The Ridgeway: Ogbourne St George to Down Barn Farm (near Sparsholt Firs)

Sunday 2nd May 2010
14-15 miles

I left Ogbourne St George as late as possible, around 11am, since there was very heavy rain in the morning. I never did walk round the loop that goes around the village, instead opting to head east. I had originally planned to go north-east up the road marked Copse Drove, but a man of local knowledge advised me that it was a bit of a strenuous climb so I opted to head along Old Chase Road instead, leading to a footpath which eventually joined the Ridgeway. The scenery and the path was very similar to the previous day.

There are parts of the route that have been so damaged by motor vehicles that they’ve set up alternative paths for walkers only.

The rain reduced to a drizzle around midday, and stopped altogether from about 1pm. However, the path is very exposed and it was very windy. After a while I joined a road which crossed the M4 and then went past the Shepherd’s Rest, a pub which is now closed. It used to be the only pub on this section of the Ridgeway, so now there are none. Someone in Ogbourne had told me that the pub had changed hands several times iver the last few years, but it had never seemed to work out. It’s now being converted into a restaurant.

I went along yet more of the same pathways and tried not to get bored. One thing that did keep me going is that the Ridgeway is so well signposted. They even tell you the mileage to various places, which makes you feel encouraged and motivated to continue.

Things got busier and there were a lot more people out walking near Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic tomb.

Continuing to Whitehorse Hill, I took a detour to see the Uffington White Horse but I couldn’t get a good view of it since it’s best seen from further away.

After a long day I finally arrived at Down Barn Farm, my stopover point for the night. It’s an organic farm with cows, pigs and horses, and is in a beautifully quiet location. It’s also a downright terrible choice of accommodation; I have never felt so unwelcome at a B&B and I would not recommend it to anyone. I know it’s a beef and pork farm, but the landlady had assured me that she was fine with providing vegetarian food. There are also very few accommodation options near Sparsholt Firs, and Down Barn Farm is really near the path; I stayed here so that I wouldn’t have to make too much of a detour.

The landlady greeted me with tea and biscuits, and later on she cooked a lovely evening meal involving carrot soup and a delicious rhubarb and ginger crumble. However, I felt like I was being constantly interrogated as to why I am vegetarian. I am not one of these people who has a go at others for their food choices – I’m not preoccupied with what other people eat – but I felt like she was having a go at me, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. She spoke in a rather curt manner and I did try to overlook it and think that maybe it was just her way, but I was becoming more and more unhappy about the atmosphere in the house. I spoke to the cat for a little while and then went to bed.

In the morning I had breakfast and once again she started with the questions. When I’d finished eating I said that I was going to get my empty water bottles to refill them, and then her two farm hands arrived so they all started discussing the day’s work. A couple of minutes later I came back along the hallway with the empty bottles and when I got back into the kitchen, the three of them were talking about me behind my back. The hallway is carpeted and I wasn’t wearing any shoes, and they were standing in another part of the room around a corner so they obviously hadn’t realised I’d re-entered the room and could hear the entire conversation. Or maybe they did it deliberately because they wanted me to hear; who knows. Anyway, the landlady was making fun of me for saying that I liked animals, for saying that several members of my family don’t eat meat. She was criticising me for practically everything, and doing impressions of my voice in that way that people did in primary school, but most of us have grown up since then. She was probably the school bully when she was younger. Then one of the farm hands said “You know, I agree with Gordon Ramsay. I think we should just get rid of them all”.

I quietly put the empty bottles onto the kitchen table and left the room.

I had brought clean clothes with me for the evenings and breakfasts, but it was now time for me to change back into my walking clothes. I went back into the bedroom, turned the light on and closed the curtains so that I could get changed. Just as I was about to do so, the landlady walked into the room holding some full water bottles and said “Why don’t you just open the curtains and stop burning up all my fucking electricity? You’ll have plenty of light if you just open the curtains, for fuck’s sake”.

I packed my bag as quickly as I could, paid the bill and got the hell out of there, walking along the road in low spirits. I mean, why start a B&B in the first place if you’re not even going to be nice to your guests? Clearly farming is her main business and it felt like the B&B was just a side project to make a few extra quid; that’s fair enough, and I gather that farming isn’t hugely profitable these days, but if you have paying guests then it is not your place to have political arguments with them. Just as long as they are not destroying your property and not causing a nuisance, you can nod politely and speak to a friend about it later. There’s certainly no need to swear at your guests. And if you really must gossip about them, for goodness’ sake wait until they’ve gone first.

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About Karen

One foot in front of the other
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