The Ridgeway from Streatley

Part 8 of the Ridgeway meandering walks, a circular walk from Goring and Streatley. 9.8 miles (15.5 kilometres). May, sunny and warm. Solo.

We are constantly fed a lie. We are told, through images and words, that the purpose and goal of life is happiness, that happiness should be chased at all costs. My friend J and I have had many a happy discussion debunking this utter nonsense, which insidiously suggests if you are not happy then you are doing something wrong and should get off social media. And we always come to the same conclusion: life is generally full of stress, worry, boredom, tiredness and work and the true goal in life is to aim for a nondescript contentedness, an absense of badness. If you stop chasing happiness, every now and again a fleeting moment of complete joy will happen. But like smoke if you try to grab it and hold on to it, it will disappear.

It was a beautiful and sunny day when I left the station and crossed the bridge to pick up the Ridgeway national trail at Streatley. Goring and Streatley are twin villages in Oxfordshire which stare at each other across old father Thames, vying with each other as to who is the prettier.

On this side of the river is Streatley Meadow, I can’t resist a detour into this community owned area of chalk grassland, which is covered in shining buttercups. It’s a perfect place for a picnic but I need to get on. Two minutes later I’m distracted a second time by a phonebox bookswap. The Ridgeway here is paved street, crossing the road and becoming a quiet side road with large houses with field views over towards Cleeve. It’s a nice place to live if you can afford it, but the path doesn’t get interesting until the road trails away to a chalk path and begins to climb up into the hills.

This is the familiar chalk of the Ridgeway and I begin to breathe deeply. I pass a fingerpost and realise I’ve passed the halfway point: Ivinghoe Beacon where I began is 44 miles away, Overton Hill which I may never reach is 41 miles ahead. I know that public transport is running out now. On my right is the ridge of Thurle Down, on my left Streatley Warren. There are certainly a lot of rabbits about. Suddenly I see a pale silvery blue butterfly, I think it’s a holly blue, my first of the year; I feel happiness. Happiness when you least expect it. But something joyous is round the corner.

In order to make a circular walk I have to leave the Ridgeway and I feel a sadness that this could be the last time I see it for a while. I take a right up a private road towards Moulsford Downs and slowly plod up the hill with the sun now beating down and making me sweat. As I enter the cool shade of Unhill Wood I take a moment to check the map, and then look around.

Enter the wood with care, my love,
Lest you are pulled down by the hue,
Lost in the depths, drowned in blue.

Robert Macfarlane, The Lost Words

I’ve found myself quite by chance in a most incredible bluebell wood, surrounded by birdsong and the intermingling smell of bluebell and wild garlic. And momentarily I have joy. It is so lovely I want to tell everyone, and keep it all for myself. There is no one here. I take a careful path under the trees and wander for a while taking it in. An unexpected bluebell wood is something you know is there, but a delight to find by chance, and my joy lasts for a while. I don’t know which path to take, everywhere around me is blue. I walk that way deep into the wood then double back to the other path, already my joy is tinged with the fear of missing the perfect spot. I find a log to eat my food and take far too many photographs.

As I eat I look at the fern fronds tightly curled but unfurling slowly in the warmth. There must be elves and orcs in here, maybe even giants and dwarves. I can’t see any sign of them but I’m not meant to. There’s magic in here for sure.

These woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

Slowly I get up and walk on as the wood changes to swathes of wild garlic, fallen branches and laurel bushes. I can see pheasant feeders as the wood changes and becomes a home for game birds, fenced and managed and the spell is broken. It’s a long walk through this private estate, whoever lives here has all the luck in the world and is looking after the land, the farm hands are friendly and every footpath is beautifully maintained. The estate stretches as far as I can see onto ridges either side, I’m glad we have the right to walk through it. There are earthworks on my map but I can’t see them, hidden in the trees.

Emerging from the wood everything looks suddenly sharp and clear. When I get to Moulsford I have a choice of the busy road or the Thames Path back to Streatley. These A roads between villages rarely have a walkable path and the traffic can be scary, so I go for the riverside. It’s calm and tranquil and I find myself slipping into daydreams and problem solving. My surroundings lose my concentration entirely as ducks and boaters roll slowly past. I can’t tell you if anything interesting happened while I walked the river path because in truth I wasn’t really there. I was back in the bluebell wood, watching the fern fronds uncurl over centuries of time.

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More walks along the Ridgeway

Walk info

This walk can done on its own, or with the previous walk to Hartslock nature reserve. You can follow my GPX here. There is also a pub at Moulsford but you may need to take out a second mortgage, a couple of bits of bread and olives is £7, everything else is upwards from there. I’m sure the bread is lovely but that’s 6 loaves of bread by my reckoning.

14 responses to “The Ridgeway from Streatley”

  1. A marvellously evocative post. I increasingly prefer walking on my own these days, simply to be ‘in the moment’ rather than chatting, or even ooh-aahing at the view. It’s true that a pleasure shared is often a pleasure doubled, but I don’t know that it applies to walking. Thanks for sharing this one. But I bet you’re glad we weren’t actually there with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Margaret. It’s true, it was magical having it all to myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Is there anything more joyful than a bluebell wood with the sun streaming through it? There can’t possibly be and my mind’s eye drifts back to similar occasions. Thanks for the beautiful poetry and letting me grab a couple of minutes of that happiness. And I can never walk past a book swapping place…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Those poems are very apt.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderful post, you’re pushing me to get out and walk those paths! You quote 2 of my favourite Robert’s and so I ask if you have read Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways? You have written into your post some magic and I think that if you haven’t already read The Old Ways you ought to! 🌹🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have, a long time ago. I think it deserves a re-read.


  5. I love how you word your posts, almost enchanting! the photos are so beautiful, thank you for letting me see places I will never otherwise see! ❤️🇬🇧❤️


    1. That’s very kind, thank you John.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are very welcome! Have a great week.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. “Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that we possess” By the sagagious philosopher of Knotty Ash, Kenneth Dodd!
    Loved reading this post – thoughtful, poetic and funny. You could say it made me happy.
    But I think it’s certainly true that when I get out up on the fells, moors, fields and woodlands, worries soon peel away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I’m happy you enjoyed it 🙂


  7. I must check this stretch of the Ridgeway out and discovery which species of bees live there. Thanks for the blog.


    1. That would be an interesting piece of research


  8. That looks a lovely stretch. I’ve not yet managed to walk any of the Ridgeway, I can see I’ll have to.


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