Tuesday, 8 February 2011

East Ilsley, Lands End and Stanmore

Old Street

Walks following the Old Street in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire.

Wantage - Ridgeway
Wantage - Farnborough
Farnborough - Catmore
Catmore - Hermitage
Hermitage - Bucklebury

Another bright and sunny winter's day so I decided to do the walk I had intended to do last week. So, instead of the busy M4 my walk took me close to the busy A34 trunk road.

View East Ilsley - Stanmore in a larger map

East Ilsley is just to the south of the Great Ridgeway. Having read part of the 'Ancient Trackways of Wessex', I am starting to look a little more critically at ancient paths. I consider the Great Ridgeway is rather like the Great Wall of China, it is a convenient linking up of pre-existing paths rather than one great walkway. The book has it running from Seaton in Devon all the way to North Norfolk coast. One has to ask why anyone would want to use such a track. However I must concede that the Ridgeway in this stretch from Compton to the Uffington White Horse is an impressive track of Motorway-width which would accommodate a large flock of sheep on their way to market.


The chief landmark that you look down on to the north is Didcot power station. Some are offended by its presence in the otherwise rural landscape, I have to say it no longer worries me at all. The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Chilton is in the picture too.

Didcot power station

This was the first stretch of the Ridgeway that I walked along, over nine years ago now, and it has changed little. For early February there were a fair number of walkers out and about, I probably saw more walkers today than I saw in the last ten walks put together.

Spring was no more advanced than last week, but some buds were beginning to show signs of life. This one was covered in sticky goo which probably makes it a horse chestnut.

Sticky bud

The footpath is diverted underneath the A34 and here there is an attempt to decorate the concrete with something other than graffiti.

A34 mural

I left the Ridgeway at Cuckhamsley Hill, one of the highest points on this section of the way. It is also known as Scutchamer Knob and has an iron age barrow. It may be the place where King Edwin killed the Wessex Lord Cwichelm in 636CE. The picture is a view through the woods towards the barrow.

Scutchamer Barrow

The distant view to the East was impressive, it looks over the Thames all the way to Watlington

distant view

The trackway led south and gave some reasonable views all around; this view looked northward and had a lichen encrusted shrub to add a bit of colour.

distant view

One of the main reasons for this walk was to continue a mission to follow an ancient track-way. Last autumn my walk around neighbouring Farnborough followed an old track called ‘Old Street’. A book on Ancient Trackways confirms this as an ancient route and one that apparently went from Wantage to Reading. I am therefore keen to see if it makes any sense with the paths and roads that exist now. I joined ‘Old Street’ at a place rather bizarrely called ‘Lands End’ that offered no clue as to its derivation. Further along Old Street I should travel onward to a place called ‘World’s End’.

Lands End

The path climbs high again with some good views back north to Didcot.

Didcot power station

It then enters a ribbon of woodland and here it certainly looks like an ancient track. The multiple trunks of this 'tree' are the result of coppicing some time ago.

coppiced tree

The land becomes flat and less interesting as the path crosses farmland. Here was the latest in bird scarer technology. The globe rotates in the wind revealing a spinning bird of prey. As there were no pigeons in the whole field of young rape seedlings, it must be effective.

bird scarer

I then came across an acute example of a farmer's cussedness. The old path runs parallel to a modern track, only about five yards away from it for a couple of hundred yards. The public footpath was a mess of muddy ruts, I dare say deliberately churned up by the landowner. The landowner's nice clear flat track was a little annoying having struggled through the mud a few yards away to the right.

owners path

A little further on there was a bank covered in snowdrops. What is more there was a very lively buzz as a few dozen honey bees were busy collecting the earliest of this year's crop of nectar and pollen. You might be able to make out one of them in this shot.


I turned off 'Old Street' East to get back to East Ilsley via the hamlet of Stanmore. South Stanmore Farm is an interesting old farm. They have gone to the trouble of making the farm's sign entirely from old iron horseshoes.

south stanmore farm

Although I saw yellowhammers, chaffinches, linnets, skylarks (singing) as well as all the usual lot, I only managed one reasonable shot of this robin singing in the sunshine.

robin singing

The path back to East Ilsley led north-east past a very architectural dead tree.

dead tree

The final mile or so was close beside the busy A34.


And so back to East Ilsley, a rather small village with a small (but unfortunately locked) church. The pub the Crown and Horns looked striking in the afternoon sun.

Crown and Horns

I wonder if this fine Georgian looking building was the old rectory? Apparently not, it is the Hall.

East Ilsley