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.

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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.

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The Thames and Port Meadow
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Cows cooling off in the river
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Reflections
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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
Snow!


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.

The Lake District: Wasdale

Keen to try out our new tent, and with Friday off work, we decided to head up to the Lake District for a long weekend. The plan was to head over to Wasdale and complete a walk around Wastwater taking in Illgill Head and Whin Rigg with an overnight stay at the National Trust campsite before heading over to Coniston where would wild camp in the fells.

We always head out with these grand plans but I can remember few trips where we have actually completed what we set out to do and this weekend was no exception, but flexibility is good.

 

Friday 8th April

We set off from Oxford bright and early, reaching Ambleside by 12noon where we had to stop to pick up my new camping mat as I’d been sent the wrong item, that was quickly sorted and we picked up some sandwiches for lunch before heading over to Wasdale via the Wrynose and Hardknott passes. I’ve never driven over these so it was quite an experience although luckily not too busy as stopping and starting on these kinds of hills is not fun! Anyway we reached the National Trust car park near Wasdale Head, ate lunch and set off towards our first peak of the day, Illgill Head.

The path is nice and straight forward to navigate with an easy gradient. Sadly the views were not fantastic as the higher peaks were shrouded in cloud but I imagine on a clear day there is a superb view of the Scafell range and across the other side of Wastwater to Yewbarrow. As we climbed the stony path gave way to boggier ground and we followed the wall before crossing over and climbing up towards the summit. On reaching a cairn at what we thought was going to the top the cloud had closed in but despite this we were able to make out higher ground ahead and quickly realised we needed to plod on to the summit where there is a shelter and a couple of cairns. We had calculated the planned route to be approximately 9 miles and needed to get to the campsite by 7pm to book in so we were pushing it a little for time. With this in mind and given the limited view we only stopped to take the obligatory photo of the cairn and a selfie before setting off towards Whin Rigg. It’s an easy walk; a gradual descent with a number of small tarns en route and to the right the screes that are familiar to the edge of Wastwater, then a gentle uphill brings you to the summit of Whin Rigg. Sadly the view remained non-existent in the cloud until we started descending down a steep path following Greathall Gill. I’m never sure whether I prefer going up or down, uphill is plain hard work but coming down these steep paths makes my legs turn to jelly, either way I was glad when we reached flatter ground heading across some very muddy farmland frequented by cattle before we crossed Lund Bridge and reached the road. It was then a long walk following the road along the edge of Wastwater to the car, probably about 4 or 5 miles, but we didn’t fancy navigating our way across the screes. By the time we got to the car park we were both shattered but had made it back with 40 minutes to spare and wuickly made our way round the corner to the campsite.

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Illgill Head on the edge of Wastwater, our first climb of the day
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The Wastwater Screes
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Wastwater reappearing on our descent of Whin Rigg

In our tired state we took no notice of the person booking us into the campsite with his advice on which area was better draining, a decision we would later regret, and pitched up in a quiet spot around the back of the campsite. Not the easiest ground to get pegs into as it is stony just beneath the surface but we soon had the new tent up and with the rain coming down we were glad to have a porch area (will write more on the gear in a later blog post, but the new tent is a step up from the Vango Banshee 200 and a lot more spacious). Bellies filled with pasta and we were in our beds well before 9pm. However on waking in the night, rain noisy against the tent, I was to find the porch area getting rather soggy (we didn’t have a ground sheet as this has to be bought separately), it is never great trying to move things around in the middle of the night to ensure they stay dry.

 

Saturday 9th April

Wow, what a view! Bright blue sky, sun shining and snow on the peaks around us. It didn’t take long for us to decide we would stay put for another night rather than heading over to Coniston as planned. However, with the muddy porch issue walking was off the agenda for the morning as we needed to go and find ourselves a groundsheet so headed back over to Ambleside to traipse around the camping shops where we picked up a cheap groundsheet that would do until we ordered the footprint for the tent, and a lightweight frying pan to match the MSR cookset we have. Was really pleased to find this and think it will prove a useful addition on the hikes we have coming up later in the year. In hindsight we probably would have been better heading north to Cockermouth or Keswick as it might have meant less driving since Wasdale is not ideally situated for getting anywhere by road. It all took a lot longer than planned so we cut our losses, had lunch at a café then headed to Drigg to wander along the beach collecting shells and a lovely piece of driftwood. Views across to the Isle of Man, there was not another soul in sight. We also lucked out at the level crossing where we wondered what was going on with so many people waiting on the end of the platform until a steam train came through, suitably kitted out in that beautiful old fashioned way with lamps on the tables, very nostalgic. So back to the campsite and another night of rain, but luckily not the same muddy issues of the previous night, instead I stood staring at the sky, it never ceases to amaze me when you see the sky filled with stars, something you just don’t get to appreciate in the light polluted towns and villages.

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Not a bad view to wake up to! The National Trust Campsite at Wasdale

 

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The view driving over Birker Fell

 

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The deserted beach at Drigg

 

Sunday 10th April

With our change of plans we had mapped out a route to bag a few of the other Wainwrights near Wasdale, taking in Middle Fell, Seatallan and Buckbarrow. Time to test out the new frying pan and fill up with bacon butties for breakfast, yum! We were glad of a hot breakfast given how cold it had been at night; we had woken to ice on the outside of the tent and a fresh dusting of snow on the surrounding peaks. It wasn’t an early start by the time we packed everything away and headed over to park up by Greendale. It’s a long uphill to the top of Middle Fell, not steep or difficult but relentless, and just when you think you’re nearly there another peak appears beyond. We played cat and mouse with another couple most of the way up, at one point stopping to chat we were saying there looked to be a long descent and ascent over to Seatallan, the gentleman kindly read a quote from the guide he had about how tiresome the route was, not a good’un! Oh well! The views from the top of Middle Fell are spectacular over Wastwater towards the Scafells and Great Gable, definitely worth the climb. As we made our descent on the walk over to Seatallan we stopped to chat to another couple who were looking to bag the same Wainwrights as us that day. We were debating over the best route, watching three people ascend the steep but more direct path we decided we would take the longer more gentle route, and left them deliberating. It was a long trek through boggy ground before we eventually reached the col between Seatallan and Haycock where we turned up towards the summit, the final ascent was not what you call gentle but less steep than the more direct route. When we got to the top, there were the couple we had chatted to, they had beaten us by taking the other route to avoid the boggy ground, although it did sound a rather lung-busting ascent. The difficult bit was definitely over as we took the path to Buckbarrow and the final peak of today’s walk. It’s a funny peak because there is the higher Glade How with its much larger cairn just before you reach Buckbarrow, however it does afford good views towards the coast, Sellafield prominent on the landscape and the contours of the Isle of Man beyond. With three peaks completed it was a nice walk following Gill Beck back to the road and along to Greendale before the long drive home.

 

63 - Wastwater with Illgill Head and the Scafells beyond
The view over Wastwater towards the Scafells whilst climbing Middle Fell
73 - Wastwater and the Scafells
The fabulous view from the summit of Middle Fell was well worth the effort!
76 - The ascent of Seatallan
Seatallan
94 - Sellafield
Sellafield prominent on the landscape. The Isle of Man can just be made out in the background.

 

All in all this was a lovely weekend; the walking was generally quite relaxed with nothing too strenuous (although I may not have said that at the time). We will definitely go back to Wasdale as the scenery is stunning, but will probably wait until the summer when we have a full week available as the location meant we spent a lot of time in the car so would be more worthwhile to be there for a longer period. Five Wainwrights completed this weekend brings our total to 73. We are hoping to be back in the lakes in a couple of weekends time so are looking into campsites and walks for then (I have to say I love the planning almost as much as the walking).

Leisure by William Henry Davies

I was taking a walk along The Ridgeway today and the line “we have no time to stand and stare” kept popping into my head. Unsurprisingly I couldn’t remember any of the rest of the poem but when I got home and looked it up it seemed very apt for today’s modern life.

Leisure by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep and cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nits in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Easter Sunday: Walking the Malvern Hills

We’d been invited to my Mum and Dad’s to celebrate Dad’s birthday on Easter Saturday so it seemed like an ideal opportunity to stay over and walk the length of the Malvern Hills the following day.

The Malvern Hills hold a special place in my heart, they’re the landmark that tells me I’m almost home and I’ve walked many of them individually over the years. It must be 20 years since I walked the length of the hills with school as part of the annual sponsored walk. Aged 12 years old I certainly wouldn’t have seen myself choosing to go walking in the future.

Not helped by the2 - The clock tower by North Quarry loss of an hour with the clocks changing we didn’t reach our start point until 10:30am, but had been supplied with a breakfast of pastries by my Mum together with a packed lunch and given a lift to the car park at North Quarry by my Dad. The plan was to walk the length of the Malvern Hills to Chase End Hill where we would phone for a lift home.

The walk up North Hill was nice and gentle with good paths zig-zagging the hill before turning off on to the grassy top. There are two other hills at this northern end, the aptly named End Hill and Table Hill, which we omitted to climb. Despite the weather forecast the day had started off bright and sunny and there were plenty of families out on the hills. The wind was fairly strong and most people were wrapped up in coats, we had started this way but quickly stripped off as we soon got too warm when we started walking up hill. From North Hill we headed over the smaller Sugarloaf Hill before heading up the Worcestershire Beacon and the highest point of the day. With the sun shining and the skies clear we were treated to excellent views over Malvern and the Worcestershire countryside.

6 - Sugarloaf Hill and Worcestershire Beacon beyond

Carrying on across the well trodden paths we reached the Wyche Cutting and made a quick stop to use the toilet, makes a nice change to have a public toilet en route rather than needing to find a conveniently placed bush. Onward we trekked and soon British Camp loomed ahead, busy with walkers. We resisted the temptation to stop for ice creams, or in Alex’s case a bacon bap as advertised on the sign outside. Seemed a bit of a slog to the top of British Camp and as we stood at the top the weather started closing in. We had planned to stop for lunch here so ventured down into one of the ditches to try to escape the cold wind, it didn’t work as the ditch seemed to act as a wind tunnel so even with my back to the wind it was cold and we quickly pulled our coats on. Finishing lunch the weather took a turn for the worse and as we descended it was hoods up and faces down to avoid the cold sleety rain blowing in our faces. Luckily it didn’t last long and soon the skies were clearing again as we started descending towards the Gullet Quarry at the base of Midsummer Hill. This was the only point we went slightly off course heading to the top of the quarry rather than turning off to descend, but we quickly realised our mistake and headed through the wooded area to the edge of the quarry. As a child I remember the all too frequent stories of people drowning in the waters here, today there was only a dog taking a dip.


This seemed to be hardest part of the walk as the last three hills are more separate so there is more up and down than on the rest of the hills. Rather than taking the main track up Midsummer Hill we headed up the path tracing Shires Ditch through woodland, there were plenty of short rest stops to catch our breath but eventually we reached the grassy plateau and the concrete shelter at the top of the hill. We stopped to take in the views over Eastnor Park which open up towards the Obelisk and the castle, before descending to the Hollybush.45 - View of Eastnor Park from Midsummer Hill

Dad had given us instructions to turn right and follow the road to a gate that takes you onto the Ragged Stone. I think you can take a path round the back of the hill which is a gentler slope but we chose the shorter, steeper route with an equally steep descent the other side. This was the only point on the walk where we did have to consult the map for directions as again you have to head down the lane before taking the footpath t57 - We made it, at the top of Chase End Hillhat leads to the top of Chase End Hill. A steep final ascent and we reached the top, a couple already there commented that we had chosen the hardest route up, but as we had to come from that direction we had little choice. Finally we could make out Mum and Dad’s house, and gave them a ring to come and collect us. After the obligatory selfie sat next to the trig point it was a nice gentle stroll down to the layby where were soon picked up and taken home for a cup of tea.

It’s about 10 miles across the length of the Malvern Hills with good footpaths throughout and extensive views across Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. There are no really difficult sections, although a few steep ascents towards the end, so it is a great day walk. We were lucky in that with my Mum and Dad living nearby they were able to give us lift, otherwise one option is to have two cars and leave one at the end of the route to drive back in, or I have heard of people extending the walk and starting at the train station in Malvern (either Malvern Link or great Malvern) and finishing at Ledbury train station (or vice versa). There are bus links at the Hollybush, but I wouldn’t want to comment on the frequency of these being in the country!