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General Ridgeway

Ridgeway Day Three – Woolstone to East Ilsley (16.5 miles)

The best possible start to the day (besides a good breakfast) was the continued commitment that Keith had made to take us up by car to near the trail again. That was terrific news for all the walkers and had been offered the previous evening when in conversation with the fake Italian pizza chef who said that Keith was often generous in that regard.

Extra generous as he also included a packet of Tayto crisps which he had brought back from his native Ireland as a treat for the regulars – Irish jockeys who would fall upon them with homesick glee. I had a packet of Pickled Onion with my beef doorstop packed lunch – they are not for the faint-hearted but I can see the attraction.

So after dropping us off near the trail, refusing even a small tip by way of thanks, we concluded Keith was a good landlord and that we had enjoyed a good stay.

The mist was hanging low into the valleys and it took an hour or more to burn off as the gentle rays of sun poked through the cloud.

Ridgeway Day 3-1

We were again lucky with the weather.

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Coming through Sparsholt Firs we thought that many must use the suggested stops in cars as there was plenty of parking but very little else. Great for the day hiker but the only pub seemed to be a little way off the trail.

Mind you it was quickly becoming apparent that I should have planned the trail to be done over 8 days, as even 7 day distances seemed to be taking their toll.

Carey had been suffering from a cold since the start and his feet were giving him trouble, and now Tim was very much in the grip of man flu too. Natalie and Heather both had bad blisters and Julia and I had aches and pains. Still “manning up” as Julia would have us do, we soldiered on.

Lovely sweeping valleys made for a very scenic vista and the huge fields hosted similarly large tractors to keep Tim interested.

Red kites and buzzards abounded, with a few different dog walkers including a miniature wire hair dashchund at the Baron Wantage memorial.

Ridgeway Day 3-2

As per the previous days, the last few miles were the really tough ones and it was difficult to keep going along the path to take the most direct route down to East Ilsley when the apparent shortcuts looked so potentially inviting, although could have taken us into overgrown bridalways or in the wrong direction entirely.

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We collapsed into the Swan and we were grumpy recipients of the news that we only had one bath between the three rooms. The others kindly gave us the chance to enjoy a soak as we had gone without the night before, and after a Guinness and a glass of Rose or two we were spruced up sufficiently to hobble across the road to the Crown and Horns where Tim had booked us in for dinner based on his knowledge of the place from a Straker social outing some twenty years ago.

It was very nice food and drink indeed and the evening went quickly, with guesses being had as to whether the celebrity in the photo in the hall was Julie Christie, Hannah Gordon or someone else. The next day Heather realised we had missed out on Suzannah York, who it probably was.

Back to the Swan for a night disturbed only by the traffic and the hooting of a nearby owl, neither of which was heard by the rest of the party.

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General Ridgeway

Ridgeway Day Two – Ogbourne St George to Woolstone (15.5 miles)

We set off at around 10am from the Inn with the Well after a hearty breakfast. Megan and Mike had looked after us very well and also provided us a packed lunch. We picked up the trail again after a short stretch on a disused railway line leading out of the town.

Some feet were sore, but morale was generally high.

As we went we kept an eye on the Ryder cup singles, hoping that Europe could convert their overnight 10-6 lead into a victory. We also hoped that we would get to our chosen destination, the White Horse in Woolstone, in time to see the end of the match.Ridgeway Day 2_1

Plenty of miles to do before that though, and passing pig farms, wide expanses of ploughed fields and also plenty of far reaching views, we were again enjoying excellent weather. It was quite warm, nudging 22 or 23 degrees and the short sleeve merino wool top I had bought to offset the cool mornings was kept in the case.

I should say at this point that we had arranged a bag moving service, called Carrier Bags and that seemed to be going quite slickly. Certainly it was a great relief not to be carrying the big rucksack like on the South Downs way. A bit wimpy or a sensible use of available services? You decide. £8 per bag per day meant that Heather and I were sharing her large red bag (under 20kg was a requirement of this) and that led to some zip wrestling in the mornings as there wasn’t a spare inch of space left in the bag.

We arrived quite tired and it was clear that some were suffering very blistered and sore feet. We met two girls in the Inn who had done 27 miles the previous day and could barely walk. Why? My hope was that I hadn’t overdone the mileage and causing too much discomfort to my fellow travellers – we were doing the route over 7 days where the suggestion was 6, but I was starting to think it should perhaps be 8?

We walked down off the trail past the stunningly stylish chalk white horse etched in the hillside towards our evening accommodation of the same name and were treated to a display of aerobatics directly overhead by a pilot in a biplane doing some dramatic manoeuvres.Ridgeway Day2-3

The best views of the horse were from down in the valley so it proved worthwhile to be going so far off the trail although being very steeply downhill we started to wonder how much fun the start would be tomorrow…

We saw the victorious Europeans take control in the Ryder cup on the big screen in the heart of the inn and Keith the Irish proprietor was very good at welcoming us and it wasn’t long before he was showing us our rooms – at around 3.30pm.

The pub was full of Sunday lunchers and a small group of very noisy Irish jockeys who were proving that the sign above the door of the pub proclaiming “boisterous beers” was absolutely right.

One room didn’t have a bath and we took that one ourselves on this occasion and after a refreshing cold shower we had dinner in the garden, well at least the starters, which made use of the large wood fired pizza oven in the garden with its associated fake Italian chef.

A good night’s sleep and we were ready for the next leg.

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General Ridgeway

Ridgeway Day One – Avebury to Ogbourne St George (15 miles)

We had stayed the night before in Marlborough, having taken the train from Redhill to Pewsey via Reading and then walked down to the bus stop to await the half an hour for the red double decker to take us into the town. We had a short stroll to the inn, the Marlborough, which is on the attractive high street at number 90.

Having not booked for dinner, we tried unsuccessfully to get a table for 6 and so went across the road to the Wellington pub to have a drink while waiting for Natalie to arrive from deepest Essex via Central London. She got the Penzance train like we had done at Reading, but took just over the hour from Paddington, showing that we were very much still in commuter range of London.

We had a lovely meal with the essential Friday night curry being my choice, and all agreed that it had been a lucky result to gave stumbled across such good food by accident. Paying for the wine as we went meant that the bill when it arrived seemed laughingly low, but it was right, and we crossed the road again for a few night caps in the busy inn before bed.

We had booked a bus for the next morning which left for Avebury from outside Ladbrokes at 10.15. It arrived on time and we weaved our way through several very attractive small villages with some pricey looking properties before unloading ourselves outside the Red Lion in Avebury at around 10.45.

20140927-IMG_7792Ridgeway Day One - Avebury

The Ridgeway starts at Overton Hill and 86 miles later finishes at Ivanhoe Beacon near Tring, but although Tim was familiar with the ancient delights of Avebury as a world heritage site, Natalie, Heather, Carey and I had only been there once or twice and Julia not at all. So it seemed sensible to take in those sights and then walk the three or so miles from Avebury to the start, especially as it seemed impossible to get public transport to Overton Hill and we would have needed two taxis.

So after a coffee and an explore of the National Trust shop, we walked almost the entire circuit of the stone circle or henge, which all agreed is more impressive than the neighbouring Stonehenge, especially given the open access at Avebury, which is how it should be.

We set off on a small path past the church and the museum and were soon walking past the intriguingly handmade Silbury Hill which it is estimated would have taken 500 men 10 years to build.

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We eventually made our way to the start and set off on the route proper.IMG_7800

We had lovely conditions – warm and dry – 20 degrees and stopped for lunch to enjoy a sandwich and rest the feet.

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Far reaching views were enjoyed by all and the rhythm of the walk soon took over with plenty of chat between the 6 of us.

Ridgeway Day 1-3

We were admonished by a young girl at Barbury castle who said – “Mummy a naked man!” pointing at Tim who did indeed have his top off.

He had just emerged from having a natural break in a nearby bush and that didn’t help. Especially as 200 yards further along the trail there was a very serviceable public facility….

We arrived tired but happy to see the Inn with a Well. Not very promising from the outside but great service and food – see the trip advisor review..

Too many bottles of wine and a fine lasagna later we were in bed early. First day a success!

Ridgeway Day 1_2  Ridgeway Day 1-1