Monday, August 14, 2017

Ogbourne St George - Sparsholt

The Ridgeway day 2.
Distance: 34.0km (58.7km), time spent: 10:01.
Altitude (start / end / highest): 159m / 93m / 277m.
Weather: Overcast and light rain, atmospheric.

Having slept well and eaten my English breakfast, I backtrack to where I left off The Ridgeway yesterday. This can be avoided if you want to, by going straight through Ogbourne St George instead and rejoin The Ridgeway on the other side by a public footpath. The purist way around is nice, but you do not miss out on very much by skipping it. The walk soon meanders back into the same way as yesterday, the only change being the weather above me. Which now is overcast with some occasional light rain.

A rabbit jumps across the gravel track in front of me after returning to the top of the ridge after Ogbourne St George.

The rain does not bother me much, being only a few raindrops, and this weather is just adding a more melancholic mood to the scenery. Several times, I see a couple of small rabbits skitter across the path in front of me. Soon, the views open up to the left of the ridge, with the path a wonderful distinct line leading to the grassy remains of Liddington Castle, another hill fort from the Iron Age. The fort is not situated directly on the trail, so I have to walk about 600 metres to get to it. The views from this castle are more extensive than Barbury Castle. Now, only the wind is assailing the ramparts of the castle, adding to the mournful atmosphere of the surroundings.

The path winding towards Liddington Castle in the background.

Returning from the castle, I meet the first other walkers of the trail. Two young men, boys almost, walking with the ambition of finishing it in three days. They will be walking over 50 kilometres each day. We are both surveying the remains of a derelict concrete bunker, all that remains of a World War II 'Starfish' bombing decoy site. The name 'Starfish' comes from the code name for such a site, derived from the original code, which is SF for 'Special Fire'. There appear to be a squatter inside it, so we leave it be.

Strip Lynchets, a wonderful coombe leading down to the small village of Bishopstone.

Bishopstone scenery, cottages with thatched roofs and a small pond.

For lunch, I had decided to go down to the small village of Bishopstone. This also adds a couple of kilometres to my walk, but it is well worth it. It is one of my most memorable moments of the day. The path down to the village goes down through a wonderful sinous dry valley or coombe, called Strip Lynchets. It is as if the path just sinks down into the ground, with the sides of the valley on both sides rising up next to me. I turn around a slightly narrow cleft and then the valley opens up. I beam of joy.

A byway leaving The Ridgeway going almost in a straight line through a cornfield.

Bishopstone is a marvellous little village. With a village pond and almost all thatched roofs. The greatest gift is a small walkway between the cottages passing by another small, but beatiful pond. It would make for a great place to stay for the night, but it is too early for that. I eat at the local pub (which also has accommodation), The Royal Oak, a chicken sandwich with salad and chips. A beer is mandatory.

Wayland's Smithy.

I love the name 'Wayland's Smithy'. It sounds right out of something from a fairy or fantasy tale, and the truth might not be far from it either. The mound, which is a Neolithic long barrow dating from 3700bc, is named after a magical smith in Norse mythology. The local legend says that if you leave your horse with a coin next to the tomb, when you return the horse will be shod and the coin gone (of course, if the horse is already shod, it will not work). I have a coin, but no horse, so no possibility of testing out the legend. The place is wonderful, and peaceful, situated inside a small grove. You can also walk into this barrow.

The top of Uffington Hill at 261m, with the ramparts of Uffington Castle behind.

The myth of Wayland's Smithy is also linked to the next prominent feature of the trail. Another white horse. This one is at Uffington Hill. A hill that also boasts an ancient hill fort and another desolate domain. This horse is also way old, dating back 3000 years ago from the Bronze Age. Its purpose hidden from us. The wind has increased and the sky bears omens of more rain. But I stay for a long time, exploring the area. Below Uffington Hill and its white horse, there is another of these cool dry valleys, The Manger (which is supposedly where the horse goes to feed). Overlooking The Manger is also a flat-topped mound, Dragon Hill. There is too much of a detour to be able to see the full white horse, so I leave that path untrodden.

The Manger, another sinous dry valley.

The sky is much darker when I leave Uffington Hill and descends off The Ridgeway for a visit to the Blowing Stone. I strike a mighty tune into the stone, but no sound is heard. Legend says that the stone can make a booming sound if one with the proper skills blows into the correct hole of the stone. The stone is riddled with them. All I can hear is the light patter of the raindrops against the stone. I walk back up again, for the final stretch on The Ridgeway for today, before heading down to my accommodation for tonight at Sparsholt.

The famous Blowing Stone, blowing properly into the correct hole is said to make the stone produce a booming sound.

To get to Sparsholt, I have to walk an additional 2.7km. But there is a nice inn waiting for me at the end of that distance, The Star Inn. I eat a good dinner consisting of ham, egg, salad and chips, washed down with a good beer. I find out that there are no streetlights in Sparsholt, walking around the village in the evening is a pitch black experience, half expecting ghosts to turn up at every corner. A truly wonderful day.

The Star Inn at Sparsholt, a great place to stay after a wonderful day on the downs.

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