Waterways of Oxfordshire

Living in Oxfordshire we have the Thames right on our doorstep, so in training for our main hiking goals we’ve completed a couple of walks that take in sections of the Thame Path. One thing about walking along a river, it is flat! The views might not be as spectacular as being high up in the mountains, but there is a certain peace and calmness to be found in being by the water.

Saturday 30th April

Our walk today started at Culham Lock, close to the village of Sutton Courtenay and with a parking area right next to the river. We took the Thames Path out to the village of Clifton Hampden enjoying views towards Appleford, and with Didcot Power Station ever present. From here we took the footpath around the back of Culham Science Park before heading over the railway and past the motocross track before reaching the Thames again, on the other side to the Thames Path and heading towards Abingdon. This is our local town, and it is interesting to see it from a different viewpoint as I rarely walk along the river here, I have to say it looks far more inviting when you are not trying to reach it via road. Heading past Abingdon Lock we rejoined the Thames Path through the fields back to Culham. An easy 10.5 mile walk on flat land with the sun shining.

The Thames at Abingdon

Friday 6th May

As it was my day off, I decided to do another walk along the Thames Path, this time starting at Wolvercote. I parked up at the north end of Port Meadow where there is a large free car park, and walked a short distance along the road to the Trout Inn where you can join the Thames Path. Just after you join the path there is an old nunnery, now derelict. Continuing on past the lock and a field of cows, many enjoying a dip in the river to cool down from the morning sunshine whilst others insisted on blocking the path right next to the gate. Glimpses through the trees of the spires of Oxford ahead, and of people enjoying a walk on Port Meadow. It is a very pleasant and quiet walk, in fact it is amaaing the solitude that can be found somewhere so close to the hustle and bustle of Oxford City. Eventually I reached, Fiddlers Island before continuing on to the Osney Bridge. Here I left the Thames and joined the Botley Road busy with pedestrians, cyclists and cars, past the train station and onto George Street, already getting annoyed with people dawdling I was glad to turn off at the bridge and join the Towpath alongside the Oxford Canal. No navigation required, just a straight walk alongside the canal and back to Wolvercote. Enjoying the many different narrowboats parked up on the canal, many here are residential moorings, electric hook up in place and even with there own postboxes (I’d never considered how people living on houseboats receive mail). Walking on with Jericho on the right and the many houses situated off the Woodcote Road, I love peering into another world, these houses must be ridiculously expensive with there gardens leading onto the canal and boat moorings at the end, there are some truly beautiful gardens here. But this is also contrasted by those that have had less attention, as well as the many boats that appear to have fallen into disrepair, I wonder what happens to these abandoned vessels, it surprises me how many there seem to be. Eventually I reached the bridge for Wolvercote and rejoined the road back to the car park, enjoying a quick snack in the picnic area surrounded by geese and ducks before heading home.

This walk was about 6 miles and could easily be started in Oxford for a couple of hours escape from the city.

The Thames and Port Meadow
Cows cooling off in the river
Oxford Canal

The Lake District: Hartsop

Another long weekend so we thought we’d take advantage and head up to The Lake District again, particularly as our diaries are looking rather full for the coming weeks. Having done a bit of research we decided to base ourselves at Skyeside Campsite near Hartsop and planned two walks to take in the local fells.

Friday 22nd April

We didn’t plan on doing any walking today as had an appointment at midday to view the registry office where we plan to get married next year. So with that done we grabbed some lunch and headed up the M5 and M6 hoping to arrive by 5pm(ish). But a combination of Friday afternoon traffic, roadworks and a broken down lorry conspired against us, so it was 7pm before we got over the Kirkstone Pass and arrived at the campsite. Skyeside campsite is situated behind the Brotherswater Inn, has a well-stocked shop and good level ground for camping on where you can park your car next to your tent. We soon had the tent up, and had brought chicken and vegetable stir fry for dinner. With the light fading we took to our sleeping bags to get a good night sleep ready for a day in the fells.


Saturday 23rd April

The great thing about the campsite was its location, easy to get to from the M6 but right in the heart of the fells meaning we didn’t have to drive anywhere to go walking. We had planned our walk for today to take in seven of Wainwright’s Eastern Fells. As is typical for us we started out later than planned but having enjoyed a sausage, bacon and egg roll. The route we were taking took us along the edge of Brothers Water to Cow Bridge before heading up through the wooded area towards Bleaberry Knott and then onto Hartsop above How. Setting off it was idyllic weather with the sun shining and the sky clear and blue, the car park at Cow Bridge looked pretty full and we saw several other walkers heading in the same direction as us. It was a fairly steep climb through Low Wood so we took our time and plenty of breaks. Once we got up to the stone wall, the ascent became much more gradual and we were able to pick the pace up, sadly the weather started closing in and there was some flakes of snow as we reached the summit of Hartsop above How, with its rather small cairn. This route does afford some good views particularly towards Place Fell and Angle Tarn Pikes, and the summit provides a good vantage point to see the Priests Cave on Dove Crag.

Our next summit was Hart Crag, a clear route with a scree path to the summit. I never like scree paths, not so bad if there are rocks to hold on to and help you but the unstableness does make my legs go to jelly, luckily this was only a short section. As part of the Fairfield Horseshoe we were joining a busy path and there were plenty of others enjoying a day on the fells, the summit of Fairfield looked especially busy. Photos taken and we were soon on our way to Dove Crag where we joined several others eating lunch near the summit. It always seems strange when we reach these busy areas as we generally find the fells to be very quiet and love the solitude and silence.

Inevitably when you are walking in the fells there is a point when you look ahead and see that you are going to have to lose the height you have gained with hard walking only to have to re-ascend. And, this was certainly the case as we left the throng of people completing the Fairfield Horseshoe and picked out the path between Dove Crag and Red Screes. The good thing was that when we reached the bottom at Scandale Pass, the path up Red Screes didn’t appear quite as steep as it had from afar. At this point there were a group of about 6 teenage girls coming towards us, all with matching rucksacks and probably on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, the scowls on their faces said it all but the two adults behind were jolly and cheering them on. It reminded me of my own experience of completing DofE, I probably carried a similar suly expression but goodness knows how heavy our backpacks were without any lightweight equipment it would have been a far cry from my experiences in recent times of backpacking and wild camping. Anyway, by this point we were becoming slightly concerned about the lack of water we were now carrying as despite bringing 2 litres of water each we were running rather low (probably the salty bacon from breakfast making us thirsty!) so had been trying to scout out water sources for a while, and despite streams being marked on the map, due to the boggy landscape these were to no avail, and as we weren’t carrying a water filter we didn’t really want to be drinking water from tarns. Luckily as we started our ascent of Red Screes a stream came into view and a short detour off the path meant we were able to fill up our water supplies to save us from rationing the single bottle we had left. On reaching the top we werre afforded good views across the Kirkstone Pass and beyond to Caudale Moor, and it wasn’t long before we had made the easy walk over to Middle Dodd which had great views back to the summit of Red Screes.

Rather than retracing our steps, Alex had noted a path taking us across the side of Red Screes to rejoin the path we had originally ascended. Unfortunately with the ground boggy underfoot it was difficult to make out and at times there was no distinct path to follow so we just kept heading in the general direction we wanted and eventually found ourselves where we needed to be. Two more summits to go, and nothing too strenuous as we made our way up Little Hart Crag and then a gradual descent to High Hartsop Dodd. The campsite had been in view for much of the day and we now headed down a steep path that took us more or less directly back to where we started across several fields of sheep with their lambs.

So our first walk of the weekend had gone exactly to plan with seven new Wainwrights completed. Time to relax and enjoy some much needed food and sleep.

8 - Brothers Water, Hartsop Dodd & Caudale Moor beyond
Brothers Water
26 - The other side of the Fairdield Horseshoe with the Central and Southern Fells beyond
View from Dove Crag
42 - Red Screes from middle Dodd
Red Screes

Sunday 24th April

We awoke to find the fells shrouded in cloud and rain in the air. We had planned an early start so that we wouldn’t be too late getting home, but Alex hadn’t slept well and seemed in need of a lie in. As I cooked breakfast there were flakes of snow falling, not quite what you expect to be sat outside cooking in the snow but that’s camping for you! With the weather looking less than optimistic, Alex’s suggestion was to drive to Ambleside and wander round the shops. However, I was on a mission to get in the walks we had planned, and given that we didn’t really have any money to be spending on more camping gear didn’t want to be tempted. So once we were all packed up we drove the short distance to Hartsop, taking a little longer than expected as we got stuck behind the milklady making deliveries to the houses situated on the narrow lane, at the end of which is a free parking area.

Hartsop Dodd was the first fell of the day, and with Alex feeling rather unenthusiastic and both of us having tired legs it was a very slow ascent. To break it up we were doing 100 steps then taking a short break hence our pace was ridiculously slow. As we climbed the cloud thickened and the snow came down, there were no views to be had up here! We were hoping that the worst of the climbing was over for the day (little did we know what was ahead!) and it was a much easier ascent to Caudale Moor and Stony Cove Pike. Sadly the sun had not managed to make an appearance and the promised views could not be enjoyed through the cloud. There was no point lingering on the summits today, so we headed over to our next summit of the day, Thornthwaite Crag. But first we had to negotiate Threshthwaite Crag, a steep and rocky descent with a fair amount of clambering. By the time we reached the bottom, Alex’s knee was playing up so I suggested heading back to the car rather than continuing up another steep ascent on a scree path but he decided to carry on as the pain was settling now that we weren’t going down. As we wound our way up, two fell runners taking the steeper grass path overtook us and disappeared into the distance. Surprisingly, it didn’t take as long as I had expected to reach the summit of Thornthwaite Crag, and you can’t miss it as the cairn is 14 feet tall! By now we were beginning to get glimpses of the views we should be enjoying as the cloud began to lift, I’m sure it is stunning on a clear day as you should be able to see down several different valleys. Anyway, our final summit of the day was Gray Crag. Interestingly the views are not great from the summit but if you wander to the edges you get much better views over High Street, Hayeswater, The Knott and Angle Tarn Pikes, as well as over to Hartsop Dodd and Caudale Moor. A quick bite to eat and we were on our way down, taking the path along Hayeswater Gill back to Hartsop and the car.

65 - Snow over Brothers water

Luckily the traffic was much better going home and we enjoyed a pretty clear run down the M6 in the afternoon sun, shame it couldn’t have been so clear while we were up in the fells!

A great weekend of walking, taking in the fells around Hartsop. We’re not likely to be back in the lakes for a while now, as we have some walking closer to home planned; namely an 87 mile walk of The Ridgeway over four days at the end of May.