A further 50! Walk 38 – 13/01/2023

As can be seen from the date this continued to be a lean time for walking, other than to the shops and back. I was quite surprised how the actions of others had upset my equilibrium towards wanting to go out for a walk. Two things have changed this state of mind.

Firstly I decide, having weighed myself on New Year’s Day, slight increase- that I should try to walk every day.

Secondly met up during the first week of the year with several people I’ve walked with through the walking company we are all a member of. All feeling slightly frustrated at lack of opportunity. So, I took a gamble and suggested we formed an informal group – Wednesday Walking Group! As it transpires Friday is possibly more popular- so this walk is the first of these self generated events. I’m the map reader and to start this new occurrence we are starting in Didcot.

There were four of us and we started near Anna’s house. We headed in the direction of Harwell before following the bridleway along a new stretch of road , before our path diverted over to West Hagbourne. I forgot to start my watch at the very beginning as can be seen from the route map!!

As we turn towards West Hagbourne we are on the ‘Driftway‘, one can only assume it was once more significant. The ground is a bit muddy but not too difficult and the sun counteracts the breeze that’s blowing. I’ve managed to order good weather for our first outing!

Our track turns left towards Coscote a hamlet but before we reach that cluster of houses we come to a great divide of paths with four choices! We are turning right and taking the right hand fork of two paths which leads us into the back of the village – not somewhere you would normally venture. We do come out onto the main roadway through the village and we have a few hundred metres where we have to take care. At the pond we walk across an old farmyard entrance and head out of the village.

I can never go past this pond which is on a sharp bend without reflecting on the journey back from school one day when it had started snowing and my usual route was impassable. Having detoure, round the bend by the pond was – slightly tricky!! Glad to get home that night – about 1.5 hours or more for a 15/20!minute journey.

The next significant feature is the old railway track which we pass under. The track itself is used in sections as a cycleway. This is the old branch line from Didcot to Newbury. We are soon in Upton, a village I am more familiar with and everyone is quite surprised to see a church. This village looks very small from the main road but is in reality quite extensive – no school , this was amalgamated with Blewbury in the 50’s.

I’m able to point out one significant house built entirely of chalk, with a thatched roof and we make our way through the village to the Manor Farmhouse . It is good to see that this has been renovated and this whole corner of the village revitalised.

Our path takes us along the back of an apple orchard. Until about 5 years ago this orchard used to supply the cider which was sold from a shed adjacent to the main road – no longer. The apple orchards used to be much more extensive in this area along with the cherries grown around nearby Harwell. I believe this is because of the layer of greensand and the area being in a dew dip. 

We are following the coffin way across to Blewbury and become involved in a conversation as to the derivation of the name. I guess that at one point Upton didn’t have a church or cemetery, Blewbury has had a church at least since the 11 century and possibly before.

We emerge onto Westbrook Street and we have agreed I’ll do a bit of a tour. We cross and go down by one of the cob walls, we meet the Brook where there are still signs of the watercress once more extensively grown. There is a wonderful collection of old houses in this area as the path meets Nottingham Fee. Houses which are thatched, timber framed with a medley of brick pattern infills, fire insurance signs and much more. This area was once one of the three manors of Blewbury in medieval times. It was a large village even in Saxon times and had a big population in the Domesday Book.

Out on to the main road – the road to London and evidence that this was once a turnpike road. By the pound we discuss the Saracen Stone that was put there to mark the millennium with it’s time capsule underneath. The children at school enjoyed contributing to that. As there are no public toilets in Blewbury we decide to go to ‘The Blueberry’ for coffee and …

After a quick break we back track a little and take a path down to the Cleve. A strange shaped water area , fed by several springs, which notably has a black poplar on a very small island. We think we saw an egret but questioned ourselves. There have since been reports of one residing in the village. Next around Spring Land to the Church and the old school.

The house which was built as a school in 1709 became a home again after the new school was built in 1963 and 70. William Malthus made an endowment for the school in 1707. Continuous education for 316 years on the 25th March – Lady Day. This is one of the quarter days when rents were due. The original pupils, all poor children were educated to provide clothing by weaving a green cloth and to become apprentices to local trades. As well as receiving a minimal education they received 1d a day, 6 days a week and for 40 weeks of the year. Now across the playclose, having walked passed the church, back over the Brook and we come out on Westbrook Street just below where we had emerged from Upton.

We leave the village by the village hall and follow a concrete track to an area once designated as a sewage plant – now being converted into a nature reserve. The most interesting thing of note along here is the sign indicating the site of a Quaker burial ground. Quite an exposed section as we cross fields to the outskirts of East Hagbourne. We stop and have lunch by some stiles in a sheltered corner. As we reach the next village we turn left and skirt along a wooded area until we turn right to go alongside the church – all of these last three are in the same benefice. Just a short way through the village before we turn up Shoe Lane.

This pathway cuts through parts of the village I hadn’t seen before and joins up with the old railway track – designated as a traffic free cycleway. On our right is a large playing field complex and I realise it’s the one that belongs to St Birinus, the boys school in Didcot. Remember several visits to this with football, rugby and cricket teams. We turn to cross the hump backed bridge over the railway, I remember driving over it in the minibus! We then decide to change our plan and back track a little so that we go under the bridge and along the track. This takes us to the edge of Didcot town. Left and down to the Orchard Centre where Betty can catch her bus back to Abingdon.

The rest of us go through town and then divert to go through part of what would have been the village of Didcot before the railway arrived. Past old farm buildings next to a busy through road and back to our starting point. Three of us walked about 10.5 miles, Betty only 9.5 but she made up her extra mile at the end of her bus journey!

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