Thursday, September 21, 2017

Ryōzenji - Anrakuji

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 1.
Temples: #1-6 (Ryōzenji, Gokurakuji, Konsenji, Dainichiji, Jizōji, Anrakuji).
Distance: 20.0km (20.0km), time spent: 6:45.
Weather: Warm and sunny.

Yesterday, I had stood in my hotel room in Tokushima looking down at the items on display on my bed. In front of me, I had one sedgehat (sugegasa) and a white vest (hakui) with inscriptions on, a nōkyōchō-book, a stole (wagesa), a white bag (zudabukuro) and a stack of nameslips (osamefuda). All items that would associate me with being a henro on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, except the staff (kongōzue) which I know will just be in my way. Now, I stand at the gate of the first temple on the pilgrimage, Ryōzenji (the Vulture's Peak Temple), with the reality of what I have embarked upon in front of me. I had received some curious and sceptic looks from the other guests at the hotel during breakfast, before I took the short trainride to Bandō and walked the ten minutes to Ryōzenji. This time, it was for real, what awaited me around every next corner was unknown.

Ryōzenji, the first temple on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage. To get there from my home in Oslo, I flew to Tokyo, spent one night there and then took the Shinkansen to Osaka and a bus from there to Tokushima. From Tokushima there is a short train ride to Bandō which is a ten minutes walk from the temple.

I had read about what I was supposed to be doing at each temple, but to carry them out in reality was something else. At each temple, you are supposed to bow once at the main gate facing the main hall (hondo), wash my hands and mouth in the wash basin (this is the point where I can put on the wagesa), ring the bell in the bell tower to mark my arrival, then recite the sutras at the main hall (this involves lighting incense and a candle, ring the bell at the hall, place the nameslip (osamefuda) in the proper box and give a donation to the offertory box), repeat the previous step at the daishido hall. I can now receive the temple stamp, as a proof that I have visited the temple, in my nōkyōchō-book. When I leave the temple, I should once again at the main gate turn towards the main hall and bow once. Simple? Not at first, but practice makes you better. The language barrier is the difficult part. At Ryōzenji, I recite the sutras silently, while listening to the other henros.

Gokurakuji, the second temple, a groundsman was tending a small fire in the backyard of the temple, adding some smoke to enhance the atmosphere of the temple.

Some few words about the nōkyōchō-book. This acts as a proof that you have visited the temple and shown your respect to Buddha and Kōbō Daishi. At each temple you get a temple stamp and calligraphy in the book, the calligraphy is done by hand. When you have finished your pilgrimage, you will have an unique souvenir from your journey. It is a small, but proud, moment when I get my first temple stamp in my book.

I then start walking. On this day, the temples will come as pearls on a string, a proper way to practice the rituals for the rest of the journey. I will visit six temples in total, at the sixth temple, Anrakuji, I will spend the night. There is another henro starting at the same time, a Japanese man dragging his belongings behind him on a trolley. He does not speak English, but we exchange a few pleasantries as we start walking.

A small and red pagoda at Konsenji.

Only a kilometre and half separates the first temple from the next, Gokurakuji (Pure Land Temple / Paradise Temple). Although I liked Ryōzenji, Gokurakuji feels nicer, more secluded. This time, I recite the sutras out load, as good as I can. I try not to rush my time at the temples, I want to experience the feel of a temple before I move on.

"Bussetsu ma ka han nya ha ra mi ta shin gyou / Kan ji zai bo sa gyou jin han nya ha ra mi ta ji / Shou ken go un kai kuu do issai ku yaku / Sha ri shi shiki fu i kuu kuu fu i shiki / Shiki soku ze kuu kuu soku ze shiki / Ju sou gyou shiki yaku bu nyo ze / Sha ri shi ze sho hou kuu sou / Fu shou fu metsu fu ku fu jou fu zou fu gen / Ze ko kuu juu mu shiki mu ju sou gyou shiki / Mu gen ni bi zesshin ni mu shiki shou kou mi soku hou / Mu gen kai nai shi mu i shiki kai / Mu mu myou yaku mu mu myou jin nai shi mu rou shi yaku mu rou shi jin / Mu ku juu metsu dou / Mu chi yaku mu toku i mu sho tokko / Bo dai satta e han nya ha ra mi ta ko / Shin mu ke ge mu ke ge ko / Mu u ku fu on ri issai ten dou mu sou kuu gyou ne han / San ze sho butsu e han nya ha ra mi ta ko / Toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bo dai / Ko chi han nya ha ra mi ta / Ze dai jin shu ze dai myou shu ze mu jou shu ze mu tou dou shu / No jo issai ku shin jitsu fu ko / Ko setsu han nya ha ra mi ta shu soku sesshu watsu / Gya tei gya tei ha ra gya tei ha ra sou gya tei bo ji so wa ka / Han nya shin gyou"
Hannya Shin-Gyō (heart sutra).

The walk between the temples mostly went through small villages and cultivated land and was in that way not as exciting, but it was pleasant enough. The weather was however brilliant, and it was the temples that I visited that occupied most of my mind today. I came to temple #3, Konsenji (Golden Spring Temple) through the backway so to speak, with a feeling of sneeking into the temple. This was also in a quiet spot, had a small pond and nice red pagoda. I spend some time just sitting on a bench and breathing in the atmosphere of the place, while a bus group of henros are chanting the sutras in unison.

An underpass decoration adding some colours to its grey surroundings.

From Konsenji, the walk took me past more of the cultivated landscape, but also introduced some short sections going through woods. These were pleasant breaks from the otherwise somewhat monotonous walk past peoples homes. Though, I almost step on a green snake that quickly slithered away in one of them. At Aizen-in, a small temple that is the okunoin or the inner sanctum of Konsenji, I receive some warm green tea and spend some time talking with one of the monks.

Temple #4, Dainichiji (The Temple of the Great Sun), differed from the others by taking me on a short detour up into a forested valley between low lying hills. At the same time the temple looks nice, I do not feel the same atmosphere over this temple as in the others so far. The Japanese henro with the trolley has been trailing me all day. Normally, I arrive at a temple a short time before him. I love the way he is reciting the sutras, there is a lot more determination and melody to his reciting than the others that I have heard so far.

One of the few wooded sections on the first day, going over a tiny pass on the way to Dainichiji.

I first mistake Gohyaku Rakan for temple #5, Jizōji (The Earthbearer's Temple), wondering where I find almost everything I need to conduct the rituals. It does not have an appearance similar to those I have visited, and also appear to be under maintenance, then I learn that it is not the main temple itself, but the okunoin. The temple I seek lies just below it. It is very quiet there when I arrive, the temple buildings are nice, but with a common looking layout.

Going through the gate to the fourth temple, Dainichiji.

By the time, I arrive at the first henro hut on my journey, Kanyake, I have worked up a solid craving for a cup of coffee and some more food. There are a lot of wending machines here, some of them even sell beer (huge beer bottles as well), but they cannot cater to this need. Looking at my guidebook, I see that there is a 7/11 nearby. When I return to the hut with a hot coffee and some pastries, the man with the trolley has installed himself in the hut. I learn that his name is Hisatada Otsu, he will spend the night here. From what I understand, he plans to stay at so many free places he can. I reckon I will meet him again tomorrow, at least at where I plan to spend the night then.

The walk around and to the fifth temple, Jizōji, from Gohyaku Rakan.

I arrive at my destination and final temple, Anrakuji (The temple of Everlasting Joy), I have just time to go through the temple rituals for this day. The most notably feature of this temple is the nice carp pond set in a small garden next to a nice pagoda. I then enter a new world of accommodation. Paid accommodation at a temple is called shukubō. I get a nice room with tatami mats and a futon, quite different than what I am used to sleep in. The best thing is the private bathhouse of the temple, even though it was a hot day, it feels good to get a soak in the very hot water.

Kanyake henro hut. This is a part of the Henro-Goya Project, where volunteers have build several huts for the henros in order to spread and preserve the culture of the Shikoku pilgrimage. A list of all the huts can be found here.

Quite unexpectedly, there is a Danish couple, Johan and Kaisa, also staying at the temple and we arrange for us to sit together at the dinner. They are walking the pilgrimage together with a Japanese friend who they met doing the Camino de Santiago a couple of years back. I get a lot of food, and good, especially through the confusion that reigns when I produce my note saying that I am allergic to any seafood except fish. They start cooking up more food for me, but we soon find out that I can actually eat a lot more of what I originally was given than we thought.

At my last temple of the day and where I will spend the night, Anrakuji.

In the evening, I attend a ceremony at the temple. Beforehand, we were told to write down the name of a deceased person that were close to you on a piece of paper and fit it to a small branch and then write down a wish on a thin piece of wood. At this we were given a sort of tour through the temple, with a sermon and all. This included coming to a darkly lit tunnel where an illuminated stream of water ran through, where we were supposed to put the branch with the name of the deceased one on small 'islands' in the stream. We should then light up a small candle that we let go into the stream of water, and can look at the lights drifting past the islands with the branches on. We then lighted up the piece of wood with wishes on, while we were chanting some sutra. It was all very nice and emotional, and I cannot but feel kind of sad (but in a good way) as this brings back memories of the one I wrote on my twig. And then I feel joy as memories of the one I wrote a wish for on the piece of wood comes to me.

Eating dinner at Anrakuji, together with Johan, Kaisa and their Japanese friend.

Rain is forecast for tomorrow. The scenery of today might not have been the most interesting, but the number of temples more than made up for that, I have had a nice first day on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage. And an interesting one as well, I am curious of what will follow.

Kamojima ->

Monday, September 18, 2017

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage

The Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage is a pilgrim route on the island of Shikoku in the western part of Japan, the smallest of its islands. It follows an ancient pilgrim trail believed to be the route Kōbō Daishi, a famous Japanese scholar and priest who is the founder of the Shingon Buddhism, walked on his ascetic training around Shikoku. The main purpose of the pilgrimage is to visit the 88 main temples or sacred places associated with the pilgrimage. There are also 20 bangai (outside the numbers) temples associated with the pilgrimage. If you visit the 88 main temples, the trail is about 1150km long; if you also visit the 20 bangai temples, it will be about 1300km. The route is also considered circular, as it is customary to return to the temple you started your pilgrimage from. It is also customary to visit Kōyasan after you finish your pilgrimage, the mountain top where Kōbō Daishi established the Shingon school of Buddhism (in 819) and where he is said to be sleeping in eternal meditation. On your travel around Shikoku, you will pass through the four provinces of Shikoku that is also considered the four stages of enlightenment. Tokushima prefecture (place of spiritual awakening), Kochi prefecture (place of ascetic training), Ehime prefecture (place of enlightenment), Kagawa (place of nirvana).

The motto for the pilgrimage is "Dōgyō Ninin" (We Two, Traveling Together). In the fall of 2017, I took it upon me to be a henro and traveled to Shikoku where I walked with Kōbō Daishi around the island, here you will find my tale (I will continuously update this page until the whole tale is told):

Day   1 (21.09):Ryōzenji - Anrakuji
Day   2 (22.09):Anrakuji - Kamojima
Day   3 (23.09):Kamojima - Nabeiwa
Day   4 (24.09):Nabeiwa - Kokufu
Day   5 (25.09):Kokufu - Kushibuchi
Day   6 (25.09):Kushibuchi - Byōdōji
Day   7 (27.09):Byōdōji - Hiwasa
Day   8 (28.09):Hiwasa - Kaifu
Day   9 (29.09):Kaifu - Ozaki
Day 10 (30.09):Ozaki - Kongōchōji
Day 11 (01.10):Kongōchōji - Tōnohama
Day 12 (02.10):Tōnohama - Kagami
Day 13 (03.10):Kagami - Chikurinji
Day 14 (04.10):Chikurinji - Tanemaji
Day 15 (05.10):Tanemaji - Shōryuji
Day 16 (06.10):Shōryuji - Susaki
Day 17 (07.10):Susaki - Shimanto
Day 18 (08.10):Shimanto - Irino Matsubara
Day 19 (09.10):Irino Matsubara - Ibiru
Day 20 (10.10):Ibiru - Tosa Shimizu
Day 21 (11.10):Tosa Shimizu - Mihara
Day 22 (12.10):Mihara - Ipponmatsu
Day 23 (13.10):Ipponmatsu - Iwamatsu
Day 24 (14.10):Iwamatsu - Uwajima
Day 25 (15.10):Uwajima - Uwa
Day 26 (16.10):Uwa - Uchiko
Day 27 (17.10):Uchiko - Kuma Kōgen
Day 28 (18.10):Kuma Kōgen - Kuma Kōgen
Day 29 (19.10):Kuma Kōgen - Ishiteji
Day 30 (20.10):Ishiteji - Horie
Day 31 (21.10):Horie - Imabari
Day 32 (22.10):Chikamiyama
Day 32 (22.10):Imabari - Taisanji
Day 33 (23.10):Taisanji - Iyo Myoshi
Day 34 (24.10):Iyo Myoshi - Hōjuji
Day 35 (25.10):Ishizuchisan
Day 35 (25.10):Hōjuji - Ishizuchi Jinja
Day 36 (26.10):Ishizuchi Jinja - Iyo Mishima
Day 37 (27.10):Iyo Mishima - Awai
Day 38 (28.10):Awai - Iyadaniji
Day 39 (29.10):Iyadaniji - Marugame
Day 40 (30.10):Marugame - Kokubunji
Day 41 (31.10):Kokubunji - Ritsurin Kōen
Day 42 (01.11):Ritsurin Kōen - Nagaoji
Day 43 (02.11):Nagaoji - Sanbonmatsu
Day 44 (03.11):Sanbonmatsu - Ryōzenji
Day 45 (04.11):Tokoshima
Day 46 (05.11):Kudoyama - Kōyasan
Epilogue (06.11):Kōyasan

Friday, August 18, 2017

Epilogue: Ivinghoe Beacon - Aldbury

The Ridgeway day 6.
Distance: 8.2km (188.7km), time spent: 4:20.
Altitude (start / end / highest): 233m / 138m / 233m.
Weather: Dissolving rain into sun.

With The Ridgeway finished, I had one more task to do before I really could call it over. Getting to my accommodation for the night, The Greyhound Inn (the second of two with that name) in Aldbury. Aldbury is not the closest village to Ivinghoe Beacon, but the inn looked so nice that I had decided to go there, there should be ample time. I have been at the beacon for a time when I finally says goodbye to The Ridgeway and wanders off further on Beacon Hill.

Ivinghoe Beacon.

Though I will not really leave The Ridgeway entirely yet. My first stop after Ivinghoe Beacon is a planned celebratory beer in nearby Ivinghoe. To get there, I could take a path starting from just below the hill that goes down to Town Farm outside Ivinghoe. But that will mean some walking on a road, so instead I retrace my steps over Steps Hill to a junction below Incombe Hole. This comes with the added benefit of getting to walk on this great section again.

Looking back up towards Ivinghoe Beacon and Steps Hill from another viewpoint, on the way to Ivinghoe from The Ridgeway.

From below Incombe Hill there is another footpath that leads more directly towards Ivinghoe. I can walk and look back up at the beacon at the end of The Ridgeway. I had hoped to see Peter and Brian again, but have given up on that hope now, but leaving the trail I can see two people coming walking over Pitstone Hill. It might be them, but they are too far away from me now, too bad.

A bench end or poppy-head with a mermaid figure in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Ivinghoe.

In Ivinghoe, I visit the local church, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, where the bench ends or poppy-heads are almost all different and dates from the 15th century. Going for my beer, I find The Rose And Crown, it rains outside while I am sitting there, another lucky break.

A wonderful light when I approach Pitstone Windmill coming from the sunshine behind the rainclouds.

On my way back up again, I visit the 17th century windmill outside Ivinghoe, Pitstone Windmill. The light behind it are marvellous, as sunshine illuminates a wall of rain approaching from that direction. The effect of the incoming rain is wonderful. There is just enough space for me underneath the awning of the mill to get enough shelter for the rain, as it swipes past the windmill. I can stand and watch as the border of the rain moves across the fields at both sides of me.

A triple rainbow over Ivinghoe Beacon (though the third rainbow is not visible on this picture), seen from Pitstone Windmill.

Pitstone Windmill with the rainbow ending at Ivinghoe Beacon.

It quickly passes by, leaving not a single, but a triple rainbow in its wake. The end of the clearest rainbow is located right on top of Ivinghoe Beacon, as if it wants to tell me something. Was there some hidden treasure at the beacon? Walking the rest of the way up to The Ridgeway again, there is sun and blue sky above me.

Looking back at Pitstone Hill.

Crossing The Ridgeway below Pitstone Hill, and leaving it for the final time today (I will actually revisit again for a very short time tomorrow), I take a footpath going through an acre towards Barley End. I have just one short stopover before I will get to my destination of Aldbury. The Bridgewater Monument at Ashridge Estate. You can climb to the top of the monument, which will give you a good view of the area around. Of course it is closed when I get there.

Going through an acre with rolling hills in the background.

Aldbury is another picturesque small village. It also has a village pond, it appear that if you want to take pride as a village, you have to have a pond. The inn is just as pleasant as I wanted it to be and a nice place to end the accommodation part of the walk. There are no street lamps in this village either. I eat a celebratory dinner at the restaurant at The Greyhound, it is quite more 'posh' than you would expect from a country inn, but the food is very good. The pub part of the inn has a very old style to it, which I like.

The Bridgewater Monument, built in 1832 as a memorial to Francis Egerton (the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater), 'father of inland navigation'.

Tomorrow, I will walk to Tring Station for my return train to London, on my way I will rejoin The Ridgeway. It has been a great six days on foot in England. The Ridgeway may be far from a spectacular walk, but the scenery is nonetheless quite beautiful.


<- Ivinghoe Beacon

Wendover - Ivinghoe Beacon

The Ridgeway day 6.
Distance: 20.2km (180.5km), time spent: 6:11.
Altitude (start / end / highest): 129m / 233m / 247m.
Weather: Varying, some sun, some clouds, some rain.

Last day on the ridge. Going to Ivinghoe Beacon, but there is no light guiding my way from there now today. So far The Ridgeway has met all my expectations, being a pleasant walk through a comfortably countryside going from inn to inn. And the trail continues in that way today as well after breakfast and navigating my way out of Wendover, to once again enter farmlands and woods.

Interior of The Red Lion in Wendover.

It was another day where the first part of the trail took me through a series of lovely woods, with Barn Wood throwing its wooden embrace around me first. Then quickly changing into Hale Wood. It is walking through these kind of woods that the surface you walk on is the best on the trail. I feel a certain amount of serenity walking through the woods, which are quiet except for the sounds of birds chirping from between the trees.

A pleasant walk through Barn Wood at the start of the day.

After Hale Wood, the trail with me on it sinks down into a sunken bridleway, walking in an ascending hollow up through the forest. The trees look even taller from the sunken bridleway, but it is far from a lowdown on the trail. Northill Wood is up next, after a short intermission going through a field.

A sunken bridleway.

The first of the rain arrives when I am in Tring Park, but it is not much to speak of. The Ridgeway just goes through a part of Tring Park, keeping to itself up on the ridge underneath the trees. More people here, as it is bigger. It also contains some curious wooden installations, notably in an area designed for children. A short detour down to the lower and more open part of the park, presents me with the first views of Ivinghoe Beacon up ahead. It is always a little bit weird to see the end of a walk getting closer. I pass a tall obelisk on the way down, a monument to a Nell Gwynne, on the way up again, I pass all that remains of the Summer House of a nearby mansion.

One of many curious installations in the natural play areay in Tring Park.

Wigginton becomes the site of my lunch detour for the day, as always does the walk out from the trail appear longer than it is. The Greyhound Inn is the first of two with the same name that I will visit this day. The bar comes with a set of rules: "1. Bartender is always right. 2. If bartender is wrong, see rule 1". Anyway, my order of a baguette with ham and a cup of coffee should not break any of those rules. It is also a lucky break to have lunch at, it has started to rain outside.

A marker of a kind in Tring Park, presenting the view of the upper part of the park, which is where The Ridgeway goes through.

Leaving Wigginton, the rain is focused at another places, I walk with the hope of escaping it for the remainder of my walk (I always like to end a walk in good weather). The path looks now as it cuts through the clouds, which are dark on both sides. Crossing a busy motorway, there is a good and now dramatic view of Ivinghoe Beacon in the distance from the bridge.

Views of Ivinghoe Beacon in the distance from a bridge crossing a busy motorway.

I do not escape the rain, though it only lasts for about fifteen minutes. It comes down with full force when I am at Tring Station (from where I will take a train back to London tomorrow). Fortunately, those fifteen minutes happened before I embarked on the final and really nice section of the trail to Ivinghoe Beacon.

The path through the Aldbury Nowers Nature Reserve lets you climb up using these stairs put into the ground.

After shaking the rain of me, I step into the forest surrounding Aldbury Nowers on a series of stairs put into the ground. There is even another Grim's Ditch here. Out of the forest, I enter an undulating and grassy line of hills. I am quite soft for these kind of features. Walking on open wide verdant and rolling hills with views. Under the dark clouds, the sight of the grassy path from Pitstone Hill leading towards the beacon at the end is great. However, there is a tiny sting to the wind.

View of the wonderful undulating hilly and grassy landscape from Pitstone Hill towards Ivinghoe Beacon.

I think this last section of The Ridgewalk is my favorite of them all, a part of me does not want it to end. I walk down the grassy floor of Pitstone Hill, crosses a minor road before ascending in a curve past Incombe Hole. Then a short walk through a forested path at Steps Hill takes me out to the last view of Ivinghoe Beacon before I will climb it. I can see the well-trodden path going up to the top.

Ivinghoe Beacon, the end of The Ridgeway, from Steps Hill.

I arrive at Ivinghoe Beacon almost having the hill to myself. Only two persons are nearby, steering their model planes in the air above me, the hill is a favoured location for this kind of activity. Little remains of the old Iron Age hill fort that once stood here now. At the top there is one small monument with an information board showcasing the outline of the trail, and another stone marker, possibly a trigonometry point of a kind. I have arrived at the end of The Ridgeway very satisfied. It might not be sunny, but this is wonderful. I sit down behind the information board monument in shelter from the wind, having a minor celebration of finishing the walk with chocolate and jelly beans.

Arrived at Ivinghoe Beacon, finishing The Ridgeway.

<- WendoverAldbury ->

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Watlington - Wendover

The Ridgeway day 5.
Distance: 35.6km (160.3km), time spent: 10:29.
Altitude (start / end / highest): 108m / 129m / 260m.
Weather: Overcast with just a few raindrops, then improving as the day unfolds.

It rained throughout the night, but when I walk out of the door of The Fat Fox Inn there are only some light raindrops in the air. I had a large bowl of porridge for breakfast, eaten in the typical nice interior of the English inn.

View towards the Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve from the trail.

At the beginning of the day, there was some really atmospheric woods the path took me through. I could also look up at some pretty wooden ridges and hills, especially the Aston Rowant National Reserve, only tainted by a noisy motorway. I have to stiffle an urge to walk up into it. The sky plays a game of light and shadow on the landscape.

The old Chinnor chalk quarry. The Ridgeway goes on the other side of the quarry, behind the treeline. View from the BROWT Oakley Hill Reserve

Before the junction where a small road goes to the village Lewknor, I meet two other hikers on The Ridgeway, and a woman walking a section of the trail with them, Peter and Brian (I don't remember the woman's name). They are wildcamping along the route and I learn a couple or two things about camping in England. Generally it is not allowed, but they say that usually the landowners tolerate it if you really adhere to the rule of leaving nothing behind.

British countryside, view from the top of Lodge Hill.

The Ridgeway is passing by an old chalk quarry outside Chinnor. To properly view the quarry, you have to make an excursion into the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust Oakley Hill Reserve. It is quite interesting looking down at the quarry with the lake at the bottom. The trail goes straight past it, but there are no views of the quarry from the path. Blocked by fences and vegetation. I lift the question of why they do not clear this into the air, so that walkers can behold the quarry.

The Lacey Green Windmill, possible the oldest smock mill in England.

I leave Chinnor for itself, and continue on the walk, ascending through a forest with a tiny hint of early autumn, before the trail takes me for a serene stroll across a large grassy field. The weather is near perfect, with the shadows of the clouds floating like ships across the landscape. The path over Lodge Hill a cool walk, with good windful views at both sides of the ridge on the top, except at the very place that they have placed a bench to sit down for a rest at.

Corner Cottage from the 17th century and St. Marys Church behind, in Princes Risborough.

It is a good wind blowing, but it is not made by the Lacey Green Windmill. It is quite the detour to visit it, but it is an easy bait for a curious mind. The windmill is from the 1650s and many thinks it is the oldest smock mill in the country. A smock mill is a mill whose top can be rotated so that the sails can be aligned with the direction of the wind. There is an inn just next to it, The Whip Inn, perfectly situated clockwise for lunch, I have a BLT sandwich that I turns into a BL sandwich. With wind in my sails, I have extra energy for the return and descent back to The Ridgeway.

View from Brush Hill above Princes Risborough. On nearby Kop Hill there is an annual historic motorsport hill climb event.

I have not finished with the detours of the day, I also leave The Ridgeway for Princes Risborouch, which got its Princes name after Edward known as 'The Black Prince' held a royal manor here. Quite the pleasant town with some old buildings. It is also adorned with the curious puddingstone, which does not consist of pudding.

The path going through the Grangelands and Pulpit Hill Nature Reserve.

The views from both Brush Hill and Whiteleaf Hill are good, with the latter also sporting another figure cut out from the chalk, this time a cross. I meet Peter and Brian again at the top of Brush Hill and we walk a part of this section together. This is a lovely section of The Ridgeway going through an undulating forest and hill landscape.

Getting closer is Chequers, now the official country residence of the Prime Minister, and the trail goes almost straight through it. Well, not the manor itself, but the area. I steal this quote from Bill Bailey, which probably says it all: "It's just a field with some cows in it with a five-bar gate. But then you get to it and realise the gate is probably made from Kevlar. You can walk through it, although presumably you're on some camera and Special Branch's watch list for the rest of your life."

Approaching Coombe Hill the surrounding landscape are sporadically bathed by the sunrays escaping through the clouds.

I am now in a race with the clouds, they are closing in on the sky and my hope for a good contrastful shot of the monument at Coombe Hill. The approach to the hill is a wonderful open path, with the views bathing in shifting sunrays escaping from the clouds. I hoped for a blue sky over the monument that commemorates the soldiers who died in the Boer War, but got something far better. A dramatic sky looming over Coombe Hill, with focused sunrays illuminating the landscape around. It is magic.

Coombe Hill with the monument underneath a dramatic sky.

But now rain is imminent and though the descent from Coombe Hill warrants a more leisurely walk, I hurry a bit. I do not reach far, however, before the first raindrops fall from the sky. The worst of the rain arrives when I arrive at Wendover, so I escape the brunt of the rain. Tonight, I will sleep in an old coaching inn, The Red Lion Hotel. As a sidenote when it comes to English namegiving, upon entering the 'main street' of Wendover I passed by a pub with the name of 'Shoulder Of Mutton', a new personal favorite of mine.

The Red Lion in Wendover.

This evening I do not eat at the place I am staying at. Nothing wrong with the menu, but I passed by an Italian restaurant when I was out for a short walk and just got the hunger for a pizza. Might be a typical walker syndrome, you need something to stuff yourself with. I make up for it by sitting in the cosy pub of The Red Lion for some beers, before heading back to my room for my now usual routine of having an evening tea before bedtime. Tomorrow is my last day on the ridge.

<- WatlingtonIvinghoe Beacon ->

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Goring on Thames - Watlington

The Ridgeway day 4.
Distance: 31.8km (124.7km), time spent: 10:13.
Altitude (start / end / highest): 45m / 108m / 221m.
Weather: Slightly overcast, later sunny.

All back to the traditionals this morning, starting the day with a proper English breakfast. Another pleasant part of this walk is that I do not feel any need to rise up early, it is all pleasant lazyness in the mornings. No rush. The sky is dressed in a thin cloak of clouds when I leave The John Barleycorn.

Outside The John Barleycorn in Goring on Thames, off to continue on The Ridgeway.

This part of the walk is the most flat so far, following alongside the shores of the Thames. Although the walk is quite nice, I am still a little bit letdown. Before I went to England I saw some pictures from this part where I could see the trail going through a beautiful trimmed grassy lawn next to the river, but now the grass is overgrown and somewhat messy. More fascinating is now the houseboats that slowly floats up and down the river, some of them moored to the riversides. Along with the houseboats, a couple of pleasant villages are also floating past the trail, South Stoke and North Stoke.

Withymead Nature Reserve, or the Anne Carpmeal Charitable Trust.

Given the state of the trail, messy, unruly and a little bit disorderly seems to be the motto of the day. Before arriving at the shores of the Thames, I pass by the Withymead Nature Reserve. Now locked up and overgrowing, at least was the buildings inside the fence turning into estates for the ghosts. Before my detour to Wallingford, I visit a partly ruined church, St. Georges Church in Mongewell Park, with no roof over the nave. The chapel was still intact though, wonder if the sermons in the church would appear quite creepy.

The walk alongside the River Thames, with houseboats floating quietly by.

The partly ruined church of St. Georges at Mongewell Park.

Looking at the map, I believed that I would have time enough to visit the nearby town of Wallingford and still have time to reach Watlington before it gets late. In Wallingford there is the remains of an old castle, which now mostly looks like a big park where cows grazes freely in, among the few scattered remains. The castle walls and ditch are still relatively intact. I eat lunch at a restaraunt overlooking the Thames, find a cool sort of an underpass going through the castle and generally linger to long.

Remains of the Wallingford Castle.

Back on The Ridgeway, the path goes through a remarkable part of the trail. The surrounding landscape is not particularly interesting, but that matters little as The Ridgeway goes through the ancient earthworks of Grim's Ditch. The walk is wonderful. It is as if you walk in a separate world, with the outside world separated from you by the walls of the hedge you are walking inside of. On the way the ditch goes through the beautiful Oaken Copse.

Grim's Ditch. The walk through this section was like walking in a world of its own, confined inside a hedge, wonderful.

At Nuffield, I encounter trail magic at the local church. The church is empty, but inside there is a small place for travellers where they can boil some water for a cup of tea or coffee. And there are cookies and cakes here as well. A small donation to the church is requested for this, but you do not have to. Of course I give a small donation.

Oaken Copse.

The Ridgeway certainly goes through a lot of special surroundings today, the aforementioned Grim's Ditch, but I also crosses through a golf course, half expectantly having to duck to avoid flying golfballs. After a detour to Nuffield Place (former home of Lord Nuffield, William Richard Morris, the philanthropist founder of Morris Motors) that I could be without, the trail goes straight through a couple of acres. The path cuts through the acres in a straight line, which makes for an amusing walk.

The path of The Ridgeway cutting a straight line through an acre.

The walk after Wallingford has been the most rollercoaster-like so far, generally going up and down. This continues for a bit until I reach the outskirts of Watlington, where a great detour up Watlington Hill takes me to an 82m long 'obelisk' cut into the chalk, the White Mark. It does look like an exclamation mark and the views from it are nice, and even better at the top of the hill. The colour of the sky is pretty nice at this time.

The White Mark on Watlington Hill.

In Watlington I stay at The Fat Fox Inn. My room is out in the annex, accessible from the backyard of the pub, and is the finest room so far. Being tired, I still take a short walk in the small town (it is reputedly England's smallest town) as the light of dusk gathers around it, before I return for my fish and chips for dinner. When I goes to bed, I can hear the sound of rain outside, to the misgruntled voices of the guests of the pub outside.

Walking through the streets of Watlington in the evening.

<- Goring on ThamesWendover ->