Friday, 25 May 2012

Hungerford and Chilton Foliat

After a very cool start of May the weather has flipped directly into high summer with torrid temperatures, pleasant enough a change for just a day or two. So it was too hot to walk in the first part of the week, only the stiff breeze made this walk feasible today. I extended my walks along the Kennet and Avon canal to the town of Hungerford. Here is a map of the 11.5 mile walk:


View Cholton Foliat - Hungerford - Froxfield in a larger map

Most of the time the walk was over rich farmland that has prospered in the April rains.

Hungerford,farm view

The early spring flowers (lesser celandine; bluebell; wood anemone) were being replaced by the flowers of summer. Ubiquitous was bright blue speedwell, in a variety of species.

speedwell

I headed north-east from the picturesque village of Chilton Foliat past farms called, rather strangely, Little Hidden Farm and Great Hidden Farm. These cattle seemed to have chosen to sunbathe, as shady areas were also available for them.

cattle

Continuing the farmland theme, the proximity of the horse rearing Lambourn was evident from the many hoof marks on the tracks. These two horses made a lovely matched pair of greys.

horses

I headed down along pleasant woodland fringes down to Denford Mill Lock on the Kennet and Avon canal and there joined up with a walk I did ten years ago from Kintbury.

Kennet and Avon canal, Denford Lock

The canal path takes you to Hungerford, a town I have not explored on foot before. It has an impressive range of antique shops and looked busy, I did not see a single boarded up shop as I had done in Abingdon.

Hungerford

The High Street is a busy road (the A338) and it seemed all the older properties were scattered along it. Very little in the way of pre-industrial houses, it was the boom brought by the canal and then the railway that greatly expanded the town. The town hall is built in a fairly eccentric Victorian style (1870). To read more about the history of Hungerford please visit here.

Hungerford

If it was an ancient place one would expect an interesting, ancient church as a central focus, with a central square, however in Hungerford the main parish church (St. Lawrence) is tucked away at the edge near the canal. Moreover it is a strange mixture of 1815 and 1880 dates. Apparently, an earlier medieval church on the site collapsed during repairs. Built with Bath stone, transported conveniently along the canal (a plaque takes the view it the most easterly large building made of Bath stone - an unlikely claim). It is mock-medieval in tone with not a great deal to commend itself, the 1880 re-build tried to correct some of the worst bits of the 1815 creation. Indeed rather than a picture of the exterior I took this one of a model of the church made of match sticks that you can see inside it (and, I can't refrain from suggesting, is there an even smaller model inside the model?).

St. Lawrence Hungerford

I then continued along the canal.

Kennet and Avon canal

The canal passes through an area of marshland (Freeman's Marsh) and then quietens down to the rural backwater that is more typical of its character. The canal has now left the Kennet Valley and follows the River Dun, the importance of this route can be gleaned from the fact that the canal, the railway and the A4 road are all within a few hundred yards of each other.

Kennet and Avon canal

To complete the circular walk I headed off north over farmland after first walking along the busy A4, there I spotted this Hawksbeard in full glory.

Hawkbit

Cake Wood looked interesting, with many yellow archangels on the fringes, I was taken by the unfolding of this fern.

Fern

The farmer had kept the path directly across a barley field clear and easy to walk. I have heard people wonder whether cereal plants like barley and wheat have 'flowers' and I came at the correct time to supply the proof - the little anthers are providing pollen.

barley flowers

The path then came down into the Kennet valley and it looks idyllic near Littlecote House.

barley flowers

A pleasant walk through woods and over the Kennet took me back to Chilton Foliat with all its thatched houses.

Chilton Foliat

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