Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Crockham Heath and Enborne

Looking back towards Crockham Heath

I did this walk almost exactly a year ago and enjoyed the butterfly meadow at the start and so I thought I would re-live the pleasure I had then.

The walk starts at the Craven Arms pub and you walk along the road for half a mile before skirting around Crockhamheath Farm. I had an amusing exchange with the farmer who thought I might be an official of West Berkshire council. He was quite rightly incensed about the behaviour of some dog walkers and I found it easy to agree that their behaviour was unacceptable. We parted on good terms. There weren't quite so many butterflies in the farm meadows as last year.

From here a path led uphill towards the road and Hamstead Park. The bramble bushes on the way up and the thistles at the top were alive with butterflies and it took me the best part of two hours to cover little more than a mile. Not much progress, but a very enjoyable time.

Across the road, you enter Hamstead Park where there are some splendid trees, like this fine Lebanon Cedar.

Leaving the park, you pass Enborne church and walk across fields to a bridge over the A34. Here you begin the return route (although there is an option of extending the walk over the bridge towards Wash Common). After more fields you reach the road and pass by Avery's Pistle, a nature reserve (a pistle is an enclosed field). I had a little look round and got the sheep excited. The ram, with fine curly horns, came to investigate - but not until I was safely beyond the gate.

From here it was back across the fields Crockhamheath Farm to the pub.

Conditions: sunny, hot.

Distance: just under 4 miles.

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.


This Broad-Bodied Chaser dragonfly was a spectacular sight. And I was pleased with the photo as well. The brown colour of the body marks it as a female. I confess to not knowing much about dragonflies, but I loved some of the other names in my book: Darters, Skimmers and Hawkers. They would clearly repay a more careful study.

Butterfly of the day

I saw lots of Meadow Browns, Marbled Whites and Ringlets (as well as Large and Small Skippers, Small Tortoiseshells and a lone Speckled Wood). Trying to photograph the Ringlets made it clear how visible the white wing edging is and how clearly the females are paler than the males. I was pleased with this photo of a female.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


Ashford Hill meadows

My last walk was at Bettex in the Alps with views of Mont Blanc. Time for a return to normality! I last did versions of this walk around Brimpton in April 2007 and September 2007. Looking at them now the posts seem quite minimal.

The walk begins at the Pineapple pub in Brimton Common and you soon reach Wasing Wood.

The path then skirts the wood - a very pleasant track - and reaches Wasing Place. It is not quite clear from the photo, but the pediment unusually covers five bays. The original house was built 1770-73 but was destroyed during the second world war. The house you see today was built from the old materials. The stables are apparently original.

Leaving the gates of Wasing Park, you follow the road for a short way, turning left, right, left and then turn into another part of the Wasing Estate beside the delightful Shalford Lake. I was immediately greeted by a number of Marbled White butterflies. Frustratingly, none would land for a photo.

From here, you walk along field paths, cross a road and arrive at Brimpton via a housing estate. After passing the church, you emerge into open fields where a blue-flowered crop is growing. Further blue petals litter the ground between the plants.

This turns out to be flax (also known as linseed), an ancient crop, once grown for weaving, but now for the oil made from its seeds.

You descend to reach Hyde End Road and follow this until you reach the tiny river Enborne, which you then follow through meadows. You then head south through woods and then fields to arrive at Ashford Hill, having now passed into Hampshire.

Now you go through the Ashford Hill Meadows nature reserve. I lost my way in the final section of the walk back to the Pineapple. I knew I had made a mistake and tried to make a correction - unfortunately I was wrong about which mistake and didn't recognise where the correction was not quite right either. Still, I will learn the lessons!

From: 50 walks in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire (AA).

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

Sunny, hot (mid 20s).

Distance: officially 6 miles, but I did more.

Rating: three and half stars.

Flowers of the day

I saw these two lovely orchids just near each other by Shalford Lake. The first one I haven't been able to identify.

But the second is a Pyramidal orchid.

Butterfly of the day

The real butterfly of the day was a White Admiral, but it wouldn't stay still long enough to be photographed. There were also innumerable Meadow Browns, some Ringlets and Small Tortoiseshells and the Marbled Whites mentioned above.

The distinctive patterned wing markings of this Large Skipper are very clear in this photo.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Le Bettex

Mont Blanc

The final day of our short stay in the Alps and just time this morning for a short stroll at Bettex, a small ski station near St Gervais.
We parked by the ski lift at 1400m and took a track along the side of the slope. Almost immediately there was the fine view towards Mont Blanc (4810m) shown above.

Soon we passed a family of goats.

And then an even more splendid view of the mountain. By the expedient of lying down to take the photo, it was possible to also get in the carpet of flowers.

There were flower meadows on both sides with different mixes of flowers. It would be easy to imagine that some long-ago gardener had pondered the impact of different mixes. A field on the right had an unusual concentration of Common Bistort.

At length we emerged at another ski station - slightly forlorn-looking without the snow - and followed a winding road through an interesting and varied selection of ski chalets back to the start point.

Conditions: mainly cloudy, mild

Distance: only a couple of miles

Rating: four stars. Beautiful flower meadows and wonderful views towards Mont Blanc.

Flowers of the day

There were so many beautiful flowers everywhere, it was hard to know where to start - and when to stop. I enjoyed this Goat's Beard (tragopogon pratensis)...

... and this Common Spotted Orchid.

Monday, 21 June 2010


The Old Schoolhouse, Bionassay

This walk begins in the village of Bionnassay at 1315m, well below the Aiguille de Bionnassay peak, a shoulder of Mont Blanc, which is over 4000m. We parked by a bridge over a small stream and walked up the hill past the former village school and past a cottage with a wonderful verge of flowers, including many Lupins, outside.

Almost opposite was another lovely alpine flower meadow.

As we approached the blank end of the valley a waterfall could be seen descending from the massif on the right.

After a climb of about a mile, we turned right and climbed some more through woodland to reach a hamlet called Le Planet at 1551m.

Here we turned left to begin the descent back to the village. As we approached it, we saw this lovely meadow with the valley stretching away beyond.

Distance: About 2.5 miles; 235m of climb/descent.

Conditions: cloudy, threat of rain

Rating: four stars. Short and simple, but a delight nonetheless.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

St Nicolas de Veroce

The church

Staying with friends near St Gervais, this was our introduction to walking in the Alps. We drove to the the nearby village of St Nicholas de Veroce (1175m) and parked near the newly restored Baroque church. It had the usual rather over-the-top interior decoration, although with unusual and rather pleasant accents of blue.

We walked along a corniche overlooking the valley for a mile or so and at the next hamlet turned right and began a climb first up a meadow and then through woodland.

At the top we turned right again and walked along just below the ridge, essentially parallel to the corniche. We soon saw our first alpine flower meadow, albeit in dreary conditions.

We passed a typical ski lift in the rain.

.. and enjoyed a cloudy view towards the mountain on the right.

We now began the winding descent from Le plan de la Croix (1448m) back to St Nicholas and noted these cows in their alpine field.

As we got nearer to the village, the valley bottom came into view.

Distance: about 5 miles; 270m of ascent/descent

Conditions: cloudy, wet, cool

Rating: four stars. Not quite what we had hoped for in terms of weather, but still a wonderful walk.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Hatfield House

Hatfield House

Following our established policy, we decided to visit Hatfield House on our way back from a visit to Cambridge. Last year we did a walk around Audley End, a similarly magnificent Jacobean house. This time it was not possible to walk around the perimeter, but we found a lovely 3 mile walk within the park on the Hatfield House website, which we did after a quick tour of the house and gardens.

You walk along the drive and then down a slope into woodland - first broad leaved trees and then pine. There was a surprising amount of traffic noise as you approached the edge of the park. After a mile or so you come to the Broadwater, an area of the River Lea which was dammed to provide power for a water mill. What appears to be the left bank in the photo is in fact an island, which boasts twenty species of oak. It really is a very pretty spot.

You walk along the bank for a way and then turn away through woodland to reach the castle folly at the end of an estate road. It dates from the 1780s, although the brick wall is older (1633) and surrounds the secret garden.

The route from here goes parallel to the Broadwater and then returns to it. A short way along the bank, the imaginatively named Red Bridge marks the end of the lake, with the mill pool behind it.

Up close it is revealed to be closed and in a poor state of repair.

After leaving the woodland, the next section is across farmland and you could easily forget you were in the park of a great house. This leads into more conventional parkland: cut grass, scattered trees, saplings in wooden enclosures to protect them from the deer.

Finally the rear facade of the house comes into view and the walk is complete.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: 3 miles.

Rating: three and half stars.

Hatfield House

Hatfield House was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to James I. It is still the home of the Cecil family.

I had not realised that there was also an Old Palace a couple of hundred yards from the house. It was built between 1485 and 1497 for John Morton, bishop of Ely. It was confiscated by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries and it was here that Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood. The building which is visible today is the former Great Hall, just one wing of the palace.

It is a fascinating building. The dark red brick and church-like appearance put you in mind of Victorian rather than Tudor architecture.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Cambridge to Grantchester

The weir and Mill Pool

We were in Cambridge for the St John's College May Ball. This was the afternoon afterwards and the idea was to take a healthy, restorative stroll in the country.

We started our walk in the centre of Cambridge - in the market place. We walked down King's Parade, into Trumpington Street and right into Mill Lane. We crossed the path above the Mill Pool and struck out along the right bank of the river to take the "Grantchester Grind" (why?). We were puzzled to see signs for Newnham and Trumpington, but none for Grantchester.

A short way along we found this family of swans practising grooming in perfect harmony.

We walked along the area split by the Fen Causeway, crossed under it and steered right of a dead end in the river to pass through the Paradise nature reserve (perhaps a touch extravagantly named). This brought us to the street named Grantchester Meadows and a bit further on we reached the Meadows themselves and could finally feel free of the town.

This large open area had cows grazing and students picnicking. Canoes as well as punts passed by on the river. A troop of swallows entertained us with acrobatic stunts.

We chose the riverside path over the straighter path further away from the bank and meandered our way on to Grantchester. This typical section marked the point where we headed away from the river towards the village.

We crossed a large field and - rather wonderfully - found ourselves in the Orchard tea garden. It was established as such in 1897 and soon became the haunt of Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf and sundry other luminaries. It remains a wonderful place, with its green deck chairs scattered in clumps beneath the trees.

Despite a refreshing break here, we found we had not sufficiently recovered from our exertions of the night before and not getting to bed until 5.30. So we did not further explore Grantchester, see the Mill or Byron's pool. Instead, we traced our steps back to Cambridge.

Conditions: hot, sunny.

Distance: About 5 miles in all.

Rating: three and half stars.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Poole Quay to Sandbanks

Poole Quay

A day trip to Poole and we embarked on this walk to Sandbanks, Poole's finest beach and one of the UK's most expensive property locations.

We walked along the lively Quay with some nice old buildings as well as the inevitable amusement arcade and fish and chip shop and past a new development of flats and shops. Along past the old lifeboat house and soon we reached the promenade around the large Baiter Park. Already it was much quieter.

The next section of promenade bordered the much smaller Whitecliff Park. Benches were helpfully placed at frequent intervals and it was easy to imagine settling down with a book and glancing from time to time out to the vast harbour.

At the end of this section we detoured for a refreshing drink in the pleasant Cafe in Poole Marina.

In fact this was the end of the promenade and the route led through a residential area to follow the busy Sandbanks Road for some distance. Eventually we reached Evening Hill on the seaward side. This pleasant grassy area offers an escape from the road and presents lovely views over the harbour.

We descended from here, still following the road, to come to an area favoured by wind surfers and kite surfers. We admired a small forest of kites and the dramatic stunts of the surfers.

We now finally reached Sandbanks proper but still had to follow the road on the harbour side. At last a gap in the houses allowed us through to the main Sandbanks beach with a promenade behind it.

We struggled along the sand a bit further after it ended and were rewarded with a fine view over to Old Harry, the rock which marks the easternmost point of the Isle of Purbeck.

We returned to the road and had an excellent, if rather extravagant, lunch in the Shore Cafe, which we capped off by dancing to the very good live band.

We then struggled on up the road to reach the tip of Sandbanks from which there is a ferry over the narrow stretch of water to the Isle of Purbeck and Swanage.


This had proved to be a rather longer walk than we had expected and we opted to return by ferry - a first! We first crossed to Brownsea Island, which is owned by the National Trust and contains a nature reserve, as well as a former castle now used as a hotel for employees of the John Lewis Partnership and the Baden-Powell Outdoor Centre. The castle can seen in this view from Sandbanks towards Brownsea.

A further ferry returned us to Poole Quay.

Conditions: sunny, hot.

Distance: about 6 miles.

Rating: three stars. The long road section was a bit gruelling.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Broadway Tower to Stanton (Cotswold Way 2)

The Broadway Tower

Time to continue our struggle with the Cotswold Way with our friends from Cirencester. We did the thing with the two cars and set off downhill from the Broadway Tower. (The weather was rather grey so I have used a photo from last time.) Soon we saw the clear undulating residue of a ridge and furrow field system on the slope.

We reached the upper end of Broadway High Street and walked along it, past the Lygon (pronounced liggon) Arms, where I recently had a birthday celebration and took this photo.

Left at the village green and then right brought us across fields to then climb up to Broadway Coppice.

We went through the copse and followed the field edge to reach the top of the combe in which the pretty village of Buckland sits - we did this circular walk from Broadway to Buckland during the birthday weekend.

The path then follows a track and skirts Shenbarrow Hill, before making a long and quite steep descent.

Fine views were offered on the way down.

Once we reached the delightful village of Stanton we repaired to the superb Mount Inn for an excellent lunch. And now the rain, which had threatened all morning, finally started to fall.

Conditions: cloudy, threat of rain, mild.

Distance: 6 miles.

Rating: four stars.


I am a bit disappointed with today's photos: not many, no flowers, not much inspiration. I did not really seem to be in the mood and the dull weather did not help. Also we were talking a lot and it seems more disruptive to keep stopping to take pictures when you are four rather than two.