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.

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