Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Cholsey to Goring via the downs

It has been over four months since I last did a walk lasting a whole day. So with the forecast for the only full fine day in the week I decided to make up for this lapse. As the car was in the garage I did the walk between two railway stations: Cholsey and Goring, it is always pleasing to be able to do a decent walk without using the car. Here is a map of the 14.5 mile walk.


View Cholsey to Goring in a larger map

I always think of Spring as a season lasting months of slow transition. Each year I am surprised at how fast it actually changes, ten days ago the trees looked dormant, now the buds are bursting and in another ten days they will be in full leaf. A whole new range of Spring flowers were out which I had not seen before this year. I started at Cholsey from where I have previously walked to Wallingford and also to Didcot

maple flowers

Catkins were out in profusion, this is some sort of poplar tree I think.

poplar catkins,catkin

Cherry trees were also out in flower.

cherry,blossom

I then reached the pleasant, quiet village of Aston Tirrold and close by Aston Upthorpe. Aston Upthorpe church is famous as the possible site where King Alfred prayed before fighting and winning the Battle of Ashdown 871. I took pictures of many of the houses, I also saw for the first time a mobile dog washing trailer 'The Pooch Mobile'. This is one of the finer houses.

Aston Tirrold,house

Just by the church at Aston Upthorpe was a tub with fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagri) already in full flower.

Snake's Head Fritillary,Fritillaria meleagris

I then set off south towards the downs. I had to side step a flood on the road, it is amazing how long the effects of the winter rain have lasted - the water is still pouring out of the chalk. When I had gained a little height I started to see cowslips (Primula veris) in flower.

cowslip,Primula veris

I had hoped to see a few butterflies as they have certainly been around in the garden. I think it was a bit too cool and early for them up on the downs. I did see quite a few peacock butterflies (I counted 11 in all); a red admiral and a couple of brimstones. This peacock (Inachis io) is on nettles - the food plant of its caterpillars - so may be she was laying eggs.

peacock butterfly,peacock,nettles,Inachis io

The path I wanted to follow was not marked so I had to take a bit of a guess. It took me past a large number of 'free range' pigs. Now I have seen these setups before that, frankly, do not say anything good about the welfare of the animals. After all being 'free range' means being out in all the mud and wet as well as sunshine. However this lot looked healthy and full of energy.

pig

I then followed the dry valley all the way up to the high downs. I headed up to the Roman temple site at the top of Lowbury Hill. It certainly has an ancient feel as the panoramic view opens up. The hill and surrounding grassland was smothered in cowslips. At 614feet (187m) and with its own trig. point, it is worth the climb. I have explored this area of downs from Aldworth a number of times, mainly before this blog started, but it is included in my Compton walk

Lowbury Hill,view,dicot

I then joined up with the Great Ridgeway, and instead of following it all the way down to Goring I decided to explore another route down to the river Thames. There are several candidate tracks that run along dry valleys roughly east. I chose the one running past Cow Common and Well Barn. In the woods at the top lots of wild garlic or ransoms (Allium ursinum) just coming into bud.

wild garlic,ransoms

In the woods to the north of the track was the sound of pheasants and it seems many have survived the shooting season and are still being fed by the game keepers. They were all pecking around feed hoppers put out for them. Perhaps the very wet winter led to many shoots being cancelled.

pheasant

The track is on a gentle slope consistent with an ancient track but I saw little evidence for it being old, no line of ancient trees or ditches. It could be that the track has been repositioned or landscaped away. If you look carefully you can see another pheasant on the lane.

lane

The woods on the other side of the valley have a strange parkland feel as they are mixed conifers and deciduous trees.

mixed woods

As well as many birds (chiff-chaff; black cap; blackbird; song thrush; wren; robin; skylark; green woodpecker; mallard; canada geese; greylag geese; chaffinch; greenfinch; goldfinch; red kite; pheasant) which were all in fine voice; I also saw a great many bumblebees, so hopefully recent concerns that the diseases affecting honey bees were spreading to them are unfounded.

bumblebee

Most of the track is through a meticulously groomed estate. I got the feeling from one or two people in vehicles that they would prefer that a public footpath did not wend its way right through the grand estate. The owner, Hugh Osmond, with an estimated fortune of £150 million has made extensive changes to his house at Well Barn, he has also excavated an ornamental pond and if you look on Google Earth has created symmetric plantings of trees in little groups.

Well Barn

I finally reached the Thames at Moulsford and cut through the Beetle and Wedge's garden to join the official Thames Path. It starts by going across a number of private gardens. There were a couple of muddy sections where the effects of the recent floods was very evident. I was also pleased to see a few clumps of Loddon Lilies (Leucojum aestivum) in the still flooded areas. This is a notably rare plant in the wild (in the Red Book), but many gardeners know it similar species as 'snowflakes'.

Loddon Lily,Thames

Views across the river were to the little settlement of Cleeve. The restaurant on the bank is the Leatherne Bottel, the quaint spelling rather puts me off going, if that is, I could afford a meal there.

Leatherne Bottel,Thames,

There is one last plant to include, a very large clump of Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris) or Kingcups just by the river edge. There was also a fair number of Angelica plants coming up too.

marsh marigold

The Thames Path follows the edge of the river and there was quite a number of Greylag and Canada geese on the grass. The grass also had Cuckoo Flowers (Cardamine pratensis) already out - 8th April is a little early for them. The views of the posh houses on the Oxfordshire side of the Thames were spectacular in the light.

Goring,Thames

To my surprise and alarm the last few hundred yards of the Thames Path before it joins a lane was closed and blocked off. I had not expected flooding to be still a problem here as the Thames was back to normal levels. There was no alternative path, if I could not get through I would have to walk a mile back to Cleeve Lock and walk along the main road. The water turned out to be about three inches deep so I managed to tiptoe through in walking boots without much difficulty.

Streatley floods,flooded path,Thames Path

So at last, feeling the effects of 14 miles, I reached the other side of the river and the little town of Goring. The old church stands out well from the bridge.

Goring church,church

I took a record 162 photographs on the walk, and have struggled to post as few as this!