Saturday, 9 April 2011

Cholsey, Wallingford and Brightwell-cum-Sotwell

A very warm early Spring day, with temperatures up to 21° and cloudless, not ideal for walking. Another year when Spring has turned out to be very short. The plan was to start continue exploring an ancient track that runs from Wantage. However lack of a car limited me to using the train. I chose Cholsey as it is a local station that I had never visited before. It is another 'railway' village, with no centre, just a sprawl of houses. Here is a map of the 13 mile walk.

View Cholsey - Brightwell in a larger map

However 'manorial' Cholsey church is a fine looking old church.

Cholsey Church

The churchyard holds the answer to one of the world's great mysteries - where Agatha Christie is buried. Apparently she spent her last few years in Winterbrook, Wallingford with her husband Max. I thought she lived on the south coast so seeing this was quite a surprise. She died in 1976, which is quite recent really, how time marches on, I think of her as belonging to a distant era. As measured by the number of books sold she is only beaten by the Bible.

Agatha Christie

Cholsey is also famous for its steam railway. There is an occasional train from Cholsey to Wallingford, It would have been good to take a picture of one, but it would have meant waiting rather a long time, as the next train was not due until a month's time.

Cholsey steam railway line

Blackthorn was at its best in the hot weather.

black thorn

All the warm sunshine and flowers brought out the butterflies, I saw a peacock, brimstone and this small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Small Tortoiseshell,Aglais urticae

There were no great rarities amongst the flowers, as the area is all fertile farmland, so Taraxacum officinale (that's the Common Dandelion) will have to do for something almost exotic.

Common Dandelion,Taraxacum officinale

The path took me through Winterbrook onwards to Wallingford, and just before I joined the Thames Path I followed a Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) butterfly along a hedge.

Speckled Wood,Pararge aegeria

St. Leonard's Church in Wallingford has one of the most appealing architectures in the area.

St Leonards Church Wallingford

In the churchyard was an attractive group of cowslips (Primula veris) already in full bloom.

cowslips,Primula veris

I looked for a way into Wallingford Castle ruins thinking that Castle Lane and Castle Meadows would lead me there, but failed. Wallingford was an important town as a crossing point of the River Thames, particularly in the Civil War when King Charles had his headquarters just up river at Oxford. It was the last Royalist castle to hold out against the Parliamentarians. After it was captured, the castle was slighted, and all that remains are one or two walls.
I headed north along the Thames; the view from Wallingford bridge looked idyllic

wallingford bridge

The Thames Path had blackthorn bushes in flower.

Thames Path

And so on up the river to Benson Lock, not much to see along this stretch, not even many ducks or geese on the river.

benson lock

On the east side of the river is a large and posh marina, surprising considering that is really in the middle of nowhere. The explanation is that in olden days the Thames was often too shallow for boats any further upstream so it became a place where goods were transfered to carts to go over-land to Oxford. The area had a set of wooden chalets on the riverbank, full of elderly folk looking decidedly bored.

benson marina

Along the Thames I chased some Orange Tips (Anthocharis cardamines) along the path. It was feeding on Garlic Mustard flowers (Alliaria petiolata) or Jack-by-the-Hedge.

Anthocharis cardamines

A pair of Orange Tips, were flirting in the bushes, the male is homing in on its plainer mate.

Anthocharis cardamines

Reaching Shillingford I linked up with previous paths in the Dorchester-on-Thames area and left the river. The path over fields led up Sotwell Hill part of the Sinodun Hills. They provide good views to the Chiltern Hills for many miles both north-east and south-west. Here was the view to the ridge above Ewelme.

Severalls Farm

Down the other side to the quintessentially Anglo-Saxon village of Brightwell-cum-Sotwell. A village of lanes spread along the spring line where water seeps out of the chalk.


The large village church is strong evidence of the village's importance over the centuries. It is one of those churches that has bits added every few hundred years since Norman times. There were few monuments inside, and only a few fragments of early stained glass (early 14th century).

Brightwell-cum-Sotwell,early stained glass

I then headed back to Cholsey over the fields. It is impossible to leave the area without one shot of Wittenham Clumps the landmark visible for miles around (and subject to a Time Team dig). I prefer the local name of Mother Dunch's Buttocks.

Wittenham clumps,mother dunch's buttocks

The land between Brightwell and Cholsey is amazingly flat. It was formed after the last Ice Age when water formed a large lake hemmed in by the Chiltern Hills to the South before it broke through the Goring Gap.

Moreton fields

It was bit of a dash to get back to Cholsey in time for my train - which I managed with two minutes to spare. I'll end on a flower shot, a Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculuatum) plant coming into bud.

Cuckoo Pint,Lords and Ladies,Arum maculuatum