Up with the larks

Who knows whether ‘up with the larks’ refers to the time of day when the birds are most active or the way they soar skywards emitting their glorious song. Either way this morning was wonderful. As we walked across the top of the hill larks were everywhere soaring in to the sky, filling the air with their song. Often they were not visible as they were too high in the sky but that beautiful noise signified their presence.

Below on the ground hares were visible – lollopping around the field and enjoying the warm spring sunshine. Primroses, violets and other wild flowers scattered the ground adding colour to what was winter pasture.

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Everything is early this year and bluebells are already coming out under the trees and will soon be a blaze of brilliant blue – the most spectacular sight.

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Spring time at Red Kite cottage

I love the Spring and there is nothing more lovely than waking to the sound of the birds. This morning the sun was shining and we set off with the dogs across the fields. The larks were soaring high in to the sky with their beautiful song all around us, they reach heights where they are not visible but still you can hear them. Newborn lambs were lying in the field in groups or with their mothers. Occasionally a pair would stand up and stretch before bleating loudly and running towards a welcoming ewe for a drink. Having been brought up on a farm I love the sight and sound of lambs and the lambing season heralds the start of spring.

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The Oxfordshire Way on a sunny day in Spring

The most beautiful March day dawned and we set off for Adwell from where to walk back to Henley on Thames.
Our start was Wheatfield near St Andrews Church which is almost all that remains of the village of Wheatfield.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheatfield,_Oxfordshire

Where we started you can see Elm trees which is a rare sight in Britain today following the introduction of Dutch Elm disease. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulmus_procera

As we crossed the fields we stopped to watch groups of hares frollicking in the sunshine. They are such beautiful animals and were really enjoying the warmer weather and the onset of spring.
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My iphone does not do justice to such sights so I have included a close up picture of a brown hare too.

Towards Pyrton you pass a farm called Model farm where you can see an example of early mechanization involved which revolutionised British agriculture
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The long distance path wends its way on to Pyrton and then up towards the Ridgeway and on up to Christmas Common on the ridge above Watlington.
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People driving on to the upland ground and damaging the ecology have necessitated installing natural barriers such as these tree trunks.
Red Kites were everywhere and this one perched close by on a telegraph pole to get a good view
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Shelters in the woods are becoming common as children explore their natural world and amuse themselves outdoors
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We are soon up in Christmas Common after a steep climb up the hill and enjoy sustenance at the local pub. http://www.brakspear.co.uk/our_pubs/pub_page/50
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On through woodland towards Pishill, Bix and back to Henley on Thames
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The wild plants and animals on the walk were all signs of spring
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Centrica Arctic Challenge

The girls from Centrica are now in the Arctic as part of their Arctic challenge raising funds for Rosa Uk.
A Foot in the Chilterns trained them in Nordic walking in Windsor to prepare them for their adventure.

Thanks to Tom Waller of Luminous photography for some excellent photography of the sessions and to Windsor Racecourse for allowing us to use their grounds for training.


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We look forward to hearing about their adventures on their return.

Even the sheep change colour

The persistent rain has had wide reaching effects. Not only are paths muddy, the Thames still flooded and trees down in many places but even the sheep have turned a bright white in contrast to their normal greyish colour!

sheep Henley park in February

Henley dodging the floods

angel on the bridge flood_0260The floods of the past weeks have brought misery to many local businesses and home owners and the recent sunshine has brought a definite change in mood. It seems only a few months ago that we were basking in sunshine and the river was a gentle stream.

Bridges have been closed causing chaos and potholes abound concealed by the water covering them.
Walking, however has been an enjoyable way of getting around and it is very satisfying when the sun comes out and you return having dodged the latest shower and remained dry. On other occasions a brisk soaking makes coming home even more enjoyable!

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Spring has now emerged and the snowdrops and primroses are providing colour and interest. This morning walking the dogs the larks were soaring skywards with their wonderful song filling the air. We can cast off all the winter clothes and rejoice in springtime.


The calm between the storms – Nordic walking at Wittenham Clumps

It has been a very stormy January and the river has remained flooded for much of the month so far.

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We are therefore forced on to the higher ground but the benefits are finding new and different walks and experiencing lovely views when the sun shines. Even the rain does not dampen the spirits – it is invigorating to return after bracing the elements and the reward of a hot drink and warm kitchen make it even better.

Today we scaled Wittenham Clumps http://www.nashclumps.org/ and the sun shone. There was a keen wind and we were grateful for the exercise pushing ourselves uphill with the nordic walking poles. The group were on the second lesson of the 4 week course and manged extremely well in the sometimes rather slippery conditions but the terrain ensured that they all got a good grasp of both up,and downhill technique.

IMG_0343 The clumps Nordic walking at Wittenham Clumps


Views without leaves

After the recent winds the leaves are mostly off the tress and whole new vistas have emerged as a consequence.
The winter sun continues to offer some warmth and you finish feeling invigorated and refreshed. Animals that are not easily seen when the leaves are abundant and the grasses tall, are often now glimpsed as they sit and watch, or scurry away to the safety of the undergrowth.Today we saw muntjack deer, brown hares and fallow deer plus plentiful birdlife.


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The light has changed and it has been a fantastic autumn with lots of sunshine and beautiful autumn colours. The leaves stayed on the trees so that they could be seen in all their glory. One of the great pleasures of the beginning of winter is walking through the beechwoods with the rustle of leaves underfoot and a gentle sound as they are moved in the breeze.






Nordic walking with deer and wallabies

For the final walk in the current Learn to Nordic Walk course it was decided to put all that had been learnt into practice while going on a scenic tour of the local menagerie. The weather was bright and the autumn colours resplendent in the sunshine. We set off along the Oxfordshire Way following our warm up and adjustment of poles. Participants were using their new poles purchased through Nordic Walking UK so they were all bright and gleaming and ready to take on a few muddy paths.

Congratulations to John, Janet and Moira who are 3 members of the group who recently completed the Learn to Nordic walk course with A Foot in the Chilterns

Congratulations to John, Janet and Moira who are 3 members of the group who recently completed the Learn to Nordic walk course with A Foot in the Chilterns

The route took us to the top of the ridge and then down through grassy fields to the McAlpine estate http://www.fawleyhill.co.uk where many native and non native species of deer can be seen alongside tapir, llamas, emus, capabara and many other exotic animals. After crossing the lane we passed the sentry box marking one of the entrances and were soon walking rhythmically along the path between the animals.

A sign advising of dangerous animals and many gates and other memorabilia for the railways are positioned around the estate and there are glimpses of the full size steam railway and the museum.

We soon start downhill and come out of the woods to a wonderful view of the River Thames and the landscape beyond. The path leads down the hill between fields of the Black Bears polo ponies. Every field is populated by shiny thoroughbred crosses bred for the sport and grazing happily in the autumn sunshine. They pay us some attention before returning to the still plentiful grass. At the bottom of the hill we turn to ascend the other side of the slope and walk up towards woods again. There are signs of a fallen tree, a victim of the recent storm. Thankfully it has largely been cleared away from the path which is no longer blocked and we can walk along the path beside the wallabies and deer. The woods here are mixed deciduous hardwoods and pine and the path is littered by leaves, cones and pine needles made more plentiful by the windy weather. The group are fascinated by the various animals and glimpses of the house and gardens beyond. The wallabies evidently feel safe behind their fence and sit and watch us with interest. It is the rutting season for the deer who are now in groups of hinds with whichever stag has manged to win the herd and they are more interested in each other than passing humans. There is a distinctive smell and  periodically you can hear the stages roaring a challenge to competing males.

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On leaving the estate we walk up towards Fawley village passing a small vineyard on our right and in the gateway is a box with free range eggs for sale and an honesty box for payment which is a pleasure to see in these days of distrust and opportunism. We turn left through the gate to an impressive house called Benhams. The resident of the lodge is sweeping up acorns which have fallen all over the drive and we exchange conversation for a few minutes before continuing downhill again and back in to Fawley Hill Estate. Another fallen tree has been cleared from the path and we can walk up by the fence to the alpaca field. The lead animal gives the alarm call and the herd move towards us to investigate.

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We pass through a gate and along a narrow path to a very wobbly stile but once all safely over are back on top of the ridge and heading for home. The views to the right towards the River Thames and to the left towards the Stonor valley make the uphill exercise well worth the effort.

We are soon back at the Oxfordshire Way and striding out towards Red Kite Cottage and a well earned cup of tea. Well exercised and full of all the things we have seen in this varied and interseting part of the Chilterns we have plenty to talk about.


Grape picking day

This autumn has been a wonderful year for all fruit in the area and this includes a bumper harvest of grapes in many of the local vineyards. The leaf colour on the trees and the vines is wonderfully bright and the birds and wasps are still feasting on the grapes that have not been picked.

A smallish team turned up at Brightwell vineyard http://brightwellvineyard.co.uk to help with the harvest and were rewarded by a tour of the works and delicious lunch with the opportunity to taste previous vintages with our meal.

People had come from as far as Wiltshire to join in and thankfully the weather was reasonable and not at all cold. Picking grapes with freezing hands as has been the case in some years it not the most enjoyable experience! The constant chatter speeds the process and friendships are made, information traded and I even learnt all about medicinal honey and how it triumphs over Manuka in its properties and its cost.

The vineyard and its tasting tours are certainly on the map for themed walks in the future!

Arriving to help with the harvest

Arriving to help with the harvest