Thursday, 8 September 2011

Ridgeway day 5 – Lewknor to Wendover

Ridgeway Footpath sign
Ridgeway Footpath

Today, I felt like I was in my back yard, having trodden this area many many times before. This made it no less daunting, knowing I had ascents of three hills; Lodge, Whiteleaf and Coombe, before I descended to the village of Wendover.

After a quick shop to pick up a new memory card, I was soon dropped off by the Oxford Tube coach, and back on the trail at just gone ten. There was a threat of rain in the air, but this failed to materialise, and I spent the day without the need for waterproofs.

The wide by-way runs north-eastwards below the ridge, and its lower altitude probably accounts for it being so muddy. In sections, it is very straight, and a little off putting when you see the distance laid out in front of you.

The long trail to Chinnor
The long trail to Chinnor

There was plenty to occupy my mind, though. Once again, I was spotting prime sloe picking spots, and even chanced upon a walnut tree, full of fruit, although not quite ready to  be harvested.

Walnuts
Walnuts

Passed the Chinnor turn off, which feels like an age to reach but is actually only an hour, the trail gradually starts to climb, and turn east. I found myself, without realising the height I had gained, on a bridleway with a steep wooded bank falling away to the left, and still rising to my right. This is Wain Hill, a section of Bledlow Great Wood. It is beautiful, wild and quite dark.

Trees
Trees
Byway around the edge of Wain Hill
Byway around the edge of Wain Hill
Leaving Thickthorne Wood
Leaving Thickthorne Wood

Eventually, I emerged from the woods, and out into a grassy field, where I got my first site of Lodge Hill in the distance. At a height of 211 metres, it is not a giant by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a short steep climb on a slippery chalk surfaced path that left me breathing a little more heavier than I had done previously today.

Approaching Lodge Hill
Approaching Lodge Hill

I arrived at the top at midday, and took lunch. Stretching out before me was the next objective, the walk across the railways, into the outskirts of Princes Risborough, and up to Whiteleaf Hill.

Looking to Bledlow Ridge from Lodge Hill.
Looking to Bledlow Ridge from Lodge Hill

I was finding today particularly tough. My body was feeling all sorts of aches; the most disturbing was an intermittent pain in the pectoral regions of my chest. Was the body beginning to break down? Had I attempted this walk too soon?

Line to Princes Risborough
Railway outside Princes Risborough

Princes Risborough ticked off, I made the one hundred metre ascent of Whiteleaf Hill, a lofty height of about 240 metres! Here, is one of the finest views on this stretch, high above the town, looking out across the Vale of Aylesbury. The summit also has a Neolithic barrow! Archaeologists found  the remains of a man, and estimates put the burial at 5,500 years ago.

Up to Whiteleaf Hill
Up to Whiteleaf Hill
Barrow on Whiteleaf Hill
Neolithic Barrow on Whiteleaf Hill
Whiteleaf Hill
Whiteleaf Hill

Stepping back into the woods, I soon descended to the Plough at Cadsden. It’s a good pub, excellent food, but as is normally the way, I always arrive here too late for lunch.

The Ridgeway now passes around the base of Pulpit Hill, the location for another Iron Age hill fort, but this cannot be seen without a side trip. Unlike those on the first half of the trail, this one is buried in the woods, and difficult to make out when you visit it.

I carried on, out to the perimeter of the estate of Chequers, the country residence of the Prime Minister. I always find it amazing that the footpath crosses this estate, especially in these days of heightened security, but still we are allowed to, albeit with closed circuit television and the polite warnings that “This is a protected site under Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Trespass on this site is a criminal offence.”

Coombe Hill
Coombe Hill
Chequers
Chequers
Approaching Coombe HIll
Up to Coombe Hill

Almost finished for the day, a forty minute climb back up onto the ridge, through the usual dense woodland, and out onto one of my favourite places in the Chilterns; Coombe Hill.

Through Lodge Hill
Through Lodge Hill
The view from here is probably the best of the day. It is also the last opportunity for you to “marvel” at the Didcot Power Station! To the north-east, I get my first look at what awaits me on the next leg.

Didcot Power Station
Didcot Power Station

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t conducive to a good photograph today, so I made do with a self portrait sitting below the impressive monument commemorating the locals who died in the Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902.

Me on Coombe Hill
Me on Coombe Hill
Coombe Hill Monument
Coombe Hill Monument

All downhill from here now, a half hour descent to the village of Wendover, where I would catch the train home. Once again, I timed it right, and waited no more than ten minutes to be homeward bound.
Twelve miles tomorrow, despite the fatigue and aches, I was feeling confident.