Tag Archives: Ridgeway

London Countryway- Finishing off this trail in the Thames Estuary. Approaching the coal cranes beside the abandoned Tilbury Power Station

The London Countryway confronted

Back in August, I wrote about a particular trail I have been completing this year. This was my report on having completed around half of the London Countryway, a ‘forgotten’ trail that was bought to my attention by Hillplodder. As it turned out, I was nowhere near the half way point.

Throughout 2016, in between other walks, in particular a backpacking jaunt along the Ridgeway and some walking in Sicily and other places, many Sundays were spent travelling to and from various railway stations on the Countryway as I worked my way round in linear fashion.

Following the London Countryway between Marlow and High Wycombe. The gentle and pretty landscape progressively became more agricultural on the

Following the London Countryway between Marlow and High Wycombe. The gentle and pretty landscape as I left the Thames became progressively more agricultural on the northern sections

The climb up and out of the Thames basin took me up into the Chilterns, crossing the grain, as it were, saw me rollercoasting up and down their modest ridges. Views were few and largely unspectacular. The going was mostly pretty easy on both legs and lungs. I had enjoyed the first half of my London Countryway walk, below the River Thames, I found the second part to its north very different. The flavour of the trail altered dramatically, if steadily, the further I moved East

The sunken lanes in the Chilterns bewtween Marlow and High Wycombe were a delight and bought to mind the countless feet that must have passed this way over the millennia

The sunken lanes in the Chilterns were a delight and bought to mind the countless feet that must have passed this way over the millennia

As I spent too long away from the trail with work, family, holiday and other commitments, the year drew on and my travelling time to and from start and finish each day got longer as weekend rail delays and rail replacement services (ha!) were put in place and my daylight hours on trail grew shorter. I took to driving to stations for the start and then travelling back to the start point and car by rail in the dark. Eventually, having a few days holiday that needed taking, I did a bite of four consecutive days on the Countryway. As Mrs Three Points of the Compass was joining me for three of these, overnight accommodation was firmly stipulated. Much as I enjoyed the company for a change, and the good lady could actually see what I had been going on about all year, this particular section covered was between Kings Langley and Broxbourne. Which, apart from St. Albans itself, was probably the least interesting section of the whole trail.

The redundant red brick Anglican All Saints church at East Horndon glows red in the light of the setting sun. Now victim to new roads, bypasses, shrinking rural population and now serving an economically depressed area, it sees few visitors. The Grade II* 15th century church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Its two storey transepts are possibly uniques. British Listed Buildings notes that "this remarkable church has had a chequered history of decay, theft and vandalism"

The redundant red brick Anglican Church of All Saints at East Horndon glows red in the light of the setting sun. Now victim to new roads, bypasses, shrinking rural population and now serving an economically depressed area, it sees few visitors. The Grade II* 15th century church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Its two storey transepts are possibly unique. British Listed Buildings notes that “this remarkable church has had a chequered history of decay, theft and vandalism”

I slightly regretted leaving completion of this walk until so late in the year. The many fields crossed became shorn of crops, ploughed and bare. As rains set in still later, trail runners became caked in mud. There was still a beauty to the countryside but it came less easy to the eye. I found myself pausing more frequently at churches, a curfew tower and other interesting buildings just to sate my need for variety. Perhaps I should have loitered more in some of the lovely forests crossed, but once walking, I often tend to be ‘head down and go’.

As with the first half of the walk, south of the River Thames, I frequently found myself joining, if only for just a few miles, designated and named trails.  For most of the time though, the Countryway was following ancient Rights of Way. It was very noticeable how different land owners regarded such rights. Some paths were overgrown and unloved at best, blocked and impeded at worst. Yet within just half a mile, signage was clear, stiles were repaired, drivers of tractors gave a wave. Probably the worst treatment was on the Essex flatlands where it was very obvious that the round footpath discs had been crudely levered off from where they had been set, and put up where the landowner preferred people to walk.

Many scrappy horse paddocks in Essex were crossed on the London Countryway, however here, inlike other parts of the trail, land owners has scant regard for the needs of walkers. Signage was moved and countless electric fences erected with no easy way of crossing them. On many an occasion I was forced to throw a pack and oles across and crawl in the mud below a wire

Many scrappy horse paddocks in Essex were crossed on the London Countryway, however here, unlike on other parts of the trail, many land owners have scant regard for the needs of walkers. Signage was moved or even removed and countless electric fences erected with no easy way of crossing or circumventing them. On many an occasion I was forced to throw a pack and poles across and crawl in the mud below a wire. On this occasion I was able to squeeze between the strands.

The changing colours of the leaves on the trees and their eventual fall and coating of the ground in the shoulder season is always a joy. 2016 was frequently unseasonably warm and despite the leaves having fallen, temperatures were frequently warm enough for shirtsleeves. However I relished the occasional rain, hail and cold weather when it infrequently manifested itself. Leaves covering paths on forest trails occasionally made the going confusing. Another unforeseen disadvantage of my direction of passage at this time of year was the low winter sun being frequently in my eyes. This actually became wearisome at times though it is difficult to complain because it might just as easily have been constantly obscured with rain clouds disgorging themselves upon me.

A frozen Lea Navigation

An infrequent cold day. A frozen Lea Navigation

Red Kite (Mivus milvus) wheeled in the air above my head every day, especially through the Chilterns

The distinctive Red Kite (Milvus milvus) wheeled in the air above my head on many days, especially through the Chilterns

Another victim of the year drawing on was my reducing frequency of encounters with fauna and flora. Other than road kill on the few sections of roadwalking, it was the vivid splashes of pink and orange Spindle in the hedgerows and berry laden shrubs attracting down the winter thrushes, Redwing and Fieldfare, moving in from Scandinavia, that were most noticeable.

 

I spent an hour exploring the walls and banks of the Norman Motte and Bailey 'Berkhamsted Castle' , adjacent to the railway station, prior to beginning one of my days on the London Countryway

I spent an hour exploring the walls and banks of the Norman Motte and Bailey ‘Berkhamsted Castle’ , adjacent to the railway station, prior to beginning one of my days on the London Countryway

Just occasionally I would come to a site of note and would divert slightly to explore, or spend a little more time. I even found a few minutes to indulge in the odd sketch at one or two rest stops. It is important to take time out on occasion otherwise just what is the point of following any trail. Though I must confess that when I took time to wander round the Mausoleum built by Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the infamous Hell Fire Club, I declined joining the hoards of punters being coerced into forking out what I thought an extortionate amount to briefly pop into the over-hyped Hellfire Caves.

The large unroofed Dashwood mausoleum is visible from miles away. The hexagonal structure, formed by a series of linked triumphal arches, houses the remains of house the memorials of Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer, 2nd Bart. (1708-81) his family and friends. The rebuilt Church of St Lawrence, seen beyond, has a large gilded ball, fitted up inside for his drinking parties, on top of the tower.

The large unroofed Dashwood mausoleum is visible from miles away. The hexagonal Grade I structure, formed by a series of linked triumphal arches, houses the memorials of Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer, 2nd Bart. (1708-81) his family and friends. The rebuilt Church of St Lawrence, seen beyond, has a large gilded ball, fitted up inside for his drinking parties, on top of the tower.

Local protests

Local protests

As I moved round my meandering semi-circle above London, the affluence of the countryside dissipated. Incidences of fly-tipping were encountered more frequently, yapping dogs appeared from below gates with no attention from homeowners, there were signs everywhere of industry and work having disappeared. Sadly, moving into parts of Essex that probably see few visitors, I began to see parts of the country that had been largely abandoned by officialdom, to its detriment. I looked for signs of recovery but could find few. Many locals were protesting against the most recent of indignities, a proposal to run another crossing of the Thames through their back-garden.

Every so often my timing was out. The day I arrived at Coalhouse Fort on the banks of the Thames, I was greeted by this sign

Every so often my timing was out. The day I arrived at Coalhouse Fort on the banks of the Thames, I was greeted thus…

Living as I do on the North Kent Marshes, I do find beauty in the wide open spaces, scarred by industry. It was a similar landscape that I walked into on the Essex marshes. Prior to then, there was also much of interest. The Lea Valley was an example of how a previously depressed area could be turned around. But the important Thames side forts had few visitors, the site of the docking of Empire Windrush was largely ignored beyond a belated small plaque at Thurrock and there was little celebration of Elizabeth I’s speech before the Spanish Armada, other than one of the strangest pieces of graffiti I have come across- on the seawall below the closed Tilbury Power Station.

"I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too"

“I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too”- Graffiti on the seawall at Tilbury, Essex

The London Countryway was far more than a walk of two halves, it was a walk of many parts. Some days were very short. When Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass were walking to the station from Broxbourne at the end of our brief jaunt, we decided to walk an extra four miles to the next station down the line, that was the total mileage for that day. Regardless of daily mileage, I took twenty-two days to complete the London Countyway. I could have quite easily completed it in quite a few days less. I wandered off to view churches and towers, I got lost in Epping Forest until I simply took a bearing and strode through the thickets. Quite a few miles were added on by station links. I had thought that the trail would total around 215 miles, by the end, I had covered 251 miles.

Ambresbury Banks are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort in the lovely Epping Forest, Essex

Ambresbury Banks are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort in the lovely Epping Forest, Essex

I mentioned before that I undertook this walk as a charitable exercise, raising a few quid toward those youngsters who undertake the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. I was pleased to beat my modest target.  While I doubt I will repeat completing a walk for charity again, it is not really within my comfort zone asking for money, I am looking forward to 2017 when I will, at last, complete my last few miles on the North Downs Way and begin one of the other longer paths in the South East of England. As to further afield, we shall have to see.

The end of the London Countryway. Crossing the River Thames from Tilbury in Essex back to my start point in Gravesend, Kent

The end of the London Countryway. Three Points of the Compass crossing the River Thames from Tilbury in Essex back to the start point in Gravesend, Kent

To finish off this blog post, would I recommend the London Countryway? Absolutely. There are far better trails elsewhere in the UK and further afield. But as a long distance walk in the South East of England, it is an excellent choice. It has variety, surprises, good country walking and an acceptable percentage of town and road walking. In my opinion it certainly beats that better known National Trail, the London LOOP hands down. Though I am sure there will be many who would disagree with me. Possibly it was the fact that I met far fewer people on the walk that clinched it for me…

While not ignoring the vision and creativity of the paths originator, Keith Chesterton, the more recent research and ever helpful guidance provided by Des de Moor is terrific. As usual though, I found myself transferring directions to an O.S. map in advance, then reading both written directions and his commentary on the way home from each section, preferring to discover things for myself on the trail.

Onward, into 2017…

Yet another unexpected delight. A brief halt at the Water Gate, entrance to Tilbury Fort

Yet another unexpected delight. A brief halt at the Water Gate, entrance to Tilbury Fort

Wide Rides in Windsor Great Park

The London Countryway

Over the winter of 2015/16 I completed the London LOOP. This is the ‘London Outer Orbital Path’ – a 150 mile signposted path that encircles our capital city. It is a mostly undemanding walk that I used to test myself while I continued to slowly recover from the Plantar fasciitis that developed in February 2015. While I am still struggling to recover, I have been able to push, slightly, the number of miles that I can complete on a daily walk.

As a winter walk, perhaps not surprisingly, I found the LOOP often very wet and muddy. On occasion, I was wading through knee high water or laboriously and with great difficulty, negotiating calf deep mud through horse paddocks and cow fields, where I struggled to keep trail runners on my feet. Much as I enjoyed getting out and some unexpected history, I found, away from the rural stretches, there was also  bit too much road walking for my liking. As I moved toward the completion of my LOOP walk in early 2016 I looked for a similar challenge, more suited to my circumstance. and was delighted to come across a post by hillplodder in January 2016. It was here that I first heard of the London Countryway– a ‘forgotten’ route.

Old copies of the, as far as I can see, only printed guide to the London Countryway still turn up online and are fairly easily purchased. This is A guide to the London Countryway, published by Constable and authored by the routes originator, Keith Chesterton. The guide was first published in 1978 with a second edition in 1981 (ISBN 0 09 461740 6). It is the latter that I hold.

Good enough as this is to read, too many years have passed and it is no longer a practical route. Fortunately, a resourceful guy has solved the problem. Des de Moor, a prolific walker, has devised and walked a modern equivalent. Much of it follows the original route as devised by Chesterton, however Des has ensured that his up to date route diverts where necessary to avoid hazards or obstacles that have appeared in the intervening years, or where a slight change can improve the route. Des has done a fantastic job on his route and it was a simple ten minute task to transfer his work to my O.S. sheets with a pink highlighter.

1981 edition of Keith Chesterton's A guide to the London Countryway with OS Explorer sheet 160, covering Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell

1981 edition of Keith Chesterton’s ‘A guide to the London Countryway’ with OS Explorer sheet 160, covering Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell

The walk passes through three Areas of Outstanding Beauty, two National Nature Reserves, two Community Forests, a Regional Park, crosses the Thames east and west of London and follows (briefly) three canals. I have passed through Windsor Great Park in the shadow of the castle and will be walking through Roman Verulamium, quite close to my childhood stomping grounds. Set further out than the London LOOP, the London Countryway is somewhere over 200 miles long. The original was 205, the recent incarnation is quoted at 215. I can add on a few miles for station links and interesting detours. Sections are limited in length to how much time I can offer a day and where convenient railway stations are situated. Much as I would like to push it out, I keep having to remind myself I am recovering from injury.

The London Countryway map as it appears in the Constable guide. My path follows a very close route

The London Countryway map as it appears in the Constable guide. My path follows a very close route

I did find time to take a week off from work in June and complete the Ridgeway. That was a 106 mile, six-day backpacking trip and slightly eased my need for, a slightly more demanding, continuous walk. I haven’t been able to tackle the London Countryway in this manner. With demands of work and having to keep my day hikes quite short.

My 14.5 miles on the Countryway today have seen me complete just over a hundred miles so I can say that I am roughly half-way to completion. At Marlow, I left the River Thames behind me as I headed north to continue my encircling of London. I thought I would offer a little flavour of the trail south of the river.

The wide River Thames at Gravesend, I will be crossing back to this point by ferry at the end of the walk

Leaving the wide River Thames at Gravesend, I will be crossing back to this point by ferry at the end of the walk

Oast Houses, once used for drying hops, are a reminder of the trades for which much of Kent was famous

Oast Houses, once used for drying hops. They are a reminder of one of the the trades for which much of Kent was famous

I started this particular challenge in March, day one saw me setting off from Gravesend in Kent. I waved goodbye to the River Thames, knowing I would see it twice more- once when I crossed it at Windsor at around the half-way point, and again at Tilbury at the end of the walk. It wasn’t long before I left built up areas and my surroundings became more rural, albeit farmland. Mostly arable and orchards. I was headed toward the North Downs, I followed this ridge westward from Kent into the Surrey hills. Leaving the ridge of raised chalk, I swung northward, beginning the long drop into the Thames Valley.

Kent Apple Orchards

Kent Apple Orchards. March 2016

Flooded bridlepath in mid March

Flooded bridlepath in mid March

Needless to say, the weather has been changeable, not only have I moved out of a late winter, into spring and then to summer, the earlier part has also been a ridiculously wet year in the UK. I have been fortunate not to have had to deal with more than occasional rain but underfoot has frequently been very wet and muddy. In just one days walking I had snow, then sleet, then hail, then bright sun, then rain and finished off with dull and overcast sky with a biting cold wind. Storm Katie also left fallen trees in her wake. Recent days have seen brilliant sun all day.

The seasons turn- Bluebell woods on the North Downs Way

The seasons turn- Bluebell woods on the North Downs Way, April 2016

Views from the Greensand Way, just one established trail encountered on my route

Misty view across the Weald of Kent from the Greensand Way, just one of many established trails encountered on my route

The route touches  a number of recognised and established trails in its course. So far, these have included the Wealdway, North Downs Way, Pilgrims Way, Vanguard Way and numerous short, local walks. Being a largely forgotten route, it isn’t specifically signposted at all, nor is it shown as a route on maps. I am especially pleased about this as for many miles, I am simply following Rights of Way seldom used by anyone.

Harvel village sign

Harvel village sign

Platt village sign

Platt village sign- Hops and Cobnuts

Many Rights of Way are pretty old, having originally been established to permit people to move between habitations, go to church or market. The Way goes past or through  numerous small villages or hamlets. There is usually nowhere to re-provision at these (not that I need to) as most village shops have long gone, killed off by the omnipresent town supermarket.  However there are many public houses but I have largely refrained from partaking of a beverage or two until the end of a days walk. Even then, it depends if an infrequent Sunday train service permits time.

Most larger towns are encountered at the beginning and end of each days walk as I arrive or leave by public transport. Station Road, Oxted

Most mid to large sized towns are encountered at the beginning and end of each days walk as I arrive or leave by public transport. Station Road, Oxted

Close to the Pilgrims Way, another path briefly encountered, the Countryway passes by Coldrum Long Barrow. A Neolithic burial chamber of about 2500 B.C. It still attracts the attention of more modern day folk, who have adorned the nearby trees with trinkets and letters

Close to the Pilgrims Way in North Kent the London Countryway passes by Coldrum Long Barrow. A Neolithic burial chamber of about 2500 B.C. It still attracts the attention of more modern day folk, who have adorned the nearby trees with trinkets, ribbons and letters

Tower in Betchworth Quarry and Lime Works, closed in 1930s

Abandoned tower in Betchworth Quarry and Lime Works, closed in the 1930s

Coal Tax boundary post

Coal Tax boundary post. Erected in the 1860s as a loop, between twelve and eighteen miles from London, they marked the point where taxes on coal were due to the Corporation of London. Now forming no modern day function beyond a reminder of previous law, only 210 of these posts survive

I particularly enjoy coming across snippets of history on my walks. Especially when unexpected.

Some historical aspects are perhaps a little less interesting than others. Learning that I was crossing Reigate Hill Footbridge, the oldest reinforced concrete footbridge in the country (1910), left me, I am sad to say, largely unimpressed. That said, to stand beneath Brunel’s acclaimed 1838 Maidenhead rail bridge today, clapping my hands to listen to the remarkable acoustics of the ‘Sounding Arch’ was not only fun, but bought to mind JMW Turner’s masterpiece- Rain, steam and speed which used this bridge within his composition.

Poles were essential in April on the wet, slippery fields

Poles were often advisable in April on the wet, slippery grasslands

The way ahead beckons. Leaving Ide Hill in April 2016

Gorse in flower. The way ahead beckons. Leaving Ide Hill on the London Countryway in April 2016

Halibut Man, on Totem Pole at Virginia Water. 100 feet high, the 600 year old log of Western Red Cedar was carved by Kwakiutis and erected in 1958 to mark the centenary of the establishment of British Columbia as a Crown Colony

Halibut Man, on Totem Pole at Virginia Water. 100 feet high, this 600 year old log of Western Red Cedar was carved by Kwakiutis and erected in 1958 to mark the centenary of the establishment of British Columbia as a Crown Colony

Memorial on Chobham Common, erected 1901. This marked the occasion when Queen Victoria reviewed eight hundred of her troops (including the Light Brigade) in 1853 prior to their leaving for the Crimea

Memorial on Chobham Common, erected 1901. This marked the site and occasion when Queen Victoria reviewed eight hundred of her troops (including the Light Brigade) in 1853 prior to their leaving for the Crimea

Misty mornings in May on the Surrey hills

Misty morning in May on the Surrey hills

The route passes right by Igtham Mote, 14th-century moated manor house

The route passed right by Ightham Mote, 14th-century moated manor house

Blatchford Downs. Named after Alan Blatchford, one of the founders of the Long Distance Walkers Association

Traversing Blatchford Downs. Named after Alan Blatchford, one of the founders of the Long Distance Walkers Association

The extensive grounds of Knole Park experienced in the early morning was a delight

The extensive grounds of the 1000 acre Knole Park in the early morning were a delight

While I have had to fight my way through a handful of overgrown paths, for the most part the route has been easy, with just a few moderate to steep climbs. Some parts have been positively genteel. I carry a compass, I always do, but there has never been the need to put it to use. Route finding with a map and knowing where the sun is over the shoulder has always been sufficient.

Unsurprisingly, many deer were encountered in Knole Park

Unsurprisingly encounter in Knole Park- Kent’s last medieval deer park

After the ricjh, loamy soils of Kent, the sandy heaths of Surrey were a surprising change

After the rich, loamy soils of Kent, the sandy heaths of Surrey made for a change in terrain. Chatley Heath, June 2016

Primrose

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

Southern marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa)

Southern marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa)

The wildlife encountered on the London Countryway has been varied and both expected and surprising. Annoying mozzies have (as yet) been absent. Mammals have been the typical- rabbits, hare, foxes, badgers, deer. More exciting birds have been the raptors- Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Red Kite. Flora has become more varied as the year has turned. There has been both the common and the, in my continued ignorance, unfamiliar, many flowers remain, sadly, un-named but still enjoyed.

A poorly named hill

A poorly named hill

 

Woodlands have changed from bare trees in the earlier part of the year to the verdant green of Broadland woods with their English Oak, Beech and Chestnut. There have been Lowland Mixed deciduous woodlands and even the odd non-native Pine Woods have not been too intrusive. Needless to say, this close to London, there have been numerous stretches of wood-pasture and Parkland.

Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) have included walking through hundreds of Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) on the Basingstoke Canal and quiet minutes watching the impressive Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) seeing off any intruder over its habitat on Chobham Common. Domesticated livestock has included new born lambs. ‘Belties’ (Belted Galloways) and Heavy Horses are always a pleasure to see. Walking mainly on Sundays, I have seen enough breeds of dog being taken for ‘walkies’ to last me a lifetime.

Pine woodlands between West Byfleet and Sunningdale. June 2016

Pine woodlands between West Byfleet and Sunningdale. June 2016

Despite being a walk through the countryside, national politics were still encountered. In the build-up to the national referendum on membership of the European Union, the Leave faction was only to evident

Despite being a walk through the countryside, national politics were still encountered. In the build-up to the 2016 national referendum on membership of the European Union, the Leave faction was only to evident

Two canals have been briefly followed so far, the Wey Navigation and the Basingstoke Canal (above). I particularly enjoyed this as I briefly worked on its restoration in the 1970s

Two canals have been briefly followed so far, the Wey Navigation and the Basingstoke Canal (above). I particularly enjoyed the latter as I briefly worked on its restoration in the 1970s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wealthy heartland of Berkshire. Polo match at the 240 acre private equestrian centre, Coworth Park, Ascot

The wealthy heartland of the former county of Berkshire. Polo match at the 240 acre private equestrian centre, Coworth Park, Ascot

Some of the areas I walked through on the London LOOP were, to put it mildly, a tad ‘dodgy’. As yet, the Countryway has been far more preferable. While my current stretch to the west of London contains land and properties probably amongst the most expensive in the country, other parts have been more typical of the, admittedly affluent, South-East of England.

the-copper-horse-george-iii-as-heroic-roman-emperor-on-horseback-depicted-by-richard-westmacot-in-1830

The ‘Copper Horse’. This huge statue (actually made of Bronze) by Richard Westmacot shows George III as heroic Roman Emperor on Horseback. When the sixteen workmen finished building it in 1831, they had a sit-down lunch inside it

Setting off on the 'Long Walk', a three mile path leading to Windsor Castle

Three Points of the Compass setting off on the ‘Long Walk’, a 2.64 mile straight path leading to Windsor Castle, and my second sight of the River Thames. July 2016

Overnight expedition for group of Duke of Edinburghers

Overnight expedition for group of Duke of Edinburghers

I am enjoying my days on the London Countryway. It has been exactly what I wanted- mainly fairly easy going where I can continue my recovery from Plantar fasciitis, but not too easy. Interesting bits of history thrown in, areas through which I have never walked, manageable by public transport and therefore ‘do-able’ on my available Sundays.

Also, just for a change, I decided to make it a charitable exercise and in the diamond year of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, raise some money. This is a fantastic organisation that gives millions of 14 to 24 year olds opportunity to push themselves and realise success. I never undertook it as a youngster but my daughter did when she was at school. While I think the DofE’s required kit list for the expedition part of the award is outdated and more than a little wanting, the award’s ethos is good.

Entitled Confronting the Countryway, there is a record of how I am getting on, with some additional photos, on my Just Giving page. I’ll do an update on the second half of my walk when I finish it.

Re-filling with fresh water on The Ridgeway

The Ridgeway- water sources

Those who read an earlier post will have noted that I took a water filter with me on my recent six day backpacking trip along The Ridgeway. The path itself is some 87 miles but I chose to start at Avebury, adding a handful of miles to my total. That, combined with a couple of short side-trails to overnight stops, meant that I covered 106 miles in total.

Most springs and rivers occur below the level of The Ridgeway and accessing them often means descending off trail

Most springs and rivers occur below the level of The Ridgeway and accessing them often means descending off trail

The Ridgeway is not an exclusively ridge walk. For much of its distance it traverses the hills above the villages and towns situated at the spring line on lower contours. It can be quite dry on the trail yet water intake has to be maintained by the hiker throughout.

Day two, especially, was a wet day. In contrast to the strong sun, high temperatures and lack of cover of the first day. Regardless of conditions, it is important to stay well-hydrated throughout the day to lessen fatigue and maintain progress

Day two, especially, was a wet day for me on The Ridgeway. This was in contrast to the strong sun, high temperatures and lack of cover of the first day. Regardless of conditions, it is important to stay well-hydrated throughout the day to lessen fatigue and maintain progress

So, did I find a water filter of use? Simply put- no. Even without finding it necessary to leave the trail specifically to seek out water, I did not need to use a filter at all. If not abundant, I certainly found that with a little planning I could carry all the water that I required and kept well hydrated throughout. This was partly achievable because almost all of my overnight halts were at recognised sites. The only night I wild-camped, I took an extra litre with me for that night. I usually drank at least a litre of water, sometimes as much as one and a half, each night. This would  mostly be in liquid form, water, tea or my favoured OXO. Some water was used to rehydrate meals.

Most water taps are well-signposted from the path

Most water taps are well-signposted from the path

All of the water points that I located on the trail were sign-posted, were working and provided good, fresh, cold water. I started out on the walk carrying 1900ml of water with me in two 850ml Smartwater bottles. This was enough to see me through my short half day to my first halt at a farm near Ogbourne St. George. There is supposed to be a water tap available at Southend (SU198734), just prior to the village, but I failed to locate it. I camped in the horse paddock of Fox Lynch, filling up for that evening and the following day from a tap in the farm yard. If stopping for water there, do ask first as not all of the taps provide potable water.

Day two saw me set off with 1900ml. I refilled one empty bottle (850ml) at a tap on the path near farm buildings at Idstone Hill (SU263835). This day was especially wet compared to my first day. When it is raining it can be difficult to drink sufficient fluids and I was careful to keep a high intake.

Water tap at Idstone Hill

Water tap at Idstone Hill

Further along there is another tap near Hill Farm (SU338854). Again, I took the opportunity to not only drink a bottle of water (850ml) but fill up as well. This saw me through to my days end at Court Hill Centre (SU394844) south of Wantage where water is readily available to those staying, or for visitors on request.

Water tap near Ilsley Barn Farm

Water tap near Hill Farm, it would be easy to miss some of these points amidst the growing vegetation

I set off on day three, again loaded with 1900ml of water though I could have carried less as the next ‘on path’ tap is apparently near Ilsley Barn Farm. I say apparently as I walked past the tap, or signage, or whatever there was, without seeing it. Fortunately this is a fairly short stretch and my two bottles easily saw me to Streatley where there are many town facilities, including the YHA very near to trail.

Water tap near Grimsdyke Cottage

Water tap at crossing point near Grimsdyke Cottage, only shortly before reaching Nuffield

Tap in wall of Holy Trinity Church, Nuffield

Tap in wall of Holy Trinity Church, Nuffield

Tea, coffee, soft drinks , cake and biscuits, on offer inside Holy Trinity Church Nuffield. Be sure to leave a donation

Tea, coffee, soft drinks , cake and biscuits, on offer inside Holy Trinity Church Nuffield. Be sure to leave a donation

Day four, needless to say that I was well hydrated as I set off and also carrying water. A full load is not required as Nuffield is well provisioned. There is a very welcome tap (SU660871) at a Crossing Point only a little way before entering the village. However possibly the most welcome point is that at Holy Trinity Church in Nuffield (SU667873). There is a water tap in the exterior wall of the church but if you are fortunate, as I was, then you can enjoy the thoughtful provision of the local parishioners.

I stayed at a campsite that night- at White Mark Farm, two hundred metres or so from the path (SU697939). There is a water tap provided for walkers to the side of the entrance road to the site.

Water tap at the entrance to White Mark Farm, only a short distance from The Ridgeway

Water tap at the entrance to White Mark Farm, only a short distance from The Ridgeway

Keep an eye open for signage. This one pointed toward an unexpected source not far from Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve

Keep an eye open for signage. This one pointed toward an unexpected source not far from Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve

The following day, day five, I was not expecting to pass any water taps and knew I had a wild camp to provide for, so carried an extra litre when I set off. Needlessly as I came across an unexpected water tap at (SU727976). This tap is not shown on the Harvey route map but is mentioned in the Cicerone guide.

Again, I took the opportunity to drink a full bottles worth (850ml) before filling up again and walking on. Obviously heavily laden but very necessary.

There are many opportunities to wild camp on The Ridgeway, none are officially sanctioned and the obvious rules apply- arrive late, stay discreet, set up late, leave early, leave no trace. I stayed that night at a pleasant location with a good view over the Vale of Aylesbury. A litre of water was plenty for my needs that evening but left little for the following morning.

Water tap at near Aston Rowant. On right, near building just before the first minor road after having passed beneath the M40

Water tap at near Aston Rowant. On right, near building just before the first minor road after having passed beneath the M40

Crumbs in Wendover

Crumbs in Wendover

The following day, day six (my final day on the trail) I had an early descent from height down into the nearby market town of Wendover to partake of a thoroughly unhealthy but, oh, so welcome, Full English Breakfast (and two mugs of tea) at Crumbs Sandwich Bar. While there, I asked them to fill up water bottles for me, thereby preparing me for my final day.

Does a cafe in Wendover count as a water point? Damn right it does...

Does a cafe in Wendover count as a water point? Damn right it does…

This meant I was well provisioned for my remaining miles. I completed The Ridgeway a few minutes after two in the afternoon on day six and only had a two mile walk to Town Farm where I was camping that night. Water taps (SP949165) are situated some distance from the entrance to the site.

Dew ponds are situated at many points along The Ridgeway. Many are now restored and have butyl liners so no longer dry out as frequently as they used to. However water is intended for horses etc., is standing water and likely to be contaminated by animal faeces and is njot recomended for human consumption,even following very necessary treatment and purification

Dew ponds are situated at many points along The Ridgeway. Many are now restored and have butyl liners so no longer dry out as frequently as they used to. However water is intended for horses etc., is standing water and likely to be contaminated by animal faeces and is not recommended for human consumption,even following very necessary treatment and purification

Water on the stove for my post-hike OXO. Valuable rehydration and replacement of lost salts

Water on the stove for my post-hike OXO. Valuable rehydration and replacement of lost salts

Beyond a hot OXO at the end of each day (400ml), water for rehydrating meals and breakfast tea (400ml) with a home-mix breakfast, further liquid intake consisted of the odd pint or two in pubs at Ogbourne St. George, Streatley, Watlington and Ivinghoe Aston.

Cattle troughs are frequently encountered. Stop cocks are all automatic or closed from access. Only the water in the trough is accessible and requires treatment. Alternative sources are recommended

Cattle troughs are frequently encountered on The Ridgeway. Ballcocks are all automatic or closed from access. Only the water in the trough is accessible and definitely requires treatment. Alternative sources are recommended

Not that many public houses are actually passed on the trail itself. When they are, invariably it is at an inconvenient time and may be closed. Most easily utilised are those located not far from night stops, as here with the Carriers Arms near Watlington

Not that many public houses are actually passed on the trail itself. When they are, invariably it is at an inconvenient time and may be closed. Most easily utilised are those located not far from night stops, as here with the Carriers Arms near Watlington

The above is accurate to the month when written- May 2016. Circumstances are likely to alter over time and there is already a seasonal provision at some locations.

The Ridgeway- water filter

I took a few minutes today to sort out my water filter for my Ridgeway walk that starts in a few days time. Water points are not exactly prolific on this trail and there are conflicting reports as to the continued existence of one or two of the traditional fill-up points.

Aquaguard Micro and associated 'dirty water' bladder and hoses

Aquaguard Micro and associated ‘dirty water’ bladder and hoses

While I can easily divert into a number of hamlets etc. not too far off-trail if things get desperate, off-trail is off-trail- extra miles to be avoided if at all possible. Despite its name, the Ridgeway does not follow a ridge its whole length. I am hopeful of finding opportunity at lower levels to fill up bottles and water bladder along my way, hence my inclusion of a water filter in my gear.

Unlike many hikers, I have not moved on to either of the incarnations of the Sawyer- Mini or full size. Instead I am still relying on my Drinksafe Aquaguard Micro water filter. While I could use this as an in-line filter,  I am instead, taking it to be used as either gravity or squeeze. I have included a 1lt Platypus bladder for dirty water, a Sawyer Fastfill adapter, short hose, long hose, male and female quick disconnects and a ziplock to hold it all, this totals 239g.

In addition, I have two 850ml Smartwater bottles (33g each) in pack side pockets and a 2lt Evernew Bladder (42g). The latter specifically for camp. Not the lightest of set ups by any means, but it’ll do. I’ll report back as to how things went.

The Harvey map for the Ridgeway shows a handful of water supply points en route. Typically, these two are within a kilometre of each other!

The Harvey map for the Ridgeway shows a handful of water supply points en route. Typically, these two are within a kilometre of each other!

 

The Ridgeway- Food

Five breakfasts, three lunches, five evening meals. Also an abundance of snacks for the day plus a brew kit

Five breakfasts, three lunches, five evening meals. Also an abundance of snacks for the day plus a brew kit

I have now sorted out the food for my week on the Ridgeway. I had considered keeping it lightweight, putting a bit of trade to the local shops etc. and buying as I went along. But instead I have looked on this as an opportunity to revisit lighter weight foods and have a closer look at calorific values, hence my taking almost all of my meals with me.

Where I am staying at a hostel, I have booked an evening meal and breakfast, plus a lunch to take with me the following day. I shall also simply take a cheese and pickle sandwich with me from home for Day 1.

Bagged and ready

Bagged and ready

Food is heavy stuff. There is no getting away from it. Even with care, the weight builds up. The little lot shown here originally weighed 4790g. That sounded frighteningly excessive so the custards, salamis and just a couple of treats were removed which bought it down to 3690g. But the heavier items are mostly toward the beginning of the hike and the weight will quickly drop. The final meal to be consumed is simply some Pop-Tarts on the final morning. Though I suspect they will be slightly crumbled by then.

Adventure Food Mince Beef Hotpot, yes really, it is!

Adventure Food- Mince Beef Hotpot, yes really, it is! But 600 calories is pretty good

I haven’t used the Mountain House type meals in decades. I think it was Raven meals in the 1980s that put me off them at the time. But, seeing as I had a Cotswold discount card knocking around, I included some meals by Mountain House and Adventure Food. I bought an extra to try at home, and to be honest, having sampled today’s offerings I am glad I am not relying on these totally. But still, the calorific value to weight penalty is rather good.

Lunches are mostly a couple of tortillas per day with a pouch fish (tuna or mackerel) and a nut butter (peanut or almond). Despite very rarely partaking at home, I have included some puds in my meal plan, simply to carry on packing in both calories and ensure proper rehydration in the evenings.

Day Date Breakfast Lunch Evening Notes
Friday 20th May 2 x Granola bar ‘on the go’ Home made cheese sandwich / cake slice Look what we found‘ , + dried ‘bubble and squeak‘ mash / Toffee pudding with toffee sauce / mini choc bar  Camping
Saturday 21st May Home made breakfast mix Tortillas with (pouch) tuna, almond butter / Mango fruit bar Home made ‘Mac ‘n’ cheese’ / Toffee pudding with toffee sauce / mini choc bar  Camping-

Use Court Hill ‘campers kitchen’ in evening

Sunday 22nd May Court Hill- booked meal Court Hill- supplied lunch YHA provided meal  Hostel room
Monday 23rd May YHA provided meal YHA provided lunch Chilli Con Carne / couscous / Lemon cake with custard / mini choc bar  Camping
Tuesday 24th May Home made breakfast mix Tortillas with (pouch) tuna, peanut butter / cake slice Mince Beef Hotpot / pitted olives / Rice pudding with strawberries / mini choc bar  Camping
Wednesday 25th May Home made breakfast mix Tortillas with (pouch) mackerel / cake slice Chicken Curry with rice /  Lemon cake with custard / pitted olives / mini choc bar  Camping
Thursday 26th May Pop tarts Not required Not required
Spare meal- Ramen noodles, curry oxo
Brew kit
Snacks- Salami type sausage / Nuts & dried fruit, Craisins, dried pineapple / Sesame bar for each day + trail bar
Simple ingredients for a home-made Mac 'n' Cheese for backpacking

Simple ingredients for a home-made Mac ‘n’ Cheese for backpacking

I thought I would have a play around and knock up one dried meal by myself. Not at all difficult to make a simple mac ‘n’ cheese. The one I have produced is also a little healthier as it misses out all the preservatives and oddities at the end of any packet ingredient list. Rehydration is quick and not only is is pretty tasty but the 195g (incl ziplock) also delivers 760kcal.

Lio-licious supply a rather lovely Red Leicester in dehydrated form. The Nido full-fat milk powder is, simply, the best dried milk powder on the market, while Orzo pasta (looking like a large grain of rice) cooks quickly and is slightly less bulky in this form. A fistful of dried vegetables adds some flavour and vitamins while a pinch of chillies gives an underlying oomph. Simple.


Orzo pasta 120g 408kcal
Dehydrated Red Leicester cheese 40g 244kcal
Full fat milk powder 20g 102kcal
Dried mixed vegetables 10g 6kcal
Dried crushed chillies 1g 0

I like my food and am taking plenty of snacks. The M&S bars are great, I have written on the benefits of Sesame Snaps before and have included a small bar of Green and Blacks choc, in various flavours, for the evenings.

Brew kit

Brew kit

My brew kit comprises a mix of tea bags, herbal teas, drinking chocolate, milk powder ( Nido in a v. strong small zip lock with a tiny plastic measuring spoon), some condiments, a bit of sugar and an OXO cube for each day. I like a bouillon/stock cube in camp soon after setting up. Each cube has just under a gram of salt so goes some way to immediately putting that back into the system. By the way, after using the things for some forty years for the same purpose, I have only recently found out I was crumbling them all wrong! Hurrah, another piece of cross contamination done away with.

 

 

 

I may yet leave it out, but I am currently planning on including one reserve meal. This is simply a stick of ramen noodles and a curry flavour OXO cube.

Trail mix, fruits and nuts

Trail mix, fruits and nuts

Trail mix is a simple and tasty mixture of 300g of Brazil nuts, dried Blueberries and Pineapple with Pomegranate flavoured cranberries (Craisins).

 

If I remember and get round to it, I’ll try and post on how this all worked out. The one thing I am mindful of (beside the weight) is the risk of carrying food that isn’t eaten.

The Ridgeway- planning my week

As part of my recovery from Plantar fasciitis I have decided to walk the Ridgeway, west to east, from Wiltshire into Oxfordshire, over one week in May. The trail has been called the oldest road in Britain, or even Europe for that matter, but that is probably pushing it a little. Certainly it is a route travelled by Neolithic and Bronze Age people who in addition to trade, also took their time to build monuments and bury their dead. Ancient ditches, earth embankments, Iron Age forts litter the way across the North Wessex Downs and Chiltern Hills. I am very much looking forward to my week.

I have been struggling in my recovery from injury. Plantar fasciitis and associated arthritis having severely reduced my capability over the past fourteen months. I have doubts that I will ever again reach my twenty and twenty five mile days I was knocking out only a couple of years ago. Once I had been properly diagnosed and bespoke orthotics created. I began a series of exercises and stretches, combined with some long term lifestyle changes. I then undertook the (full) 153 mile North Downs Way and 150 mile London LOOP as a series of day walks as part of my recovery, only having some thirty miles of the former still to complete. I have steadily increased my daily distance from six to eight to ten, then twelve miles. More recently there have been a couple of fourteen and sixteen mile days, with not TOO much pain. It is now time to see what I can manage over a week, hence the Ridgeway.

The Ridgeway stretches 87 miles (139km) to Ivinghoe Beacon , but for some reason it starts in a car park at Overton Hill, which makes no sense at all. So I will start a little further back, at Avebury, thereby adding another couple of miles to the total. Easily worth it to include and explore the huge stone circle, ditches and embankments that encircle the village.

So, planning is under way. There is a degree of information online, including the National Trails website. Though to be honest, I haven’t found much of interest or real help. The handful of publications I purchased, shown above, are more than enough to enable a bit of planning for my six day walk. I will be camping the whole way, other than one night in the YHA Hostel at Streatley. Beyond that, I need to sort out the gear I am taking, meals etc. I will follow this post up with a couple more over the next few weeks as these decisions get firmed up.