Aston Rowant Nature Reserve

After a very pleasant evening with Lolly and Toby I think we need a good walk to burn off the extra calories consumed yesterday. Lolly is a fine cook, just like her mother and both of her grandmothers. Last night’s delights included one of her special chicken pies and a cracking birthday cake.

After my morning stroll with the dogs I sit and examine the map to plot a route. It will be similar ground to that covered a few days ago, taking in part of the Icknield Way, but this time shorter and including Aston Rowant Nature reserve. Before leaving I need to keep the site to Ted’s high standards and cut the grass where a couple of vans have vacated.

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We start our walk by heading up Cholsey Grange farm track to Ibstone Common, which we cross diagonally to pick up the way-markers for the Chiltern Way. This leads downhill on a narrow chalk path that has been eroded into the hillside.

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We follow the Chiltern Way as it veers off the main path to the left and descends steeply through the trees to reach a stile. Over the stile we continue on the Chiltern Way heading down alongside a fence, through a gate, across a lane, through another gate and then across another field.

We then cross a tarmac lane and go diagonally down through a field with a gate at the bottom leading along another tarmac lane. Within a short distance we follow the Chiltern Way as it heads off to the left. At a fork in the path we bear right, leaving the Chiltern Way, to follow a footpath wending its way through Blackmoor Wood.

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This is pleasant woodland that I have walked several times and as yet have met no one else. Just over a mile later we turn right and within a few hundred yards take the path to our left leading through the woods to meet a lane that heads alongside Christmas Common radio mast.

On reaching the road we turn right and after about 100 yards turn left to join a path that quickly meets the Oxfordshire Way. I walked up this hill the other day and now heading down we get glimpses of the splendid view.

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Continuing down the path in the same direction we meet the tarmac road at Pyrton Hill House, passing the cattery and sawmill. In about half a mile we arrive at the crossing of the Icknield and Oxfordshire Ways. We turn right, this section of the Icknield Way is also shared with the Ridgeway and Swans Way.

Even on a Sunday afternoon this main walking route is remarkably quiet, we pass a few couples but for most of the next two-mile section we are on our own. To our left a John Deere combine harvester is busily devouring a field of ripe wheat. We try to avoid the cloud of dust it is creating. I recount tales of harvests past when I was a nipper and I marvel at the speed of this machine and the luxurious driver’s cab.

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In my teens I regularly spent summer holidays helping with the harvest at Coldharbour Farm and White Hill Farm. In those days when Jack or Martin were operating their combines they sat out in the open with a cap and a Scats face mask for protection. A days harvesting was frequently interrupted by a mechanical failure with the combine, a messy, frustrating job.

Those summer weeks were exciting times for youngsters on the farm, but for hard working farmers they were critical to making a living from growing crops on chalk and flint. Yet even with the terrible conditions and temperamental machinery both farmers always had a cheery welcome and a smile on their faces. I count myself fortunate to have spent so much time with them both.

Our route along the Icknield Way has taken us towards the M40, so not the most scenic as the road gets closer and noisier with every step. About 100 yards short of the motorway we turn right on to a minor road heading towards Hill Farm, when the track turns to the right we continue on a footpath into Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve.

The nature reserve occupies 159 hectares of chalk downs land and juniper scrub and is said to be have an abundance of wild flowers, particularly orchids.

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We don’t rush, for three reasons. Firstly, it is wonderful to be surrounded by such a diverse selection of wildflowers and wildlife. Secondly, the view behind us is stunning and Lynnie is making good use of her new camera, and finally it is very warm work going up this steep hill! Despite being so close to the motorway we cannot hear the traffic running through a cutting in the hill.

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As we emerge at the top of the reserve a footpath crosses our path but we continue straight on to reach a road. We turn left and walk along the verge for about half a mile before taking a footpath on the right that follows behind the crash barriers by the side of the road. The barriers are protection for cars leaving the road into woodland with a steep drop to our right.

The path goes into Hailey Wood and we fork right to head down to Langleygreen Plantation and then on to Wellground Farm. On reaching the tarmac lane we turn right going through the edge of Bowley’s Wood before passing Wormsley Cricket Ground on our right. At a fork in the path we bear left initially climbing gradually and then steeply as we rejoin the Chiltern Way to return to Ibstone Common. We retrace our steps across the Common to Cholsey Grange.

This has been a good stroll, approximately ten and a half miles and being a warm day we have hopefully burnt off a few of those extra calories consumed last night.

17th August 2015

[To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 171 – Chiltern Hills West]

© Two Dogs and an Awning (2015)

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