Walbury, Combe and Buttermere

On Monday we went walking. The extent of our forward planning involved me impatiently hunting for the densest patch of contour lines on the map and then directing Mark to them. Walking in The Highlands has given me a thirst for hills and although Walbury Hill is comparitively very modest at 297m, it is the highest point in the South East region of the UK and the views from Test Way – the path that leads up to and over the top of it – are stunning.

I am thinking a lot about how to create maps or represent 3D places in 2D forms so for your viewing pleasure I enclose the rather foolish version of the walk that I made in order not to forget the key moments of the experience. It is sadly a little too small to read easily and I have lost the large original already but I thought you might still like to see it. I have no idea how long the walk was but it felt like about 10/11 miles.

We started out in Ham, a sleepy hamlet nestled at the bottom of Cutting Hill, off the Salisbury Road out of Hungerford. The first stretch of walking involved a fine view of the hills ahead and the nice sound – mentioned in yesterday’s post – of gently splitting legumes in a large field. We found the steep, grassy path up the side of the hill towards Test Way, and were greatly amused to find this gate at the top of our ascent; can anyone else see the problem with this picture?

We then followed Test Way up along the ridge for a bit, passing through some beautiful Beech trees on the way and anticipating our first glimpse of spooky Combe Gibbet.

We then had a thoroughly fruitless search on Gallows Down for the Long Barrow so enticingly marked on the OS map (LIES I tell you! There’s no Longbarrow there!) and set off in search of Combe. At Combe we found the lovely St Swithun’s 12 Century Church, which stood bathed in sunlight and surrounded by towering Yew trees. I have been intrigued by St Swithun ever since The Knit Nurse sent me a mixtape with Billy Bragg’s magnificent St Swithun’s day song on it.

The path leading up out of Combe was lined with Hawthorn trees and Oak and afforded gorgeous views back across to Walbury Hill.

At some point at the top of this hill we became uncertain about where the path(s) were leading; things were not well-marked and we ended up stumbling into a large pheasant enclosure where we upset many nervous lady-pheasants. This was very funny but probably not cool countryside behaviour, so we quickly found our way back to the correct path via Mark’s compass and resumed our quest. The next part of the walk involved a nice descent down a hillside titled ‘Sheepless Hill.’ I was keen to verify the aptness of this title and can assert that – at least when we visited it – it was indeed sheepless. However, there was lots of tell-tale wool entangled in the brambles at the fields’ edge so I think perhaps the name is a little misleading. But a pretty descent here took us into a thicket heaving with Hawthorns and Sloes and we experimented for some time to try and get decent photos of the booty.

Sheepless indeed.

The delicious promise of Sloe Gin.

To make up for the absent sheep of the hill, once we began the approach to Buttermere, we were suddenly surrounded by sheep of all colours and breeds. It was a very beautiful flock and we tried to identify specific breeds but they all ran away bleating anxiously before we got anywhere. However we then spotted a cow walking on the path ahead with her still very small and obviously dependent calf. We decided to give her a wide berth. Affording her plenty of space and time, we made no challenging eye contact with her and pressed ourselves to the furthest point of the path at least 20 yards behind her all the way to our gate. Nevertheless, she made sure to give us a low, threatening moo before we exited from her view and we were both very relieved when we got off the path. I am slightly nervous of cows in general, but when they have their babies with them they are apt to be admirably – and quite naturally – very protective of them.

After a short time on the roads of Buttermere, our trail led us through cornfields where tall haystacks shone in the evening Sun.

Getting back onto Test Way we found our way past an old gravel/chalk pit, where there was a Red Kite drifting in the sky and mewing in its lonely way.

We rejoined the road back to Ham shortly after this and discussed how sad it is that the beautiful creaking sound of the old windmill on that road and my Edirol will never be compatible, since the force that turns the rusty old mechanism is the same one that bungles and wrecks all semblance of sound on my recording device. Ah well. The necessity for that knitted popshield I keep planning draws ever closer; but then again, for some moments, it is enough to use one’s ears and hear sounds just as they are.

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