THE RIDGEWAY NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 4: Goring to Nuffield Common
Sunday, October 14, 2012
My fourth stage of the Ridgeway was a short sprint compared to the previous stages. After spending the morning moving from Swindon to London, I returned to the town of Goring-on-Thames, reaching the place where I had left the trail the previous afternoon, on the corner of High Street and Thames Road, opposite the Village Hall (picture 1). I set out on the walk just before half-past three on a cool and sunny afternoon, giving me a little over three hours until sunset.
The route of the Ridgeway follows the length of the residential Thames Road, then continues ahead on a narrow footpath behind houses to Cleeve Road, where the route turns left. At the end of the road, a Ridgeway signpost points along the rightmost of two tarmac lanes. The narrow lane runs through trees (picture 2), sandwiched between the River Thames and the Great Western Main Line, though the river is mostly hidden from view except for a couple of brief gaps in the foliage (picture 3) until the lane emerges above a riverside restaurant called the Leatherne Bottel. The path passes behind the restaurant, but I first made a brief diversion down to the water's edge in front of it (picture 4).
On the more open opposite bank of the river, the section of the Thames Path National Trail between Streatley and Wallingford runs parallel to this section of the Ridgeway (picture 5).
The Ridgeway follows a broad lane behind the restaurant and the Goring Thames Sailing Club and past a few houses perched above the river in an area called Thurle Down (picture 6). After some more views of the river (picture 7), the lane bears right through a patch of woods, degenerating into a narrow footpath before emerging from the woods on the edge of the Withymead Nature Reserve, now quite a bit further away from the river and close to the railway line again with trains passing regularly. A well-defined path across the nature reserve takes the Ridgeway to the village of South Stoke (picture 8).
The path enters the village at the end of The Street, which is followed ahead through South Stoke, passing the 17th-century Perch & Pike pub (picture 9) and St Andrew's Church (picture 10). At the end of The Street, the Ridgeway bears left at a junction to follow Ferry Lane out of the village and back down to the bank of the Thames.
The path heads upstream along the reed-lined riverbank with the large river-front properties of the village of Moulsford on the far bank. After a kilometre the path passes under the graceful arches of a pair of railway viaducts that carry the four tracks of Brunel's Great Western Main Line over the Thames (picture 11).
Gradually leaving behind the sounds of the trains that thunder across the viaducts every few minutes, the Ridgeway continues to follow the riverbank beside a series of fields for another one and a half kilometres (picture 12) before the riverbank is blocked by a fenced enclosure signed as private property. Along this stretch of the river I was passed by a variety of boats heading downstream, including a large cruiser, several canalboats and a lonely rower.
The Ridgeway heads around behind the fenced enclosure, then follows a succession of field edge paths that gradually diverge from the course of the Thames as the route heads towards the village of North Stoke, with the low hills that were the goal of the afternoon's walk in the background to the right (picture 13).
At the end of the last field the path heads through trees and scrub to find a gate into the churchyard of North Stoke's Church of St Mary the Virgin (picture 14). The path passes the end of the church before turning right to head through the lych gate and into the short Church Lane then left along The Street.
Some distance along, near the far end of the village, The Street passes by an old mill and crosses the Mill Stream (picture 15). A little further, The Street ends and the Ridgeway continues ahead inside a strip of trees beside a golf course (picture 16). Eventually the golf course ends and the quiet path continues through Mongewell Park and then along a tarmac drive through the grounds of Carmel College before a narrow paved footpath takes the Ridgeway up to the side of the A4130 Nosworthy Way.
The path reaches the roadside by a couple of sets of horse-mounting steps, a reminder that this part of the Ridgeway is a bridleway. The Ridgeway ignores a tunnel ahead under the road (a path to the town of Wallingford) and instead turns right to follow a narrow path through trees parallel to the A4130 for about 500 metres to reach the A4074 Port Way between a roundabout where the A4130 ends and an attractive old roadside lodge (picture 17).
The Ridgeway crosses over the busy road and climbs up through trees onto a low bank between fields. This bank is part of a mysterious ancient earthwork, known as Grim's Ditch, which the Ridgeway follows for the next six kilometres.
For the first couple of kilometres the path climbs gently on top of the tree-lined bank, with the fields of Lonesome Farm stretching out to the left (picture 18). Along the way the path passes by a concrete trig point on top of the bank (picture 19). Used by the Ordnance Survey for mapping before the age of GPS and satelite imagery, these are more often found on hilltops than on man-made structures.
A gap in the trees just beyond the trig point gives views downhill across Blenheim Farm (picture 20).
A little further on, a quiet country lane cuts through the bank at Cart Gap (picture 21), as does a second lane about 500 metres further along the bank. The latter lane carries two other long-distance routes, the Swan's Way and the Chiltern Way.
On the other side, Grim's Ditch starts to look a little more like a ditch (picture 22) as it heads into Oaken Copse (picture 23). Emerging on the other side of the copse, the path starts to climb Bachelor's Hill, once again inside a narrow strip of trees between fields (picture 24).
The path winds it's way across Bachelor's Hill, some parts of the path raised, some quite sunken (picture 25). About two and a half kilometres after leaving Oaken Copse, the Ridgeway meets a signpost at the end of Grim's Ditch indicating a left turn (picture 26), the route following a field-edge path northwards with far-reaching views westwards to the now quite familiar Didcot Power Station and beyond (picture 27). This was a good place from which to watch the sunset.
On reaching a wooden gate by a road on the edge of the village of Nuffield, the route turns right, following the road past the 12th-century Holy Trinity Church (picture 28) before bearing left through a gap in the hedgerow.
The path now heads across a grassy meadow and a short distance to the left of the clubhouse of the Huntercombe Golf Club (picture 29) which occupies part of Nuffield Common. In the twilight I followed the signposted route across the golf course (picture 30), passing a couple of parties of golfers who were keen to use the last of the daylight.
After crossing several fairways, the Ridgeway heads past a tee, between two houses and down their gravel driveway to the side of the A4130 Gangsdown Hill, where a signpost points across the road (picture 31). This was as far as I was going today, having completed 16.1 kilometres in a little over three hours.
Just up the road to the right is the Crown pub (picture 32), though unfortunately it wasn't open for business on a Sunday night and I had to while away the 35 minutes until the last bus of the day at a picnic table outside. Had I arrived a few minutes earlier I would have been able to get a bus to Henley-on-Thames for an easy train connection back to London, but as it was I had to get a bus to Wallingford and then a second bus to Reading Station, making for quite a lengthy journey back to my accomodation on an evening when the chill of the approaching winter was definitely noticable.