the same distance, so we need not.

We headed south west along the straight Ridgeway path, finding the going a bit heavy but not too waterlogged. We passed Beacon Hill, where I had a wonderful afternoon photographing butterflies on the Aston Rowant nature reserve last July. Then walked under the M40, noticing how dramatically the noise dropped on the west side: it's blown towards the east side by the prevailing wind.

We continued in the same direction on a grassy track with the Chiltern hills on our left side and Shirburn Hill curving round to meet the path. We became conscious of a lot of dogs barking. A kennels? What? A a break in the hedgerow revealed a partial answer: a number of people were heading across a large field towards us, all with dogs. Were they engaged in a hunt on foot? A drag hunt? Were they in fact in drag? So basically we had no idea, but at least we had a laugh. It was otherwise desperately grey.

A bit further other we came to a landmark we had been expecting: the point where The Ridgeway crosses the Oxfordshire Way. We crossed this point from the other direction in May last year when were doing the Wheatfield to Pishill section.

We crossed a couple of roads on the outskirts of Watlington and soon saw the wonderfully named village of Britwell Salome across the large field. Salome turns out to be a corruption of De Sulham, the name of the medieval landowners - sadly nothing to do with the biblical Salome, the femme fatale in Oscar Wilde's play.

Now The Ridgeway takes a sudden turn to the south, climbing through Dean Wood and then descending slightly to the lane that leads to Swyncombe church, where we had left the car. The familiar landmark of Didcot power station was in view across a grassy landscape.

Conditions: grey, cold, some icy showers, but getting gradually brighter.

Distance: 6.6 miles (31.2 covered so far).

Map: 171 (Chiltern Hills West).

Rating: three stars. Visually unexciting, though no doubt it would have looked better on a brighter day.

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