Saturday, 21 February 2015

21/02/15 - The Scutchamer Knob

Distance - 15 Miles
Distance on the Ridgeway - 6.5 Miles
Geocaches - 15
Inspiration - Self made walk for Stage 8 of the Ridgeway

The first of 2015 bi-monthly trips to the Ridgeway, making it Stage 8 overall and out of Oxfordshire and into Berkshire.

Alarm is set for early, but with the usual skills, I am up like a ninja before it actually goes off.  A decent 90 minute drive to park up where I turned back on Stage 7 - and straight onto the Ridgeway.

Its a very cold 1 degree.  And I am in for a long 15 miles today.

Straight onto the Ridgeway
Early Morning Views of Oxfordshire
I know exactly what to expect - a broad, high level track with stunning views.  Stage 7 even gave a sneak preview of Lord Wantage's Monument, which is today's first item of interest.  Dedicated to Robert Lloyd Lindsay, awarded the Victoria Cross in the Crimean war.

Lord Wantage Memorial
Impressive Views over Oxfordshire
A few photos taken and back to the walk.  In practice for my upcoming South Downs Way excursion, where I have to do a similar distance in 5 hrs 15 Minutes to meet the last train, I am on a mission to ensure it's possible.  I am even going to go for the top group of a circular set of caches that are on Ridgeway - provided they are easy.

And they are.... grabbing all 6 before a slight detour at the archeological highlight of the walk, an Iron Age barrow with a name worthy of this blog.

The Scutchamer Knob
Had to be done
The Scutchamer Knob
And here is the Knob

As the caches dry up, the Ridgeway turns to concrete as it passes under the A34 on the North side of Newbury.  I remember the roadworks on the bypass here, along with Swampy the tree living protester, who was the darling of the press at the time.  I myself would have gone to protest but the traffic in Newbury used to be a nightmare.  If only they had a road that missed out the town centre.

At 6.5 miles of the day, I leave the Ridgeway at a spot where I can attack it from the East on stage 9. Just because I am leaving the famous path, it doesn't mean the scenery is any way less impressive.

Berkshire Downs
Off the Ridgeway - onto the Berkshire Downs
I have had a to plot a little bit of road walking to get me into East Ilsley, but fortunately, there is a footpath to keep me out of harms way.  The village is both pretty and containing the only pub on today's route.  One of the perils of starting out so early is arriving at the boozer at 10:45.  With much sadness, I walk on by.

Back under the A34, a conversation with a girl lost on her horse and onto a wonderful green lane called Old Street.  Whereas the Ridgeway is all exposure and views, this is a lovely secret tunnel of vegetation.  A joy to use to get back to the car.

Old Street
Old Street
The green lane comes to an end at the oddly named Land's End, where there a couple of caches to pick up.  Old street opens out to provide some last views across the Berkshire Downs before rejoining the Ridgeway, leaving me about 1/2 a mile of repetition.

Berkshire Downs
Lonely Tree on the Berkshire Downs
Old Street
The View back down Old Street from where it meets the Ridgeway

Arrive back at the car and check the time.  Delighted to have done it in 5 hours 5 Minutes.  There is every chance that I will make the choo-choo when on the South Downs Way.

No walk of this magnitude is complete without a post walk pint, so I programme the Sat Nav to take me to the nearest pub in its exhaustive database of Points of Interest.

It gives me the Boars Head in Ardington at 3.2 Miles away.

All looks good from the outside.

Boars Head
But once again, what this part of the world has to offer to the walker, it is sadly lacking in quality for the real ale fan.  Out of the 8 stages I have completed, at least 4 of my post walk pints have been cloudy, tasteless bilge.  I can only assume thats the way they like it in these parts.

Boars Head
Choice of 4 and I went for the Boars Head (When in Rome).  Cloudier than the Ridgeway Sky.
On the next leg of the Ridgeway, Mappiman takes his own Stella.

Friday, 20 February 2015

19/02/15 - Worth the Mud and Rain

Distance - 5.2 Miles
Geocaches - 5
Walk Inspiration - Stage 21 of the Millennium Way

I need to be committed to keep up my monthly sojourns on the Millennium Way.  Today, the only time I can fit it in February, the rain is lashing down and the fields have turned to gloop.

Still, there is no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothing - right?

This is a simple walk with a surprising amount of historical interest.  Across muddy fields, where the Millennium Way shares the Heart of England Way, which will be my next challenge.

Millennium Way
Millennium Way and Heart of England Way
After a quick cache, I know that I am approaching civilisation, as I traipse the welcome duckboards in the shadow of Berkswell Hall.  An impressive 19th Century country house that has now been converted into residential flats.  Must be a great place to live.

Berkswell Hall
Lives in a house, a very big house, in the Country
And Berkswell is a delight.  The Millennium Way visits this village on four separate walks and I am in no way disappointed.  Hopefully next time, I will discover the pub.

The path brings me through the graveyard to a beautiful church.  I don't want to bore you with a history lesson but get your head around this - An 11th Century Church, built on the site of an 8th Century Saxon Church, where the original foundations can be found in the Crypt.  In the heart of Birmingham's commuter belt, there is an 8th Century building.

This is why I will never emigrate to Australia, although the weather would offer some solace.

The people are jolly nice too.  I shelter in the porch having taken a few grey photos and a lady comes and asks about by day, introducing herself and expressing genuine interest in the Millennium Way.  She tells me of a walk that the Church Warden organised from this church to the one in Meriden.  I am likely to be retracing her steps on the next stage,

Berkswell Church
Gimme Shelter.  And Conversation
Berkswell Church
Saxon Steps to the Cross

And can you guess what else Berkswell is famous for?

Berkswell - The Well
The Stone mounted Well - presumably some Berks
I do like it when a walk delivers me to somewhere of interest that I would have never previously considered.

Onwards and back to the car through more fields.  A group of feisty bulls interrupt caching.  They are mounting each other and as much as I like my smileys, I am not prepared to be a victim of interspecies sexual assault.

A couple of interesting farm houses dating back to the 17th Century provide the break from the mud.  The first, Rams Hall, includes priest holes for hiding the Catholic clergy.

Ram of Ram Hall
The Ram of Ram Hall
Ram Hall
17th Century Farmstead - with another - Lavender Hall, Coming Up.

See you next month, Berkswell.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

15/02/15 - Awesome Wells

Distance - 3.5 Miles
Geocaches - 8
Walk Inspiration

The Night Before
After an afternoon getting over the simply stunning Albion progression into the FA Cup Quarter Finals, we put on our glad rags and hit the high spots of Glastonbury.

  1. The Who'd a Thought It - Despite everyone calling this Gastropub by the incorrect name, it provided damn fine food (Legendary Steaks are matured on site).  We enquired with our waiter about local nightclubs and there is one behind the Co-Op - but "you don't want to go there".
  2. The King Arthur - We passed the Mitre as a youth was berating his girlfriend outside by swearing loudly at her.  Well it was Valentines Day.  We stumble into this place with four real ales, all with the label turned round and sit in the window alcove.  An elderly gent with a jaunty hat keeps putting adverts up in the window, presumably announcing the imminent arrival of real ales.
  3. Beckett's Inn - Well, a jukebox that has the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band adjacent to the best of the Wurzels cannot be knocked.  Damn fine Wadworths Beer
  4. The George and Pilgrims - Back to our haunted digs, where we sit in the fireplace and watch a classical guitarist serenade either his mother or the world's oldest groupie.  A nightcap, before climbing the spiral staircase.  An hour after dropping off, the door handle creaks downwards.... a key enters the lock.  Sonia starts making the sign of the cross and then we hear "we've got the wrong bloody room" and the scuttle of rapidly departing feet.  We scan the breakfast tables in the morning for the couple who have the guiltiest looking faces.  Thank the lord, Sonia actually locked the door.
Today's Walk
We head off to Wells today.  I want to revisit the Cathedral and look at the filming locations from the Film "Hot Fuzz".

I have a choice of two walks - one 6.5 miles, the other 3 miles.  Can you guess which one Sonia chose?  I can only surmise that she was tired from the nocturnal visitations.

Strangely park up in Waitrose - which is offered as Long Term Parking - head out to the Cathedral and surrounding grounds for the plentiful photo opportunities and a few urban caches.

It is a stunning place.

Wells Cathedral
Nice View from the Swan Beer Garden
Wells Cathedral
Across the Green to Wells Cathedral
The Bishops Palace
One of the Pubs from Hot Fuzz
There are just too many places to take snaps but my favourite place, almost stumbled on by accident, was row of houses at Vicars Close.  This is reported to be the oldest street of residential properties in Europe and some lucky people are living there today.  Got to love Psychogeography - the art of aimless wandering - that geocaching takes you on.

Loved It
The walk takes us out of the City into some proper countryside on Torshill.  There are few caches to be found, including one where brazen Sonia dives into a bush whilst I tell her to wait as a couple are approaching.  These are other cachers.  Then, as I am signing and others are waiting, a jolly fella comes past and asks us laughingly "if we're all looking for the cache".

Near a Cache GZ
After navigating some muddy fields, we are grateful for the tarmaced path that takes us back to the grounds of the Bishops Palace.

Take me to the Palace
Post walk celebration is provided by Cream Teas in the Square.  What a beautifully British way to spend an overcast February morning.

14/02/15 - Free Hugs and other Spiritual Encounters

Distance - 6.5 Miles
Walk Inspiration - Jarrold 21, Walk 14
Geocaches - 4

We pull into the carpark of our haunted hotel and Sonia checks in our location on Facebook.  Within moments, someone has replied to the status condemning the town as being "Chock full of Ar**holes".

A walk that takes in the sights and an evening investigating the pubs, should allow us to determine if our online tripadvisor is in anyway correct.

We start in the shadow of St John the Baptist's Tower, which we can also see from our room.  Not being a watch wearer, I enjoyed its chimes in the morning, telling me its another 90 minutes until breakfast.  With reminders every 15 minutes, in case I nodded back off and missed it.

Bong.  15 minutes break.  Bong.

We get our first glimpse of the town and the front of the George and Pilgrims where we are staying.  Its been a tough one knowing whether to book here or not.  The reviews have been mixed to say the least, but in the end, the prospect of the oldest pub in the South West, where Henry VIII climbed the same spiral staircase to his digs, beat the Premier Inn hands down.

And did I say it's Haunted?  They have ghost hunting nights and even have a  photo of one in reception.  All Premier Inn have is shower gel dispensers and a Lenny Henry guarantee.

Fit for a King
We get our first view of the population.  There's an awful lot of hat wearers.  Hoodies hanging around on street corners in Baseball Caps.  A Karl McCoy lookalike in a black cowboy hat.  A more spiritually inclined older lady in a purple felt Top Hat, adorned with birds feathers.  We are seriously underdressed in our Goretex.

We get out into the countryside via Magdalene Street and spy a couple of boozers that we may or may not be brave enough to frequent on the night.  Through some minor industrial estates and out into the Somerset Plains.

There's plenty of evidence of man controlling the water here.  The Sat Nav informs us that we are a lofty 10ft above Sea Level.  One big wave and this place is gone.

Drainage Ditch - The Tor Behind

The walking is not too inspired at this stage.  We pick up the straight as an arrow River Brue and follow it eastwards to our first tourist stop - Wearyall Hill.

Is it a River or a Canal?

Wearyall Hill Conquered - a Breather before the Tor
I chose this walk as it took in Wearyall Hill.  Its here where we have the Glastonbury Thorn - a tree that magically grew when Joseph of Arimathea struck his staff on the ground when arriving by boat, carrying with him the Holy Grail.  The Puritans kicked down the original in the 17th Century.  Someone else had a go at the latest incarnation in 2010.

The Glastonbury Stump
A slippery descent from the hill, where I keep spirits up by completing a comedy tumble.  We think about stopping for refreshments at the Rifleman's Arms but the windows are that dirty, its impossible to see inside to see if it's still trading.

A quick stop off at the Chalice Well, where we are hit with the first of many smells of Jazz cigarettes. There's a musician (unsure of his jazz pedigree, the guitar is still cased up), hanging around have a toke.  We leave him to his puff, and lose ours on the climb to the Tor.

Its a bit of a lung buster, but we are allowed a breather when we meet some acquaintances who are on the descent.  As with any hill climb, the views make it all worthwhile.

Up Close

The Mendip Plains
View from the Porch
I convince Sonia that the route is down the otherside, where it looks like you are falling off the end of the world.  We negotiate it without either of us taking another tumble.  A few lanes and fields and the target is back in view.

Easy Navigation

We hit the town from the east and get to take in all its glory.  A collection of Buddhist Treatments, Tarot Readings and fine chocolatiers.

Buddhist Retreat - Somerset Branch
Temple of Love

Its not a normal high street - decidedly bereft of a Greggs.  And you have to a soft spot for a town that offers services such as these.

Even sweaty conquerors of 2 hills can have one.
With my fill of embraces, we head off to find a pub that has the Albion on.  The Duke William is perfect.  And we are already 2-0 up.

Turning into a great day.
After a delicious sandwich, where i discover a previously unknown love for Onion Mustard, we win 4-0.

Back to the hotel for a rest before hitting the nights spots.  But will we encounter any ghostly experiences?