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Friday, 18 August 2017

Footsteps in Sound: Volume 3 (stage 5 & 6)

The Ridgeway: Stage 5
Baron Wantage Memorial to Near Liddington Castle
or This Is What It's All About!
August 2017

Over the course of the last 55 miles I'd experienced a nagging sense that the Ridgeway was just passing me by. The stages weren't particularly demanding and the historical wonders had been few and far between. Compared to Hadrian's Wall, Wainwright's Coast to Coast or the West Highland Way, the Ridgeway had been quiet too. I wasn't having a bad time, far from it, but I was still a little disappointed. However, I woke up with high hopes for stage 5 because the guidebook had promised hill forts, chalk horses and ancient barrows.  

The day started well. Just a few miles in I reached Segsbury Camp, an Iron Age hill fort, where I got a chance to see some ancient history and chat to fellow Ridgewayers. As you'd expect, not much remains of the fort now, except the impressive earth works, but you can still get an impression of the size and antiquity of this place. It's amazing to think that this structure was excavated and constructed using antlers, animal bones and wicker baskets and it's still here today.  

Wayland Smithy Long Barrow
By 1pm, I'd reached the Ridgeway's most famous site, the Uffington Horse (is it actually a horse? I'm not sure). The site was closed to the public due to the inclement weather (doh!), so it was impossible to get a good view from the overlooking hill. However, I still got to see The Manger and Dragon's Hill below (the latter is where St George is reputed to have slayed a dragon!). Feeling a tad disappointed, I marched on.  

Just a short walk away was Wayland's Smithy, a buriel chamber named after the Saxon God of Smiths. For my money, this was the highlight of the trip so far. It was impossible not to be impressed with the architecture and engineering of this historical relic. There was an air of mystery about the place too. local legend has it that Wayland, for a small charge, will shoe a horse if left here overnight. 

Wayland Smithy
For the next hour or so I plodded along a very quiet path, passing signs of ancient agriculture every bit as impressive as Mediterranean hill terraces. I crossed the M4 around 4pm and rendezvoused with Kathy and the kids. What an amazing day! This is what it's all about. 

Hackpen White Horse

The Ridgeway: Stage 6
Near Liddington Castle to the Sanctuary at Overton Hill
or Up On The Downs
August 2017

The first order of the day was a lie-in. I'd had some early starts this week but I could afford a leisurely breakfast as I only had a short drive to the start of today's walk. 

Near Liddington Castle
I was back on the Ridgeway by 10am experiencing the best hiking has to offer, glorious countryside and warm sunny weather. Within minutes I'd passed Liddington Castle, which is believed by some to be the site of Mount Badon and the location of King Arthur's famous victory over the Saxons. However, there's bugger all archaeological evidence to back up this claim.

Soon after I reached Barbury castle. Unlike the other Iron Age hill forts on the Ridgeway, the path cuts straight through the castle's impressive grounds. Originally, this fort was used as a refuge, a place where people and their livestock could retreat in times of trouble, now it's a popular tourist destination.  On a more interesting note, it was here I realised I'd forgotten my lunch (doh!), thankfully there was an ice cream van on hand for some light refreshment!

Later that afternoon, walking on very tired legs, I began my final push to West Kennett. The Hackpen White Horse and Berwick Bassett Dew Pond provided interesting diversions during an otherwise arduous slog to Overton Hill. By 4:00pm I'd reached my goal and completed the 87 miles of the Ridgeway. 

Rather than end my walk in the scruffy car park, I crossed the A4 to the aptly named Sanctuary, a small enclosure containing the site of a 4,500 year old temple. I couldn't think of a more fitting place to end my walk. 

Thank you for reading x

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Footsteps In Sound: Volume 3 (Stage 3 & 4)

The Ridgeway: Stage 3
Watlington to North Stoke 
or Snowdrop-Bulb Rustling 
August 2016

A Red Kite near Watlington
Day 3 got off to an amazing start! As I walked along a farm track I saw 7 Red Kites hunting over a recently harvested field*. It was an awe-inspiring sight that made up for yesterday's boring trek. 

For the next few miles the path skirted around idilic farmland before climbing through a fairly steep woody plantation. Soon after, I passed the beautiful parish church of St Batolph, a church famous for being a Snowdrop-bulb rustling site! Feeling somewhat bemused by this information, I made my way towards one of Henry VIII's old stomping grounds, Ewelme Park Estate. Apparently, the young tyrant practiced archery here when he wasn't terrorising the royal court!

The parish church of St Batolph
By midday I'd reached the village of Nufield (where Vicount Morris of Morris Motors is buried) and the bloody heavens opened! For the next two hours your trusty hiker was battered by rain, it was so heavy that even the trees surrounding the mysterious Grim's Ditch couldn't save me from a good soaking. Still, I did manage to spend a few moments marvelling at this huge Iron Age earthwork. From here I pulled up my hood and marched on, however, I was so intent on reaching North Stoke and escaping the rain that I forgot to pay attention to the path!

About 30 minutes after leaving Nufield I somehow managed to leave the Ridgeway and walk right through a private garden! Just as I was about to pass through a gate a woman came out of her house to enquire what I was doing. 
'I'm on the Ridgeway', I replied
'no you're not, you're in my garden'! 
Bugger. Apologising profusely, I was escorted off the property and back on to the path. What an idiot I am. 

Grim's Ditch (right of tree)
I 'heroically' waded on but by 2pm I'd walked 10.5 miles in 3.5 hours and I'd had enough. I stopped for lunch at a church in North Stoke (the only decent shelter on route) and decided to make up the miles later in the week. I phoned Kathy for immediate evac. Great walk, crap weather.  
*I soon found out that this isn't an uncommon sight around these parts!

The Ridgeway: Stage 4
North Stoke to the Baron Wantage Memorial 
or 3 generations and you're forgotten! 
August 2016

Mural found in motorway underpass

After a lovely day off visiting the (creepy) Hell Fire Caves and the Roald Dahl museum it was time to brush the dirt off my boots, pack my bags and return to the Ridgeway. 

Viaduct over the Thames
First off, the weather was glorious, and with the sun beating down I completed the first 4 miles with ease. The path followed the Thames, passing through affluent villages like South Stoke, before heading west over the river at Goring. It was obvious that the Ridgeway was changing and not before time too! The woodland walks and monotonous hedged paths were gone, now the Ridgeway traversed wide open tracks and access roads through beautiful farm land. The wide low valley of Streatley Warren, covered in wheat and dotted with rabbit warrens, was a particularly impressive sight.

Past Streatley Warren
By early afternoon I'd reached the most exposed section of the Ridgeway yet and thank God it wasn't raining, because there wasn't any shelter for bloody miles! However, the walking was very easy and the wildflowers, wheat fields and racecourse gallops provide interest on route. 
Baron Wantage memorial

By 4pm I'd arrived at the neglected monument to Baron Wantage and the end of stage 3. Weeds now grow in cracks on the plinth and the pillar stands scratched with graffiti and discoloured by lichen. It's a shame as Wantage was, amongst many other things, a soldier, philanthropist, friend of Florence Nightingale and a founder of what later became the British Red Cross Society. 

Day 4 was over. 

Thank you for reading. 

Footsteps in Sound Volume 3 (Stage 1 & 2)

The Ridgeway: Stage 1
Ivinghoe Beacon to Cadsden or The Hills Are Alive
August 2017

Talk about starting our holiday in style! After an average breakfast in a smelly pub we returned to our hotel, gathered our stuff and promptly locked ourselves out of our room. To make matters worse, the hotel's computer system was kaput and reception (understandably) didn't want to open a room for a gobby scouser (Kathy) who's identity they couldn't verify. 

The humble beginning of my Ridgeway Walk
By 10am we'd sorted the situation and made our way to the start/end of the Ridgeway path at Ivinghoe Beacon*. 

For the next 15 miles the Ridgeway traversed a pretty but unremarkable route. The first 10 miles or so were dominated by chalky paths and quiet woody plantations that skirted affluent villages and classy little commuter towns. It wasn't until late afternoon that I reached the Ridgeway’s first notable highlights, Coombe Hill and Chequers. 

War memorial at Coombe Hill
Around 12 or 13 miles from Ivanhoe Beacon you'll find Coombe Hill, the highest point in the Chilterns, upon which stands a monument to the soldiers of Buckinghamshire who died in the Boer War. This is a popular spot with locals for the obvious reason that the panoramic views are bloody stunning. From here the path runs south west through an unnervingly quiet wood (it was creepy) before crossing the grounds of the Prime Minister’s Chequers estate. 

A typical scene on my first stage of the
This is the history bit-stay with me! Chequers was built yonks ago and during WW1 it was converted in to a hospital for wounded soldiers. Following the armistice of 1918, Chequers was donated to the old goat, David Lloyd George, and it's been used since by serving Prime Ministers. It really is a stunning property surrounded by a beautiful estate, however, this wasn't a particularly enjoyable section of the route. Hikers are constantly, and I mean constantly, reminded of the penalties of straying off the path by numerous warning signs. To be honest, this doesn't make for an enjoyable/relaxing walk- right to roam it ain't! 

Wild flowers near Cadsden
Thankfully, the last few miles more than made up for it. I walked a quiet, undulating green lane flanked by grassy verges festooned with wildflowers. It was a great way to end a walk. 

*It'll become obvious why I walked the Ridgeway in the wrong direction in subsequent posts.

The Ridgeway: Stage 2
Cadsden to Watlington or Nature Attacks!
August 2017

Good God, I reckon today was possibly my third worst walk of all time. Over 4.5 hours I endured all the evils of hiking-crap weather, boring muddy paths and bad time keeping. 

Woods near Cadsden
Firstly, it rained all bloody morning. Really heavy rain, and it was misty too. I'd planned a spot of sightseeing at Cadsden but this was virtually impossible. The mist meant I was unable to see the Whiteleaf Cross, a hillside chalk mural, and the incessant rain then blunted my enthusiasm for an ancient burial mound. It looked good but I couldn't be arsed to read the information board in weather like this. So on I trudged.

Barrow near Casden

To be fair, for the next few miles the Ridgeway traversed pretty, undulating countryside until Chinnor Hill and then things went downhill fast. And I mean fast!

Random plastic pig in Field

From this point on the Ridgeway became a monotonous slog along a straight, muddy and chalky path flanked by high hedges. It was unbelievably boring because there was literally nothing to see but the path in front of me. It was so dull that passing under the M40 was a genuine moment of interest! 

Motorway underpass

As if the day couldn't get any worse, I arrived in Watlington, the smallest town in England, very wet, very smelly, very tired and 3 hours early for my pick up. Thankfully, I found a nice coffee shop and happily killed a few hours drinking coffee whilst writing this blog.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Footsteps in Sound Volume 2 (Stage 5 & 6)

Hadrian's Wall Path: Stage 5&6
To Walton-Carlisle-Bowness on Solway
August 2016
 A Confession. 

First things first. I honestly thought I could walk from Walton to Bowness. I told an Italian couple who looked at me like I was mad. I then learned that Walton to Bowness is a little over 26 MILES! So I gave up in Carlisle and decided to finish the walk tomorrow (more of that later). What a kn*b. 

Anyway, back to today's 'events'. 

Carlisle Castle
I started at Walton and quickly fell in step with a lovely Dutch couple who were walking the Wall. These guys were armed to the teeth with GPS units, maps and guidebooks. I, however, had nothing. The route is so easy to follow that I'd long since given up on my OS maps. However, about an hour in to our walk a Labrador came bursting out of the woods, barking aggresively. We nervously kept walking but missed our turning in all the excitement. Thankfully, the GPS was fired up and we managed to find the path without having to backtrack. 

There are worse places to get lost!
There are always occasions on long distance walks when you need a little help from strangers. Well, today was the day karma smiled on me.  

Having said goodbye to the Dutch couple, I was making my way along the banks of the River Eden when a couple out walking their dog told me I was going the wrong way (you gain nothing from being suspicious in situations like this). Apparently, a sign had been damaged or lost in the christmas floods. I was soon back on the path and within an hour I was in Carlisle. I decided that walking a further 16 miles today was all types of crazy. So I found a stunning book shop, ordered a coffee and started typing. 

Hadrian's Wall Stage: Day 6

6 Hours: 16 miles to go! The Sun is shining, the sky is blue and my feet aren't aching. Let's hike!

Civic art near Carlisle Castle
5 Hours 24 minutes: The path is closed due to severe flood damage near the start of today's stage. Damn. I'm going to have to retrace my steps and find another crossing over the River Eden.  That's an hour lost for sure.  

5 Hours 10 Minutes: I've just walked past the Joiners Pub in Carlisle. A plaque, about 5 feet above the pavement, marks the high water mark of Hurricane Desmond. Jesus, that's scary. 

4 Hours 55 Minutes: Back on the path-get in!

4 Hours: Lunch. I was't expecting much from today's walk, but it's been a beauty so far. The path follows the River Eden through Oak studded fields, riverside woods and idyllic villages. This really is a stunning part of the country. There's still the odd diversion in place 8 months after Hurricane Desmond, but who cares about the extra miles when the walking is this good.
The end was in sight

1 Hour 22 Minutes: Thank God, the pub is open! I've just arrived at the Highland Laddie Inn at Glasson and it's absolutely cracking the flags. It's been a bit of a slog from Beaumont along the (seemingly endless) road to Burgh by Sands and Drumburgh but the views over the Solway have more than made up for it. My legs are knackered but I'm having an amazing day. I'm just refuelling on coffee and Diet Coke and then I'm off to Bowness-on-Solway. 

Finished:  I say goodbye to the friends I've made over a beer in the local pub. Like I said earlier, this walk is amazing because each day the environment changes; Newcastle to the suburbs, farm land to the moors, idyllic countryside to the Solway. The Wall goes from being an intermittent presence to a constant companion before fading away until only a ghost remains. I have loved walking Hadrian's Wall. 

Thank you to my support team: Kathy, Neve, Naomi and the 4-4. You guys ROCK!

See you on the path

Friday, 19 August 2016

Footsteps In Sound: Volume 2 (Stage 4, Day 5)

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 5
To Walton
August 2016
Day 4 was my rest day; however, I spent most of the day feeling tired and a little rough. The walk from Chollerford to Once Brewed, coupled with a crap night's sleep, took it out of me. Our hotel room was behind a dance club that kicked out the jams late in to the night. We moved rooms around midnight but the damage was done and we all suffered a crap night's sleep. We managed to have an amazing day in Alston (thank you Kathy) and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Jean Michel Jarre's 'Equinoxe' LP for a couple of quid, but I still wasn't feeling 100%. To be honest, I was being a bit macho on day 3, walking pretty fast and ignoring the bad weather until it was too late (I.E. I was drenched before I put my waterproofs on). So today (day 5) I've more food, warmer clothing and an extra hour scheduled to complete the walk. Let's chuffing hike! 

By 12 noon, the wind, rain and grumpy walkers that plagued me on day 3 have gone. There is a gently breeze, the sun is shinning and the people are friendly. I've spent two hours following the Wall over the moors, dodging cow sh*t whilst humming Dam the River by Alice in chains (a song that will never live up to its amazing opening riff). After a quick coffee at Walltown Quarry, I'm back on the path. 5 minutes later it's absolutely pi**ing it down. Arrrrrr! Thankfully, the rain only lasts for about an hour. 

Hadrian's Wall
Having spent 3 full days here it seems pretty obvious that most tourists head straight for the area around Housesteads Fort when visiting Hadrian's Wall. For my money, the best remains are to be found near the village of Gilsland, west of Walton Quarry. There's an impressively high section of the Wall, complete with bridge abutments near the river Irthing and, to top it off, Birdoswald Fort. It's simply stunning. 

Wild flowers on the
After several more hours of amazing hiking I'm met by the staggering remains of Hadrian's Wall at Hare Hill, the last visible section of the wall for the rest of the walk. However, my enthusiasm is somewhat crushed by the news that some dude rebuilt this part of the Wall in the 19th century. What was he thinking? Anyway, one stone bares the initials 'PP', suggesting that soldiers under the command of Primus Pilus worked here. Now that's mind blowing, but not as good as finding a SNES in a wall (see day 2). 

I reach Walton at 4:15pm hoping for a pint at The Centurion Inn, but sadly its closed down (or so a local tells me). Still, what an absolutely amazing day!!

Hare Hill

P.S. I can not wait to hit the path again tomorrow, I'm having the time of my life. Each day the environment changes, be it Newcastle  to the suburbs or farm land to the moors. The Wall goes from being an intermittent presence to a constant companion. I'd say Hadrian's Wall Path is second only to the Coast to Coast (so far, at least).  

Thank you for reading.


See you tomorrow for the final two posts (stage 5 & 6)
The Painted Ones is available as a free download from Soundcloud.

Footsteps in Sound: Volume 2 (Day 3)

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 3
To Once Brewed
August 2016
AKA: The Day From Hell 

Brocolitia Mithraic Temple
Things started well. I came across the beautiful ruins of a temple dedicated to Mithras, the bull slayer. Feeling inspired, I honestly thought I'd have a go at writing a little poem recounting Mithras' adventures. I spent the next 30 minutes happily writing away, convincing myself I was the next Simon Armitage! What a knob I am. 
Anyway, the Gods were less than impressed with my literary offering and unleashed 3 hours of hell on your trusty blogger. Head winds, driving rain, grumpy walkers and undulating terrain all conspired to make my journey as miserably as possible. Not even the Wall or Housesteads Fort could lift my spirits (to make matters worse, the information boards at many of the mile castles were in a shameful state. The people who visit Hadrian's Wall deserve way better). There was one ray of light, however, when some grumpy bloke said 'hello' (he didn't mean it) and then slipped on his arse in front of me. HA!

It was great to finally
meet Karl Pilkington

In spite of the weather, it was impossible not be blown away by the construction of Hadrian's Wall. It really is amazing to follow this fortification as it climbs hills and shear cliffs, across rivers and meadows. You only have to compare the Wall to (the impressive) Offa's Dyke in Wales to realise the Romans were working on a different level when it came to this type of thing.

Yes, it is the Sycamore Tree from 
Robin Hood
Thankfully, the rain cleared around 2pm and my shorts began to dry. I finally passed the Sycamore tree immortalised by Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but I was too tired to care. 30 minutes later, I was sat in the Twice Brewed pub enjoying an average coffee and a lovely bowl of soup. To be honest though, I was starting to feel a little rough. 

P.S. We had to move hotel rooms at 12am, The hotel is behind a dance club. Totally knackered.

P.P.S I picked up a copy of Jean Machel Jarre's Equinoxe LP in a junk shop in Alston. Ace!

Thank you for reading.

2_6_20 is available from Soundcloud as a free download