Winter seems reluctant to leave this year, a few warm days have been followed by colder ones and there is still snow in the forecast. Last year there was an unseasonably hot spell. So signs of Spring are still fairly sparse, my usual indicator flower - Lesser Celandine was only out in one small patch. As there is not a huge amount of wildlife to see still I choose a walk through villages, the other motive was to do my compulsion of linking together previous walks, in this case this is a central piece that overlaps with three previous ones: Thames Path Radley - Didcot; Wallingford - Cholsey and Upton to the Ridgeway. The walk took me to all points of the compass: North Moreton; East Hagbourne; South Moreton; West Hagbourne, and if Upton counts as another direction, that one too! Here is a map of the fifteen mile walk:
View Cholsey - Moretons - Upton - Hagbournes - Didcot in a larger map
I took the train to Cholsey and went via Cholsey churchyard with Agathe Christie's gravestone up out towards Cholsey Hill. This view appears to show the hill on fire, it is actually Didcot power station busy providing power on a cold day:
I was lucky to see a flock of lapwings wheeling around in a nearby field. Quite a rare sight these days, they have declined in numbers substantially.
From Cholsey Hill I walked down to the low, flat marshy area with quickly flowing streams. This view has Wittenham Clumps in the distance.
The marshes are called 'moors' around here and from that the villages of North and South Moreton get their names. South Moreton has a number of thatched cottages this one was one of the more attractive looking ones.
I couldn't work out a cyclic walk that would take in the Moretons without retracing my steps a bit. I walked along the road to the surprisingly unspoilt village of North Moreton. Even more thatched houses and large ones too. I say surprising because it is only a few miles from Didcot. I once drove through the village and thought it looked like somewhere to explore on foot, I was not disappointed.
The church at North Moreton was open and it is a fine old Norman edifice with many interesting features. In the side chapel was this rather strange triangular niche.
Outside some fragments of tombs and old gravestones had been piled together. Somehow it brought to mind a Gothic novel or two.
Not many plants are out or in flower yet, apart from ones I have already featured this year. These snowdrops were just catching the sunlight.
I should add that it was a very good day for birds as is often the case in March. My camera doesn't zoom in enough to catch them. Just for the records I think I spotted: robin, wren, lapwing, skylark, blackbird, chaffinch, goldfinch, red kite, grey wagtail, partridge, crow, jackdaw, rook, house sparrow, hedge sparrow, blue tit, great tit, mallard, collared dove, wood pigeon etc.. Not bad as I was not looking out for them particularly. Anyway now my third church of the day - a small chapel close to South Moreton.
My path to East Hagbourne was over flat and uninteresting farmland. At last I came across some shrubs in flower, probably blackthorn, I was delighted to hear bees buzzing in the flowers as I have seen so few of them so far this year. A couple of bumblebees were out too. Bees had a very poor summer last year and hopefully numbers will recover soon.
I reached Common Lane with 'Common Barn' on it, this may have been Upton's old Tithe barn. The trees along the path were showing signs of life at last.
The path became more and more muddy and the reason became clear as I reached Upton, natural Springs were pouring water down the lane, as the lane is called 'Stream Lane' it is only living up to expectations. Upton like neighbouring Blewbury is on the Spring line where water seeps out of the mass of chalk upland to the south.
Upton also has some fine old houses, not so many as Blewbury and many more modern additions. The small Victorian looking church took my count up tofour churches on the walk.
The disused railway from Didcot that used to run south through Upton; Compton and through to Newbury has been made into a popular walk and cycleway from Upton into Didcot. I used part of it to walk onto West Hagbourne. This small hamlet has a few old thatched houses with many more modern luxury homes. Rather spoilt by the narrow busy road that goes through it. However, back to nature, it would not be a Spring walk without a picture of a catkin so here it is:
No church at West Hagbourne but there is one at the larger and grander East Hagbourne just a mile or so away. A nice looking church and it was open - quite a nice church, not as good as North Moreton though.
The centre of the village is just by the church with a few thatched houses dotted around it.
As you can see the clouds were filling in the sky, as had been predicted so I couldn't grumble too much. I now had to walk back to Didcot through the roughest parts of the town- council houses with gardens full of bricks and discarded father Christmases! The main estates have sprawled their way from the centre to the south-east. I managed to navigate myself back to the railway station without a street map, quite a challenge. I then had one last sight to try and find, a Q.I. programme some years ago had ridiculed Didcot as a bit of dump, but had mentioned the church was famous for something. So I searched the north-western part of the town looking for it. At last I came across some old houses that must have formed the original hamlet of Didcot from which all developed when Brunel built his railway.
There are a few quite nice streets in this old area, and at last I found the church. The building itself shows a lot of changes over many years. It was heavily defended against vandalism, with meshes on all the windows and heavy padlocks on outer doors. That says quite a bit about Didcot! Anyway just by the south porch was the relic I was looking for, a very old yew tree. Some sites list it as the second oldest in the world at over 1,200 years old. I don't believe an accurate date has been established, much of the heartwood has rotted away which does not help.
I was impressed with what can be seen only a short distance from a town with such a poor reputation. The villages near by rival some of the best ones in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. Fitting in all the villages proved quite a strain, a walk of 15 miles or so, including six churches which must be a new record for one day.