Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Hungerford Arcade -Walks Around Hungerford

We are very fortunate here at Hungerford Arcade to have a very skilled author whom most of you know, Stuart Miller-Osborne.  Stuart writes only for our blog and solely for your enjoyment.  Sit back with a nice cup of tea and enjoy a beautiful stroll in the English countryside.

Rita

We are lucky that we live in one of the most beautiful but least visited parts of Southern England. All around Hungerford there are some of the most picturesque landscapes, I believe, in the country.


Whilst the Lake District and the South Downs are much celebrated, (and so they should be) the areas on the West Berkshire/Wiltshire borders are often overlooked.  We have the soft gentle landscapes of Berkshire blending into the harsher Wiltshire landscapes and the effect is quite startling.


If one for instance, drove from Hungerford to Salisbury, a distance of about thirty miles, then as one left the town, they would be faced with the rolling West Berkshire/Wiltshire countryside. But, within let’s say fifteen miles, this would grow harsher and more barren as you entered the areas around Salisbury Plain.  


If you catch a train from Hungerford to Westbury, you would soon see the landscapes change especially after Pewsey.  You would pass the spectacular Westbury White Horse which is well worth a visit (at any time of the year;  my wife and I have visited the beast both in high summer and in the deep of winter (with a handy flask of scotch).


It is true we cheated by catching a train to Westbury and then walking the few miles to the horse. If we had tried to walk from Hungerford, then I would imagine that we would still be within our journey.  But this would not have been a problem to the most famous of all our poets, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) who De Quincey estimated had walked some 180,000 miles by the time he was sixty-five.


There is a lovely story about the poet who when living at Racedown (near Crewkerne), rode his horse to Lyme Regis but when returning, forgot he had a horse and walked back to Racedown which was a considerable distance away.  What the horse thought about it was not recorded, but I would imagine that it just spent a comfortable night in its stable reading a copy of Daniel Martin.

 

Looking at walking in antiquity, the Greeks and the Romans were never recorded as going on walking tours.

The French poet Pierre De Ronsard was noted as extolling the virtues of walking but only around wonderful gardens and the like.  


In years past the consideration of walking was seen as a social limitation. It meant that you could not afford to ride. 

 

The Grand Tours undertaken by the wealthy were done so in carriages. Walking was seen as a poor method of travel.  But gradually this began to change.



The philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), was an early enthusiast who often walked considerable distances, making notes of any ideas that passed through his mind.


The ill-fated Marie Antionette (1755-1793), was another who favoured walking and often travelled by foot around the private parks attached to the royal residences at Versailles and Fontainebleau. She also favoured walks around the grounds of Le Petit Trianon a smallish chateau given to her by her husband.



Wordsworth and a friend (Robert Jones), undertook a walking tour on the continent in 1790 and this carried on throughout his long life and influenced all around him, including his sister, Dorothy and his fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


When we think about walking today, I think that we would set a limit of about fifteen to twenty miles a day.  My record is thirty-two miles with my wife, but this was because we became lost due to the lack of a decent map and had to double back on ourselves (and yes, I still have not been forgiven).


Some people like to walk (or stroll) five or six miles whereas, others look to cover larger distances. Caron and I do not fall into any category, we just decide at the time and definitely do not ramble, walking in whatever we are wearing that day.


We take our time and are always on the lookout for things of interest.

I had spoken to people in pubs who, in some ways, think it is a route march and want to set themselves challenges.


I would like to walk to Bath in a day 

We were up before day break and have covered over fifty miles


These could have been the conversations heard. I remember bumping into one chap near Reculver in Kent who was obsessed in making it to Margate before the sun relaxed. He had walked from Sheppey. His poor wife/girlfriend just wanted, I believe, to have a cool glass of white wine and no more. I just hope she got her wish. She reminded me of a contemporary of Wordsworth, a lonely woman named Ellen Weeton (1776-1849), who led a rather sad life but derived an intense pleasure from walking.


In those days it was not seen fit for a woman to walk alone. But she did so noting that “I choose to go alone, in places unfrequented by those of my own species, that my thoughts, as well as my feet, may ramble without restraint”. In her Journal of a Governess (now almost impossible to find), she recounts that how at the age of thirty-five she walked 203 miles in just over three weeks on the Isle of Man. One must remember that much of this was hill and mountain walking. Once in London sightseeing, she covered 538 miles in eleven weeks which is some going to say the least. I often imagine passing the ghost of Ellen when out on a walk. She smiles and wishes me safe passage and I pass comment that, the walks in her Heaven must be just as nice as ours.

But away from this fancy what really has this to do with antiques?

Well if you are slightly older or have suffered an injury then a walking stick is a great idea, and that is one thing you will be able to find easily in the Arcade and other similar establishments. They are incredibly useful when those pesky nettles bar your path or if you are climbing up a steep slope or just for leaning on for a moments rest and contemplation.

 

Maps are really useful and again, whilst everything seems to be on an app these days, it is fun to spread a map out (the older the better) and wonder why you are so close to a place you were not really heading for. Again you can pick these up in the town. There are many walks around Hungerford and in the next few paragraphs I will give you some bite size chunks of information which might help or, more likely hinder you.


We have the lovely Kennet and Avon Canal running through the town and this is great for walking along and the towpath is very well cared for. If you approach the bridge from the town and turn right.  you can then walk to Kintbury which is about three miles away. Kintbury is an interesting village, not much changed with a lovely church (which serves cakes and tea in the summer). The village also has connections to Jane Austin.



Beyond that and about another seven miles away is Newbury, a rather nice although slightly modernised town which has a good shopping centre. Caron and I often walk to Newbury to shop and catch the train back. Beyond that there is Thatcham, Midgham and Aldermaston which are all interesting places. You could also visit the astonishing church at Theale a few miles away which is about ten minutes away from the canal. Then comes the unlovely Reading which I would avoid as it has been spoilt.





But back Hungerford if you turn to your left at the bridge, then about four miles down the canal path, there is the peaceful village of Bedwyn with its simple church and a rood screen which has connections with the family of Jane Seymour. All the time you are on the edge of the Savernake Forest. About one and a half miles from Bedwyn there is the Crofton Pumping Station which is well worth a visit and if you take the roman road (the one that leads away from the railway crossing up a chalk slope) you will soon find Wilton Windmill which was built in the 1820s but has been restored and is in working order (and often hosts open days).


If you carry on past Crofton then you will find the Bruce Tunnel and the remains of not one but two Savernake railway stations. One of which still retains the shell of a signal box and a water tower as well as the station building which is a private residence. If you carry on then you will find the Bruce Tunnel and the remains of not one but two Savernake railway stations. One of which still retains the shell of a signal box and a water tower as well as the station building which is a private residence. If you carry on then you will find Pewsey and then Devizes, but we are talking serious walking of fifteen to twenty miles.


As noted, Bedwyn is about four miles from Hungerford, Crofton another one and a half and the Bruce is, I would estimate, another two(ish) miles distant. Which in my view, is the limit of a day’s walk, especially if you are walking back.


If you walk over the canal bridge and survive crossing the Bath Road, then one can cross over the river bridge and head through Eddington there you will see St Saviours church on the left (closed in 1956, a private house since 1977) where the writer and poet Alfred Williams (1877-1930) was married in 1903.

 

 

I visit its graveyard quite often as it is incredibly peaceful and has views of Hungerford Common and is a pleasant place to write and think.


 

Another walk I would recommend it that to Littlecote House which is about two miles away. If you survive crossing the Bath Road, then one can cross the river bridge and head through Eddington.  There you will see St Saviours church on the left (closed in 1956, a private house since 1977) where the writer and poet Alfred Williams (1877-1930) was married in 1903.

 

I visit its graveyard quite often as it is incredibly peaceful and has views of Hungerford Common and is a pleasant place to write and think.


Another walk I would recommend it that to Littlecote House which is about two miles away. If you turn left at the T junction of the Bath Road and the Salisbury Road and then cross the road and follow the Swindon road (next to the old cottage to the right), then you will find Littlecote House which is well signposted. It is a great place to spend an afternoon with memorable gardens an a Elizabethan manor house. But be very careful when walking along this road as the pavement is very narrow and passing traffic does tend to speed by.   In my view, it is not suitable for children.


You could walk up the hill through Hungerford along the Salisbury Road towards Ham (of Bloomsbury Group fame), but I would not recommend it as a lot of this would be along the grass verges as there is no pavement and again, people's driving leaves a lot to be desired. Another walk is that to the nearby downs (which can be seen from the common).



 If you walk across the common towards Inkpen Gate and just follow the road, you will find yourself in the tiny village of Inkpen and beyond that there are the wonderful Downs where on a clear day, you can see for many many miles. It is a round trip of about ten to twelve miles and obviously a steep climb of about six hundred feet, but it is quite spectacular. This said, the roads although lightly used, are a challenge and one has to keep their wits and ears sharpened. For some reason, the standard of driving here seems better than on other walks, almost as if walkers and cyclists are expected to appear.

These are just a handful of the walks around our small town, so armed with a sturdy walking stick and an antique map, I challenge you to enjoy yourself as you explore the wonderful countryside of this area. And, if you do pass the ghost of Ellen, do pass on my regards and assure here that her book is at last beginning to find a bigger audience.


Happy Walking   

Stuart Miller-Osborne   


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