Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hamstead Marshall; Inkpen and Kintbury

Walks in August are often tricky as it is either too hot or too wet. Fortunately a stiff breeze and broken cloud made a walk possible after a long gap since the last one. It was a walk planned for a long time as it completes a missing segment of the Kennet and Avon Canal. I have now walked the length from Reading to Froxfield - apart from an irritating short section around Padworth. It also took in the highest point in south-eastern England. Here is the 15.5 mile walk on the map:

View Hamstead Marshall - Inkpen - Kintbury in a larger map

I picked up my last point on the Kennet and Avon at Hamstead Lock and walked up to Hamstead Park. The path takes you into an area with a surreal quality because dotted around a field full of cows are isolated grand gateway pillars. In a scene worthy of Ozymandias the whole house has disappeared without trace leading to the strange sight of just pairs of pillars dotted all over.

gateway pillars

The one building that remains is the manorial church, regrettably locked, but with a fine tomb in the churchyard to what I presume is one of the local great families. The motto is 'Virtus in actione consistit' (Virtue consists in action) and is of Baron Craven of Hampstead Marshall.

tomb sculpture

My walk followed a complicated network of paths over farmland towards Inkpen. The paths were generally little used and sometimes blocked off. At this time of year, flowers are less abundant, autumn fungi a long way off, but there were interesting plants to see including this curled dock plant with lovely seeds.

curled dock

There were quite a few fields of this strange crop:


It's the furry bit at the top of the sweet corn cob. I think planted partly for the benefit of these creatures : young pheasants. This one is a male with the adult plumage just starting to emerge

young male pheasant

I liked these vetches; you can see similarities to garden sweet peas.


Sometimes I include an 'artistic' shot to add a bit of variety. Dead trees are often a source of inspiration.

dead tree

Bumble bees were much in evidence; I caught this one on toadflax.


I then reached the chalk ridge to the south of Newbury and Inkpen where wide panoramic vistas started to open up to the north.


After a very short shower I then walked along the Inkpen Ridgeway West. Many wild flowers were doing well including red bartsia; scabious; silverweed and this hawkbit.


I was now on the major Iron Age hillfort of Walbury Hill the highest point at all of 297 metres (974 feet) in not only Berkshire but the whole of south-eastern England. This is the view West to Combe Gibbet.

Walbury Hill

And the view East from Combe Gibbet itself is just as spectacular.

Walbury Hill

The 'gibbet' has impressive lightning conductors on all sides as it would seem to be a likely target.

Combe Gibbet

Following the same steep path down to Inkpen as I did three years ago I came across this delightful tiny plant, an Eyebright.


I was lucky to catch harvesting in full flow. With the wet and cool summer I wonder what the yield level will be, certainly the fields seemed as golden as ever. Two harvesters were in action moving from field edges in towards the centre, with a tractor zooming around to take the grain away.

Combine harvester

As I reached Inkpen (more a scattering of hamlets than a village) a field had a number of 'miniature' breed of horses including this young foal. Whether they are Shetland Ponies I am not sure.

Miniature ponies

I briefly stopped at Inkpen Church, and was pleased to see flying around a Buddleia bush in the churchyard a couple of Peacock butterflies (Inachis io); conveniently stopping on a gravestone for a moment.

peacock butterfly,Inachis io

It was too windy to see many butterflies, my tally was just Meadow Browns (lots and lots), Large White, and a Comma. Around Manor Farm at Inkpen there were many swallows swooping over the meadows, regrettably a rare sight now with the widespread use of insecticides. I made my way north towards Kintbury. It has an interesting looking church. The Victorians had two attempts of stripping out any historical interest and have succeeded.

Kintbury church

Kintbury does have a tempting pub - the Blue Ball.

Kintbury,Blue ball

And so finally to the object of my walk - the completion of a segment along the Kennet and Avon canal. Some sections are certainly lovely to look at.

Kennet and Avon canal

Over the three miles I only saw one boat actually moving, it was negotiating the lock at Dreweatts.

Kennet and Avon canal lock

With a little weariness (I had clocked up 15 and a half miles) I reached Hampstead Lock and my car in the late afternoon sunshine. Along the canal the most prominent flower was Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Purple Loosestrife,Lythrum salicaria