Ridgeway Trip V: A glorious day!

 We had a lovely breakfast at the Rose and Crown in Ashbury. Teresa had to go with the luggage but is such a nice person and general good sport that she didn't complain at all.  She had also, very intelligently, equipped herself with a crochet project and audiobooks.  We set off -- a little late after lingering over breakfast -- and took a road that went behind the inn and down to the church (sadly closed).  Through the churchyard, and to a footpath that ran uphill half a mile through wheat fields to hit the Ridgeway, which was chalk path nicely planted with trees along both sides at that point.  

After half a mile or so, we hit the crossing with the road going out of Ashbury, and there were vans parked with a ton of young teen boys clearly setting out on a heavy-duty backpacking and camping trip.  We wanted to get well ahead of them, so we booked it a mile down the path until we got to Wayland's Smithy, a Neolithic long barrow (look up info).  I've seen it on TV but it's much longer than they show, and with a smaller frontage.  It's a wonderful place.  We just wandered around and enjoyed having it all to ourselves.  The actual rooms are tiny; just three little boxes right at the front, and nothing leading to a center spot -- the center does contain an even older barrow but there is no access to it.

Just as we were leaving the spot, several of the backpacking boys arrived.  To our surprise they didn't turn in at the Smithy at all, but kept right on going so that they were just ahead of us.  But -- again surprisingly -- at the next crossroad they turned off and we never saw them again.  Pretty soon the bushes and trees to the sides petered out, and we walked along between fields with the occasional tree or bush.  Stinging nettles abounded on the sides, and so did wildflowers.  It was another couple of miles to Uffington Castle, and of course that was set quite high up.  On these long grades uphill, we always seemed to be overtaken by people on bicycles, whom we did not envy having to pump up those slopes!

This was taken in the split second
 between a cyclist and a group of boys

Going up to Uffington Castle

Looking back down the road we'd come up

The Castle is accessed by a gate (as all things are) and then you go through a grassy field.  It's a wonderful earthwork, double-walled and with a steep inner ditch.  The center was impossible to walk through, being covered in blooming purple thistles, so we walked along the outside edge.  We weren't sure where the White Horse was in relation to the fort; would it be directly below or what?  Pretty soon I could see the landscape I've been studying for so long -- Dragon Hill, with its funky bowl top and bald spot, the deep ribbed gully in-between called the Manger.  It's thought people penned their horse herds in there; it couldn't be better for the purpose.  The Horse itself was off to the right from our perspective, and it was impossible to see fully.  It's meant to be viewed from the sky -- by the gods, perhaps?  Even Teresa, driving by on the road below, couldn't see more than some of it at a time.  We could see the front legs and back, and even a back leg, from one side.  From the top we could see the neck, ear, and part of the head, but the long grass obscured quite a bit as well as the angle of the hill.  Of course it's fenced off; they can't have people walking around on it and making bald spots or messing it up.  So it's a little disappointing in real life, because in order to see it properly you need to be able to fly.  We wished for my husband and his drone!

The Castle is essentially a bowl full of thistles

From the top, you can just barely see the neck/head

The Manger, Dragon Hill

Only a week after we visited, an enlargement and restoration project started!  The lines of the Horse have narrowed over the years and they wanted to make it look more like it did before.  The grass got mown, the chalk was weeded, and all in all it sounds like if we'd arrived just a couple of weeks later, we would have seen a little bit more.  But it would still be impossible to see the whole thing from where we were.  I just have to laugh though!

Our lunch spot

After that we walked for many miles along a beautiful (although very nettle-bordered) chalk track, in gorgeous weather.  It was sunny, but broken by puffy clouds -- warm, but often pleasantly breezy --  and it eventually turned into a wide, grassy track along the top of a gully.  Fields of wheat and canola, and frequent horse gallops, surrounded us.  (Horse gallops were not only common, they were of the highest grade.  Evidently we walked by several of the very best horse-racing outfits in the country.  We never saw any galloping, since they do that at about 7am, though.)  We also met some police patrolling the area and had a pleasant chat.  Everyone up there is friendly and says hello at the very least; often they stop to chat and usually ask us where we're from.  We only met other Americans on the Ridgeway once; some other people are hiking the whole route but they're always from the UK, and most are locals walking their dogs or just enjoying the walk.  One older fellow was very fun and we talked for a while about the horridness of politics everywhere.  

A memorial tap for Peter Wren

Sheep in a field

Every once in a while there's a bench

By the 9th mile, we were very ready for the footpath leading to Letcombe Regis, but it didn't arrive quite soon enough to suit us, and when we did get to it...it was a mile and a half, much of which was on the steep side.  We did not look forward to the reverse hike in the morning!  Our slog was enlivened with various sheep and some surprise llamas, but somewhere along there my feet entered a new stage and were just done.  We were thrilled to see the village church and neighboring shop (not so thrilled when the shop turned out to have closed an hour before) and we spent a few minutes inside the church, which is simple and lovely and has a wonderful wildflower garden in front.  A church has been on the spot since around 700AD (!!).  The inn was a few more blocks down the road and we were so relieved to get there.  We went out to the garden seating and found Teresa, and ordered cold water and two drinks each (I had grapefruit and ginger beer, before moving on to fizzy lemonade at dinner).  Luckily, they put Theresa and my mom into a room that was only one flight up, while Kim and I were in an attic room up some fairly acrobatic stairs.  It was probably three servants' rooms knocked into one or something.  We got one window, a beautiful fan, and the best bathroom yet, albeit with some terrifyingly fancy and complex plumbing in the shower.

Peekaboo sheep!

I expect llamas in California, not in Oxfordshire!


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