December proved wet and with the paths already muddy there was no real opportunity for a long walk. Now there are dire warnings of a cold snap with heavy snowfall. So despite a pessimistic forecast of overcast conditions I decided to take the risk and do a walk on chalk upland which should avoid too much mud. I parked up at Ardington, a pretty little village just west of West Hendred which I have previously explored from Upton. Here evidence of small-scale flooding was all around, the spring fed streams were overflowing their banks. Here is map of the walk - 12 miles in all.
View Ardington - Lockinge - Letcombes and Wantage in a larger map
Before reaching open countryside I passed a few 'escapes' from gardens. There was a small yellow (ranunculus?) flower already out, and near by a splash of colour from the seeds of an Iris (Iris foetidssima?)
East Lockinge is an attractive spot, the village overlooks park lands and has a village green with a modern bronze horse sculpture. Nearby was a very early tree in flower - a cultivated cherry? Rather surprising for mid-January.
The path south up to the Ridgeway is dead straight with not much of interest. The last section goes through a ribbon of woodland and here fungi were still to be found. There was some stagshorn (Xylaria hypoxylon) fungi and also a tiny bright yellow jelly fungus.
The Wantage monument stands at the top of the straight path from Lord Wantage's manor house at Lockinge. The views along the Ridgeway were as spectacular as ever, enhanced by dappled winter sunshine.
Here the Great Ridgeway is an impressive track, and because it is on chalk remains dry and walk-able even after months of rain. This section is an overlap with a walk I did from the south side of the ridge.
I passed the impressive Iron Age hillfort Segsbury Camp and then turned north off the ridge. The stile at the head of the path is of curious design. Not only has someone taken the trouble to sculpt the post for ease of gripping but also the metal trap arrangement to allow dogs through is impressive. It has a proper handle and loops at the bottom - sharp spikes would be a bad idea.
At Letcombe Bassett there is a line of springs that feed clean water into Letcombe Brook that flows into Wantage. Water cress beds lie along the valley. There is a pleasant nature reserve along the stream leading to Letcombe Regis. It was here that mud was most evident as the natural springs were helping to keep the ground sodden. Along the path I spotted a fungus growing out of a living tree. I think this is Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae - formerly Judas's ear fungus) with soft 'ear-like' folds.
Ducks were active on the brook as it enters Letcombe Regis.
Letcombe Regis is larger and more prosperous than its Bassett sibling. It has a larger and grander church, and as I approached was glad my camera was to hand as I spotted a well-fed squirrel lapping up the afternoon sunshine.
The church has had a Victorian revamp and little of interest remains, the early Norman font bears witness to long standing importance of the village. The font in a church is often the oldest feature, sometimes from an earlier building, it is a sacred and hefty object and so sensible to re-use rather than replace. The 'Regis' suffix reflects a royal connection.
There are many thatched houses in the village, they can look a little drab at this time of year, this one stood out as the best one of the day.
From Letcombe Regis I took the footpath into Wantage, it is a tarmaced path and pleasant enough, not much to see though. It takes you directly to the centre of the ancient town. I have travelled through the town on several occasions and had felt sure there were some 'hidden' gems I had missed. There are interesting shops and the market square is impressive; the main church is large but a bit bland. I failed to find 'old' houses and it remains a bit of a mystery to me as to why everything is so modern. It has a Roman heritage, with a road from Oxford and another one leading up onto the Downs. Its main claim to fame is as the birth place of King Alfred the Great and there is a monument to him in the market place.
I then followed the ancient straight Icknield Way path back to Lockinge and Ardington. An interesting walk for the middle of January.