Monday, 7 April 2014

Burford, Lechlade and ... Downton, Oxfordshire Cotswolds

Having travelled a long way for an organised 3 night walking trip at New Year, it seemed like I had to put my boots on at least once during the rain soaked trip. While I was with another two viewing the sights of Oxford on the previous day, the rest of the party were out on full day walks ... testing their equipment out. As one seasoned attender said "It's not bad weather, it's just bad clothing" ! With that thought in mind, it was interesting listening to the stories of the warriors who returned after their exploits in the mud.

On day two, it was evident that more than two thirds of the group wanted to abandon the stalwarts in favour of something more practical. The weather forecast for the morning was abysmal becoming drier in the afternoon. My driver friend for the trip was becoming increasingly frustrated as he was getting withdrawal symptoms without his boots. He discovered a laminated short walk card next to the boot room in the centre where we were staying.

The basic plan for the day seemed less achievable due to the amount of cars and number of agreed locations to visit. It sounds simple to say we'll visit a Rohan walking shop in Bampton, go for a cup of tea in Burford and do a 4 and 1/2 mile walk in Lechlade. It somehow worked out ok, but not without the stress of the details.

Isobel Crawley's house
First stop Bampton. I have to disappoint people here by informing them that I have never even seen an episode of the TV series Downton Abbey but I went along with the plan in the interests of ... errr ... journalism ... haha. Downton is the fictitious name of Bampton and as I didn't know what I was meant to be looking for, I was relying on some of the excited voices around me. Unfortunately at this point, two minutes out of the car, the heavens opened and there was no time to photograph the church to the right as it was a sprint to the sale in the walking shop.

Bampton Transport
To say that we were in the walking shop for a while was an understatement, it was a welcome shelter from the rain with the owner maybe not quite believing how many people were in the shop. The walk on the previous day that I opted out of in favour of Oxford, was in very gruelling and wet conditions. One person wanted to improve the standard of her waterproof overtrousers so in the meantime I examined every possible and potential piece of kit and then discounted it on either not requiring it or the discount not being enough. After a while, the rain settled to a drizzle and I thought I'd take the lead by leaving the shop to find my friend who was getting edgy about the timings of the day. Unfortunately the purchase still hadn't been made and it seemed like another 20 minutes before everyone was satisfied. Bampton wasn't looking it's best today so I only managed two other shots of the village.

Buying Potential ?!
I wonder what's happened to the house prices here in the last couple of (Downton) years as the residents of Bampton might not like me showing you the house that looks the most unkempt but those that know me will understand I can't turn down a photo opportunity like that !

Next stop Burford and the rain hadn't stopped yet. Burford, at the eastern end of the Cotswolds otherwise known as the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, has essentially one main street built on a hill going down to a small traffic light controlled bridge across the River Windrush. As a result, it is unfortunate from my previous experiences here in high summer that traffic queues going downhill are a problem. The top end of the street is more residential with the lower end attracting tourists to the quaint shops.

A town of wool history, 14th - 17th century ... and 21st century
On this occasion I'll spare you the historical details of Burford that stretches back to Saxon times as I don't have the relevant photographic documentation ...

The aptly named Mermaid pub !
... we only came here for a cup of tea to warm up and the packed lunch picnic didn't happen until much later in the afternoon. My friend held the door open for me and realised " Oh no, he's taking another photograph again !"

There was a spare 30 minutes available before we all met back at the car park for the next instalment of the day. Some chose to stay next to the fire in the pub, others went shopping and you know what I did !

Enjoying the rain today !
A couple of signs caught my attention outside a Craft /Art shop that took my mind off the weather. I felt that they could come in useful in my photo library for a later date ... and as it turns out, later in this post !

This way to the car park, the afternoon walk and ........ the drier weather !

Once everyone had found somewhere to park in Lechlade on Thames, we "congregated" outside the church ready for the walk. The distance of between 3 and 5 miles was achievable in an afternoon.

Essentially the route was through the churchyard and in an easterly direction along a less a bridle path  eventually crossing a road bridge over the River Thames and returning westwards on the southern side.

As it was winter time, the sun was getting low providing some wonderful lighting and textures.

If the weather had decided not to be kind to us, we would have finished the walk here by crossing the bridge back into Lechlade but we pressed on for what was the best part of the day.

Lechlade on Thames

We continued westwards along the southern side of the Thames until we reached a footbridge just before a mill. I spent a bit of time albeit rushed trying to photograph the mill as the sun was going down but in the end couldn't decide which one if any to put in the post as there are plusses and minuses ... I gave up and published them both ...

The walk back into town was along a hedge lined lane with breaks revealing the extent of flooding in the nearby fields. I should point out that there was another month of rain before things got really bad.

We eventually arrived back to Lechlade without the assistance of items to be dug out of the mud and a speedy return with tired legs.

The afternoon conversation with members of the walking party was pleasant enough ...

"Speak without offending" .......
..... but thankfully someone had a whole afternoon of having nothing to say ..... !!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Oxford, an unplanned trip

A friend told me in the second half of 2013 that he was going on an organised walking trip at New Year to the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with another friend. I had no plans, considered all the options which were all closer to home and decided that the opportunity might not come up again. I left it late to book and as fate would have it, the second person opted out for something more local to him and as a result I got his room. My friend said he would take his larger car for comfort and luggage so we agreed on shared fuel costs.

As it was a walking trip, relatively nearby Oxford wasn't on the menu although it was always on my wish list. I had visited Oxford twice before many years ago on a long day out charter rail trip and then about 7 - 8 years ago on a car journey / park and ride from Bristol.


The rain in the south of England was so persistent over New Year that it looked impossible to walk at all. The event leader who knew my friend quite well had a small manual problem with her car boot and needed a garage. Oxford looked like a 3/4 day possibility so I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

(As usual though being with people presented the usual difficulties of real time looking for those extra special photographic moments so I did the best I could with the compromise available. The first half of the visit entailed looking for the botanical gardens to eat a packed lunch, however as it was closed and the river wasn't accessible at that point, we ended up on a seat outside a church on the High Street, Having said all that though, I don't think there was a lot more potential here given the weather and what was available.
It hasn't been easy in getting this post to publication due to significant distractions of other duties and the quality of the material that left a little to be desired. I struggled with inspiration as this was originally meant to be a combined post with the next walking set but to me it didn't gel well together. Consequently I had to find a few more shots to supplement the post but maybe these have weakened the post rather than strengthened it. In life I never know where I'll be from one year to the next and I can't see me back here for a very long time so ... what you see is what you've got. In brief, as I see it ... the set is what it is ! ... thought I'd give a history lesson again for those interested in that kind of thing ! )

Oxford was born in Saxon times and became a key settlement as it was surrounded by rivers on most sides at the junction of the River Thames and River Cherwell.

After the Normans arrived, its importance increased and in the following century the first English Parliament and University was set up. It seems that students have always liked controversy and rebellion as a disagreement between the students and the local people led to some academics going elsewhere to set up a University at Cambridge in 1209. Further complaints about the quality of the drinks in a tavern started a serious fatal riot in 1355.

Radcliffe library ... my unofficial Oxford centrepiece !
As similar towns expanded with houses to accommodate people, Oxfords expansion was with University buildings and ecclesiastical development.
During the Reformation period, when the Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic church, the events of the Oxford Martyrs took place in 1555/6 where Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and later Thomas Cranmer were burnt at the stake. It was at a time when the ruling monarch Queen Mary tried to repeal the theological idea but events like this live long in the memory and after her death, her half sister Queen Elizabeth I formalised the Reformation Bill. This was a time when Oxford became a city and the new centre of Church of England Christian thinking.
As both an Ecclesiastical and Parliament city it played an important role in the mid 17th century English Civil war with Charles 1. One of the many outcomes of the Civil War was it broke the monopoly of the Church of England's rule and gave way to other Protestant threads of faith with dynamic leaders such as John Calvin and John Knox.

Grey periods with glimmers ....
The Later Industrial Revolution and subsequent business of the nineteenth century also played its part but was possibly a little behind the times as it didn't seem to be that kind of city. The successes were in the printing and car industries long after Victorian England had disappeared. Like so many more towns and cities in the UK, these businesses declined in the late 20th century.

The incorrectly named Bridge of Sighs that connects two colleges in the centre of Oxford is more representative of another Venice structure, The Rialto Bridge. Its completion in 1914 was initially opposed by one of the attached colleges and can still be used by students today.

Christmas decorations !
 Oxford is synonymous with bikes and boats, unfortunately I wasn't near the railway station this time to get a shot of the bike park. The late Christmas decorations will have to do !!

A Blue is a sports award that is earned by University students and is also the colour of attire. Although rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge stretches back to the 1209 split, sports competition began with a cricket match in 1827 that ended in a draw. Maybe that was the incentive to take to the water two years later for the boat race that never seems to be without incident many years on.

Letting my friends wander in the church behind whilst I loiter & wait in the doorway for 15mins 
John Radcliffe was educated in Oxford, became a notable Royal Doctor, was unfortunately childless and left his estate at the time of his death in 1714 to build a library. There were many delays in the construction as some of the most revered architects died in the subsequent years. Building commenced in 1737 and took 11 years to complete not without further issues of accidents, smallpox, material misunderstandings and red tape !
The Library hit the news a few years ago with a sit in protest from students over changes to University funding.

The 1774 covered market ... something to write home about !!
One of the things about a market is the expectation of cheaper prices than in the High Street. Controversially, the local council touted and played with the rental fees in 2012 /2013 and consequently contravened the Market's ideals of opportunities to the independent trader.

Maybe that's because they are trying to keep the standard up with prices in the adjacent streets !!

Not quite a protest these days but a statement of intent ...

.... and not quite the Radcliffe library but a potential reading room nonetheless ....... !!! :-)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Boxing day walk, Hedgehope Hill, Northumberland

The Cheviot 
Christmas was a bit unusual for me this year as I had planned to go away at New Year with a walking friend. The only way I could barter for holiday with my job was to offer to work a difficult shift around Christmas which ended up being late afternoon and evening on Christmas day. Another friend and his wife are always discussing and bantering about doing a walk with a group of friends but we can never agree on a distance or location. I was concerned about taking him away from his wife on Boxing day but she was pleased that he had a companion for this kind of walk. The extremes of this set depicts why I haven't done a walk with this particular group of friends in nearly three years.

The weather forecast for the day was essentially extreme cold, sun, no wind, high level snow and on the basis of no wind at low altitude (acceptable at high levels in relative terms), I grasped the photo opportunity with both hands.

My friend was probably more concerned about getting his car safely to and from the starting point as the single track road in the valley has two very steep hills that could possibly have been icy but with a bit of caution we made it.

Assessing the possible route up
Hedgehope hill (2343ft / 714m) was the target of the day which in normal conditions would be quite simple.

My previous experiences of hill walking in snow was a long time ago with my walking mentor on Ben Lomond in Scotland and his inexperience in that environment frightened me into staying with the 3 seasons.

I did have memories of that trip in that the more difficult legwork was comparable although there were a few 6 inch prints to follow at times !

Hedgehope Hill Summit at last

Selfie shadow looking east to The North Sea

Considering the possibilities for an onward route ... another time obviously !

It was great to get in behind the cairn for some shelter away from the cold for a lunch break, however 20 minutes was long enough as my inexperience told me that I should have eaten with my gloves on !

Does anyone recognise this view 30 minutes earlier? ... definitely time to keep moving !

Getting to grips with a walking pole that wouldn't extend ... no, it's not an ice axe !

Time to head back to some ...errr .... colour  and reflect on the experiences of the day.

Some wisdom I invented from the start of the day although a little unfounded ...

" You always know it's a bad idea to do a high level mountain walk when ...
it's a challenge to open the frozen front door" ! :-)
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