Monday, 4 November 2013

West Ilsley and the Ridgeway

After some much needed rain in the last month the weather has been not too good for walking. After about an inch of rain last night the weather was forecast to be clear and bright. With so much rain I decided I must choose a walk over chalk to avoid muddy paths. I naturally thought of the Ridgeway near Wantage as the main path is never wet there, I looked at previous walks and one village I had missed out on was West Ilsley. It lies just to the west of the busy A34 and of course East Ilsley the focus of a walk two and half years ago. Here is a map of the walk:

View West Ilsley and the Ridgeway in a larger map

With a cold, fresh north westerly wind the views were spectacular, it was a good time to walk the Ridgeway to capture distant views. The Didcot power station is the most noticeable landmark.

ridgeway,didcot power station

The Great Ridgeway has the width of a motorway here, I presume because it was used for droving flocks of sheep. On the horizon as a tiny blob is the figure of another walker.


After walking East for half a mile I turned south on a track leading towards West Ilsley. Riders were taking horses up the gallops. Some fungi in the grass were still looking fairly fresh. Probably Common Bonnet (Mycena galericulata)


In the hedgerows there was plenty of fruit: apples; haws; sloes; rose hips; bryony;elder berries; guelder rose and here the tempting berries of dogwood (Cornus)


Also tempting looking, but poisonous to animals, were the berries of Bittersweet or Woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a member of the potato/tomato family.


I reached the small village of West Ilsley, but not much to be seen. The church was closed due to an unsafe roof and there is no shop.

West Ilsley churchyard

The houses are of mixed age with some attractive old ones here and there.

West Ilsley

I then headed south and autumn was now in evidence in all the trees.

autumn tree

At this time of year the only flowers still out in any number are ivy flowers. In one patch the ivy had attracted a mixture of different types of fly and also wasps. I had hoped that butterflies might still be possible but I did not see one. This fly is I think the flesh fly (Sarcophaga carnaria).

flesh fly,Sarcophaga carnaria

The paths over the downs were attractive in the November sunshine.


One field had attracted a flock of gulls enjoying the sun in a valley protected from the cold wind.


I passed some ancient woodland on my way to join up with another long distance path: Old Street. I walked this section a couple of years ago on the East Ilsley walk. This track was loved by John Betjeman, who used to live at nearby Farnborough. Alongside the ancient track were some lovely old trees, beneath one beech tree was a collection of purple fungi - blewits I think.


While the beeches were showing some sign of colour change and dropping their leaves, some mighty oaks were still in total denial that it was getting rather late in the season. The photograph would have been the same two months ago.


This section of Old Street is higher than the Ridgeway and when it emerges from the woods excellent views all around are revealed.

Old Street,path

In places the fine autumn colours add to the scene.

autumn view

At Starveall Farm - not the most encouraging name for a farm - an old barn also had rich autumn colour.

Starveall Farm

I made my way back up to the Ridgeway, and here was pleased to see, as I often do at this time of year, a group of Linnets feeding on the hawthorn berries.


I am in danger of a post without a single flower. Even though it was November there were blackberry flowers, yellow hawkbits, white deadnettles, red campions and here some thistles.


Along the Ridgeway, it was the tremendous views that inspire, here is another view towards Didcot.

ridgeway,didcot power station

And finally one of the distant view of the Chilterns, from Goring up to at least to Watlington in the East.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Great Bedwyn, Crofton and Wilton

Every half decent day is worth the risk of venturing out now autumn is upon us. With a cold northerly wind this has been the first day that tempted me to turn on the heating. Still the sun is still quite strong and was forecast to shine for most of the day.

My last blogged walk was curtailed due to lack of time, I had planned to walk from Great Bedwyn to Wooton Rivers in one long walk (14 miles) this is the second part from Great Bedwyn to Durley. This now completes the Kennet and Avon canal all the way from Reading to Pewsey, so a cause of minor celebration. Here is a map of the 12.5 mile walk:

View Great Bedwyn - Durley in a larger map

I started at Great Bedwyn which has a good many interesting buildings, I quite liked the Cross Keys pub which as at the centre of the village.

Great Bedwyn

To add more interest to the walk and avoid a walk along a road I took a detour into Chisbury Wood. Here I was pleased to still see one or two Speckled Wood butterflies, there is one hiding in this picture. It was keen to hide away from the cold wind.

Speckled wood butterfly,butterfly

In the wood there were plenty of fungi coming out and I was lucky to see five deer (probably fallow deer), too dark to get a picture of them. I then passed Stokke Manor and entered some woodland that links to Savernake Forest.


There were a few late summer flowers around and a few ancient trees, the track led through large puddles to St. Katharine's Church. A rather strange place as it is set far away from the local villages in the middle of the wood. The history is that it was dedicated in 1861 to the Russian-born Catherine Vorontsov, Dowager Countess of Pembroke and mother of the Marchioness of Ailesbury who had their home at nearby Tottenham House. I went passed Tottenham House on the last walk where I saw the Monument in Savernake erected by the Duke of Ailesbury. The church has a striking exterior.

St Katharines church

Inside it has a fine rounded chancel which was just catching the sunlight streaming in. Another Victorian church I quite like, whatever next?

St Katharines church

My path took me through the grounds of Tottenham House with dire warnings about Gurkha Security Patrols. Luckily I saw no Gurkhas, instead I saw some waxcaps growing in a meadow.


I walked down to the Kennet and Avon canal to rejoin where I left it a fortnight ago. The canal here is underground, the only tunnel on the canal as it reaches its highest altitude (a dizzying 450 feet above sea level). At the tunnel entrance I was surprised to hear the distorted sound of people singing as they sailed their way through the 502 yard tunnel. The Bruce tunnel is another commemoration of Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, 1st Earl of Ailesbury (of Tottenham House) who insisted on a tunnel rather than a deep cutting when the canal was opened in 1810. A panel has the inscription ‘The Kennet and Avon Canal Company Inscribe this tunnel with the name BRUCE in testimony of their GRATITUDE for the uniform and effectual support of the Right Honourable Thomas Bruce, Earl of Aylesbury and Charles Lord Bruce his Son through the whole Progress of this great National Work by which a direct communication by Water was opened between the cities of London and Bristol Anno Domini 1810.’. The building of the canal was a major enterprise linking the two greatest cities in the UK at the time, the only alternative transportation was by sea around Cornwall and along the English Channel. The threat from Napoleon was a spur to create an inland route.

Bruce tunnel,kennet and avon

No wild-flowers yet! Along the canal bank there were some plants still putting on a good show, there was a lot of Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).


I took lots of pictures of the locks along this stretch and this is the best one. You may note that the locks are descending in level towards Hungerford. At the time this was a bit of a puzzle as I had thought Crofton was at the top.

canal lock,kennet and avon

The Industrial history is rich along this stretch of canal. Crofton has a still functioning steam engine that was installed to bring water to the top level of the canal at Durley. The problem was that there was no adequate source of water to divert into the canal - the area is mainly on chalk bedrock. To save building a long tunnel the plan was to pump water from downstream where a reservoir could be built, this was at Crofton. Here you can still see the oldest working steam engines in the World (doing the same job at the same place they were originally built to do). They hold steam up at weekends through most of the year. There is an 1812 Boulton and Watt engine as well as a 1846 Harvey engine which raise the water 40feet (12m) from the reservoir level to a channel (leet) that leads back to the highest section of the canal.

Crofton beam engine

Wilton Water is an essential part of the scheme, to ensure it holds water I assume it had to be sealed with clay. It is a haven for birds, loads of ducks; geese and swans. On the canal I did not see many birds, one Grey Wagtail did dart around for a while. This stretch of the Wilton Water had Canada geese.

Wilton Water

At this point I decided to make a large detour to Wilton as the canal can become fairly boring in large doses. I walked along the bank of the reservoir to the picturesque village of Wilton. Confusingly there are two Wiltons in Wiltshire, the other Wilton in the far south of the county is the origin of the name Wiltshire. As I passed I was delighted to see a grape vine on the front of a house on the main road. It seems to have been a good year.

grapes,grape vine

I planned to cut back to the canal but saw a sign to the Wilton Windmill. This is local landmark, visible for miles around, and I decided to visit it as I was unlikely to get this close again for ages. Wilton Windmill was spinning away in the stiff wind, it is still kept working by a dedicated band of volunteers. Its history is surprisingly tied up with the canal yet again. Building the canal meant that watermills on the Rivers Kennet, Dun and Avon had to be demolished. As compensation a 'new' windmill was built at Wilton in 1821.

wilton windmill

I bought a bag of flour there; here is the proof.

wilton windmill flour

After all that industrial heritage I was pleased to escape out into the countryside again. Blackberries were still looking tempting as there has so far been no frost.


The Wilton Brail woods turned out to be a gem. There is a good mixture of trees and several ancient ones. It was still too early for autumn colour, fungi were the main interest. An upturned tree had lots of Orange Peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia) growing from the exposed root ball.

Orange Peel fungus,Aleuria aurantia

More traditional fungi were there too. I think it is Blusher (Amanita rubescens), it is poisonous raw but edible when cooked, but not something I am tempted to try.

Blusher,Amanita rubescens,fungi

Here's an unidentified one.


I made my way back to Wilton Water to continue the canal path back to Great Bedwyn. The clouds had come over and there was little new to see. I did spot some Comfrey in flower.


The walk worked out at 12.5 miles or so and I was quite relieved to at last see Great Bedwyn again. The last stretch had a large number of house boats on the canal. Many had lit a fire to keep warm in the descending gloom.

canal boats

Here is a map courtesy of the British Waterways Board that just happens to cover the whole stretch from Pewsey to Reading (about half the full length of the canal).

canal map

Friday, 27 September 2013

Wootton Rivers, Durley and Savernake Forest

At last an opportunity to take the total tally of walks on this blog over the 1,000 mile mark. All within 50 miles or so of home. The weather has stayed too hot for walking and then turned wet and cloudy so seven weeks have passed since the last long walk. I had misgivings about doing the walk as the forecast was for increasing cloud and the planned walk was 14 miles long which is a bit long to fit in the shortening length of day. Here is a map of the walk:

View Wootton Rivers and Savernake Forest in a larger map

The aim was to add a missing section of the Kennet and Avon canal between Great Bedwyn and Wootton Rivers to the south-east of Marlborough. I started off on Mud Lane, the start of an ancient track-way that runs along the ridge east-west to Martinsell and Knap Hill. Late September is a time of transition with not a great deal to see, too late for flowers and butterflies and too soon for autumn colour and fungi. Here was a flower with three types of fly clinging on: small white butterfly; hoverfly and fly.


The path leads down to Wootton Rivers, a quiet, picturesque village, here I joined up with a previous walk to Martinsell. A fair number of old thatched houses, and a pub but no shops.

Wooton Rivers

I managed to miss the church at Wootton Rivers as it is just off the main street, I retraced my steps and took a look.

Wootton Rivers,church

It was then down to the canal, where there was more activity than I normally see. A number of house boats were moored along the bank. Unusually too, I saw five boats under way in all. There are three locks on this stretch as it flows down east towards Bradford-on-Avon and Bristol.

Kennet and Avon canal,lock,boat

Here I saw a patch of fungi on the grass beside the canal. They are shaggy inkcaps (Coprinus comatus), it gets the name inkcap because it soon decays to a mass of black sludge.

Shaggy Inkcap,Coprinus comatus

The canal bends this way and that making it a pleasant stretch to walk. At the bridge under the A346 Marlborough-Burbage road is the Burbage Wharf; which is a reconditioned wooden crane dating back to 1831, the last one to survive on the Kennet and Avon canal.

Burbage Wharf,canal,canal crane

A mile further on and the canal disappears into a tunnel. The only tunnel on the canal, it is 500 yards long. The tow-path goes up and over the railway which runs parallel for this section. Away from the gloom of the deep cutting for the canal there was some wild-flowers still in bloom, including geraniums.


When I reached the Savernake Road I had to make a decision, it would take a further four hours walk to get to Great Bedwyn and back. It was warm and sunny - so I was tempted - but decided to believe the weather forecast and take a shorter route via part of Savernake Forest (so wak was only ten miles long). On the road was this attractive building of fairly indeterminate age.


I followed the road through Durley and past Tottenham House an ancient pile built by Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, 1st Earl of Ailesbury. I then turned into Savernake Forest along the Roman road that led from Mildenhall to Andover. Savernake is the only privately owned ancient forest in Britain.

Savernake forest

Along the road leading into the depths of the forest there was a lot of fungi emerging. Including Magpie Inkcap (Coprinopsis picacea).

Magpie Inkcap,Coprinopsis picacea

In fact there was quite a lot of fungi around, too many to include. This is I believe False Deathcap (Amanita citrina).

False Deathcap,Amanita citrina

Navigation within Savernake is a little tricky, there are many tracks and paths but no markers or maps to help the visitor. So I was rather pleased to end up where I expected to, at the place marked as 'column' on the map. This is associated with Thomas Bruce of Tottenham House, he seems to have engaged in a lot of tree planting at Savernake. The column was erected to mark the recovery of King George III from his madness. Thomas Bruce was Lord of the Bedchamber and must have been closely involved in the care of the King. The inscription reads: In commemoration of a signal instance of Heaven's protecting Providence Over These Kingdoms in the year 1789 by restoring to perfect Health from a long and afflicting Disorder, their excellent and beloved Sovereign George the Third. This Tablet was Inscribed by Thomas Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury.. Quite interesting, I had no idea that such a monument existed.

Column,monument,Thomas Bruce,Earl of Ailesbury

Now back to the more earthly, and one of the first signs of autumn colour, bramble leaves turning bright red.


I followed the evocatively named ‘Charcoal Burner's Road’ and started seeing the older trees that I hoped to see - much of the north and central areas have been re-planted fairly recently. Mostly they were beech trees, one had a good deal of bracket fungus probably Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondesa).

Hen of the Woods,Grifola frondesa

Now for the main natural history excitement of the walk. I was buzzed by a large yellowish insect which was too large for a wasp or bee. I was very lucky that it settled and started to explore a decaying tree trunk. With a good deal of respect for hornets, I did not get close enough to catch a super-macro image, this is as close as I dared. There is a concern that Asian hornets are poised to invade the UK, so I was somewhat relieved to identify it as Vespa crabro our 'common' hornet.

hornet,Vespa crabro

My main motive for briefly revisiting Savernake Forest was to see some magnificent ancient trees. These are hard to capture by camera as they are so large and surrounded by other trees, the scale can only be appreciated at first hand. Here is a lovely old beech.


Fungi were coming up here and there in the woods. These look like a dish of tempting new potatoes.


On the western fringes the beeches give way to oaks, and there are many grand old specimens.


One last old oak tree.


As I made my way through the southernmost part of the Forest these elderberries caught my eye. The prospect of autumn fruits seems a good place to end this special walk to mark the thousand miles.