Saturday, September 19, 2009

Test Way #14: More English excellence

This afternoon at about 1.55 we walked up to the gallows near Inkpen Hill, down the hill towards the car park and, finally, finished The Test Way.

Leg 4, today's walk, was like an enhanced version of Leg 3: Wildly varying landscape with wooded sections, wide open fields used for grazing and growing corn, high-hedged lanes and droving roads. Only Leg 4 was much better than the excellence of Leg 3.

And that is because of the grand finale. But we'll come to that later.

When we undertook Leg 1 last October, 11 months ago, I commented that I was surprised how little of the river we saw, particularly given that it gives this walk it's name. Soon after the start of Leg 3, the river had gone off in completely the opposite direction and, by the time we got to Leg 4, we didn't see any river or even any water, whatsoever. Even the Bourne rivulet, a spring-fed watercourse linking together parts of this Leg, was dry as a bone. I guess that, as we move towards autumn and winter, it will gradually rise and start to soften the dry beds and surrounding fields again. For us, after the flooded section of Leg 1 and the boggy start of Leg 2, it was almost a relief that on Leg 4 we could enjoy the simply spectacular countryside without worrying about slipping and sliding about, or wading through ankle-deep puddles. The consequence of the dampness of those early miles was that it was hard to take our eyes off the path, for fear of ending up on our backsides, and we didn't see much of what was around us as a result.

We've been very lucky with the weather throughout this walk. Today was a beautiful early autumn day and the leaves were starting to betray the onset of the season. To further enhance the case, dad bought with him some sharp, but very tasty apples from his garden. But autumn didn't cause us any problems today - apart from reducing the depth of the view in places because of the hazyness of the post-summer sunshine. In fact it was a great day, not as hot as for Leg 3 but that, to be honest, was a relief.

In the hedgerows the blackberries were starting to look a little tired, in the lanes and paths we encountered masses of runners, panting and sweating in the sunshine, and the dry, ploughed soil gave away the chalkiness of the landscape which was streaked with white like marble.

From difficult beginnings this walk has, without doubt, given us what we came looking for - a real taste of the Hampshire countryside on our doorstep. And, thought we finished in Berkshire having passed quickly through Wilshire, we were very, very happy that The Test Way had delivered.

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