R5: Streatley to Sparsholt, Segbury Castle 18.6 miles

It seemed that the Thames had been the boundary that had cut the walk in two.

Last night we’d had a drink in a smart bar by the twilight river.

The Thames at Streatley

In the morning, Emma decided she could spare another day. She had to be in London but was invested in the walk.

Refreshed, we donned rucksacks, left Streatley along a busy commuter A road, then to a lane, to a track to a path…up, up ..but now into something recognisable as Wessex style downlands. The wooded Chiltern Hills falling steadily and ever more distantly behind us.

The sign at the start of the path that ascended to the downs.

In an unploughed hollow near the summit, nice earthworks; gullies, terraces and house platforms. It was marked as ‘The Warren’ …I wondered what it was.

We had walked off OS 171 West Chilterns and onto the 170 Vale of the White Horse. I was closing on Uffington.

In front, high exposed chalky undulations.

Good progress, Emma checked strada… good pace, still over 5km an hour as we neared the top.

A brooding day, overcast and.. windy with the promise of rain.

Suddenly, a very large and insufficiently nervous rabbit, lolloped round a corner to confront us. It watched from the side as we walked past. The black ear tips gave it away, a young hare.

We spotted two women approaching us.

They seemed like rare Ridgeway compatriots so I confronted them… they said they were. They’d been overtaken by another walker but had met nobody else doing the walk since Avebury. I guessed he had been the one I’d seen on the other side of Grim’s ditch yesterday.

They were sisters from Trowbridge but had spend much of their life in Canada.. coming home for a while to re-experience Wiltshire and beyond.

They asked if we were going all the way to Overton Hill. I said I would keep going until I reached home in Warminster. ‘You can always change your mind they said’.

It was good to chat ..but as we walked on.. their comment was shocking….my destination was set.. change my mind indeed…something pretty drastic would be needed to deflect me from my goal… though of course drastic things do happen.

Then the hedges disappeared and we were out on the exposed Gallops. Well guarded land, lots of notices telling us to stick to the path.

I had promised a pub stop at East Ilsley but it turned out that the path kinked towards the village but turned back to the crest of the ridge. It was a long way down and then back up again…and pubs on maps can be notoriously fickle…and today would be our longest day so far. We couldn’t really afford another 4km.

So, we threw ourselves down on a verge against some bushes, for shelter, on the edge of the concrete track. I unzipped the blue snack pack and posed the question

‘picnic or double decker’

Both types of chocolate looked worse for wear after 80km.. but it was definitely a double decker day.

The verge between cyclists and equestrians

We lay back in the grass. Behind us, the ground vibrated with sets of approaching and diminishing thudding sounds… and in front of us the sudden rapid whizz of a set of bikers in uniform speeding by. Followed by more thudding behind.

We rested in an island between cyclists and equestrians.

Emma laughed at the sudden busyness of our bleak world.

Re-rucksacked we plodded on through a huge virtually tree-less landscape …broken only by the A34 underpass which was unexpectedly decorated by murals of the local village churches…though the art was faded and graffitied….it had seen better days.

The graffiti in the underpass

The rain came and went.

We were now into a landscape of large wheat fields. The wide wildflowered verges along the ribbon of our path. Regular signs told of an Oxford University investigation of wildlife restoration.

We approached another road with a car park… but before we got there.. an ideally placed black Ridgeway bench loomed up to welcome us. Another memorial to a walker who loved this place.

In the afternoon, a shower so intense that we had time to don full waterproof protection before it stopped.

Then another memorial that described an old war or rather an old warrior. Inscribed with Inkerman, Alma and Sevastopol. The Crimea, still in the news of course. This was really a love token from a wife to her lost husband. To remember Lord Wantage, Robert Loyd-Lindsay VC. A great local benefactor.

We sat on the steps to rest. While looking out over Oxfordshire, we read the inscription.

“I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. Psalm 121.

We prepared to move on. A dog barked at us as its owners walked past.

Mid afternoon, 10km to go and we were slowing.

At the the A road down to Wantage, we saw a sign which told us that the Ridgeway centre was just up the road (imagine the potential civilized delights in such a place) but no time for the deviation (top tip: do less miles a day and see more).

The sign beyond Segbury Camp

A few hundred metres further on brought us to Segbury Camp. We rested as the sun came out and observed the ramparts while peeling a clementine. A dig in 1871 found an Anglo-Saxon grave against the southern rampart (a secondary intrusion) but excavations from 1996-7 found dating evidence to show Segbury had been occupied from the 6th-2nd century BC..so early to mid Iron Age as would be expected… but we needed to meet Sharon at 5.30pm.

We aimed for the Devil’s Punchbowl and Sparsholt Firs…and slowly, slowly we approached them. The Punchbowl was a deep,steep coombe and our path followed its south side. Just beyond it, the Firs marked the road we would take down into civilisation.

The day had been remote and far from nearly any occupied building. To find somewhere to stay, I had booked a place in one of the spring-line villages 2km downhill at the foot of the Ridgeway.

A long quiet lane took us down to Sparsholt and we found Sharon waiting. The pub had been emptied of facilities while being refurbished, but the barn was still occupiable. She showed us around and said she would be back with breakfast in the morning.

We crashed out and eventually found the strength to order pizza from Wantage.

Revived, we explored Sparsholt and noted the Platinum Jubilee itinerary on the signposts and the gathering bunting. The church was huge and its stones from various geological sources were steadily being revealed under peeling render.

Sparsholt Church

A barn owl flitted white and silent between the trees.

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