South from Watlington Hill


Another excellent walk in the Chiltern Hills! I really am enjoying my walks at the moment. This was a very cold but very bright December day – the temperature was 0C when I started walking, rose a bit during the day, but there were still patches of frost and ice in puddles in the afternoon, with the temperature back down to 2C when I returned to the car shortly after 3pm.

I parked in the car park at Watlington Hill, close to Christmas Common (a bullfinch flew off as I arrived). I was amazed that I didn’t see any Red Kites as I drove through Watlington – I always think of it as ‘Red Kite City’ as there are usually so many of these birds flying low over the main street. Still, I soon saw my first Kite of the day as I followed the footpath steadily downhill from the car park. There were some nice views here to the neighbouring hills to the west and out across the Oxfordshire Plain. I passed a fair number of Yew trees here – I’ve come across them in a few places in the Chilterns now.

The path led to a road, where I went a short distance to the right, then turned left on to the route of the Ridgeway. This was a section I walked a couple of months back on Swan’s Way, but this time instead of keeping to the tarmac farm drive I followed the permissive path over the hedge on the left. This ended near a couple of houses, where I rejoined the fram drive as it turned left (the Ridgeway going straight on towards Swyncombe Down). I followed the drive to the farm, then continued on a bridleway heading steadily back up into the hills, passing through a beech wood. I eventually reached another farm, where I followed the drive about a hundred yards to a lane.

Across the lane I followed a drive towards another farm. As I passed the farm, I saw a stoat on the track ahead of me. I followed the track through another small wood to reach Cookley Green, a village I know from the Chiltern Way. I turned right along a lane, and then went left into a wood. The Chiltern Way goes right through the wood and on to Swyncombe, but I turned left in the wood, on an initially narrow and very frosty path which soon joined a wider track. A little way on, there was a gap in the trees on my right, with a lovely view down over the parkland surrounding Swyncombe House.

The track went back into the trees, and crossed a drive to Swyncombe House. I then went over a stile into a large parkland pasture, where I followed the  edge along the hilltop with the wood on my left. There were a few impressive beech trees dotted about in the pasture, and again there were lovely views across the flat lands at the foot of the Chilterns.

After about a third of a mile I reached the corner of the pasture, where I rejoined the Ridgeway as it made its way to Ewelme Park. Here I again left the National Trail and turned left on a bridleway along a tarmac drive. I passed a row of estate cottages on my left and a couple of paddocks on my right, before turning right on a woodland path, initially close to the edge of the second paddock. Shortly beyond the paddock the path turned left and soon emerged from the trees into an open grassy field where I followd the hedge on my right. The path soon switched to the other side of the hedge, where I walked beside a ploughed field. I passed the end of a belt of trees on my right, then turned right to follow the trees beside another ploughed field. In the field corner I entered another belt of trees where I turned left at a path crossroads.

I was now back on familiar territory, on part of the southern extension of the Chiltern Way. The path ran through the belt of trees for a few hundred yards, before emerging from the trees and becoming a track between hedges. Soon there was a wood on my left, where I saw a Fallow Deer cross the path ahead of me. I then heard a large noise behind some holly bushes on my right, and realised there were more deer about – I managed to photo two deer as they stopped on the edge of the wood about 60 yards away (my decision to get a new camera with an 18X zoom is already paying off!).

The track led me to Park Corner, where I left the Chiltern Way and crossed over the main road and took a lane through the small village or hamlet. This soon turned right, and a few yards further on I went right on a bridleway. This soon passed a wood on the right, with a hedge on my left, following the course of a small valley. Beyond the wood the track continued between hedges, the one on the right recently trimmed, but the one on the left containing mature trees and bushes, with branches overhanging the track. I stopped along here and sat on a log to eat my sandwiches at about 12.45pm.

I soon passed a farm, and continued along the track, the hedges now trimmed on both sides. I came to a junction I knew well, where another track went left along the valley of Upper Bix Bottom, and two footpaths came to the same junction from either side – this is the point where the southern extension leaves the original route of the Chiltern Way. I continued ahead on the track I was on, soon entering the Warburg Nature Reserve, which I also went through about 10 days ago on my walk from Maidensgrove Common. I soon crossed the path I used that day, as the track continued through what seemed like mainly hazel.

After some distance I reached the visitor centre and car park for the reserve, and a few yards further on I turned left onto a footpath. This climbed fairly steeply through the trees beside a fence (I photographed a squirrel on one of the fence posts) to reach Maidensgrove. Here I joined the route of the Oxfordshire Way, which I’d follow north for most of the rest of this walk (for just a few yards here I was also on the route of the Chiltern Way again).

The path crossed a field then went through a wood to a lane (between Maidensgrove and Stonor, downhill to my right). It continued through the wood on the other side of the lane, soon descending into a deep valley (curiously I thought this a very long and exceptionally steep descent for the Chilterns, but looking at the contours on the map it wasn’t anything much at all). I then followed a right-hand hedge through a field of rough grass, with pleasant views to either side, and reached the end of a lane which led me past some houses and the church in Pishill. There were again nice views along the valley to Stonor – I could see the parkland around Stonor House but not the house itself.

At the end of the lane, I turned right along the road for a few yards before turning left onto a path. This went along another valley bottom across a wide and open field. I saw and heard a Red Kite in a tree at the top of the slope on my right. After about half a mile I reached College Wood, where the path climbed quite steeply up the hillside on my right. It then ran along near the edge of the wood. Just past a junction where the Chiltern Way came in from my left, I went over a stile to leave the wood and crossed a small pasture containing about half-a-dozen cows.

I then turned left, leaving the route of both the Oxfordhire Way and Chiltern Way, and followed a hedge-lined track called Hollandridge Lane. This soon passed through some more beech woods, and eventually reached the village of Christmas Common. At the end of the track, now surfaced, I continued ahead across a couple of minor road junctions, then turned left to return to the car park.

This was a very enjoyable walk, on a really nice winter’s day. It had been bright and sunny all day, and the low temperatures were no problem at all as I was warmly wrapped up. It’s days like this that make me realise just how fortunate I am!

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