Walking on the Downs is an altogether different experience to the Chilterns. The views are long, the skies big and today, candy floss clouds race in from the Channel. Back home walking is an altogether more immersive experience. This is more exposed. There's nowhere to hide.
Hurley stirs old memories of other's generosity. 40 years ago our boys' club leader had a motor launch moored here. Back then he used to take us on trips along the Thames. Altogether more innocent days! As we park up in Hurley it seems not much has changed in the intervening years. There are many more threatening 'No Parking' notices but the village shop and church look like they've been stuck in a time capsule. However the 21st Century comes crashing in as we walk west along the River...they're charging £3 per head for a picnic in the Riverside Park! Taking care not to inadvertently unpack food or drink, we press on as far as Culham Court.
St Albans is awkwardly sandwiched between the M25, M1, Luton Airport and rail connections north...and yet it's still possible to leave it all behind. This is an easy walk along quiet lanes, crossing three secluded country estates...and all within a couple of miles of the busiest motorways in Europe
This is 'Bunyan country'. John Bunyan certainly got about a bit when he wasn't in Bedford jail. Almost all our paths are marked as 'John Bunyan heritage trail'. The views from the Sundon Hills and Sharpenhoe Clappers have probably changed quite a bit since he was here. Huge fields of wheat and barley are the order of the day today. At least this part of the walk is in and out of beech woods.
This really is a walk of two halves and, on the hottest day this year for walking, we're glad the first 7 miles are mostly through woods. From Goring we follow the gentle climb through Great Chalk Wood, Cray's Pond and Goring Heath. It's noticeably cooler in the shade and we have the paths to ourselves...the heat seems to have selected for mad dogs and Englishmen. We pass a charcoal making camp at Cray's Pond but even they've stopped today!
Today we choose to stick close to the footpath. No running through wheat fields...you never know when those farmers might return and bite you on the bum, Mrs May! And for the most part, these footpaths are easy to follow. Parking up at the Dashwood Mausoleum we walk through Hearnton Wood as far as Nobles Farm. The last time we were here it was a cold, misty November morning and the views were obscured. Today, as we drop down off the ridge we can see far up the Bradenham Valley towards Saunderton and Lacey Green. Bradenham is as picturesque as we remember it and we stop long enough to snap some pictures across the sloping village cricket pitch before the next hill, up onto Naphill Common.
We need a break so return to South Oxfordshire. This time we plan to walk to Mapledurham by way of the wonderfully named Gallowstree Common and Kidmore End and back via Cane End. The last time we visited Mapledurham was 1992 and the intervening years have dulled my memory. The house and watermill are only open on Bank Holidays and Sundays and arriving at lunchtime the place is deserted, so much for the ice cream I'd been promising myself. We eat a rather forlorn lunch (cheese and crackers) in the graveyard before heading back.