This weekend the sunshine returned and it seemed like a good time to continue with our Ridgeway National Trail challenge. For those who missed the last instalment, we have decided to attempt to complete all 139km of this ancient upland path over the course of the summer and autumn in family-friendly chunks.
Picking up our previous trail from Hackpen Hill, just above the village of Broad Hinton near Swindon, we opted for an easy stroll along the hill-top to Barbury Castle and back. As this section of the Ridgeway is in theory pushchair friendly, we ditched our rucksack in order to give our new BOB stroller a test-run. Other than a small issue with braking hard on gravel, Bobby performed pretty well and dealt with the hills and steep banks of Barbury Castle well. Both hubby and I found it an easy push despite the rougher terrain and 12 kg toddler (!) and we can confirm that this section of the Ridgeway is great for all-terrain strollers – you can find the walking route details here!
The walk itself is beautiful with wide-ranging views across rural Wiltshire and Swindon visible in the distance. What’s more, it is only a ten minute drive from the M4 motorway making it a great picnic stop and leg-stretcher for long journeys. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Barbury Castle itself – iron-age hill forts can sometimes be disappointing with merely a bit of a raised mound indicating that perhaps once there was more than natural hill-top there. Barbury Castle though turned out to be pretty impressive. You can see the 2500 year old hill fort’s earthworks clearly from a distance and up close it’s possible to scale its steep defensive banks with some great views from the top. It’s easy to imagine a time when people kept look-out across the surrounding countryside or took refuge behind the ancient defensive walls against the onslaught of warring tribes. There is plenty of wildlife here too – we watched birds of prey soaring overhead and found possibly the hairiest caterpillar I’ve encountered yet making its own way along the Ridgeway track!
It was as we started our return walk that we realised we did not have our car keys with us. Not only that but hubby was pretty sure they had been left in the car, in the ignition… We made a pretty hasty retreat back to Hackpen Hill hoping fervently that our car was still there and that any thieves had been kind hearted enough to leave the child-seat. Never have I been so glad to see a car in my life before – we were lucky this time, as the photo below proves!
Back on the road we headed to Butterfly World for lunch in their cafe before hitting the M4 again. I’ve been meaning to try Butterfly World out for a while as a potential M4 Service Station Alternative as it is only 800 yards from Junction 16 of the M4. The cafe has windows into the butterfly garden and serves good simple hot and cold food. The high-chairs are a bit worn and the staff could do with keeping the floor and tables a bit cleaner during peak times but it made a good, convenient stop which Roo loved and they had good, clean toilet and baby changing facilities.
Sunday brought more sunshine – too good weather not to head out for another wander. This time we stayed in Oxfordshire and opted for one of my favourite family walks in the county along the Thames Path from Shiplake to Henley-on-Thames. I’ve walked this route many times in the past with a baby carrier and also cycled it but have never tried it with a stroller. Roo and I put Bobby to the test again and set off from the station at Shiplake – a tiny little railway stop which looks like it should have children waving their red petticoats from the platform, Railway Children style!
The walk was as scenic as ever and there were plenty of people out wandering and picnicking along the riverside meadows. It was the Coronation River Pageant in Henley-on-Thames on Sunday and so the Thames Path south of Henley was packed full of nearly 100 vintage, classic and character boats, festooned in bunting to celebrate the 60th anniversary since the Queen’s coronation. Getting into the party mood, Roo was treated to her very first Mister Whippy ice-cream – an indulgence I regretted after realising I had left the baby wipes in the car!
Heading back to Shiplake we stopped off in the meadows to cool our feet with a spot of paddling. Roo was happy to hop back in the stroller for the return leg and the BOB made light-work of the off-roading section across the meadows. Still gorgeously sunny, we rounded the weekend off with a barbecue in the garden. Two national trail walks in a weekend – not bad going!