A spell of heavy rain at the weekend and cooling winds made another long walk practical this week. The objective was to follow an ancient track way that runs from Wantage east to Upton and then follows the A417 to Streatley. This at times has been labelled the 'Icknield Way' but caution is appropriate. People have told me that the Great Ridgeway is Iron Age and the Icknield Way is Anglo-Saxon. A book on Ancient Track-ways makes the sensible point that the Icknield Way may well have been an alternative to the Great Ridgeway during the summer months when the land was drier and less muddy. Looking at the topography, this stretch of trackway is on a lower ridge running parallel to the higher one but still above the line of the A417 Wantage to Rowstock. Here is a Google Map for the 14 mile walk:
View Upton - Hendreds - Lockinge in a larger map
I started at the village of Upton, another place I have frequently driven past and not explored. However, it is a modern sprawl unlike its neighbouring village to the east 'Blewbury' which has a strong Anglo-Saxon feel. Perhaps the defunct railway line from Didcot greatly expanded the village in Victorian times. I then followed the Icknield Way track up Hagbourne Hill, which had good views south into Oxfordshire. As it is nearly mid-May there were a good number of wild flowers in bloom, so forgive the extra photographs. One of the first plants to catch my eye was the humble bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).
On the grass verge of the metalled track the very glossy leaves of Black Bryony (Tamus communis) were evident; it is a member of the Yam family. It belongs to a completely different family to the White Bryony which I also saw.
I saw wild roses in the hedgerows, this one probably a dog rose.
I then came to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Chilton. It is the site of many scientific experiments most notably at present one of the brightest lights on Earth : The Diamond Light Source. The main chalk ridge rises up behind it.
In the days of early nuclear reactor technology much work was done here - Harwell had an 'experimental' nuclear reactor, hence the warning sign.
The path then heads straight over farmland, the track was fairly uninteresting, and wild flowers mainly represented by cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).
I did however manage to get a shot of a yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella).
I decided to take a detour towards the village of East Hendred, 'hendred' is not a corruption of the administrative division of 'hundred' but probably Saxon 'Wild Bird Stream'. Like Upton and Blewbury it lies on the spring line where the constant source of cool, pure water provides the rationale for its location and its affluence. As I approached I passed by a field of ewes and newborn lambs. Is the lamb whispering into its mother's ear, 'now tell me mother what is mint sauce?'
The first significant building at East Hendred I saw was a fine church, but not the parish church as it turned out, this is St. Mary's, the Catholic church of the Benedictine nuns and dating from 1865.
I moved on to the Anglican Church, dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury and luckily it was open. Inside I found one of the rarities is the thirteenth century lectern which symbolises a crusader knight stamping on a three headed 'dragon' monster. It also has an old 'faceless' clock, which tells the time purely from quarterly chimes, and a 'tune' every three hours.
The village is spectacular for the range and quality of old houses. This was a view back to the church. Some of the houses were whitewashed in proper style - all over the timbers rather than what we sometimes consider as 'traditional black and white' cottages where the timber is (incorrectly) painted black.
As with other Anglo-Saxons villages such as Brightwell-cum-Sotwell and Blewbury it has a maze of narrow lanes with houses placed seemingly at random. The village shop occupies a grand building, a local, seeing me take the picture, shouted across the road to me with pride 'That is the finest Tudor brick building in the World'. It is indeed a fine example, but I am not aware of much Tudor brickwork outside England!
One of the pubs the 'Wheatsheaf', is located in an innocuous looking row of 16th century cottages.
I walked on out of the village to the neighbouring village of West Hendred, hoping for similar magnificence. I was disappointed though, West Hendred is an impoverished hamlet in comparison. It has only one or two fine, old buildings.
The church, Holy Trinity, was rebuilt in the 14th century and then little touched until restored in 1920. It is an intimate old structure with amazing medieval tile flooring, the most extensive I have seen for a long time.
In the churchyard I chased a rather threadbare Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria).
Just to the west of West Hendred the Ginge Brook carves a deep ravine into the countryside. I followed it upstream to try to find what is marked on my map as a waterfall. I wanted to see this as a waterfall would be unusual, as the rock is not that hard, all I found though were some 'rapids'. The only recompense were these exotic-looking horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) flowers.
And an artistic one of our beleaguered seven spot ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata) under threat from its foreign invader Harlequin cousins.
I had hoped to walk to West Lockinge with its lake and manorial church, but there were 'Private' signs on paths leading into the estate so I decided to give the detour a miss. The path now led straight up to join the Great Ridgeway. I found this Green veined White butterfly (Artogeia napi) feeding on Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens).
I was passed by a cyclist struggling up the steep path, it was a tale of the tortoise and the hare, as he overtook me again fifteen minutes later. As I took a short-cut through a patch of woodland I disturbed a stag, but as ever I wasn't quick enough with the camera as it crashed away into the woodland. The view from the top was as spectacular as ever.
The Ridgeway path itself is just a narrow avenue for wildlife, with fields on either side, so nothing very exotic to be found.
Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) was in flower, very much like a buttercup, most flowers had five petals but this one had four.
On the hawthorn bushes (one of the few plants showing distinct drought stress) was a Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) singing away. (I need a friend's help in distinguishing it from a Linnet).
After visiting Cwichelmslaewe or Scutchamer Knob where Saxon king Cwichelm is reputed to be buried. I strode off down the chalk scarp directly back towards Chilton. I was delighted to find one of my favourite plants, I am still not sure if these are Common (Polygala vulgaris) or Chalk Milkworts (Polygala calcarea).
Another plant was easy to spot, I think it is Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa).
Walking down the slope quickly brought me down to more traditional farmland plants. I couldn't resist including this daisy (ox eye? Leucanthemum vulgare) with its Fibonacci symmetry.
The farm had a few healthy looking horses..
Or so I thought until I walked on to the gate and found a sign giving dire warnings about infectious diseases. Apparently they have a bacterial infection called 'strangles disease' and are kept in isolation.
Unusual looking at this time of year are the developing seeds of Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus).
The village of Chilton is mainly very modern - it is very convenient for the A34 - it is has an old small church with some early features. Chilton also has a duck house, on a very empty pond, and entirely duckless.
I saw several butterflies, including Small Tortoiseshell; Gatekeeper; Orange tip etc.. I crept up on this magnificent Peacock (Inachis io) and waited for a better shot when the sun came out, but as soon as the sunshine came, it was off again.
So on back over the fields following the track of the dismantled Didcot-Newbury railway line, with one last gem of a butterfly. For once, a blue butterfly - Holly Blue ( Celastrina argiolus) and well camouflaged against the sky feeding on hawthorn flowers.