Friday, 31 July 2009

Cane End (Withy Copse and Deadman's Lane)

Withy Copse

A third walk this week seems a bit excessive, but my average step count is a bit down this month because I strained my knee and had to rest it for a few days. Today was the last chance to boost the step count and there was just time to do this four mile walk north of Reading after a shopping trip.

The walk starts by what used to be the Fox pub on the A4074 to Oxford (now a restaurant) and quite quickly you are in Withy Copse, after having to take one of those embarrassing paths that goes right through someone's garden. The path through the copse is unusually wide and green and this really was a very pleasant part of the walk.

You emerge to walk along a short length of road and then turn onto a track through woodland and then beside fields to cross the A3074. The next section along the possibly aptly named Deadman's Lane was not much fun: the road was busy in the late afternoon and if was often necessary to hop onto a highish back to avoid the traffic.

After half a mile you escape onto another woodland track. Somewhere in the woods I lost the route - the first time this has happened for ages. I think I was probably only a few hundred yards out when I emerged by a field, but I decided to head for the sound of the A3074 rather than try to find the planned path towards Nuney Green. This worked well, but left me with a sense of anti climax.

From: Rambling for pleasure around Reading (first series) by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers

Distance: 4.5 miles.

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

Rating: two and a half stars. Too much road, although Withy Copse was lovely.


This walk and yesterday's have led me to want to add something to my list of the factors which make for a good walk. That something is an absence of noise, especially traffic noise. This is probably part of a broader concept of tranquility or even isolation. But certainly in the south, isolation is a tall order - there are almost always at least individual cottages or farms on the route or in sight. But getting away from the traffic is a more realistic goal - and conversely, many a pleasant walk is diminished by the sound coming from a nearby (or not so nearby) main road or motorway.

However, as today showed there is also a downside to this: it was traffic noise which gave me complete confidence in the direction back to where I had stared the walk. Without it there would have been a bit more uncertainty. I have a compass, maybe this is a sign that it is time to put it in my haversack - and learn to use it!

Flower of the day

I saw a wonderfully dense clump of Corn Camomile in the corner of a field of crops. Just as well because overall there was little to be seen.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Newtown Common and Horris Hill (south of Newbury) 2

Newtown Common

I last did this four mile walk two years ago and was thrilled to spot a Silver Washed Fritillary (predominant colour a gorgeous orange - the largest fritillary with a powerful gliding flight) and and a Dark Green (actually brownish looking) Fritillary. This had such an impact that I remembered it as only last year.

I saw another Silver Washed Fritillary on Tuesday when I walked near Birdlip in Gloucestershire and when we decided to go out for a walk this afternoon I thought of returning to Newtown Common in the hope of seeing another one.

The walk is in a figure of eight. You start at the the entrance to Newtown Common at the top of Jonathan or Jonathon Hill (there are two different signs on opposite sides of the road). You walk first through woodland and then across the very pleasant common, with some lovely Rowan trees covered in their colourful berries.

You cross a minor road, walk along a track and then cross the A339, to begin the Horris Hill section of the walk. The initial section is quite interesting - and rich in butterflies - but most of this part of the walk, around Horris Hill school and the straggling houses of the village feels like it has been tacked on to extend the walk to a reasonable length.

At the end of the loop you pass one of the National Trust's smallest properties - the quarter acre Barn Plot - and cross the A339 again. You are soon in the final section of the walk, through very pleasant woodland back to the start.

From: Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group.

Map: Explorer 158 Newbury and Hungerford

Rating: 2 stars
. Newtown common was good, but overall too many roads and houses, and the ever-present traffic noise diminished our enjoyment.


I caught a glimpse (I think) of a Silver Washed Fritillary. And we also saw our first Brimstone from this year's generation and a Holly, or possibly Small, Blue. And most of the other species which have featured on recent walks.

Flower of the day

We spotted this Selfheal nestling in a grassy meadow just before the wood at the end of the walk.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Birdlip (Barrow Wake and Crickley Hill)

View from Barrow Wake

En route for Gloucester, I set out early to fit in this walk. Being drawn from a book of pub walks, this walk begins at the well-known Air Balloon pub on the A417/A346 roundabout at Birdlip. However, to get even more out of it, I parked at the Barrow Wake viewpoint half a mile to the south and walked down past the pub. The views over Gloucester and the surrounding country are excellent.

Crossing the A417 you climb a grassy, then woody, slope called The Scrubs and arrive at Crickley Hill. You then turn right to walk along the top of the hill, the scarp of the Cotswolds, for some distance enjoying lovely views to the north west.

Eventually you hit a road and turn right up it, following it until you reach a junction with the A346. Here you climb a track along the side of South Hill and this eventually becomes a road leading back to the view point (the official route turns right part way along). South Hill had a magnificent selection of butterflies.

From: Pub Walks in Gloucestershire by Nigel Hammond (Countryside Books)

Map: Explorer 179 (Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud)

Rating: four stars


The best crop of butterflies this year 13 in all: Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Small Heath, Ringlet, Large White, Small White, Small Skipper, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Common Blue and Silver Washed Fritillary.

The key lesson from these sightings was that many of the butterflies were stationary, so it was important to stand and scan the grass and bushes rather than depend on movement.

I thought I might try taking a few butterfly pictures, so here are a pair of Gatekeepers ....

... and the Silver Washed Fritillary.

Flowers of the day

This Meadow Cranesbill is pretty but widespread ...

... but this striking Pyramidal Orchid, growing on Crickley Hill, is a bit more unusual.

Sunday, 26 July 2009


Keble College chapel

In Oxford for a wedding, we followed our now usual practice and stayed over in order to have a city walk. This self-designed walk was conceived as seeing some Victorian masterpieces that I had read about but never actually seen, and then taking in Oxford's main sights, while also fitting in a nice fish lunch.

We took a cab to Keble College and started from there. Built 1868-1882, the work of the architect William Butterfield, it was founded in memory of John Keble, a founder of the Tractarian movement which sought to reclaim the Catholic heritage in the Anglican church. The college is a marvel of red brick and polychromatic patterns, with no sign of symmetry anywhere. Although there are two original courts, neither has the continuous closed sides of a traditional Oxbridge college.

The chapel dominates Liddon quad, on the right as you enter the College. The inside is light and wonderfully decorated with tiles and mosaics.

We then crossed the road to see the University Museum (of Natural History) designed by Benjamin Woodward of Dean and Woodward. It opened in 1860 and Woodward died, tragically young, a year later. From the outside, it is a restrained neo-gothic structure, with some nice detailing around the windows.

But its true glory is within. It is nearly square with a beautiful brick arcade with stone columns all around the outside, and a glass roof supported on cast iron arches resting on clusters of tall, slim, cast iron columns. Railway station architecture meets art. The columns are all of different stone, with the sources carefully carved into the bases. The capitals have beautifully carved flowers all different - and they too were to be labeled, but there was insufficient money to do so. The museum's website has a helpful short architectural history.

The effect is tremendously light and airy and also somewhat church-like - there is the sense of a nave, where you enter, and two wide aisles at the sides.

Unlike some Victorian buildings, it still works well today and it was wonderful to see enthusiastic young children marveling at the dinosaurs and touching the animal exhibits.

From here we walked down Parks Road to enjoy some of the more conventional sights, starting with Hertford Bridge over New College Lane. It is known as the Bridge of Sighs, inspired by the original in Venice, but in truth looks little like it - although it does resemble the Rialto bridge over the Grand Canal. Perhaps surprisingly, it dates only from 1914.

Then we doubled back, past the Clarendon Building and into the Sheldonian Theatre. Photographs usually show its curved end, but here is the main facade facing the Divinity School, which being so close, slightly defeated my camera.

It was the first building designed by the young Sir Christopher Wren, who at the time was Professor of Astronomy. He was also a friend of Gilbert Sheldon, who paid for the building, which more easily accounts for how he got the job. Pevsner describes it as "a young amateur's job, just a little confused". We climbed the stairs to the cupola and enjoyed the views.

From here, we continued along Catte street to reach the Radcliffe Camera, perhaps Oxford's most instantly recognisable image.

Dr John Radcliffe, the royal physician, bequeathed the money for a new library building and it was completed in 1749 to designs by James Gibbs. Today the Camera functions as the main reading room of the Bodleian Library.

Just beyond it, stands the University Church, St Mary the Virgin. It is a stately (to use Pevsner's word) parish church in Perpendicular Gothic, dating from the 14th century. It seemed quite austere after the colourful interior of Keble College chapel.

We then walked along High Street and on an impulse decided to visit Magdalen College. We were surprised to be charged an admission fee, but it was well worthwhile. We especially enjoyed the Cloister of 1475-90.

We then crossed the Cherwell, still within Magdalen, and took a circular walk (Addison's Walk) around the water meadows, passing Magdalen Bridge, with its punt pool, and reaching the Fellows' Garden.

Addison's Walk

We had lunch in the excellent Fishers restaurant, just the other side of Magdalen Bridge.

The plan for the final stage of the walk was to see Christ Church and its cathedral. What we hadn't understood was that it is one of Oxford's premier sights. There was a startling long queue at the entrance point and so we decided to save it for another day. The walk there beside the Botanic Garden and along the Broad Walk was pleasant.

We walked up St Aldate's to the Carfax tower and called it a day there.

Rating: four and a half stars.

Flower of the day

I did not really expect a flower of the day in a city walk, but we found this Purple Loosestrife growing by the banks of the Cherwell as we walked along Addison's walk.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Henley (Culham Court and Henley Reach)

Friday Street, Henley

Unsettled weather, but there seemed a reasonable prospect of a dry afternoon, so we planned our first "proper" walk for a little while. This walk begins on the Berkshire side of Henley bridge. You walk up the road for a while, but soon climb into Remenham Woods. Just on the edge of the wood we saw a buddleia humming with butterflies: Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Comma, Peacock, Large White.

After a series of fields and lanes, and some nice views of the Chilterns, you walk along a ridge, then through a gap in the hedge to descend a field-side path towards Culham Court and its deer park.

The house is a classic red brick Georgian mansion built in 1771. It was sold in 2006 for £35m. The deer park features two varieties: fallow deer and what seemed to be white deer. The two herds were noticeably separate.

Soon you join the Thames path and follow it below Culham Court through a wonderful flower meadow overlooking the Thames.

On the far side of the meadow you leave the Thames Path again and follow a lovely track across open land which is part of the Greenlands Estate covenants: land given to the National Trust in 1944 by Viscount Hambledon to protect the landscape around Hambledon and Remenham. A great success. The Viscount would surely be pleased with the effect of his bequest.

You then pass through the village of Remenham to rejoin the Thames Path, now right by the riverside and follow it all the way along Henley Reach back to Henley Bridge.

This is the location of Henley Regatta of course, and the vast marquees were still very much in evidence.

From: Rambling for Pleasure along the Thames by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers Association group.

Map: Explorer 171 (Chiltern Hills West).

Rating: Four stars.

Flower of the day

This Dark Mullein was in evidence in several locations.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


Glastonbury Tor

We were staying in Somerset for a few days on family business and had to go to Glastonbury on an errand; it seemed essential to capitalise on the opportunity and see the famous Tor and Abbey.

We approached the town expecting it to be full of hippy throw-backs and new-agers. First impressions tended to support these prejudices: the first two people we saw were a middle aged man with shoulder-length grey hair and another man of the same vintage with his grey hair concealed under a knitted pill-box cap.

There were of course loads of shops selling new age books and artifacts, and a surprising number offering material connected with witchcraft - OK perhaps it's not that surprising. At least it meant that it does not look like every other high street in Britain.

The other indicators were more subtle: a house with a notice in the window of the kind that might indicate a lost cat or "no vacancies" turned out to be offering courses in Consciousness and transpersonal psychology. A B&B had a sign offering "Witches for sale" - these turned out to be small wickerwork models, complete with broomstick. Even one of the bands playing in a pub blues night was called Conscious Unconscious.

We parked near the market place, walked past the handsome Victorian Market Cross ....

.... and up the High Street, past the lovely 15th century merchant's house, misnamed the Tribunal, now the tourist office.

From here a signed route to the Tor leads away from the road and, passing an Ashram with Tibetan prayer wheels outside, crosses some steep open ground to reach the road below and to one side of the Tor. We turned left up the road to reach the rear access to the Tor and climbed up the steps enjoying the splendid views over Somerset as we did.

At the top, the tower is all that remains of St Michael's church, built in the 14th century and restored in 1804. It is looking the worse for wear and this is not helped by cow pats left by the cows who graze over the whole hillside.

The descent back towards the town is longer and less steep and the path stretches ahead invitingly.

At the bottom we turned along the road towards the town, passed the church-like Abbey barn, and eventually reached the entrance to the Abbey itself.

The Abbey grounds are substantial, and once through the visitor centre, the first sight is the beautiful Norman lady chapel which dates from 1186. Beyond it, to the right, lies the the 14th century Abbot's kitchen and to the left are the remains of the nave of the enormous abbey church which dates from the 13th century.

The Abbey was destroyed as part of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, but the columns in part of the nave are still well preserved. At its height, it was the second wealthiest abbey in Britain, second only to Westminster.

Rating: four stars. Short - perhaps three miles in all - but full of interest.

Map: Explorer 141 (Cheddar Gorge and Mendip Hills West)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Arborfield (Carter's Hill and Barkham Brook) 4

Just time for a local walk this afternoon, so I again do one of my favourites - first described in April 2007. Just for a change I decided to do it in reverse and it was interesting to see how different it felt.

The views are different - for example there was a nice view of Arborfield church across the fields, which in the normal direction you would have to think to stop and look over your shoulder for. The dynamic of the walk is different too, with the ascents and descents coming at different places in the walk and the short, boring section of road coming at the end rather than the beginning.


A deer. Not too unusual, but not as shy as they usually are. This one carefully watched me go by.

Some butterflies despite the inauspicious conditions: Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Gatekeeper, Painted Lady.

And this lovely bell heather, with bonus six-spotted burnet moths.

But for once no Kites.

Flowers of the day

Quite a lot of wildflowers today, so I have picked two:

Marsh Woundwort

Common Mallow

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Stratfield Mortimer and Beech Hill

The Devil's Highway

A moderate length local walk for a warm Sunday. This 5.75 mile walk starts just near Stratfield Mortimer, like another walk I did there recently. You pass the church, and head south along the Foudry Brook and across fields until you reach the Devil's Highway. This is the old Roman road from Silchester to London and somewhere along the way has acquired this fanciful and rather meaningless name.

A Google search produced no insights, but it did reveal that the US has a Devil's Highway too - Route 491. This has a slightly more convincing story: it used to be Route 666 and 666 is, according to the Book of Revelation, the number of the beast. This plus a high level of fatalities led to the nickname. The number was changed because this notoriety led to people stealing the 666 sign.

You walk for a mile and a half along what is now a quiet track, with glimpses of fields through the hedgerow. You then turn left along a lane and then right up a green lane to reach Beech Hill.

Slightly off the route of the walk is the very pretty church of St Mary.

This dates from 1867 and is the work of William Butterfield, who was also responsible for Keble College Oxford, and the hidden gem of All Saints, Margaret Street, just near Oxford Circus in London.

From Beech Hill you walk across farmland, with some nice views of open country, back to the start.

From: Rambling for pleasure around Reading (second series) by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne)

Rating: three and a half stars.


Another good day for butterflies, with 11 species: Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Comma, Gatekeeper and lone, battered, examples of Painted Lady and Speckled Wood.

As we approached Beech Hill there was still no sign of a Kite - but one flew low overhead and the new natural order was restored.

Flower of the day

Just once we came on this striking blue Viper's Bugloss.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Crockham Heath and Enborne

Looking back towards Crockham Heath

I had a meeting in Newbury in the morning and decided to tag a walk onto it. It was a very hot day and although I set out to do the longer version of this walk (6.5 miles) I ended up shortening it to about 5 when I felt myself over-heating.

The walk starts at the Craven Arms pub in the hamlet of Crockham Heath. After a stretch of road you skirt Crockhamheath Farm - and I was delighted to spot six species of butterfly within the first few minutes.

It was clearly too hot for these donkeys:

You then climb some meadows, with very agreeable views looking back, and soon reach one of the entrances to Hamstead Park (which we passed through earlier this year on the Hamstead Marshall to Newbury leg of the Berkshire Way. After enjoying the fine trees and parkland you come to St Michael's church at Enborne.

This interesting and unusual church was originally early Norman or Saxon. The south side (i.e. opposite the entrance porch) shows evidence of unsympathetic late Victorian restoration.

From here the route crosses fields to reach a bridge over the A34. The plan was to do a circuit around the edge of Wash Common, taking in the site of the first Battle of Newbury (1643), but I fairly soon returned across the bridge and then across the fields back to Crockhamheath Farm.

At one point, a narrow path with a meadow on one side and bushes on the other, was thronging with butterflies taking to the air as I passed. There was a time when as many as 20 were flying around and in front of me.

From: Pub walks for motorists: Berkshire and Oxfordshire by Les Maple (Countryside Books)

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury and Hungerford)

Rating: three and a half stars.


A very good day for butterflies. The six species spotted immediately were Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Marbled White, Large and Small White and Small Skipper. Later I saw a Red Admiral, a Speckled Wood, a couple of Commas and several Small Heaths. It was lovely to see so many Marbled Whites.

I also saw the now-obligatory Kite, flying very low.

Flower of the day

This Musk Mallow, with its delicate pink flowers, is worthy of a place in any flower garden.