This was a circular walk of almost 13 miles, which I did on Tuesday, 11th December, 2007 - a very cold but very bright winter's day. The temperature was 0C when I started walking, rose a bit during the day, but there were still patches of frost and ice in puddles in the afternoon, with the temperature back down to 2C when I returned to the car shortly after 3pm.
I parked in the car park at Watlington Hill, close to Christmas Common (a bullfinch flew off as I arrived). I was amazed that I didn’t see any Red Kites as I drove through Watlington - I always think of it as ‘Red Kite City’ as there are usually so many of these birds flying low over the main street. Still, I soon saw my first Kite of the day as I followed the footpath steadily downhill from the car park (it starts on the road, next to the car park). I soon came to a shallow fork, where I stayed on the footpath by taking the right fork. Further on there were some nice views to the neighbouring hills to the west and out across the Oxfordshire Plain. I passed a fair number of Yew trees here - I’ve come across them in a few places in the Chilterns now.
Start of the path from beside the car park on Watlington Hill
The path down Watlington Hill, with a view ahead towards the Oxfordshire Plain
At the bottom of the hill, the path continued between hedges to eventually reach a drive, with a road a few yards to the right. I went a few hundred yards to the right, then turned left on to the route of the Ridgeway. This was a section I walked a couple of months back on Swan’s Way, but this time instead of keeping to the tarmac farm drive I followed the permissive path over the hedge on the left. This ended near a couple of houses, where I rejoined the farm drive as it immediately turned left (the Ridgeway going straight on towards Swyncombe Down). I followed the drive to the farm, then continued on a bridleway heading steadily back up into the hills, passing through a beech wood. I eventually reached another farm, where I followed the drive about a hundred yards left to a lane.
The permissive path
Looking back to Watlington Hill, from the permissive path
The bridleway heading back up into the Chilterns
Across the lane I followed a drive towards another farm. As I passed the farm, I saw a stoat on the track ahead of me. I followed the track through another small wood to reach Cookley Green, a village I know from the Chiltern Way.
Farm drive heading towards Cookley Green
Almost as soon as I entered the village, I turned right along a lane, and then after a few hundred yards went left into a wood (I had passed another turning on the left at the start of the wood). The Chiltern Way goes right through the wood and on to Swyncombe, but I turned left at the first junction in the middle of the wood, on an initially narrow and very frosty path which soon joined a wider track. A little way on, there was a gap in the trees on my right, with a lovely view down over the parkland surrounding Swyncombe House.
The path through the wood between Cookley Green and Swyncombe
From the gap in the wood, looking over the parkland surrounding Swyncombe House to the Oxfordshire Plain
The track went back into the trees, and crossed a drive to Swyncombe House. Further on I went over a stile into a large parkland pasture, where I followed the edge along the hilltop with the wood on my left. There were a few impressive beech trees dotted about in the pasture, and again there were lovely views across the flat lands at the foot of the Chilterns.
Frosty path through the wood near Swyncombe
Beech trees in the large hilltop pasture near Swyncombe
View over Swyncombe from the large pasture - the building with the long red roof is the 11th century church of St Botolph
View over the Oxfordshire Plain from the large pasture
After about a third of a mile I reached the corner of the pasture, where I went over a stile and turned left, rejoining the Ridgeway as it made its way to Ewelme Park. I turned left in the farmyard here, then after a few yards I again left the National Trail and turned left on a bridleway along a surfaced drive. I passed a row of estate cottages on my left and a couple of paddocks on my right, before turning right on a woodland path, initially close to the edge of the second paddock.
The Ridgeway, heading towards Ewelme Park
Drive and cottages near Ewelme Park
Shortly beyond the paddock the path turned left and soon emerged from the trees into an open grassy field where I followed the hedge on my right. The path soon switched to the other side of the hedge, where I walked beside a ploughed field, now with a small wood on my left. I passed the end of a belt of trees on my right, then turned right to follow the belt of trees beside another ploughed field. In the field corner I entered another belt of trees where I turned left at a path crossroads. I was now back on familiar territory, on part of the southern extension of the Chiltern Way. The path ran through the belt of trees for a few hundred yards, before emerging from the trees and becoming a track between hedges.
The Chiltern Way path through the tree belt, heading towards Park Corner
Soon there was a wood on my right, where I saw a Fallow Deer cross the path ahead of me. I then heard a large noise behind some holly bushes on my right, and realised there were more deer about - I managed to photo two deer as they stopped on the edge of the wood about 60 yards away.
The path through the wood approaching Park Corner
Fallow Deer in the wood near Park Corner