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.
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.
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.
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.