29 May – Our last day

It was misty and low visibility all day. Just as we arrived at our outstanding B&B – Ridgeway Lodge – serious rain started and it has continued unabated. As I walked up the driveway here I noticed a Canadian flag flying from the flag staff. What a kind welcome. John and Miv are kind hosts. Miv picked Pat up at the train station and took her grocery shopping for dinner supplies as we have a kitchen here and are quite a distance out of town.

Our walk was a bit different again. Through woods and meadows. Some ups and downs. No difference in that. The tone of the scenery, I think, is what marked this section of the trail as distinct from the previous sections we’ve walked. We crossed a few more roads, and a rail track. The rail track was a bit scary. The trains come round the nearby corner at speed! We’re both alive so no worries – we made the crossing safely.

The mistiness of the day ensured our attention was focused to the near. There were no wide visas to be admired. The damp leaves, the smooth tree bark, nodding grasses, bird song, hawks (Red Kites) soaring, sheep resting in long grass, walking beneath a massive spreading oak tree. Distant sounds and distractions muted. My mind focused on the power and majesty of this route.

Yesterday we walked straight across three fairways of a golf course. The ancient right of way of the Ridgeway taking precedence over an upstart golf course. Today we walked across a busy rail line and an extensive tunnel has been built to take the Ridgeway walkers safely under a major six lane motor way.

The Ridgeway brought migrants as soon the land was freed from the last ice age. It continues to welcome humans to move freely, following the same ageless path. Today hostels, inns and B&Bs enable people like us to enjoy its legacy with ease. I can’t help but ponder about and marvel at the drive that brought the first people along this way. I am so very grateful that this route has been recognized for its importance and protected from the “advances” and incursions of our modern life. There are few other places in the world that we can, today, walk in the footsteps of our ancestors with such freedom.

We haven’t walked the entire Ridgeway. For me this is unfinished business. I hope to come back in the not too distant future and walk it in its entirety. I hope to do this with Pat once her injury is healed.

Good night from near Princes Risborough. This is my last blog from this trip. My next blog will be from Nepal in October. I hope you will join me and some other friends as we embark on another adventure.

28 May – A bit of upping and downing

Why are the high areas in this part of England called downs?

In old English the word for Hill was “dun.” As a result, the hills we’ve been walking over are called downs.

Today’s walk was a bit different from the past few. We walked out of Streatley in a damp mist and followed the River Thames for a while. “Wind in the Willows” came to mind. Some of our walk was through damp high grass meadow, some between high fences and hedges, some through a quiet very upscale residential area. No rundown weedy gardens here. Beautiful homes of varying sizes. Lovely gardens, all prolifically blooming. We watched some rowing shells rushing up and down the river, the rowers all in perfect rhythm and the bosons providing an occasional direction.

Next we walked through a more than five kilometre stretch of narrow woodland along a Iron Age earthworks. The mound had been created by digging a deep ditch along one side. This was possibly a boundary of some sort to demarcate someone’s land from someone else’s. It is called Gim’s Ditch. It made for pleasant walking as the day became warm and muggy. As we walked along I wondered what this place would tell me if the rocks and trees could speak.

We stopped at a couple of village churches. One offered cakes and tea as the local pub was closed. Another had medieval wall frescos. Both had benches on which to rest. We were in no rush today so had a few pleasantly longer than normal rest stops. We’re busy eating all the extra bits and pieces in our lunch bags that we’ve been carting along for the past few weeks! The wee bags of English crisps travel very well! There’s nothing like a bag of crisps for an afternoon snack in a grassy meadow.

The route today was a bit narrower and more hilly than the past couple of days. The ups were hot in the afternoon! We paused to watch a pair of hawks circle overhead. They hung nearly motionless in the warm air as they searched for small creatures in the grass. We paused to discuss the philosophy of being a black sheep with several such creatures. We had a discussion about having nervous dispositions with some cows. We have dawdling down to a fine art.

We’re now in Watlington at the Fat Fox Inn. Our room is cozy and pleasant. The ensuite has a bath tub! Bliss. We walked 25 kms today and on top of the past couple of long days we’re feeling a bit weary. This blog is a bit disjointed as a result. My mind is really more on dinner than doing a good proof read!

Cheers from Watlington in Oxfordshire (I think)

27 May – When will we learn and an almost marriage proposal!

We enjoyed a lovely walk today. A bit more than 20 kms. We took our time as the hostel where we will spend tonight doesn’t receive guests until 5pm. We are now sipping cold beers in the pub next door awaiting the appointed time of entry. This morning was cloudy but warm. This afternoon sunny, humid and hot for walking. The cold beer when we stumbled into “The Bull went down pretty quickly.

One of the sights on today’s walk was a column with a cross at the top set up in honour of Baron Wantage who served in the Crimean War and was a founding member of the British Red Cross. I think the guy deserves being memorialized. The people who erected his memorial did so atop a Bronze Age burial mound. This, I have trouble with. When will people learn that the monuments, cultures, and spiritual beliefs of others and those who have gone before have value, and should not be defaced, erased, denigrated?

Christian Romans subjugating paganism with celebrations such as Christmas and Easter. Christians repurposing Roman temples into churches. Then Muslims making Christian churches into Mosques (OK that’s probably just sensible recycling). The hacking apart of the stone henge at Avebury. Throughout history these things have been done. Canada’s residential schools are a modern example of the same lack of respect for the “other” by those in current power. Sometimes these injustices just jump up and slap me in the face and I feel so sad to be part of a culture (species) that perpetuates these wrongs.

This is what happens when, kilometre after gentle kilometre, I let my mind wander and contemplate. The Ridgeway is a route that lends itself to contemplation.

On the Coastal Path almost every hill top gave rise to more stunning views. More “oh wow”exclamations. The Coastal Path is like a fabulously beautiful, glamorously dressed young person who causes all heads to turn in awe. The Ridgeway on the other hand unfolds its more subtle beauty, and in a softer manner. Here there are fewer “oh wow” moments and the path is not glamorous. The Ridgeway has a refined subtle beauty of someone who has weathered a long life with grace.

Today there was a mountain bike event. We were offered, and accepted, delicious home made banana bread at one of the check points. There were 700 registrations and I’m sure they all passed us. The trail was wide and there was room for us walkers and the madly peddling bikers to share comfortably. Many cheerful good mornings were called one to the others. Later in the day we came across an unhappy trio. One was injured and they didn’t know exactly where they were so couldn’t tell medical assistance where to come. Between Marianne’s guide book maps, mine and my “Pocket Earth” app, I was able to pin point the location and passed that on to the attending doctor who was on her way.

A very funny moment today was a marriage proposal. Seriously. A fellow on a bike had paused and talked to Marianne and I during the first hour or so of our walk. Later he showed up again. I was walking alone as Marianne was far in the distance watching cyclists and taking pictures. The fellow started up our conversation again then asked if I was rich, American and a widow. I thought this was pretty funny so told him, “Definitely not American or rich but yes I am a widow.”

“Oh too bad.” He continued, “I’m looking for a good looking, active, fit, rich, American, widow to marry. You’re good looking, active and fit and a widow. If you were also a rich American I’d ask you to marry me.”

What to say? “Well sad to say I do not quite fit the bill.”

“So long then, enjoy your walk.” He called out as he cycled away. I was still laughing as he rode out of sight. Thank goodness I’m a middle class Canadian!

When we arrived at the hostel, we could go in and relax in the lounge, but sun was shining on a picnic table in the front garden. We headed there, removed boots, and lay on our backs in the grass with our travel weary feet up on the bench. I had been carrying some not quite dry smalls with me today. Perfect opportunity to dry them. Socks and nickers adorned the bench as well. By the time 5pm rolled around we were rested and my smalls were dry. Perfect as they are now on my showered body. Those from today, drying in the window of our bright large room. And so it goes. Traveling light means washing and drying certain items daily.

On that note… we’re off for dinner. Good night from very pretty Streatley-on-Thames. About ten kilometres from where Pat is currently resting with a good book.

26 May – When is 33 kms shorter than 17 kms?

One day on the Coastal Path we took eight hours to cover what the guide books assured us was only 17 kms. We were really tired at the end of that day.

Today, Marianne and I have just walked 33.5 kms. We did this in 7.5 hrs. We are tired, but not exhausted. I must say though that the last 3 kms felt too long!

My take-away from this is that the ancient route developed slowly over millennia for effective quick travel from one place to another. The Coastal Path on the other hand has been designed much more quickly, for slow moving pleasure. (Depending on your definition of pleasure.)

Our day started cool, misty and then turned drizzly. By noon the clouds were lifting and before long we were down to our short sleeves, and walking under a warm sun. A good breeze kept things comfortable.

This was a day of white and green. White Queen Anne Lace flowers, white blossoming hawthorn trees and a white chalk pathway. Even in the mist it was a pretty walk. We passed several places of ancient historic interest. An Iron Age long barrow burial site and a couple of Iron Age castles. A great White Horse carved into the chalk. Past sites of long ago battles and artistic inspiration. Where we are staying tonight is very near to where Alfred the Great became great when he defeated the Vikings who where living nearby in what is now Reading. Tolkien and Lewis, who lived in nearby Oxford, came here frequently. There are features of the Wayland Smithy’s burial mound found in both authors books. The manager here is an avid historian and has been regaling us with historical anecdotes.

To say we walked through history today is simply an understatement. My mum used to say the veil was thin in these parts. In this morning’s mist, it was easy to imagine the ancients walking with us.