The Ridgeway Day Three – Wantage to Goring and Streatley
Well-rested after Day Two of Walking the Ridgeway and well-satiated by a filling breakfast and with lovely memories to treasure I re-packed my rucksack and set off in the early morning mist from The Court Hill Centre to begin Day Three of my Ridgeway Walk. The dark, threatening clouds from the afternoon before appeared to be clearing and I was hopeful of good weather ahead.
During my first two days walking I had felt very isolated. Despite geographically not being that far from major roads and towns the route of the Ridgeway which travels over high, dry ground for reasons of safety and navigation meant that I met very few people. Day Three was a day during which I began to have some connection with fellow walkers.
For the first couple of hours of the day’s walk I was still alone, however, following the line of chalk downland, where many of the hedgerows had been swept away and seemingly mlle upon mile of prairie-like crops were being harvested. The chalk dust was mixed with the harvest dust. However, whatever the scenery I still found the trek satisfying. The travel writer Bruce Chatwin, in his book “Songlines” discusses the idea of humans being born to be nomads. That it is natural for us to journey and constantly move. I certainly feel (despite my physical tiredness sometimes!) that this movement generally forward is a natural way of being for me and that it reflects my outward journey through life and my inward journey of growth and development. When there was nothing particularly interesting to focus on in the immediate environment I went deep into myself. With few outward distractions the rhythm of walking took on a meditative quality. Although Day Three was 14 miles long I did not find it challenging physically and this was a day in which I really settled into a sense of comfort with the physical reality of walking and with my own company.
Red Kites on the Ridgeway
Eventually the monotony ceased and the scenery began to change. Somewhere around lunchtime I saw a large bird above me. I am no ornithologist but had read about the many red kites in South Oxfordshire and the Chilterns. I was not expecting to see one this far west but my initial excitement at seeing such a magnificent bird of prey grew as I walked further and further east and their numbers increased. By the time I reached day 5 of my trek they were such a common site, that I am sorry to say I began to take them for granted. So strange and somewhat sad, what familiarity does.
The other constant which encroached on my vision from this point on was Didcot Power Station. Although I initially saw it as a “blot on the landscape” its perpetual presence in my eye-line down and over to the left took on a steady somewhat comforting existence. It was with me for so many miles (and surprisingly reappeared later in the trail ) and although I knew that all my steps were adding up it never seemed to get any nearer. Sadly there was an explosion and fatality there earlier this year. I was still alone (apart from the red kites which were increasing) and enjoying the peace .
But then I reached the A 34. The sound of the road was a hum in the background for a while before I reached it and it was very strange to be suddenly jolted back into modern reality. Thankfully there is a tunnel underneath it and once I had passed under it didn’t take long for the sense of seclusion to return.
This part of the country is famous for its horse stables and gallops and it made for pleasant walking. I was actually amazed at how much of the countryside was taken up with “gallops” although, surprisingly I did not see a single horse. I was walking along a part of the Ridgeway known as the Downlands Villages Riding Trail and I felt peaceful and secluded yet safe walking under wide open skies. Gradually I began to come across the odd walker. One chap in the opposite direction who was not only carrying his change of clothing on his back but also his tent. We stopped for a short chat and he told me that he had another twenty miles to walk that day and would then look for a place to “wild camp”. It made my “challenge” rather pale into insignificance.
The weather was not particularly warm and so I did not stop for a break and ate my lunch walking along to speed my progress. I had not passed a shop since leaving Avebury on Day One, and strangely, although I proclaim not to like shopping, I was actually looking forward to my destination this day knowing that although I could not buy anything (because I could not carry it) there may be a few shops to look around where I was heading. I came upon a family, walking extremely slowly with a daughter who had some “additional needs” and again, thought about how easy my “challenge” appeared to be compared with theirs. We chatted for a while and they told me their teenage son had gone on up ahead where he had parked their car and would be cycling back to meet them. I promised to give him a wave when and if I saw him coming in the opposite direction. Having had such little human contact during my walking I found that I made friends very easily when I came across someone else. Social barriers were removed very quickly and it was easy to chat. I kept looking in front of me for a lad on a pushbike (worried about how he would fare on the stony and rutted paths) but never saw him.
The way changed from the prairie pasture of the morning and the wide open gallops to woods and hills and the sun came out. Slowly, bit by bit I passed the odd farm and isolated cottage, country estate, row of workers’ terraced cottages and large detached houses leading into my destination of Goring and Streatley and back into the “modern” world………… not the “modern” world as I know it (living 10 miles from Luton) but what for me seemed like a step back to a different time.
For an index of my posts on walking the Ridgeway National Trail please click here.