The Ridgeway, July 15 Day 3, 18 miles
Early mornings of wild camping are always a mix of exultation— hearing all the fauna around the tent while slowly waking with the sun (and birds) is magical—and anxiety as the sun reveals presence to landowners. I was up and out long before a gamekeeper could accost me, walking into the morning sun up high on the ridge. I was no means the only wanderer out that hour, meeting almost immediately a man walking his dog— another of the Ridgeway characters with their history to tell. Just ahead was yet another barrow which he noted was both the grave of an ancient leader and the site of a market town. Although villages here tend to be down off the ridge where water is available, this site was at the crossroads of various drove roads and so was an early livestock center—at least according to my interlocutor.
Today was also the day I crossed the halfway point and learned just how different the second half of this trail is. In the morning I continued on the ridge past many of the same fields I’d been in. As I was leaving Wiltshire and heading into the Chilterns, I was treated with a spectacle uncommon some decades ago. At least a dozen red kites were circling overhead. A raptor that was nearing extinction and only living in Wales, has recovered and been reintroduced in this area. They were circling a field where presumably some game was about. The angle of the sun was such that their shadows regularly passed over me, giving that little jolt of adrenaline that nearby danger brings out.
Late morning I descended off the ridge to Goring and spent the rest of the day walking within sight of the Thames. Like in Oxford, the canal boats were passing and the locks were In full operation. Although the length of the walk made me feel at some distance from Oxford (my current base of operations) I was actually quite close and regularly saw buses on their way there. Given the heat and my own lagging energy, I was sorely tempted to hop one back but resisted. Although Wallingford is a mile off the Ridgeway, it has a campground (the Bridge Villa Caravan Park which is technically in Crowmarsh but, as the name implies, is right by the bridge) run by a lovely couple, so I pushed on off the path, setting up my tent is a now-legal spot, wandering the town before dining on oysters and what-not. All in all, another satisfying day.
T. Hugh Crawford