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Two ‘Green Road’ walks in Oxfordshire

March 20th, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

Five Horseshoes, Oxfordshire

Bluebells, Christmas Common, OxfordshireOxfordshire. Image shot 05/2009. Exact date unknown.

Length: 15 miles
Time: 6 hours
Start/finish: Watlington car park (OS Explorer 171)
Grade: Moderate
Refuel: The Five Horseshoes
Picnic spot: Maidensgrove Common

The Thames makes a great sweep down from the crossing at Wallingford and below Whitchurch and Mapledurham to reach Henley. The Chilterns sprawl out from the centre of this crescent in a mess of wooded valleys. The area is relatively close to London – easily reached on the M40 – but offers some surprisingly remote walks.

The Five Horseshoes stands on the edge of a large area of common ground fringed by woods. A 16th-century coaching pub, it has a reputation for excellent, well-priced food – haunch of vension, braised rib of beef – and along with the usual range of alcohol, some exceptional homemade ginger beer for those thinking of the walk back.

Begin in Watlington, perhaps Oxfordshire’s most attractive market town, and follow Hill Road east from the crossroads towards the “White Mark” carved out of chalk on Watlington Hill. Swing past Christmas Common, and then plunge down deep beech woods and along the ancient Hollandridge Lane that comes out at Pishill (locals prefer you pronounce it “Pish – ill”). A steep walk past the little church with its John Piper stained-glass window – the artist lived nearby – leads up to the wide expanse of Maidensgrove Common and the pub.

Return by dropping down the hill to a wooded valley that leads towards Cookley Green and Swyncombe, to meet with the Icknield Way, the prehistoric route that skirts the northern edge of the Chilterns. Whenever I take this broad rolling track, I think of the early 20th century poet Edward Thomas; he described as a “a shining serpent in the wet” when he traced it from Norfolk to Dorset.It’s a good end to the walk and takes you back to Watlington – where, for those who had ginger beer at lunch, a range of reputable hostelries like the Fat Fox await.
Hugh Thomson, author of Wainwright prizewinner The Green Road into the Trees(Preface Publishing). A sequel, One Man and a Mule, is published by Preface in June

Grim’s Dyke, Oxfordshire

King William IV, Hailey, Oxfordshire

Length: 6 miles
Time: 3 hours
Start/finish: Nuffield (OS Explorer 171)
Grade: Easy
Refuel: King William IV
Picnic spot: Entrance to Bixmoor Wood

Grim’s Dyke is a high embankment with a defensive ditch that once ran west and east from the Thames. It was built by the Celts of the iron age in about 300BC for reasons that remain unclear – although the fact that it controls the passage of the Icknield Way may give a clue.

This walk takes you along one of the dyke’s best-preserved stretches, just as it enters the Chilterns. And in April and May walkers will be treated to the sight of magnificent bluebells carpeting the beech woods. A heavy-seeded plant, bluebells travel slowly across the ground: it takes centuries for them to cover such distances.

Starting at Nuffield, take the path along the dyke heading south just west of the church. This is a very ancient track threaded through with white wood anemones and scattered with badger setts. If you look through the trees at the wheat fields to either side, with the young wheat still tight in bud, the stalks shimmer blue under the green of their tops. When viewed from certain angles, they look like water; an effect exaggerated when the wind blows across the fronds and sends a ripple of green-yellow across the underlying blue.

Turn left down the Icknield Way and take a further wander through Wicks wood to reach the King William IV pub in the hamlet of Hailey. On a sunny day, this is a great place to sit outside at a south-facing trestle table and sample beer from the local Brakspear brewery and the cod fried in ale batter.

Suitably refreshed, carry on up the lane towards Homer, a house once lived in by Bruce Chatwin. For even more bluebells there’s a detour into the much photographed Mongewell woods, which lie off to the left as you return to Nuffield. HT

originally published in the Guardian

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