Some team sickness and diary complications this weekend meant our team was cut to 2 at the last minute, so Jon and Paul decided to postpone their planned Wye Valley Walk* and plump instead for a freestyle, very early morning walk.
By ‘freestyle’ we mean just driving somewhere, jumping out of the car and then walking on an unplanned route. Translate that as just being a little disorganised this week perhaps, but we decided we would just follow whichever paths look interesting - irrespective of where they may end up and the distance they may cover - a bit of a departure from our meticulously planned and mapped out training walks to date.
No Garmin on this one and therefore no means of measuring pace or the mileage.
Forecast Is Fine
We parked the car in a superb looking village nestling beneath the North Wessex Downs. Jon took a quick look at the sky and Paul waved a finger in the air (both clearly accurate methods of forecasting the weather) and so it was decided we would risk leaving the waterproofs behind - quite a bold move considering the spectacularly stormy weather of late.
We headed up off up an initial 150m climb to the top of the Downs, where we were lured by an intriguing looking path with almost laser straight trenches cut through it. It had the appearance of a rural tramway, if ever such a thing existed.
Admiring the contrasting views across to Newbury on the one side and the UK Atomic Energy Research Centre on the other (the latter thankfully was some way distant), we agreed this was indeed superb mountain biking country and vowed to return post -Trailwalker to give our trusted two-wheeled steeds a good run-out here.
A Big Knob
For those who know Jon, you will have noticed he is not a man to miss out on an innuendo.
It was therefore with much delight for Jon that our path chanced upon one of the region’s most frequently rechristened landmarks, Scutchamer Knob.
As we approached this prominent mound-like structure (site of an historic Medieval marketplace from a time when the Ridgeway was the only East-West throroughfare in the country), Jon was quickly transformed into an energetic 7 year old child, collapsing into fits of giggles and skipping round the signs pointing to the ancient structure.
So you can fully appreciate the moment, here is a shot of a joyous Jon and said sign, which appears to have been put in at, well, just the right height.
Once Jon had become a little less excitable, we marched on across the Downs into Berkshire. Taking the trail of the disused ‘Wool Railway Line’, which served the rural sheep farming villages between Newbury and the Great Western depot at Didcot until the early 1960’s, the landscape became increasingly spectacular as we entered the North Wessex Downs AONB proper.
For those not familiar with this area, it is an endless, breathtaking scene of rolling hills and beautifully manicured farmland, only punctuated by the occasional cottage hidden deep in woodland. There is no suggestion that modern day life exists. All the trappings of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries seem to have passed this area by completely, and the expansive scale (670 sq. miles) in an overcrowded Southern England makes its miraculous escape from development of any kind all the more impressive.
Our route took us through some beautiful, rustic hamlets, all graced with 360 degree views of the Downs, and none more impressive than the tiny settlement of Stanmore (which bizarrely is where the Arsenal and England footballer, Theo Walcott, grew up). Here we were given a brief lesson in the personality of a horse by a wonderfully quirky and characterful resident atop her horse, who asserted that our equine friends not only do not like change but also have photographic memories. A little disturbing then, that her horse’s lasting memory of Jon and Paul will be of 2 dishevelled looking males clambering up a hill, the former chomping on an extra large sausage roll, the other eating his way through a packet of Spar ‘Milk Fangs’. Not a great first impression then.
The Human Garminator and the Peperami Challenge
Bearing in mind this was a freestyle walk, we entertained ourselves over the miles trying to guess what distance we had covered and at what pace we were walking. We were without Tom’s Garmin today, which he refers to as the ‘Garminator’, a device which enables him to record our distance, pace and ascents, along with a plethora of other data
3 months ago, if we were to guess at the length of today’s walk, we would have been all but clueless. But our regular practice over the weeks has helped us to know instinctively, within a pretty narrow margin, how much ground we have covered and our average walking speed at all times.
As we bounded up and down the rolling hills back towards our starting point, Jon laid down what will now be immortalised as the first ‘Peperami Challenge’.
Having whisked out a green Peperami (yes they do still make them, albeit with a little less salt and fat these days) from his backpack during a quick snack stop, Jon decided that whoever could most closely guess the total distance covered today would win one of the said proprietary brands of salami sticks for next week’s walk. Not much of a reward if you are a vegetarian, but remember for Jon to give up anything involving pork is akin to torture for him.
Unperturbed Jon plumped for 17 miles exactly. Paul, known for his occasional ‘bigging up’, naturally went higher and pitched in at 18 miles straight.
Once home, a quick log in to our favourite Trailzilla wesbite , revealed the route was 18.01 miles - an impressive salami snack win for Paul.
All in all a great walk, and for once in sunshine which just took the edge of the chilly breeze today. A continuous 3.6mph across some glorious countryside.
*For those not familiar with the Wye Valley between Ross and Chepstow, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas of England and Wales, with landscape more associated with the Dordogne region of France. It offers fantastic walking country via Offa’s Dyke and The Wye Valley Walk and is also one of the country’s most spectacular canoeing locations.