Monday 3rd May 2010
18 miles approx.
Following on from the horribly unwelcoming experience at Down Barn Farm, I escaped very quickly down the driveway and then slowed down considerably as soon as I’d joined the Ridgeway again. It was going to be a long day of eighteen miles, more than I’d ever done before. Five minutes after joining the Ridgeway I’d already stopped for a rest. It was going to be a psychological challenge as well as a physical one, and it didn’t help that my accommodation had brought the mood down considerably.
After passing the car park at Sparsholt Firs I went past some features known as the Devil’s Punchbowl and Crowhole Bottom.
I saw two people walking towards me, so I decided to chance it and go and speak to them. Enter Gemma and Ben, stage left. They were also doing the Ridgeway walk, the difference being that they’d been camping and their backpacks were considerably heavier than mine. They were lovely people and cheered me up, and I joined them all the way to Streatley. Walking on your own really is such a different experience to walking with other people. It was really motivating, and if I’d continued on my own I would have been very likely to have dropped out half way through and phoned for taxi.
At the crossing of the A338 there was a sign indicating a cafe down the road to the left, presumably the tea house belonging to the Court Hill Centre. We resisted, turned right and then left again to follow the path. The Great British Weather was out in full force, alternating between rain and sun, and it was also very windy. Every time we tried to stop for a rest, the weather turned bad again. We tried to have lunch in a section of trees near the delightfully named Scutchamer Knob; five minutes later there was a hailstorm so we gave up and continued with the walk. I did manage to get one photo where the weather looked good.
For most of the walk we could see the power station at Didcot, which was strangely reassuring and also provided some variety in the rather repetitive landscape. That’s not to say it was unattractive – it’s a very beautiful part of the country. It’s just that there’s very little variation and most my landscape photos look more or less the same.
There isn’t much else to say about the route itself, except that we followed lots of open downland for most of the way and it was impossible to keep out of the wind. The main issue was keeping going and making myself believe that I really could walk eighteen miles. The signposts were reassuring, although I never knew the exact mileage because I didn’t know exactly what they meant when they said Streatley. Did they mean Streatley town centre, or Goring & Streatley Station which was about a mile further on? The other problem was that we really needed to have rest stops, but every time we stopped for more than a few minutes our legs would become stiff and it took a few minutes to warm up once we got going again. In any case, having people with me was a huge boost and I’m so glad I didn’t have to do the whole thing on my own.
We eventually reached Streatley where we finally had a real change of scenery. The houses there are beautiful. Ben and Gemma were very lucky to get a lift home. I didn’t get any contact details, but if you happen to be reading this one day, thank you for cheering me up and thank you for the company!
The trouble with a walk this long is that it becomes very difficult to just be in the moment and enjoy the walk in itself; it starts to become all about getting to the finish line. On one hand this completely defeats the object of the walk and can be difficult to get yourself out of this frame of mind. On the other hand, when you’re tired and have walked too far already and the scenery has become boring, sometimes it probably is about getting to the end. Walks like these are arranged according to the availability of accommodation and public transport, and unless you’re wild camping then you have to take what you can get.
I’m glad to have read that the second half of the Ridgeway is a very different walk, and that it goes through more woodland. On the other hand, I think the first half was a really good choice for my first ever multi-day walk: not particularly hilly, very well signposted and very easy navigation. I didn’t use my compass even once. The thing that lets it down is the lack of public toilets; usually I don’t mind going out of doors when necessary but the first half of the Ridgeway goes across some very open land, with very few places suitable for women to do so privately. Oh, and Down Barn Farm, which is the singularly worst accommodation experience I’ve had in many years.
I also found that I had to be really careful not to get dehydrated, and I didn’t always succeed. I had a headache on Tuesday and had to take some paracetamol.
The second three days of the Ridgeway will be done as a series of day walks at some point.