Sunday, 27 July 2008

Combe Gibbet to Hamstead Marshall (Berkshire Way 3)

Descent of Walbury Hill, looking north

This is the third leg of the BBC's splendid Berkshire Way, from Combe Gibbet to Hamstead Marshall (4.75 miles - though it seemed longer).

The first stage of the walk follows the Wayfarers' Way over Walbury Hill, the site of an iron age hill fort. It is also the highest point in Berkshire (arguably not much of a distinction) at 297m.

The walk then descends to pass between the villages of Inkpen and West Woodhay through fields and lanes to Hamstead Marshall.

The view from Walbury Hill suggested a wooded route and this was largely borne out. We were especially taken with this fir.

Approaching Hamstead Marshall you pass the "re-homing" centre of the Dogs Trust (once the Canine Defence League) which was predictably noisy. A helpful sign in the car park explained the steps in the process of adopting a dog.

Rating: three and a half stars. A very pleasant, quiet ramble through a less well-known corner of Berkshire.

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury and Hungerford).


On closer inspection the yellow in the picture above proved to be a field of ragwort. It looked very pretty - a yellow field which for once was not rape. However, it turns out that it is a most pernicious weed. A quick search on the internet reveals that it is toxic, a threat to horses, ponies and other animals and one of only five weeds covered by the provisions of The Weeds Act 1959.

Under the Weeds Act 1959 the Secretary of State may serve an enforcement notice on the occupier of land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of injurious weeds. The other injurious weeds are Spear Thistle, Creeping or Field Thistle, Broad leaved Dock and Curled Dock. Contrary to some accounts, the act does not impose any obligations on owners of land where injurious weeds are growing.

However, a site called published by (which claims to be one of the largest wildlife sites on the internet) seeks to debunk what it sees as hysteria about ragwort and offer a calmer more scientific assessment. There is also a Dutch site called ragwort myths and facts.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Hungerford to Combe Gibbet (Berkshire Way 2)

Hungerford Common

This is the second stage of the BBC's Berkshire Way. The official start point is Hungerford Station, but we started a few hundred yards further on at the edge of the common. The 200 acre common (or "public access land" as the signs carefully call it) is still used for grazing cattle and both the town gate (Down gate) and Inkpen gate are protected by cattle grids. The picture above looks back across the common from the Inkpen gate (the cows are on the left).

The next stage of the walk heads due south first along the Inkpen road and then on a farm road. After a farm the route veers east through more farmland and then the slightly suburban fringe of the sprawling village of Inkpen.

Leaving Inkpen you begin the long, initially gentle but progressively more taxing, climb up to Inkpen Hill and Gallows Down.

Gallows Down

We have done this part of the walk before: in January we did a circular walk which included Inkpen Beacon. So we knew to expect the hard diagonal climb up the side of the down (visible in the photo above) to reach the ridge.

Looking back from Inkpen Hill

The views from the slope back towards Hungerford are impressive. Once you reach the ridge, the Test Way, it is a short walk along it until you come to Combe Gibbet (photo and some notes in my posting about the earlier walk). The views to the south are also a delight.

View to the south from Gallows Down

Rating: Four stars.

Explorer 158 (Newbury and Hungerford.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Exton and Warnford

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Exton

After lunch with friends in nearby Droxford, a quick study of the map suggested that Exton would be a good point of departure for a circular walk. Exton itself turned out to be a delightful village with some lovely half-timbered cottages and a 13th century church.

We followed the South Downs way north-west across fields and climbed up to skirt beacon hill (201m).

Looking back towards Exton

Beacon Hill

We then swung round to the east onto, confusingly, the South Downs Way bridleway and walked across Wheely Down. Reaching Warnford after an hour and a half we decided time and energy did not permit a similar circuit to the other side of the main road and so walked back to Exton along it. This of course was a bit grim, but we did at least make a small detour to get a glimpse of the river Meon, the main part of whose valley lies below Droxford.

River Meon

About five miles in all.

Rating: four stars (ignoring the final leg along the road).

Map: Explorer 119 (Meon Valley, Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham).


Strong reinforcement for our policy of always trying to fit in a walk whenever we are away from home.

Starting to feel quite confident about spotting a route from looking at the map - and then following it on the ground. Although in truth this could hardly have been easier.

The key development area now is accurately assessing the time required and distance to be traveled.


The watercress beds at Warnford were a bit of a novelty and we enjoyed seeing a grey heron land there.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Lambourn to Hungerford (Berkshire Way 1)

St Michael and All Angels, Lambourn

We've just made a wonderful discovery: the BBC has mapped out an informal Berkshire Way which traverses Berkshire from West to East over the course of 14 legs of up to seven or eight miles. It starts in Lambourn and finishes in Windsor. So today we did leg one, from Lambourn to Hungerford (7.5 miles). The full itinerary of the Berkshire Way is on the BBC website.

Each walk is linear so we had to take two cars and park one at the end, then drive on to the start in the other. So not very environmentally sound, but the alternatives involving public transport or taxis are hard work.

The walk starts in Lambourn by the church - near to the almshouses which so impressed me when I walked through here recently. You head south up the high street fork left onto a small path which leads to a series of tracks heading always in the same direction over the downs. There is a lovely view back to Lambourn.


The route crosses the old Roman Road, now the A4001, and then the M4, whose noise can be heard for a long way on the other side. There are some nice views now towards the North Wessex downs.

The final section is mainly on quiet lanes and reaches Hungerford at the banks of the Kennet, where there is first a beautiful former mill house and then a splendid bridge. The river was alive with ducks and coots, and trout could be seen in the clear water.

Rating: three and half stars. The vistas are limited for much of the walk by high hedges and there was a lot of tarmac in the latter stages. But what a lovely summer project to walk across your home county. We can't wait to do the next stage.

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury and Hungerford).

Rating: three and half stars.