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General National Trails Ridgeway

Ridgeway Day Seven – Wendover to Ivanhoe Beacon (12 miles)

Heather met Richard from Carrier Bags the previous day who had offered to lift any injured parties on the following leg, so Tim availed himself of the service while Heather decided the blister was sufficiently ok to walk the 7 miles or so to the Pendley Manor Hotel which was almost on the route.

So five of us set off down the path which started at the end of the Red Lion car park and again it was sad to see Tim so disconsolately incapacitated.

The last leg and another glorious day weather wise – amazingly warm for the time of year and our seventh day in a row of good weather. How lucky had we been?

Studying through the outskirts of Wendover we made good time and it was almost as if the group were keen to “get this thing done”.

The first stretch was heavily wooded and the Suunto Ambit watch was struggling to get a GPS fix and it was almost an hour before it latched on successfully to a signal. I was increasing convinced that it was over reading the mileage and tested that against an application running a GPS based trail recorder on the iPhone. There was a fairly significant difference but it could be based on a poor signal area. I will have to test the watch against a fixed length known distance in clear sky conditions.

The beech hangers were wonderful and Natalie had told us about the hollows where the local furniture makers used to rest the beech trunks over the edges of what looked like a small bomb crater so that they were able to use their two man saws effectively and craft the handmade furniture in situ.

We were on the look out for the Gli Gli, a small edible (apparently a Roman delicacy) dormouse which looked a bit like a squirrel. There were estimated to be between 10 and 50 thousand of these cute looking but destructive rodents within twenty five miles of Tring (and nowhere else in the country) a few of which had escaped from the Rothchilds private animal collection some years ago and now established themselves in the Chilterns, chewing through cables and making a pest of themselves ever since. We didn’t see one.

We went through the very picturesque Tring Country Patk, with views of the old mansion down below and eventually dropped down to cross the A41 and say temporary goodbye to Heather who took a diagonal short cut (although had to climb a fence) to join Tim at the Pendley Manor Hotel.

The remaining four crossed the Grand Union Canal, went past Tring station and had a short dangerous section on a busy road without a pavement before turning off with relief and making our way steadily uphill.

Carey went into super climb mode at this point, disappearing ahead at great speed and keeping Julia with him but trailing slightly at the sudden change of pace.

Natalie and I were happy to prop up the rear of the pack as the path increasingly steepened through sheep strewn chalk grassland.

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We spotted two ravens, two crows and a red kite all circling above the gully to our left overlooking the turquoise water filled chalk pits,

We stopped for lunch and admired the view back from whence we had come. Although slightly hazy we could see across the line of hills that we had walked over the last week and had a sense of the distance we had travelled.

Crossing the road the end was suddenly in sight and I phoned the taxi firm to rearrange the pick up from 3.30 to 2pm. That’s how fast we had been and we hadn’t stopped for lunch for very long.

Drivers were in short supply due to a Muslim holiday and yet were we offered an earlier pick up by a new driver (it was her second day). She would be with us in twenty-five minutes.

So we rushed up to the beacon as we still had to get over to the car park which we though might take us 15 minutes.

We had arrived! After a brief stop to have our photo taken by the admiring couple of ladies who were out walking their labradors, we rushed over the car park where we had to wait almost twenty minutes for the driver to arrive after a call or two to the cab firm to check we were standing in the right place. We used the time to have a very welcome ice lolly.

A celebratory evening at the Pendley Manor followed with pink champagne and cigars all round. The blister of the week competition was declared a draw although Carey tried to get a late win by slipping his foot very painfully under one of the other guest’s heavy and clumsy tread.

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Now where next? Did someone mention Ireland?

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General National Trails Ridgeway

Ridgeway Day Six – Ashton Rowant to Wendover (16 miles)

Putting the whole Lambert Arms experience behind us, 5 of us set off, with Heather arranging a taxi to transfer her to Wendover as her blisters were just making walking impossible.

Tim was concerned about his knee, which was painful the previous day and getting worse. After we had rejoined the trail and about half a mile further on, adjacent to the road into Chinnor, it was very apparent that he just was in too much pain to continue, so he decided to call and arrange for Heather to pick him up en route and he would stay where he was to await her.

Four of us continued on what was to be the most stretching and also the most interesting leg of the trip.

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I was feeling bad that over-ambitious distances had been a contributor to the various foot and knee injuries, and became certain that what I should have done was to book 8 days for this distance, which meant we could have walked about two miles less each day but finished on the Saturday rather than the Friday.

We were now walking through lines of beech trees and the occasional nature reserve would open up the otherwise contained views.

We diverted into Princes Risborough for lunch by cutting diagonally off the trail across some open fields and through the suburban outskirts to the village, before having a welcome stop in Costa coffee and taking a look at the market stalls before some stocked up further with cash and plasters.

We soon started some more serious hill climbs after we walked up the steep hill out of the down going against the stream of school children coming the other way and with the now familiar red kites keeping on eye on us from above.

The Plough at Cadsden seemed a good place to stop for lunch but we had already done that – with hindsight we could have avoided going into Princes Risborough and just stopped here, given that it is right on the trail and Wendover was going to be able to supply a cashpoint and shops later.

Anyway we pressed on with full stomachs and heavy legs and had another steep climb through the woods on staircases leading up the side (but not to the top of) Pulpit Hill.

Downhill steeply to the Happy Valley where Chequers nestles in stunning surroundings. Warned off by the stern but subtle security signs, we took long range photos of the famous country retreat for the Prime Minister, noting the police presence as we did so. Donated to the government in 1917 by Lord Lee of Fareham, this was indeed a generous present and the sweeping avenue of trees we crossed reminded us of the legacy provided by previous planners who rarely got to see the successful outcomes of their hard work but which we enjoyed right now.

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We had seen earlier on the distant horizon the imposing monument to those that had died in the Boer War and we wended our way uphill again to Coombe Hill where it was situated.

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A brilliant viewpoint with some dramatic clouds hiding the sun from time to time captured our attention and our camera viewfinders after we had almost stepped over the romantic couple entwined and rolling each other around on the edge of the path.

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A long downhill stroll to the outskirts of Wendover saw us arrive at the Red Lion which was right on the trail and also famous for having the oldest member of bar staff in the country – the 100 year old lady who still worked there two or three days a week but sadly not the day we were there.

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Tim greeted us on arrival at the end of what was for me the best leg of the journey – how sad that he and Heather had not been able to enjoy it with us.

We all had a few drinks in the garden under the patio heaters before enjoying an excellent meal in the dining room. It was a real pleasure to be staying somewhere run so professionally and gave a complete contrast to the previous night.

It was really busy at times but Caroline and her team coped with it all easily – we will happily come back here some day. Wendover is a really lovely town with lots of interesting shops and antiques.

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General National Trails Ridgeway

Ridgeway Day Five – Crowmarsh Gifford to Ashton Rowant (15 miles)

Breakfast at the Little Gables completed in a cocoon of carefully composed crockery, we were soon back on the trail, managing to avoid the hedgehog run of the last mile of the previous evening by taking a more easterly road which connected us quickly and less dangerously back onto the ridge.

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Grim’s ditch accompanied us for the first number of miles and good views surrounded us as we peeked through the hedgerows on either side of the path. Again we had great weather and even the expected overnight shower hadn’t arrived so the trail was dry and hard and fast.

I’m beginning to wonder if the watch GPS which I’m using to measure the trip is over reading as one one occasion it was showing as a walking at 6 miles an hour and I wasn’t conscious of running at all. It had also been showing more miles each day than we had been expecting from the pre-trip measurement on the trail website, despite that having included a couple of miles which we had avoided through being lifted back to the path.

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I had changed the settings from metric to imperial the previous evening, so was surprised how little distance we had covered in the first hour compared to the previous days until I remembered I was now measuring in miles not kilometres.

We climbed our first hill of substance to the small village of Nuffield, where due to the closure of the pub, the church was making a selection of tea, coffee, squash and fairy cakes available in exchange for a donation which we gladly made and had a lovely twenty minute stop to enjoy the facility and admire the historic church, with the slate studded walls incorporating some red tiles from the roman villa that had been previously built in the same spot. Natalie wrote our names in the visitors book and gave us the background to the serious benefactor of the village, the founder of Morris Motors, who had donated 700 million in today’s money to scholarships and worthy causes.

We found a lovely spot to share with a bench to be fought over and with red kites swirling above us we enjoyed the wraps we had bought the day before, leaving some crusts for the circling observers.

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The afternoon saw Tim starting to have very serious trouble with his knee and Heather and Carey’s blisters were competing with each other for scale and discomfort. Natalie was still suffering the effects of the cold and Julia and I were a bit muscle weary. All in all a bit of a tortured crew arrived at the crossing of the M40 corridor and trudged the remainder of the way to the Lambert Arms, where we had a very disappointing stay for one reason and another and perhaps rather than having a rant on these pages, the interested reader can visit the review on Tripadvisor

In short morale was at a low ebb and some of the party were facing the grim reality of not being able to continue. After a sleepless night for a couple of us that decision needed to be made in the morning.

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General Ridgeway

Ridgeway Day Four – East Ilsley to Crowmarsh Gifford (14 miles)

Again we were lucky recipients of Richard’s generous offer of dropping us back on to the trail after a hearty breakfast spoiled only marginally with somewhat dubious tea.

Interesting to hear that the tourist season had been so successful for him, with high occupancy rates throughout July and August.

Again we were also blessed with great weather and it turned out warm and sunny with occasional cloud all day. Was it really the end of September?

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Natalie had joined Tim in having picked up a heavy cold, possibly Dutch in origin with Carey bringing it back from Holland with him on the plane back from the OPI conference.

Today we were all looking forward to both a shorter leg and the chance to rest a bit by the Thames in Streetley or Goring, and we did just that, arriving in the Swan in Streetley just after 12 noon and enjoying a lovely couple of hours sunning ourselves on the veranda by the side of the river, having a good meal and coffees etc. before heading for the pharmacy where we hoovered the shelves clean of Compeed plasters, assorted throat pills and cold remedies.Ridgeway Day 4-6

After a brief stop in the local stationery dealer and a laugh at some of the greeting cards we were away at about 2.15, having bought our sandwiches for tomorrow. “No Tesco” we saw the signs proclaim in Goring. After the scandal of their lack of financial controls in the preceding days, probably no longer a campaign to worry about.

The Thames glistened in the sunlight and the houses were admired with their stunning settings. Lovely little villages like South and North Stoke came and went with their stone churches and pretty cottage gardens. Maybe we should have stayed at the newly renovated and reopened Pike & Perch right on the trail. Certainly our pace has slowed significantly after lunch – was it the sticky toffee pudding or the sticky Indian summer heat that was the cause?

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Having asked Sue at the Little Gables, our stop for the night, to be there at 4pm when her normal opening hours were 5pm to 7pm, it was a bit embarrassing to pitch up at around 4.45pm eventually, having negotiated the last bit of road off the trail which was noisy and more than a bit dangerous. We would find another route back to the trail tomorrow.

Many would find the B&B ever so charming and it was true there were lots of considered touches. It just wasn’t to my taste and the room was so small that Heather and I couldn’t both stand up in at the same time. The shower was ok but you had to be shut in it by the person outside and luckily Heather and Natalie had ignored Sue’s strong suggestion that the “girls share one room and the boys another” otherwise I’d be sharing the outside toilet with Tim and the saying on the wall “laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone” would have been tested by Tim’s inevitable nasal challenges.

Luckily we had the energy left to walk the ten minutes to the Queens Head in the village where a great pint of Fullers London Pride was followed by an excellent Thai meal. Exhausted by 9.30 despite the antics of some trying yoga positions on the floor and others trying to pretend they had hit their head on the low beamed ceilings (as Carey said – old Chinese proverb “he who sit on restaurant floor get bill early” , four of us headed back to the Gables leaving Julia and Carey to have a night cap.