Every single day of walking the Ridgeway was for me a fulfilling experience – each day different. However, if I had to choose my favourite day it would be the 15 mile walk from Streatley to Watlington.
I left behind the “Old English Rose” appeal of Goring and Streatley and strode out in the sunshine along the riverbank. The Thames was lined with mansion upon mansion, each with carefully manicured lawns running down to the water. Many with their own small vessels roped up alongside the edge of their property. This is all so far removed from the world I inhabit or ever will and left me pondering on wealth and whether it brings happiness. Thoreau said “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life” and I firmly believe this is true. I was blessed with the physical health to enjoy walking and be outside in the open countryside. Although by the opinion of some others, I am probably not “financially secure” – I had the money for a few nights away in B and Bs. I was in possession of all my five senses to fully experience life and I knew that at the end of this day’s walk, my husband, “the lovely T” would be waiting for me at a car park on top of White Mark Hill!
I continued through the villages of North Stoke and South Stoke, each picture postcard perfect. Each house seemed to be called “the Old Rectory”, “The Old Bakery”, “Church House”, “The Old Mill”, “Brick Lodge”, “The Old Post Office”, and so on. I wandered through the lychgate into the 13th Century North Stoke Church. The name of Bill Bailey (comedian and presenter) was written just a few spaces up from mine in the visitor’s book – I knew he had walked The Ridgeway the previous week.
The Ridgeway takes a right turn away from the Thames just before the bridge at Wallingford and soon follows the line of Grim’s Ditch all the way to Nuffield. Since leaving Streatley, I had passed just a couple of dog walkers and now amongst the dense shrubbery on either side of the track I was completely alone again. The path wanders along the ditch through woods and open fields up and down hill and shortly after Batchelor’s Hill I passed a cottage with a very welcome water tap.
The day had turned out to be quite hot and I knew I need to refill my bottle at each opportunity. I understood that there was a further water tap a few miles on at Nuffield Church – but not just a water tap!!
The wonderful parish community leave the Church open and inside were tea and coffee making facilities. I had not managed on any day to get a hot drink whilst walking and the thought of a cup of tea almost bought me to tears!
There was also a hand-written sign which said: “LOOK IN THE FRIDGE” – in the fridge were home made cakes left for Ridgeway walkers. I sat on my own in the silent church with my cup of tea and cake for a period of probably fifteen minutes but it felt like an eternity, and gave quiet thanks for so so much.
I returned the following year to show the lovely T this wonderful church and searched a few sheets back for my name in the visitors book.
Fully refreshed I continued on my way across a golf course, past Nuffield House (the home of William Morris, Lord Nuffield and definitely worth a separate visit) through the woods and fields of traditional English countryside. I had just passed Swyncome House when I heard some familiar voices – the family I had passed on Day Three of walking the Ridgeway – this time reunited with their son. They had driven further on and were walking this stretch from a different starting point. We greeted each other like long-lost friends! I love how some of the usual social barriers are broken down when out walking.
I drew closer to Watlington and knowing that I was about a mile from the car park where I was due to meet my husband I put down my rucksack to dig out my hairbrush and lipstick, when who should turn the corner coming in the opposite direction but the lovely man himself. He accompanied me for the last mile of the walk. Delighted as I was to be re-united with T, I found the 35 mile drive home and the noise and intrusive nature of other cars and people extremely difficult. That was only after four days walking. I wonder how I will find the 14 day walk along the Pilgrims Way in September 2016?
For a full index of my posts on Walking the Ridgeway please click here.
To read more about my adventures trudging…. local paths and national trails, please visit my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll – “About the Journey” or subscribe to my blog by clicking here and entering your e mail address in the box at the foot of the page.