A snowdrop walk near Swyncombe, Oxfordshire

As regular readers will know I believe a good walk always features cake. So it’s probably no surprise that our weekend walk included afternoon tea at a church. Most visitors were probably there for the main event, snowdrops in the churchyard, but not us. Instead I’d chosen a longer walk with a cake stop halfway round.

We left the car, rather nervously, in a small car park a couple of miles from Swyncombe. Last time I parked there I returned to find someone had smashed the window of the car next to us. Fortunately there were plenty of people around this time, hopefully enough to deter anyone up to no good.

The perfect tree for climbing
The perfect tree for climbing

Swyncombe Down

The first part of the walk took us steeply uphill through woodland, out on to Swyncombe Down. Although I’d planned for cake we’d also bought sandwiches so we ate these, sheltering from the wind, in amongst the trees. We didn’t hang around as it was freezing; I am so looking forward to summer picnics again.

The path runs alongside an earthwork topped with large beech trees. These had multiple branches as a result of pollarding many years ago; perfect for climbing. The earthwork, a trench called the Danish entrenchment, wasn’t much to look at but supposedly dates back to 870AD when the Danes were fighting King Alfred in the area.

Walking the Ridgeway near Swyncombe
Walking the Ridgeway near Swyncombe

St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

A little further on the path joined the Ridgeway, our local long distance trail, taking us downhill and up again to St Botolph’s Church at Swyncombe.  The chuchyard puts on a good display of snowdrops each February and visitors are encouraged to visit with the lure of snowdrop teas.

A couple of years ago we visited Welford Park (of Great British Bake Off fame) which has huge swathes of snowdrops and is packed with visitors. The snowdrops at Swyncombe are on a different scale as they only cover a small proportion of the graveyard but they’re still very pretty.

Snowdrop teas at Swyncombe
Snowdrop teas at Swyncombe

The warm winter weather has encouraged the snowdrops to flower early this year and I was glad we’d chosen to visit at the start of the month as a few were already starting to go over. It’s a little strange walking around headstones and taking photos in a graveyard but the snowdrops do look lovely. Whilst I’m not in a great hurry to be buried anywhere I can certainly think of worse places!

Afternoon tea at Swyncombe Church
Afternoon tea at St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

After a wander around the snowdrops it was time for cake. It was a hard decision but eventually we chose orange cake, chocolate sponge, brownie and gingerbread between us. We sat outside to enjoy them before heading into the church for a look through their second-hand book stall.

Snowdrops at Swyncombe Church
Snowdrops at St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

The Ridgeway

Leaving the church we rejoined the Ridgeway. Another uphill stretch had us puffing and panting, good job we had the cake to power us! Part of the route goes through woodland and every year I’m amazed by how much moss covers the tree trunks in this particular area. In previous years we’ve just walked a short circular route around the church so this year it made a change to turn right at the top of the hill rather than left.

It was lovely chatting to my son as we walked. When he’s at home he’s often buried in technology but there’s no option to do that outdoors. Instead he chatted happily about Star Wars (he’s seen the film twice) and Nerf YouTubers. Whilst I’m not knowledgable about either of these topics I could at least answer some of his random questions, including ‘Do bones go rusty?’.

Who can resist walking through puddles?
Who can resist walking through puddles?

Our route back to the car took us along broad bridleways, with views out to the remaining towers of Didcot Power Station. The sun was slowly disappearing behind the clouds but there was still fun to be had. The kids waded through the big puddles and I joined them on one occassion, only to find out that my ageing wellies had developed a split thus letting water in.

Fortunately our car, and all its windows, were still intact when we arrived back. Even better was that the rain started to fall just as we returned. Perfect timing!

More info:

  • Snowdrop teas at St Botolph’s Church in Swyncombe take place over three weekends in February. Dates are advertised on the church website.
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Inkpen Wild Walk, Berkshire

I’m pretty sure the best antidote to a dismal grey day is a walk in the countryside. Last weekend we ignored the clouds and drizzle and headed to Inkpen in Berkshire for a walk that combined a macabre gibbet and spring crocuses!

We followed a shortened version of the Inkpen Wild Walk, a walk designed by the local wildlife trust that links two of their reserves. Our 6 mile route started at Inkpen Common, the longer alternative being a 10 mile walk which joins up to Kintbury railway station.

Inkpen Common nature reserve
Inkpen Common nature reserve

At Inkpen Common villagers once had the rights to graze livestock and burn the gorse in their ovens. Nowadays the gorse sits alongside other heathland plants and the reserve is a haven for reptiles. However the likelihood of spotting lizards and snakes sunbathing on a cold March day was pretty minimal.

Along the Wayfarer's Walk
Along the Wayfarer’s Walk

We puffed our way up Walbury Hill, the highest hill in Berkshire and the starting point for two long distance walks, the Test Way and the Wayfarer’s Walk. A wide chalk track led us along the Hampshire Downs. The fields either side were full of sheep although we looked in vain for any lambs.

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Combe Gibbet

Combe Gibbet, at the top of Gallows Down, is a notorious local attraction. The original gibbet was erected in 1676 to hang adulterers George Broomham and Dorothy Newman. They had murdered Broomham’s wife and son after their illicit affair had been discovered. Today’s gibbet is actually a replica but you can still imagine the crowds gathering to watch the hanging.

From the gibbet we continued along Wayfarer’s Walk, taking in the amazing views and snacking on biscuits, before heading down steeply from Inkpen Hill. There was plenty of evidence of spring arriving; buds on twigs, plants peeking through the soil and stinging nettles starting to grow again. We found a muddy puddle with some great animal and bird tracks which we attempted to identify.

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve
Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

The second reserve of the day was Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve. Accessed via Pottery Lane (Inkpen was once home to several potteries) we first had to walk past a number of large and imposing houses; property envy was rife!

The meadow has the largest wild crocus population in Britain. Although we visited at peak viewing time (March) I was a little disappointed with the number of crocuses. I was expecting a field of purple but the flowers were rather more sparse. Perhaps my expectations were too high or maybe it hasn’t been a great year for the crocus. Crocuses aside, the meadows must be idyllic on a sunny summer day.

Pooh sticks in the wood
Pooh sticks in the wood

The drizzle started so the last mile was walked pretty quickly. There was still time to throw a few twigs into a woodland stream, and admire an amazing treehouse in a back garden.

Despite some initial moans from the kids (we’ve got to walk 6 miles?) we had a great afternoon walking and I’m glad we made the effort to get out rather than lazing around at home.

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