The Ridgeway #5: Goring to Wantage

For the next section of the Ridgeway I planned to get as far as Wantage, which although not exactly on the route seemed like a sensible goal, being about 16 miles walking from Goring.

I had stayed the night before at the Miller of Mansfield in Goring in a tiny but charming room right up in the roof of this old inn, nestled in amongst the beams. This allowed me to make an early start on my walk this morning, and I was out and on the move by 8am.

It was a short walk from there to the bridge over the Thames, where the water seemed to be very high, spilling over its banks in places. This would also mark my crossing over from Oxfordshire into (West) Berkshire, making this the fourth county of the route so far.

The two village signposts stood opposite each other, and I rather imagine them glowering.

The route of the Ridgeway follows a road out of Streatley, and the village is quite long and stretched out, such that it took a while before I was free of signs of habitation.

 However there were some nice occasional floral displays to liven up the little country lane heading west out of Streatley. I think the one on the left there is wild cherry, and the other two were growing over the walls of the gardens of Thurle Grange.

Eventually, at Post Box Cottage, the tarmac road ended, and from there on the Ridgeway followed a track. It was nice to see the sign post here which informed me I was over half way along the route, having come 44 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, and with 41 miles to go until Overton Hill in Wiltshire.

The skies were grey overhead for this stretch of the track and the otherwise bare trees alongside the track only kept green by their ivy cladding. Like much of today's walk the scenery wasn't exactly the most scintillating - largely arable land in every direction but I was getting into my stride at this point, and just enjoying being outdoors and the sense of peace and solitude. For a good 2 or 3 miles from where the road had turned into a track I hadn't seen another person, nor any sign of civilisation.

The floral interest had also largely dried up after leaving the road though, but I suppose that did give it a more genuinely wild feeling. Just the occasional cluster of wild daffodils, which seemed a little more hesitant than their domesticated cousins about choosing when to come fully into bloom.

A bit over an hour into my walk the sky started to brighten a little, and consequently such views as there were started to hold a little more interest. I fancied I could see the Malborough Downs, and perhaps even Hackpen or Overton Hill off in the distance, although in practice it may have been some other lumps on the horizon.

A little while later the trail crossed over the now dismantled Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway. I'd similarly encountered a number of dismantled railway lines on walks around the South Downs, and pondered how much easier having some of these cross country lines would have made these country walks. In the official divisions of the Ridgeway into sections I'm not sure much thought was given into the practicality of getting to/from the start/end points of each section by public transport - and if doing a linear walk it's not exactly practical to use a car either. Today's work covered most of the official section 3, and whilst having Streatley at one end makes a lot of sense, the other end of the section - Sparsholt Firs - is the middle of nowhere really.

With the din of the A34 in the distance the trail doglegs around the gallops at Compton Downs, presumably used for training rade horses.

Crossing the A34 was surprisingly pleasant actually. A tunnel mostly hid the road itself and all the vehicles from view, and one side of the tunnel was painted with a mural about the nearby villages of East and West Isley.

Beyond the A34, and a little further along the Ridgeway I encountered some familiar territory. Many years ago (20 or so?), when I was living in Reading, Dad had come to visit and we'd gone out to walk a short section of the Ridgeway. Presumably we had parked at one of the car parks to the west of the A34, then walked a little way along from there. I remember Scutchamer Knob from that short walk. Apparently early Iron Age, so probably 2500 or so years old. Originally a round barrow, but now hollowed out in the middle giving it the feeling of a small amphitheatre. This seemed like a good point on the walk to stop and have a break, as I'd been walking for over 3 hours by this point, and hadn't had so much as a sip of water since breakfast.

I also enjoyed a Stem Ginger biscuit here, in this evocative spot, which seemed to particularly catch the wind this morning. In honesty, quite a lot of the Ridgeway makes for slightly dull walking, so these points of interest along the way are much appreciated, and help to set the tone for the journey towards the ancient megaliths which await me at the far end.

After that I had less than two miles to go of the Ridgeway today before the point where I'd be turning off to head into Wantage.

I left the Ridgeway close to the Lord Wantage Memorial to head into Wantage, although still had a good 3 miles at least ahead of me to get there.

This was a bit of a trudge to be honest, and as I got well into double figures of miles for the day I started to ache in various places. Obviously, I can't expect to have my cake and eat it here - the joy of the walk earlier had been largely down to the sense of isolation, which is obviously rather at odds with good public transport links and availability of public houses.

I arrived in Wantage a little after 1pm, so in total it had been just over 5 hours walk, and apparently I had walked about 16 miles. The pub situation in Wantage was a bit disappointing, I'd had a brief moment of excitement when I'd seen on Google Maps there was a pub specialising in cider and vegetarian food - but once I got there it turned out it had changed hands and no longer served any food, nor much in the way of cider.

The landlady there directed me to the Lamb Inn instead, as it seemed quite a few of the town centre pubs didn't serve food either. Although the outside showed promise - a thatched roof seemed like a good start, inside at least some of it was quite modern, with music playing, a TV on showing F1 or some such, and a couple of fruit machines. I found an older looking, more aesthetically acceptable corner away from all that hubbub to eat my lunch, which wasn't much to write home about to be honest.

I briefly looked into buses, but had the impression even to get from here to Didcot, the nearest station, and less than 10 miles away, would take nearly an hour. Instead I found there was a small taxi rank by the market, and got a taxi to Didcot, and from there the train back to London.


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