A wander in and around Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Although I’m happy living in a town there are days when I imagine upping sticks and moving to a village. Not just any village though. It would have to be one with a thriving community, plenty of amenities and postcard pretty houses. A village like Ewelme. But I’d probably need to win the lottery first.

In the meantime there’s no harm in window shopping. Checking out the houses, deciding whether the locals are friendly and monitoring the cake quality in the village cafe.

Aside from sheer nosiness we were in Ewelme to walk another route from our AA 50 Oxfordshire walks book. The four mile Ewelme Chaucer’s walk was the perfect distance for a late morning stroll, and just the thing to work up an appetite for lunch. I’d even learnt from our mistake the previous month and came equipped with an OS map, no getting lost this time!

The walk started and finished in Ewelme, with a circular route that attempts to take in many of the local long distance trails. This included parts of the 65 mile Swan’s Way, the 125 mile Chiltern Way and the 110 mile Icknield Way Trail. Makes my feet ache just thinking about them.

Chiltern Way, near Ewelme
Chiltern Way, near Ewelme

Truth be told it wasn’t the most exciting of walks. Out in the countryside everything had that late winter feel. The mud, bare trees and grey sky didn’t help. And it was cold, so very cold. There’s joy in a winter landscape but in March I want spring sunshine, lambs and blossom.

Instead the star of this walk was Ewelme itself.

Ewelme village store

Starting with the village store. Perhaps not an obvious visitor attraction, Ewelme’s community run village store is well worth visiting. Primarily for its small cafe. It’s nothing fancy, simple rolls, soup and cake, but netherless it was busy on a Sunday morning with family groups and cyclists. The shop itself was packed with a variety of fresh food, household basics, local products and quirky gifts. It’s not surprising it won a best store in the south east award last year.

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The watercress beds

Ewelme is famous for its watercress beds, which flow through the village for almost a mile. This was once a thriving business, producing watercress for over a hundred years before its closure in the 1980s. The beds became overgrown and the site derelict until villagers helped with their restoration and the Chiltern Society purchased the land.

Watercress beds, Ewelme
Watercress beds, Ewelme

Nowadays the beds are run partly as a historical site and partly as a nature reserve, with open days and talks on the first Sunday of each month. Although the watercress is no longer sold commercially (due to strict water regulations) the water looked crystal clear and the beds well maintained. Not that there was much watercress growing in March!

Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme

From the watercress beds it’s a five minute walk, past the duck pond (another tick on my village requirements list), up a steep slope to the church and almshouses.

Inside the church are the tombs of Thomas Chaucer and Alice de la Pole, family of the poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer. I love reading but have never tackled his works; I fear I would be well out of my literary depth.

Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme
Saint Mary the Virgin church, Ewelme

Outside there are more literary connections. The graveyard is the final resting place of Jerome K. Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat. I resorted to Wikipedia to find out more about him. An English writer and humourist he sounds like the Tony Hawks of the Victorian era (hope I’m not doing either a misjustice). And the K in his name stands for Klapka. What did we do before Wikipedia?

Jerome K. Jerome’s grave, Ewelme
Jerome K. Jerome’s grave, Ewelme

Lastly, and most excitingly for me, the church was also used as a filming location for Les Miserables. Two hundred and fifty crew descended on the village for five days to film three sequences (in the mayor’s office, the tavern and home of the Bishop of Digne). I can only imagine the excitement that would have caused!

From the church we walked back to the car park, passing the primary school. Built in 1487 it’s the oldest functioning maintained school in the country.

Ewelme Primary School
Ewelme Primary School

The PTA runs Sunday afternoon teas in the school once a month between March and September. Between these, cake at the watercress bed open days and the village cafe I think my cake requirements would be met living in Ewelme!

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Tyneham village and Worbarrow Bay walk, Dorset

A couple of years ago we visited the ghost village of Imber which was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence in the Second World War. Tyneham is a similarly abandoned village, taken over by the military in 1943 and used as a training ground for the D-Day landings. The Army compulsorily purchased the land after the war and its 225 residents were never allowed to return.

Although the Army still own the land the village and range walks are open to the public most weekends and holidays. We combined a visit to Tyneham with a walk to Worbarrow Bay.

Tyneham village

Tyneham village
Tyneham village

Whilst there are obvious similarities between Tyneham and Imber there are differences too. Although the houses have succumbed to nature the school and farm house have been restored at Tyneham. The village is peaceful and no longer used for active training, unlike Imber where Army training continues.

We wandered around the ruined houses, stopping to read the poignant display boards with their stories and photographs of the families who once lived there.

Tyneham school
Tyneham school

The recreated schoolroom harked back to a different era. There’s a nature table and exercise books, filled with records of flower and butterfly sightings. Not a fronted adverbial anywhere, how times have changed.

Gad Cliff

The best part of the day was the walk up to Gad Cliff and along the South West coast path.

Looking towards Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Looking towards Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Leaving Tyneham we followed the yellow posts that mark a safe route through the firing ranges. There are plenty of signs telling visitors not to pick things up off the ground; a timely reminder that this is still a live firing area.

Cliff top flowers, near Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Cliff top flowers, near Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

You almost forget how close you are to the sea. That was until I reached the top of the hill and realised I was standing on the edge of a cliff. The coastal views are incredible but it’s hard to ignore the Danger signs on either side of path. One warning of cliffs, the other of a military firing range!

Worbarrow Tout, Dorset
Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

Pondfield Cove and Worbarrow Trout

The path dropped steeply down to Pondfield Cove, its small stony beach tucked into the promontory of Worbarrow Tout.

We walked onto the beach past several concrete structures. I later found out these were tank barriers, constructed in World War II to make it difficult for invaders to leave the beach.

Pondfield Cove, Dorset
Pondfield Cove, Dorset

I’m not sure why anyone would want to leave it. I could almost imagine I was on a Greek beach. Blue skies, crystal clear waters and sun, it was almost perfect. Pity there wasn’t a taverna!

Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Worbarrow Bay

We eventually dragged ourselves the short distance from Pondfield  Cove over to the shingle beach of Worbarrow Bay. Sea mist rolled in over the cliffs, an unexpected sight on such a warm and sunny day.

There were a few people sunbathing and picnicking on the beach, but nothing like the numbers we experienced at Durdle Door later that afternoon.

Paddling in Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Paddling in Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

I couldn’t resist a paddle out to a large rock a few feet offshore. The water was freezing! Yet further down the beach a couple of brave souls were swimming.

I’d originally planned to walk along the beach and up to Flower’s Barrow hill fort before returning to Tyneham. However heat and hunger got the better of us so we cut short our route. Instead we took the direct path back to Tyneham, passing lots of families heading in the opposite direction. From our track we could see the rusty shells of military vehicles littering the hillside, an indicator that it’s not always a peaceful place to visit. Fortunately we’d had a great morning; particularly as I managed to tick off another place on my UK bucket list!

More info:

  • Check the Tyneham website for opening dates before you visit. It’s free to visit the village and beach, car parking costs £2. There are no shops or refreshment facilities.
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An amazing walk from Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucs

This 4 mile circular walk from Bourton-on-the-Water takes in two Cotswold villages, a nature reserve and, not one, but two mazes. Hence the cheesy pun in the title!

Tourist literature describes Bourton-on-the-Water as ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. Whilst the River Windrush flows through the village it doesn’t bear much resemblance to Venice except for the crowds of visitors. Once you’ve put the analogy aside it’s an enjoyable place to spend a few hours and, as we found, it’s easy to escape the tourist hordes.

Greystones Farm nature Reserve
Greystones Farm nature Reserve

As is almost always the case, a 10 minute walk from the village centre took us away from the day trippers. We left Bourton-on-the-Water via Greystones Farm Nature Reserve, which is managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

We followed the route through the farmyard past an unusual looking building marked with the words ‘Lely Astronaut’. I thought it might be an observatory but we found a small viewing window and realised it was a robotic milking parlour. We watched one of the cows for a while, hoping to see it getting milked, but the cow had other ideas so we left it in peace.

Unusual gate at Greystones Farm nature Reserve
Unusual gate at Greystones Farm nature Reserve

Leaving the farmyard we encountered this gate which had a convenient person shaped hole in it. It wasn’t so convenient for the people behind us who had multiple dogs, one of whom they were pulling along in a cycle trailer!

Further on we found some badger setts. The badgers were tucked up underground as it was the middle of the day but it would be great to stake out one of the setts.

Checking for badgers
Checking for badgers

We walked on through meadows before crossing the River Eye and River Dickler. Otters and water voles evidently frequent these rivers but we searched in vain for footprints on the banks. Even though we didn’t see signs of these elusive animals it was great to explore the incredibly clear rivers.

River Dickler, Greystones Farm
River Dickler, Greystones Farm

We managed to take a wrong turning after crossing the bridge. As we walked on the instructions started to differ from the route and when we reached a road it became obvious we’d gone the wrong way. Whoops. Fortunately we’d bought an OS map so we could work out where we were supposed to be, just a pity I hadn’t checked it sooner. On the positive side we did hear our first cuckoo of the year.

We reached the village of Wyck Rissington via our unplanned road detour. This unspoilt Cotswold village is a complete contrast to the tourist honeypot of Bourton-on-the-Water. We only saw one other person in the village visiting its picturesque duckpond and Cotswold stone buildings.

Wyck Rissington
Wyck Rissington

Wyck Rissington does have a couple of claims to fame. The composer Holst worked as an organist in the church in 1892. Holst enthusiasts can follow the 35 mile Gustav Holst walk which passes through places associated with the composer and ends at the church.

Of more interest to us was a story I’d heard about a maze in the rectory garden. It turned out we were 30 years too late as it was dismantled when the rectory was sold. However there is a mosaic inside the church which is a copy of the original maze. Can you complete it?

Mosaic maze in Wyck Rissington church
Mosaic maze in Wyck Rissington church

Our walk back to Bourton-on-the-Water was almost scuppered when we encountered a dog walker who told us about a herd of cows blocking our access ahead. Neither my daughter or I are fans but after checking the map we realised we’d either have to retrace our earlier route or brave the cows. With some nervousness we settled on the latter. We had several fields to cross; each one was carefully checked but there were no cows to be seen. Either they’d gone in for milking or the dog walker had imagined them. I was relieved!

The final stretch of walk took us past fishing lakes back into the village and onto our second maze of the day.

Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water

One of the reasons Bourton-on-the Water is so popular is because of its many attractions. These include Birdland, a model village, a perfumery, motor museum and a maze. We had time to spare after our walk so decided to explore the Dragonfly Maze.

Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water
Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water

Dragonfly Maze is a yew maze with a twist. In addition to finding the centre of the maze we needed to solve clues along the way in order to fully enjoy the attraction at the centre (I’m trying not to give anything away here).

The clues are picture based, similar to the top left hand photograph above. We didn’t manage to find one of them but were still able to solve the puzzle. The maze took us about 30 minutes to finish; it’s not particularly big but the added puzzle made it an entertaining way to finish our walk.

Smiths of Bourton tearoom

In my view, a walk can only be perfect if there’s a good tearoom somewhere en route. We were spoilt for choice in the village but settled on Smiths of Bourton tearoom.

We initially visited for lunch before our walk; I had a Ploughmans, the children sandwiches and my partner a fish finger sandwich. They were all delicious although my partner hadn’t expected either tomato ketchup or mushy peas inside his sandwich. This was rather unfortunate as he doesn’t like them; fortunately both kids do so after some sandwich swapping everyone ended up with something they enjoyed.

Smiths of Bourton
Smiths of Bourton

We returned after our walk for cake and coffee. My daughter was embarrassed to see one of her school teachers sitting on the table next to us, particularly as we were an hour’s drive from home. I, on the other hand, was happy to see that the tearoom offered a selection of 3 smaller size cakes for £3.95. Perfect for me as I can never make up my mind. I chose fruit, carrot and chocolate cakes to share with the kids. If I’d been a proper food blogger I’d have Instagrammed the cakes, but I only thought about this after I’d ate them. You’ll just have to take my word that they were all delicious, a perfect end to our afternoon walk.

If you’ve enjoyed this you might also want to read about our walk from Winchcombe to Belas Knap or our climb up to Broadway Tower.

More info:

  • We followed the Bourton-on-the-Water and Wyck Rissington Jubilee walk. It’s 4 miles long and flat so easy to do with children. There are loads of cafés, pubs and other facilities available in Bourton.
  • The Dragonfly Maze is open year round, depending on the weather. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children under 12 costs £9.
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