8.7 miles (14 kilometres) April, sun and rain. Part 5 of walking the Ridgeway from east to west. Solo
We have in our collective consciousness this idea that an adventure should involve a long and arduous journey to somewhere exotic, far away and dangerous. But I’m claiming back adventure for all of us, adventure is walking a new path or an old one with fresh eyes, or trying something new; adventure is discovering the runaway bus and riding it. Adventure is to happen or to arrive. Hell, life itself is an adventure, Maya Angelou knew what she was talking about.
Today’s adventure begins on the Oxford Tube, a coach I had never heard of until last night, that begins down the road from me and will take me right to the Ridgeway, to exactly where I need to be. When I buy my ticket, it looks like this bus is one for runaways, because the website tells me if I feel like disappearing there’s a confidential number I can call. I feel like disappearing but I don’t think it means for a day so I don’t call.
I wait in trepidation at my London bus stop not really sure if it will arrive or if I am in the right place, but arrive it does. The coach has magical charging plates you can stand your phone on, and table seats like a train. I’m almost sad to get off. It’s a short walk uphill from the bus stop to the Ridgeway. I’ve arrived and I’m happening.
My walking poles make a very satisfying echo in the motorway underpass, and as the sound of the M40 receeds it is replaced by bird song. I am not at all good at recognising them, but even I can identify the red kite’s distinctive pee-yoo-yoo, high in the tree one is roosting, staring down at me.
It’s another month in the Ridgeway’s birthday calendar, and appropriately, April brings birdsong. I’ve also discovered there’s a new cool map and a whole load of weekly stuff on social media.
Then suddenly and momentarily I feel absolute joy: the butterflies are back. Flitting about the hedgerow are two fresh acid yellow brimstones, newly emerged into the warm sun after a winter hibernation. This is why they are usually the first. They will not settle, and then I see more. I can hear skylarks again in the nearby field, and there’s a great tit. There’s an annual reanimation happening in this warm tree-sheltered path. A pair of magpies bounce around the path ahead of me. Magpies have forever been associated with fortune telling, and every child where I grew up knew one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy… They are harbingers of bad luck, according to some, particularly one on its own. People in the country still salute a solo magpie to ward off ill fortune. This song goes round my head.
Then a peacock butterfly comes by and I chase it down the path with a smile on my face until it disappears. It’s so warm on the Ridgeway I peel off layers to my t-shirt. A murder of crows is gathering in the newly sown field. As I study the Ridgeway sign board I notice my walk will be wholly in Oxfordshire. It passes through five counties and this is already the third for me.
I may not be great at recognising bird songs but the chiffchaff does the work for me by tweeting its name at me over and over. It’s still extremely muddy underfoot, I’m glad I brought the poles, but the walk is much lovelier than I had anticipated, all the way back to the quarries at Chinnor.
There’s not much water in the quarries and what there is is a curious pale green colour. Later I read the lakes are a former lime works and the water is highly alkaline. To prevent people swimming there (apparently it’s toxic) it has been dyed black in recent years.
I head for the café in the Village Centre Chinnor and another sandwich and cake. It’s very busy today and I realise to my horror I have been forced to sit at the ‘chatty café scheme’ table, thereby inviting people to come talk to me as I’m lonely. I’m not lonely and I don’t really want to chat to anyone, even though the scheme is a lovely idea. There’s a whole programme of inclusive events in this centre, it would be impossible for someone of advancing years to be lonely in Chinnor, except possibly by refusing to leave the house. I guess that’s why the cake is kept here. Or maybe someone comes round to drag you out.
My walk back takes me a different way out of the village in search of the disused railway line. Near the quarries again in the spirit of chattiness I get talking to a man with a serious lens on his camera about birds but suddenly the clouds burst open and we both scramble for cover in our respective directions. By the time I manhandle myself into my waterproofs I’m fairly soaked and the path has turned to a mudbath.
The old railway eventually merges back with the Ridgeway and it’s a wildlife haven judging by the numerous badger setts and smeuses, those holes you get in fences and hedges which wild animals make to skulk through. I do my own skulking into the trees beside the path, making my own smeuses and catching my waterproofs on the flowering blackthorns.
The rain soon stops, the sun comes out and I head back down from the path. I don’t quite know how i’ll manage the next section of the Ridgeway, it’s a challenge, but I know one thing, it’ll be an adventure.
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More walks on the Ridgeway
The Oxford Tube coach leaves London Victoria and makes a handful of stops leaving London. Lewknor is just off junction 6 of the M40 to Oxford and the Ridgeway is just a 5 minute walk from it up the hill. There is also parking on the layby along from the bus stop. My GPX is here. Refreshments are at the Village Centre community centre. I’m walking the Ridgeway from east to west, technically I am walking backwards on this stretch, feel free to walk which ever way you like.
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