Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A lovely Walk in Oxfordshire

One small problem with trying to walk a National Trail in summer is your accommodation trailside is kind of slim.  As in, book a few weeks ahead.  Or a month.  Or several months.   Or be prepared to sleep outside.

With that in mind, I took the train to Goring and Strealey station in Oxfordshire to walk a bit of the Thames path and some surrounding countryside up by Goring Gap.  A day trip of sorts, with my trusty book of walks in hand.

This area was moneyed.  Thameside mansions and estates were the name of game here.

And houseboats!  I do love a houseboat.

It was great birdwatching- I probably saw a dozen red kites circling lazily along the river, dozens of songbirds and a huge variety of water foul.

It was a warm, muggy day, but the trail followed an old towpath and was mostly treed in now, so the shade was nice.  

You still see odd artifacts of fortification protecting old railroad bridges and hillsides here, like this pillbox.

But mostly, gorgeous old trees.  You could tell the area was moneyed because there was less agriculture and livestock, more horses.  And not shabby ones either.

The trail ascends steeply through Goring Gap- a hillside that glacier melt cut through during the last ice age.  It's the one hill on the trail, and it was steep enough for mountain bikers to be walking their bikes down the hill.  Supposedly it's a gorgeous view from the top, but the foliage was so thick you couldn't even get a glimpse.

From there, we left the Thames and started walking through the countryside.

Our book had told us about a Pub a half mile off the trail.  We made for it but we were horrified to learn that it was still called the "King Charles Head", but it was now a private residence.  Herein lies the problem using a 10 year old guide book.

We walked into the tiny hamlet of Mapledurham.  I was looking forward to sitting and grabbing a cold drink in the cafe, but then I found out that just walking around the town and going to the cafe was going to put me out a few quid.  Seriously!

It's an estate on the Thames with a long history of harbouring Catholics in times of anti-catholic sentiment.  A beautiful little 13th-century church, a mansion, and a watermill comprised the estate.  

Kenneth Grahame supposedly based Toad Hall here in Wind in the Willows.  He's a local folk hero and he's buried nearby.

But, lo!  What was this commotion in a nearby field?

Doggy Agility!

We hit it at the tail-end (ahem) and only saw a couple dogs run through, but they had fresh water taps and a lovely ice cream vendor and a Thameside bank to plant one-selves.

Take that, Mister Toad!

While we carry plenty of water, we're careful to ration out what we have for the day until we hit a tap, and then I realize how friggin thirsty I was as I downed a litre.

Much, much better.  Also, I didn't realize I would be going through bottles of SPF 50 here, but I have.

Back on the trail, more farmland.  Really fancy horse farms.

I came across this little farmstand and bought some garlic on the honor system, since they were out of strawberries and garlic seemed to be the most portable option.

And then- an huge alpaca farm.  Hundreds of freshly shorn alpacas of all colors dotting the hillsides.

Finally, we made our exit at Pangbourne.  There's a bridge across the Thames here that is currently just a footbridge, as they are replacing the Whitechurch bridge.  We had a bit of a panic when we saw the construction barges and no discernible way to get across, as it would have been another 4 miles back to Goring Streatley Station.  Happily, they had a pedestrian walk way set up across the river.

We found a fancy pub on the riverside called The Swan.  Although the pub itself was ancient, it was a conglomerate-owned renovated place, but ofttimes that means the food is a bit better than normal, and this place was fairly good.  We ended up sitting riverside, drinking a bottle of wine and eating our Sunday dinner here.  The walk, although fairly flat, was a pretty challenging 12 miles of sunny warm hiking.

A lovely way to spend a Sunday.

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