Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Beedon, Oare and Hermitage

Old Street

Walks following the Old Street in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire.

Wantage - Ridgeway
Ridgeway - Farnborough
Farnborough - Catmore
Catmore - Hermitage
Hermitage - Bucklebury

A very warm and sunny Spring day tempted me out for a long walk. I have half a dozen walks planned and tossed a coin to choose which one to do. The choice fell on further exploration of 'Old Street' the ancient trackway that may have linked Wantage to Reading. I parked up near Beedon, a delightful village now that it is free of the thundering of traffic on the A34 trunk road. Here is a Google Map of the 14 mile route:

View Beedon - Hermitage - East Ilsley in a larger map

The plan was to avoid busy roads as much as possible, even though the route makes this quite difficult to achieve on public footpaths. I cut back to Stanmore over the fields and was delighted to see two hares (it is still March after all), not boxing each other but more interested in themselves than me. They disappeared as soon as they spotted me.

hare,march hare

The most conspicuous and numerous flower was Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) in the hedgerows everywhere.

lesser celandine,Ranunculus ficaria

Beedon Church looked quite interesting, a small chapel more than a church but it was locked, the tower looked fine against the blue sky.

Beedon church

The day's chief interest turned out to butterflies, I saw quite a few that I did not get a shot of: Brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni) and Peacocks (Inachis io). I did manage to creep up on one or two of them, including this Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae).

Small Tortoiseshell,Aglais urticae,butterfly

And then caught a couple of comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album) darting around each other. The orange-red is so noticeable that you would have thought they would be easy prey, but with closed wings they are tricky to make out.

Comma,Polygonia c-album,butterfly

Can you spot it?! But when the wings are open it is a different matter

Comma,Polygonia c-album,butterfly

I rejoined Old Street. The section south to Gidley Farm is an impressive wide track with a bank and ditch.

Old Street

However somewhere the track should branch off south-east in a straight line, I am not convinced by the footpaths at present that take you past Common Farm to Rose Cottage, I think it branched off further north. In any case there are signs of an old path to the north of the 'Old Street' on the map that leads to the old A34 road. It is here that we come to World's End.

Worlds End

Having escaped that peril, 'Old Street' takes you under the A34 and then rejoins a genuine old path taking you straight to Oareborough Hill. Now this hill is quite an impressive, isolated lump, but as it is covered in trees it does not stand out as it would do as a grassy hillock. There are signs that it once had a hill fort at the top.

Oareborough Hill

Some fruit blossom was already out, complete with the drone of pollinating bees.


One more attractive wild flower was out too: Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum).

Red Deadnettle,Lamium purpureum

And so on to Oare (not to be confused by the Oare, Wiltshire I visited last June) and then Hermitage. Hermitage is a village I have travelled through many times as it is on the scenic route back home from anywhere further West. I have never walked around it, and I have to say it turned out a disappointment. No sense of a village centre, just a sprawl along the main road to Newbury. It has a rather odd, fairly modern church, but no great museum, despite what I had been told!

Hermitage Church

I then turned back taking a path over Oare Common (still in the grips of Winter) over the M4 again to then turn north over farmland. I passed a hedge that was making a distinct clicking noise, I looked and discovered this was the noise of pine cones splitting open in the warm sunshine. The path then took me over one of those huge fields that can make you feel a little agoraphobic, however the monotony was more than compensated by the skylarks which were engaged in a singing competition. Often flying up as I walked towards where they were nesting(?) on the ground. I saw eight or so larks in the air at one time


Passing over more fields on the track towards Bothampstead Farm in the distance were three deer (roe deer?) munching their way through the seed-rape. I had seen a Muntjac deer earlier on in the day too.

roe deer

I then found more butterflies: another peacock and another comma.

Comma,Polygonia c-album,butterfly

Many of the fields looked 'blue' and this turned out to be due to large numbers of the Common Field Speedwell. I suspect that selective weed-killer are leaving this particular weed unscathed.

Common Field Speedwell,Veronica perica

And so on back to the car at Beedon.


The view back east over Ilsley Down gives a good impression of the countryside around here at this time of year.

Ilsley Down