Saturday 3rd July
When I did the first half of the Ridgeway a couple of months ago, I was contending with biting winds and had to keep moving in order to keep warm. This time it was too hot and we had to take lots of rest stops. Another major difference was that I had my lovely boyfriend with me, which made things a lot better. I learned last time that there is a considerable psychological challenge to walking long distances on your own.
We left Goring at 10.35am where it seemed like there was a considerable faff trying to get to the Thames. There were houses to walk past and then the village of South Stoke before we finally reached the river path. It seemed to take forever.
At North Stoke we took a small detour to the Springs Hotel where they very kindly let us use their toilet. I was surprised they didn’t ask us to take our boots off first in order to protect their beautiful carpets, although it was a dry day so we weren’t covered in mud.
After the big right turn at Mongewell we crossed the A4074 and finally joined Grim’s Ditch, which is a three or four mile stretch. It was a bit disappointing and it was also the hottest part of the day, so we stopped for a lunch break, carried on, and then took two more short breaks within the course of an hour. I always think that if the weather is hot enough to sit in a park with a t-shirt on, then it’s too hot to go for a walk. If we hadn’t booked accommodation in advance, we probably wouldn’t even have set out in the first place. Grim’s Ditch became a lot more picturesque towards the eastern half.
Near the end we passed Woodlands Farm, who have very kindly provided a water tap where we refilled our bottles.
Upon reaching Nuffield Common we had a proper break next to the golf course. The original plan was for the first day to last ten miles and for us to stay at a B&B in Nuffield. However, upon phoning a B&B we found out that the pub in Nuffield closed some time ago and we’d have to get a cab to another village to get an evening meal. This didn’t really appeal, so we changed our plans to lengthen the first day. Anyway, we walked past said pub and peeked into the window. Weirdly, all the tables were laid with cultery, napkins and glasses. It definitely wasn’t open, but I suppose it must be nice to keep up appearances.
We continued the five mile slog to Watlington. It probably wasn’t that difficult a walk, but it was such a hot and sweaty day and our speed was becoming slower and slower.
Finally we reached the turning for Watlington:
Our destination for the night was the Fox & Hounds pub, where we heaved a huge sigh of relief upon taking our boots off. They have a spacious beer garden with a hammock hanging from a tree, and also a bouncy castle. More pubs should have hammocks and bouncy castles! (We only tried out the hammock though…) The accommodation itself is in a converted barn in the back garden and is pleasant enough. The bed was comfortable and the pub served food, which was a good thing when you’ve walked fifteen miles and don’t feel like going out again. The local Indian restaurant has very good reviews, but we preferred to find the closest food possible.
We also saw a few Red Kites which used to be more or less extinct but were reintroduced to the area around twenty years ago, and the breeding programme has been successful.
The bad news was that I’d ended up with aching arms of all things, as opposed to my legs. My bag had started falling apart, so I’d bought a new one on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately I hadn’t spent long enough trying it out in the shop. I mean, it’s just a day-sized backpack so how difficult can it be? It turned out that the shoulder straps were a lot less flexible than I’m used to, and also the buckles kept rubbing against my arms so I ended up with a raw patch on each arm. My old backpack has a huge rip which can’t be repaired, so I think I need to go shopping again and spend a lot more time trying things on.