After my Newquay to St Ives camping and surfing walk I did in October 2011, I've been looking forward to doing another section of a long distance trail. That time was shortly after my wonderful experience as a ranger for the National Trust came to an end. This time I had a week off from my gardening work, the weather looked OK, so off I went to do 65 miles of the Ridgeway National Trail.
Day One: Ogbourne St George to Sparsholt Firs
My parents dropped me off just outside the village and off I trundled with my 10kg rucksack filled with tent, sleeping bag, 2/3 mattress, small stove, food, down jacket, penknife, headtorch, water and my tablet (for movies!). It felt really good to be off on my adventure. Right at the start I met someone on a horse who asked where I was going. When I said Wendover, he laughed and said you want one of these and pointed to his horse. He was wrong, I'm terrified of horses!
This first section of the walk is wonderful with Bronze and Iron age forts and barrows and neolithic burial sites and the chalk white horse etched onto the hillside. With so much to see, I barely felt the blisters forming on my feet. The second half of the first day the chalk track becomes a bit heavy-going especially when it's a bit wet. And the scenery is often hidden behind the hawthorn hedges...
After 15 miles or so, dusk was falling and I had no idea where my campsite was. I filled up my waterbottle at a tap outside a house at the entrance to Sparsholt Firs, then carried on walking towards the road. At the road was a little wood. I had a look around, found a spot to pitch up and...pitched up.
It was so still in the wood and after cooking up some noodles I settled down for the night and watched The Notebook again on my tablet. During the night I heard an owl screeching at a cat which then let out a horrifc screech of its own. I like to think it was a young tawny owl attacking a polecat, but I've no idea! After a while I fell asleep and slept pretty well considering I was in a wood on my own!
The next day I woke up before sunrise, brewed up a coffee (one of the joys of waking up in the woods is to boil up some water and make coffee), packed my gear up and set off. The thing about camping like this is: you have to be incredibly organised and flexible. Whenever you take something off you have to put it back where it belongs or you'll forget it. You have to think clearly and logically or else you'll get your sleeping bag wet when packing it away or cover your down jacket in mud. I didn't do any of these things but it's the sort of thing I would do if I didn't concentrate. I like this side of camping but there are still plenty of things I didn't plan for and totally mucked up, but now I know...
Oh, and flexible because tents are small and low! Just getting your shoes on without getting your socks muddy is a yoga pose in itself.
Miles on foot: 15.5
Day 2 coming up...