Sunday, 21 December 2008

Hughenden Manor

Hughenden Manor

This walk is courtesy of the National Trust, who own Hughenden, former home of Bejamin Disraeli. This Red Walk is one a series around the estate. It can be done separately from visiting the house.

The walk begins in the car park and leads quickly into beautiful beech trees of Woodcock Wood ....

Leaving the wood, the path goes across open fields and then enters Flagmore Wood and then Common Wood. Emerging from Common Wood, you take a short stretch of semi-suburban street before entering further woodland, emerging this time by the Disraeli monument, on a hill overlooking a valley and with Hughenden Manor visible on the other side.

The Disraeli Monument

The monument was erected by Benjamin Disraeli in honour of his father, Isaac D'israeli, a writer and scholar. Isaac changed the names of his children to make them seem less Jewish - and also had them baptised, which in due course allowed his son Benjamin to enter Parliament.

Hughenden seen from near the Monument

You then descend from the monument and climb the other valley slope to enter the grounds of Hughenden Manor, paasing to the south of the rear of the house, and round the side to pass the Victorian church and return to the car park. Four miles in all.

Map: Explorer 172 (Chiltern Hills West).

Rating: four stars. Some lovely woodland and views; interesting historical associations.

Hughenden Manor

Hughenden Manor was bought by Benjamin Disraeli in 1847, shortly after he became Member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire. He made major changes to the house and gardens, and lived there happily with his wife Mary Anne, as his political career flourished, becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer and then (twice) Prime Minister. He was made Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876, and in the following year entertained Queen Victoria at Hughenden.

The house and the estate were acquired by the National Trust in 1947. The interior of the house is much as it was in Disraeli's time, and many of the original contents remain. The formal garden, a terrace with attractive views around, has been recreated to reflect Mary Anne Disraeli's original design.

The rear of the house

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Vyne

The Vyne - rear facade

This short, but wonderful walk, comes courtesy of the National Trust and can be downloaded here. Although only 2.3 miles, this walk packs a lot in. The walk starts at the edge of Morgaston Woods and initially takes a straight line through the woods to come the edge of the lake which backs onto the house itself.

The initial paths are concrete and according to the walk notes were constructed during the second world war to act as a decoy for enemy bombers and distract them away from the munitions depot at nearby Bramley. At this time of year the concrete is covered by a carpet of leaves and could be any woodland path:

On reaching the lake, the path turns right and comes to an area of wetlands, where there is a hide to watch the wildflowl and wading birds that congregate there.

A zoom photo reveals a pair of herons on the far bank.

Map: Explorer 144 (Basingstoke, Alton and Whitchurch)

Rating: four stars.

The Vyne

The Vyne that we see today is, perhaps surprisingly, only a part of a what was once a much larger Tudor house. It was created in the early sixteenth century from a number af free-standing medieval buildings: the lawn at what is now the rear was once a series of Tudor courtyards in the style of Hampton Court.

The classical portico was of course added later, around 1660, and the staircase hall was remodelled in a classical style at the same time - and is rather discordant with the rest of the interior. The chapel is notable for its beautiful glazed Flemish tiles.

In the grounds there is a delightful seventeeth century brick summer house and the six hundred year old "Hundred guinea oak", so named because one of the Vyne's owners allegedly refused that sum of money for its timber.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Arborfield and Farley Hill

The walk initially follows the delightfully named Pudding Lane from the recreation ground in Arborfield and emerges onto the A327 which you follow for several hundred yards. A lane and then fields leads south to a plantation (New Plantation) and a climb up Kiln Hill to the village of Farley Hill.

From here the route wends across tracks and fields back to Arborfield. Four and half miles in all.

From: Rambling for Pleasure: Around Reading second series by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Rating: three stars. Surprisingly rural for a walk so close to Reading, and quiet varied, but lacking any major points of interest.


I saw what I thought was a Little Owl perched on the top of a tree as we drew near to Arborfield. The binoculars revealed that it was in fact a cunningly shaped clump of dead leaves, so a bit disappointing. But I was granted what might be seen as a blinding glimpse of the obvious - you can see birds more clearly when there are no leaves on the trees! There may not be so many birds about but it means of course that winter is a good time to improve one's bird identification. I have now packed my bird book in my haversack.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Allerton moor

Ashton windmill, Chapel Allerton

A rare self-designed walk constructed from an examination of the OS map. The walk begins in Stone Allerton with a footpath near the pub which heads south west towards the levels. Initially you pass beside some fields of elephant grass....

...and then emerge on a track beside fields. A short distance along the road, another path across fields leads down to Allerton moor - an area of low-lying fields. The track follows the edge of these and offers surprisingly clear views of Brent Knoll, some way to the south.

The track eventually reaches the Allerton Moor rhine (one of the characteristic drainage ditches which criss-cross the Somerset levels). Looking back along the rhine, you can see Crook Peak, on the Mendips, in the distance. (Note also the photographer's shadow in the foreground.)

After a mile or so, I turned left along a lane towards Chapel Allerton, passed through the village and reached the Weare-Wedmore road. A short detour here brought me to the Ashton windmill - I have been past many times, but until today never stopped for a closer look.

Then back along the road to the start. About five miles in all.

Map: Explorer 153 (Weston-Super-Mare and Bleadon Hill).

Rating: three and half stars.

Ashton windmill, Chapel Allerton

This is an eighteenth century corn mill, of a type known as a tower mill. The picture below shows it from the side. It's not quite clear to me what the over-hanging section at the back is for: there seems to be scope for a pulley.

More about windmills can be found at Windmill World and UK Mills. The helpful page on the history and development of windmills at Windmill World explains the three basic types of mill in their evolutionary sequence: post (where the whole body of the mill rotated around a central post to face the wind), smock (where the wooden body of the mill is fixed and only the cap, containing the roof, the sails, the windshaft and the brake wheel, rotates) and the tower (like the smock mill but with a brick body).

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

San Sebastia lighthouse to Cala Pedrosa

View over Llafranc and Callella

When we were in the Costa Brava earlier in the year we walked south along the Cami de Ronda, or coastal path, from Llafranc to Golfet, via Callella de Palafrugell. This walk starts a few miles to the north of Llafranc at the San Sebastia lighthouse, from which there are wonderful views back over Llafranc and Callella.

You initially pass the San Sebastia hotel, converted from a former fifteenth century watchtower and a sanctuary which was added in the eighteenth century.

The path proceeds along the cliff top high above the sea ...

... and then through some woods and then further inland, along a track parallel to the coast.

Eventually, you turn right towards the sea and make the long winding descent to the cove of Cala Pedrosa.

Cala Pedrosa is pretty cove with a pebble beach and - rather surprisingly - a cafe, shut of course for the winter. A helpful sign on the path inland describes an initiative to eradicate invasive flora and recreate the natural ecosystem.

Out to sea, on the rocks, are the seemingly inevitable cormorants.

Rating: four stars.


We were struck by this splendid mushroom, about 9 inches high:

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Lookout, Bracknell, to Ascot (Berkshire Way 13)

About the walk

We did our next stage of the BBC's Berkshire Way out of order: it was wet and we thought a short stage (this one was only only 4 1/2 miles) was preferable to the 8 mile one which was next on the official itinerary.

The walk begins at the Lookout, a country park on the edge of Bracknell (we started a nice walk in the woods here earlier in the year) and initially heads off on tarmaced paths into a housing development. However, you quickly turn off into Swinley Park and walk for a good while through very pleasant woodland. The directions were a bit vague on the distance to be walked before reaching the critical landmark of four tracks meeting, but we found the right exit from the wood in due course.

The next stage, through light woods, bypasses the overgrown Englemere Pond to reach the main Bracknell-Ascot road, the A329. You then cross the road and wander through various housing developments (some of impressive modern opulence) to reach the edge of Ascot race course. We had some difficulty following the route here too: this time because the printed out directions had become so sodden that the pages had coalesced and become impossible to separate. Tearing off the top corner by the staple proved to be the effective technique.

Perhaps surprisingly, you can walk directly across the racecourse - although not the actual race track. It is an impressively large area with fine views of the extraordinary new grandstand. I am sure it must have frequently been compared to an airport terminal, because that is surely what it resembles. I would have added a photo, but it was still pouring with rain.

Rating: three stars. Despite the unprepossessing start, surprisingly varied and interesting.

Map: Explorer 160 (Windsor, Weybridge and Bracknell).

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Reading Bridge to Ashenbury Park, Woodley (Berkshire Way 10)

Sonning Bridge

We undertook stage 10 of the BBC's Berkshire Way on a misty Saturday morning. The stage runs from Reading Bridge, via Sonning, to Ashenbury Park in the Reading suburb of Woodley, a distance of 5 miles.

You go under Reading Bridge and follow the Berkshire bank of the Thames past Caversham lock, over the point where the Kennet joins the Thames and along meadows behind the Thames Valley business park, wondering if the employees of Oracle come here to enjoy their sandwiches in the middle of a busy day.

After passing Sonning Lock - busy even now, presumably hellish in summer - you leave the Thames path in sight of Sonning's eighteenth century brick bridge and head south-east into the village.

The route first passes the delightful gothic church of St Andrew with its brick walled cemetery, the sixteenth century Bull Inn and the old High Street. A little further on you pass the Robert Palmer cottages - almshouses from 1850, given an exotic feel by the yuccas in the front garden.

Robert Palmer Cottages

The final section is less interesting involving a mile or so on fairly standard suburban roads to reach the car park at Ashenbury Park. Clearly however this is about the best imaginable route from Reading to Woodley.

Rating: three and half stars.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Church of St Andrew, Sonning

According to the curiously impenetrable guidebook available in the church , there is evidence of a Norman building of no later than 1180. It was enlarged around 1350 and a major restoration was unertaken in 1852 by Henry Woodyer. This date can be spotted on the hopper head of one of the downpipes at the chancel end of the church. Robert Palmer, the provider of the almshouses, contributed two thirds of the cost, and was therefore a major influence on the Sonning we see today.

Pevsner says that the visual appearance of the church is Victorian and that the delightful chancel decoration (see below) is by GF Bodley from 1903-06.


We were very surprised to see these black swans:

... but less surprised to see these cormorants. I used to think the cormorant was a bird you saw by the sea, but I have read and seen the evidence that they are nowadays often seen inland by rivers and canals. This is the first time I have seen three together though.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Pangbourne to Reading Bridge (Berkshire Way 9)

Whitchurch Bridge from Pangbourne Meadows

Stage 9 of the BBC's Berkshire Way runs from the centre of Pangbourne to Reading bridge, so at last it was possible to leave one car at Reading station and take a 10 minute train ride to Pangbourne. The seven mile route joins the Thames at Pangbourne meadows, with Whitchurch bridge to the left (more on the bridge below).

Pangbourne Meadows

The walk is then in three distinct stages. The first follows a series of meadows becoming progressively more rural, with lovely hilly country on the opposite (South Oxfordshire) bank of the river. This was one of the most populated sections of the walk, more so even than the Ridgeway. After a while there is a view of the Tudor Hardwick House on the opposite side and then you reach Mapledurham lock with Mapledurham House largely invisible on the opposite bank. Apparently it has been claimed that both houses were the inspiration for EH Shepard's illustrations for Toad Hall in the Wind in the Willows.

On reaching Mapledurham lock, the second stage of the walk begins: you head away from the river and cross the heavily built up area of Purley. This was inevitably the least enjoyable part of the walk and to make it worse I misread the directions and condemned us to an extra mile of subrban streets.

After escaping from Purley the route rejoins the Thames at the very edge of Reading and follows the river all the way from there. It eventually reaches the Thameside promenade at Caversham bridge, with its hordes of swans and geese responding enthusiastically to donations of bread.

Caversham Bridge

The final section to Reading bridge, the more interesting of the town's two bridges, is more built up. Turning right at the bridge brings you the back entrance to the station.

Reading Bridge

Rating: three stars. Lovely at the beginning, but the middle section and much of the final one weren't much fun.

-->Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham & Pangbourne).


A cormorant sitting imposingly on the top of a tree, although not this time drying its wings.

Many riverside properties have a boat house of some sort, but we particularly liked this thatched one.

Whitchurch Bridge

The bridge dates from the late 18th century and was built after an Act of Parliament of 1792 promoted by enterprising locals which gave powers to construct a toll bridge to replace the existing ferry. The original bridge was wooden and had to be replaced by a further wooden bridge in 1852-53. The present iron bridge dates from 1902, but it too is approaching the end of its life and a reconstruction is planned for 2013. Full information about the bridge can be found on the website of the Whitchurch Bridge company. The current toll for most cars is 20p.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Lardon Chase to Pangbourne (Berkshire Way 8)

Looking south

Today - a damp, misty day - we tackled stage 8 of the BBC's Berkshire Way, from Lardon Chase near Streatley to Pangbourne. Seven and a half miles.

The route heads initially south, out of a wood and into fields with lovely views to the south, albeit restricted by the weather. A series of tracks and sections of road bring you to the rear entrance to Basildon Park (on which more below).

We rather liked this barn conversion - a change from the timber ones which abound in Berkshire.

And we loved this Victorian gatehouse with its Dutch gables.

Then a quite long trudge following the wall of the Park down towards the river (Thames) at Lower Basildon. The walk along the Thames Path which formed the final section of the walk was more enjoyable, with glimpses of Basildon Park on the ridge to the right.

We passed to the rear of the Beale Wildlife park, but sadly could not see so much as a llama, although we did hear a peacock.

The final stretch was almost a mile along the main road down into Pangbourne. Still by the river of course, but it felt like a surfeit of pavement/tarmac. There are some wonderfully extravagant Edwardian houses along here with elaborate turrets and gables and big windows.

Rating: three stars (just). Lovely country initially, but too much road overall. The weather didn't help.

-->Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham & Pangbourne).


Not much to report really, but this multi-coloured herd of cows caught the eye.

Basildon Park

A slightly shadowy presence on this walk, rather than a real feature. It was built in the Palladian style between 1776 and 1783 by John Carr of York for Francis Sykes, who had made his fortune in India. The most famous feature is the beautiful Octagon Room. It is now owned by the National Trust.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Bury Down to Lardon Chase (Berkshire Way 7)

Oxfordshire from the Ridgeway

Stage 7 of the BBC's Berkshire Way runs long the Ridgeway from Bury Down, north of West Ilsley to Lardon Chase, on the edge of Streatley. This represents seven and half miles along a single signposted path. You can't go wrong - there is just one place where the Ridgeway is the left turning at a junction, rather than straight ahead as you expect, and one final right hand turn off it across a golf course to the car park at Lardon Chase.

You set off on a broad ride with wide views over the flat Oxforshire countryside, cross the A34 and walk through farmland with horse gallops. You cross a bridge which is one of the last remains of a dismantled railway - presumably but for the Ridgeway it would have been converted into a path or cycle track.

The next section is a bit more enclosed, but creates pleasing views looking back towards open country ...

... and forward as the path wends downwards towards Streatley and the Goring Gap.

You pass the impressive gate posts of Thurle Grange.

Thurle Grange

Soon after this you turn right to cross the golf course, ringing various warning bells as you pass by. The views back towards Thurle Down, which runs parallel to the Ridgeway, are delightful.

Thurle Down

So we are now half way - in stages at least - and we have walked 44 miles in total.

Rating: Four stars - but see below.

-->Explorer 158 (Newbury and Hungerford).


This was a really excellent walk, but for part of the way we felt a sense of slight - what?, frustration? disappointment? On reflection we realised that the problem was a lack of reference points. Walking along looking out over a vista of open country, with neither natural nor man-made landmarks, we felt we were missing something. We felt we wanted some reference points by which we could orientate ourselves and measure our progress. When we came on the section of the Ridgeway we have previously walked we felt better - here was the track that led to Starvall Farm, there was the track towards Aldworth where I took some pictures of the Goring Gap.

I have an evolving list of the things that make for a good walk and now I see that this is one of them - a sense of where you are, relative to the major landmarks. I think that's why I don't really enjoy walks which are wholly within a wood.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Chieveley to Bury Down (Berkshire Way 6)

Looking back towards Chieveley

This is stage 6 of the BBC's Berkshire Way. The route goes more or less due north from Chieveley, parallel to the A34, through the village of West Ilsley to intersect the Ridgeway at Bury Down. Six miles and three quarters in all.

You head off beside and across fields and then pick up a series of tracks. The first of these, Old Street Lane, offered ideal conditions for butterflies and we saw a number of green veined whites - readily distinguishable from the more usual small whites by their clearly marked veins. I know this sounds rather obvious, but it reinforces the importance of really looking.

This track leads onto a further, more enclosed one, Green Lane. This was slightly sunken and had quite dense trees and bushes on both sides, and it was with some relief that we quite literally emerged into daylight on the downs.

The final section was much more open leading up to and across the pretty village of West Ilsley and then the final climb through fields up to the Ridgeway.

You look back over Folly Down, which is just lovely ....

... and you know you have just about reached the Ridgeway when the delights of Didcot power station fill the eye.

Rating: three and half stars. I like lanes but this became quite claustrophobic.

-->Explorer 158 (Newbury and Hungerford).


Something of a mystery. It looks like a wild flower, but was clearly planted in rows and fills a whole large field. Just coming into flower, it must be a fine sight when in full bloom.