Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Lambourn and the White Horse

Back at last to walking on the North Wessex downs - delayed because of some much needed rain. After the driest March there was the wettest April on record (well some records), so perhaps the weather is balancing itself out. The recent rain limited the choice of walks to chalk downlands which dry out remarkably quickly, only the first mile or two was spent dodging puddles on a muddy track. With the forecast of sunny spells and a cool breeze the conditions were ideal for distant views. The rationale for the walk is a correction to last year's walks where I claimed to have completed walking the whole infamous 'Lambourn Valley Way'. I logically assumed that the Way started at the source of the river Lambourn at Lambourn, however purely for tourist entrapment reasons the map shows the Way continuing north all the way to the Uffington White Horse following a chalk ridge. This is hardly a 'valley way', still it was a good excuse to revisit the White Horse and finally complete the route. Here is a map of the walk:


View Lambourn - White Horse in a larger map
Lambourn,Lynch Wood

I followed the course of the River Lambourn through Lynch Wood - an interesting old wood on the side of a steep slope. It had a good range of woodland plants. The River itself was dried up, reinforcing the fact that the chalk aquifer supplying the water is still in dire need of replenishment despite the April rains, it will now have to wait until winter to significantly top up again.

The track then led up to one of the main gallops on the Lambourn downs, complete with gates and warning signs as you cross it like a level crossing. Lambourn is known as the 'Valley of the Racehorse' and the local economy is dominated by the rearing and training of horses. The town has many large and prosperous stables. Its prominence is due to the chalk download itself, as it offers soft and safe racing conditions for the horses all year round. The heavily manicured gallops are checked over daily, the horses galloping uphill followed by a more leisurely descent. A sign of the times maybe that most of the jockeys I passed seemed to be of east European or Indian extraction, I presume they cost less to employ. Many of the lanes have well mown verges so the horses do not need to go along the roads.

Lambourn,Gallop,racehorses

Views seemed the most appropriate pictures to choose because the dappled shade brought out the best of the fresh Spring landscape.

view

Lambourn Valley Way follows its unlikely course along the top of a ridge until it reaches its start point at the junction with the Ridgeway. This section is an ancient 'Ridgeway' from Lambourn leading directly to Uffington Castle. The sight of the 'White Horse' a 3,000 year old evocative reminder of earlier times. This walk certainly has a horsey theme!

Uffington White Horse

The far distance must be over fifty miles away so I had chosen a good day for views. Men were working on erecting a new fence to renew protection of the figure of the White Horse in the chalk, so I could not take the standard view without vans and men rather spoiling the majestic beauty. The white splurge in the distance marks the Honda car factory at Swindon

Uffington White Horse

I was delighted to be joined by a fairly inquisitive wheatear on the top of Uffington Hill.

wheatear

As well as the impressive hill fort of Uffington Castle there are two other impressive sights to see. The first is the artificial looking (but probably just re-moulded) 'Dragon Hill'. Looks very much like a ceremonial site, and it was covered in milkwort and birds foot trefoil.

Uffington Dragon Hill

Just as inspiring, and more natural in origin is the Manger that came out well in the dappled sunlight.

Uffington Manger

Along White Horse Lane that winds around the base of the chalk escarpment were one of my favourite Spring flowers, the diminutive milkwort with its vibrant blue flowers.

Milkwort

I followed the Great Ridgeway west towards Wayland's Smithy, another impressive prehistoric monument. Regrettably the clouds came over and my pictures were not as good as ones I took when I was last there, so here is some kidney vetch instead.

Kidney vetch

Here is the proof that I was on the Ridgeway, A Whitethroat was using the sign as its perch.

Whitethroat

The stretch from the White Horse to Ashbury is rather dull, no views and fairly flat. At this time of year there are many flowers to compensate. The arum lily (lords and ladies; cuckoo pint; jack in the pulpit...) Arum maculatum was very evident, it seems the wet April was to its liking. The cool spell which held back Summer, is underlined by noting that I saw arums already in bud back in March

Arum maculatum

Just across the B4000 road, the path had a patch of vivid blue comfrey flowers, usually they tend to be pinks and not such a strong colour. In fact my flora would suggest this may not be 'common comfrey'.

Comfrey

Looking up, the skyscape was at times quite inspiring too.

clouds,sky

Turning off the Great Ridgeway at Idstone Hill back towards Lambourn there were many similar views to be seen. Half way along there is a National Trust property Ashdown House that was unfortunately cocooned in scaffolding and not the photographic highlight I had hoped for. Some of the outbuildings were interesting and to maintain the horsey theme I saw these diminutive cousins harnessed up to a trap.

shetland ponies,trap

Here is a view of the parkland close to the house.

Ashdown House

Rather than follow the road I took a path up to the north east of the house to catch views down to it and along the valley. This was WeatherCock Hill, where the Earl of Craven who lived at Ashdown House held horse races way back in 1779.

WeatherCock Hill

The detour took me back on a path leading directly back towards Uffington Castle, the farmer had sprayed weed-killer on the public footpath so the way through all the rapeseed was just about possible, but not without ending up covered in pollen. I used to dislike the planting of rape when it first became widespread, as the yellow is so glaring and 'unnatural'. I am now less troubled by it, particularly when it contrasts so well with the blue sky.

Rapeseed fields

The way back to Lambourn was a fairly uninspiring track and then an uninspiring lane. Lambourn has surprisingly few attractive houses, however these cottages near Upper Lambourn were rather cute.

Lambourn cottages

Finally nearly back at the car, I spotted this striking arum backlit by the late afternoon sunshine.

Arum maculatum