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.
We were again lucky with the weather.
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.
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.
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.