‘Are you camping in there?’ an ominous, husky voice bellowed.
‘Yes,’ I managed to chirpily sing whilst half asleep.
‘You are welcome to be there but have you seen my cattle? They have gone missing,’ the farmer inquired.
How the conversation ended I am not quiet sure due to the fact that is was 2.49 in the morning. The sun had not yet risen. Moments later I heard the rumbling of an engine peter off into the distance.
We had pitched our tent on a perfectly mowed, flat, patch of grass next to the Ridgeway National trail. While wild camping is technically forbidden in the UK as long as you follow some basic etiquette it is deemed acceptable (see my next post on wild camping).
That morning we had began our adventure boarding a Megabus from Victoria coach station (London). The reasonably comfortable coach costing a grand total of £5.50 took us to Swindon in just under two hours. The bus dropped us off outside a massive Sainsbury’s where we called for a local taxi (Cross Street – 01793 23 23 23).
‘Please can we go to Overton Hill. We have a hand drawn map in our guide book,’ my friend asked opening up her book.
The middle aged man unlocked his glove compartment, retrieved his spectacles and placed them precariously on his nose.
‘Lets have a look then,’ he smiled.
Looking at our Trail Blazer Ridgeway guidebook his face scrunched up. He was perplexed.
‘Ah yes I can see it now’ he said reassuringly.
He moved the car into gear and we set off. The taxi driver’s puzzled expression returned once more as we explained that instead of spending Easter weekend eating and drinking we would be spending it carrying at least 10 kilograms on our backs, walking for miles on end and sleeping in a modestly sized three man tent.
Regardless of our insanity, he pointed out a henge in the far distance. Built in 3000 BC -this giant mound of earth had no apparent purpose. Next to the henge in Avebury are stone circles. Many theories have been made about their existence but no one really knows why they are there. It is thought the artifact was used for religious rituals.
We bid our farewell to the taxi driver at the start of the Ridgeway trail in Overton Hill, Wiltshire. Feeling revved and ready to go we hauled our backpacks on, smiled for a quick picture and hiked up a gentle incline.
Starting at 2.30 in the afternoon the day sped by. From Overton Hill to Ogborn St George (14.8 km) we passed a couple of historic sites from the Iron Age. On the map castles were marked. However, when we got to these points all that remained were mounds of earth and ditches (which could have potentially been old moats).
When ever I saw raised ground I was reminded of what the taxi driver told us; ‘any embankments that doesn’t look natural probably has bodies buried beneath.’ I wondered what I was walking over and how many others had done the same. The Ridgway has been described as the oldest road in Britain with a wealth of history.
Towards the end of the day we reached the village Ogbourn St George which is quaint and picturesque. Thatched houses line the tranquil streets.
Just beyond the village we called it quits finding the perfect spot to pith out tent. We got out the tranger stove and cooked up dinner – smash (powder mash potato mixed with water), veggie sausages and gravy. This simple concoction provided us with the fuel we so dearly needed.
Sparingly using the last of our water supplies we shared two packs of porridge for breakfast and cleaned our bowls with face wipes. Luckily before long we found a restaurant to fill up our water bottles. With a touch of sweet talking we managed to get some water and use the bathrooms with out spending a penny. While the Ridgeway is fairly remote and rural there are farms, cottages and a few restaurants scattered near the trail. There are also a few water taps on the route. So if ever stuck chances are you will find someone to help you out.
With fresh water in our packs we continued our hike with a new found confidence.
Trekking up a rather steep hill looking at the ground beneath my feet I suddenly heard music blaring. I lifted my head to see a decked out caravan . Camouflage decorations were draped across its exterior. Seconds later a jolly fellow with a grey pony tail bounded out of the door.
‘Well hello there,’ he chanted.
‘Hi, how are you doing?’ I replied.
The flamboyant man interpreted this to mean: tell me what you think about philosophy, society and politics. He began talking sense about enjoyment and being happy in the moment. He then proceeded to say some things which were slightly outrageous. I am open to listening to others opinions and debating but hearing that: ‘homelessness is a choice’ got quiet on my nerves. Whats more any questions or arguments I made he would not listen to.
Behind his preaching and apparent love of life I could see something more harrowing. Hidden behind his facade was a lonely man who had endured much suffering. The fact that when he saw people he ran out and didn’t stop talking, rang alarm bells. He clearly had no one to talk to.
We politely excused our selves and walked on through pockets of woodland and magical countryside.
As the golden hour descended (hour before sun set) we kept our eyes peeled for a place to set up camp. Being tent snobs we didn’t want to settle for any old patch of grass. Consequently, we asked a farmer if we could kindly pitch on his land. He agreed and we cooked tuna, tomato spaghetti before retiring into our sleeping bags.
We all woke up with aches and pains. Being on our feet for 9 hours the previous day was beginning to take its toll. Our shoulders were red raw, backs sore and feet blistered.
Nonetheless we persevered and day three took us through further more gorgeous countryside. We saw Devil’s punch-bowl which was a natural hollow. Red kite birds soared above it.
The hollow formed in the Ice age due to glacial erosion. The geology in the region is mainly chalk which is porous and holds water. Below this chalk layer is clay which is a barrier to the water (impermeable).
Rolling fields stretched out before us. Vivid yellow rapeseed fields lit up the landscape. Green grass fields complimented the bright yellows. White wispy clouds floated above us in the blue sky. In the far distance we could see towns, villages and even three cooling power stations in Didcot.
Streatley and Goring village is delightful. Placed along the Thames it has lovely riverside views. The pubs and cottages are pleasing to the eye.
OUR FINISH LINE
70km and 2.5 days later we reached Goring train station where we collapsed on a train to Reading and then to London. We completed around half of The Ridgeway national trail. At some point we will go back and finish the other half. For now its time for a rest.
What other UK National Trails have you done?