Monday, 13 April 2015

Gramps Hill to Ashbury Folly (The Ridgeway 10)

Uffington Castle

We have planned a once-a-month programme to finish the Ridgeway. Today's walk starts under rather dull, grey skies. We start with a brief look at St Michael's church in Letcombe Bassett, where Gramps Lane, our point of resumption, begins. The chancel is Norman and we wondered about the unusual external rendering. The churchyard had a wonderful display of primroses and other flowers.

At the point where Gramps Lane intersects the Ridgeway, the countryside stretches away to the west. You couldn't really see it when we started, so I have used this picture, taken when we returned to collect out car after the end of the walk

The path is chalky - thank goodness it was not wet or it would have been very slippery - and the fields to the north are a mass of chalk as well. By the side of the path we saw a couple of isolated Cowslips, just beginning to come into bloom.

At one point further on, I was admiring further scattered yellow blooms in the adjacent fields and thinking how pretty they looked. Of course it was only early-ripening Rape, but the effect was charming and much more gentle than the almost fluorescent yellow we will see next month.

Eventually we reached the back of Whitehorse Hill, which peaks at 261m. We headed across the grass away from the track to investigate Uffington Castle. The first impression is of the substantial ramparts and, once you clear them, of the great scale of the iron age (300 BC to 43 AD) hill fort they enclose. We were amused to see a sign that revealed that the fort was in the care of the Ministry of Works (it must have been there since before 1962 when that body was renamed).

We have seen quite a lot of these in southern England and Uffington must be one of the largest. A different view of its scale comes from the view at the head of this post, taken from the road immediately below the hill after the end of the walk.

We walked to the edge of the plateau and gained a great view of the country below towards Uffington village. In the foreground, a lovely combe known as the Manger.

This is what it looks like from nearer ground level.

To the right of the Manger is the rather artificial-looking Dragon Hill. We speculated that maybe it was formed by scourings from the nearby White Horse, but I learn from Wikipedia that it is a natural chalk hill. It has a legend attached to it that it was where St George slew the Dragon (hence the name!) and the bare patch of chalk visible in the photo, where apparently nothing will grow, is supposedly where the Dragon died.

On the way back I climbed Dragon Hill expecting to get a good view of the famous White Horse, which was apparently dug in the first century AD, but unfortunately the view point, although interesting, was too low.

Continuing now along a rolled path we soon reached Wayland's Smithy, a Neolithic Long Barrow, dating from the 4th century BC. But what has that got to do with Wayland? According to English Heritage, "it was once believed to have been the habitation of the Saxon smith-god Wayland". Wikipedia adds that this usage dates from 955 AD.

Another mile brought us to the car park at th einterestingly names Ashbury Folly, just up the road from the village of Ashbury where had lunch in the excellent Rose and Crown. I can't find any trace of an Ashbury Folly, but googling has revealed that there is a Folly Tower at Faringdon, about seven miles away, which looks worth a visit.

Conditions: Grey at first, brightening later.

Distance: 6.8 miles. Distance now covered 66.4 out of 86.8 miles.

Map: Explorer 170 (Abingdon, Wantage and Vale of White Horse).

Rating: four stars. Uffington Castle and White Horse were just wonderful.

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