We were delighted to see Watlington Hill featured in a recent Guardian blog about UK winter walks. Text reproduced from the Guardian's site below.
Start/finish National Trust car park, Watlington Hill
Distance/time 7 miles/4 hours
Refuel Fox and Hounds, Christmas Common
There’s something particularly magical about ancient routes in winter. Curls of wood smoke, the chatter of a startled blackbird, dew-draped webs – in this weather, I feel like I’m walking in the past. Everywhere you look on this walk are signs of earlier generations who built their lives in this land. Watlington Hill may look untamed but it’s the result of centuries of sheep farming that transformed it from woodland into rare chalk grassland, now home to numerous endangered insects and plants.
Commanding views across the Thames Valley reveal a patchwork field system – a result of 18th- and 19th-century land enclosures, whereby larger fields were divided up and hedged, and common land was privatised. The result? The poorest country dwellers, reliant on the common’s free resources, were forced into towns to look for work. Hedgerows themselves are now in need of protection – they’re important wildlife corridors in intensively farmed landscapes, and a key tool in our race to decarbonise.
Head downhill along the edge of the White Mark – a chalk triangle cut in 1674 to give the illusion of a spire on the parish church when seen from a distance. At the bottom of the hill, turn left on to the ancient Icknield Way. Running from Norfolk to the Dorset coast, this route is one of the oldest in the country – many archaeologists believe its origins are prehistoric. After a mile, turn left to head south towards Dame Alice Farm – look for the unusual chalk stone cottage, then meander along the trackways to Dumble Dore (perhaps an inspiration for JK Rowling?) and on to Greenfield Copse. Here you’ll spot 2,000-year-old iron age earthworks – probably the remains of a homestead or livestock enclosure. There’s even history in the trees – look for coppiced beech trees, which have been cut down and allowed to regrow more than one trunk from the same base (known as a “stool”). It enabled people to get more usable timber from one tree, and it’s an indicator that a woodland is very old.
From here, loop round via Hollandridge Farm and along the unsurfaced Hollandridge Lane. It’s a Saxon route – more than 1,000 years old – which acted as the spine road for the 12-mile-long “strip parish” of Pyrton. The “strip” takes in land on the valley floor (best suited for settlements, offering shelter and reliable water sources), but also rougher land on the hillside and tops of the chalk escarpment, which was valuable for seasonal grazing, woodland and quarrying.
The footsteps of ancestors will then lead you to the Fox and Hounds at Christmas Common. Mead optional.
Mary-Ann Ochota, TV presenter and author of Hidden Histories: a Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape
For the full article click here.