Dick & Gloria & Lesley & Michael's
Streatley to Wantage - 3rd August 2003 - 10.5 miles
The hottest day yet and a late 11am start a mile or so west of Streatley. We pass occasional walnut trees on a long climb up a flint track. The wild fruits are quietly ripening in the recent sunshine and red and black berries overburden a wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana). Young hazelnuts, still green, damson and sloe berries hang in the hedgerow larder beside the pathway. Huge quantities of free-range pigs laze about on almost every hillside, frying in the midday Sunday prior to frying in pans on Sunday breakfast tables. The mystery of the darting Chiltern woodland paths has gone - now we can see the route for miles ahead, with no shade for comfort. The harvest continues with fat straw rolls laid by the harvester awaiting collection. Under the huge, blinding blue sky, scarred by vapour trails, we battle on in the overwhelming heat. It's even toooo hot for Richard to raise much steam about a warning sign that appears ahead and the trains that once raised steam on this old railway line must be long broken and gone. Didcot power station, which we first saw from Coombe Hill (Wendover), seems to follow us walk by walk. A glance behind shows the hill we recently passed over behind the signpost. No pub on the path today so we have to detour downhill past sheep meadows to The Harrow at West Ilsley for a life saver in the presence of a Rod Stewart lookeelikee. And, having supped we cross the road to eat in a shelter as ducks take mud baths in the dirty pond and children race by driving giant tractors towing trailers overfull with grain. God punishes those who worship the brewers' wares and makes us walk a long uphill back to The Ridgeway. A brave grasshopper risks crushing on the path as we pass overhead. A yellow bunting flits ahead, singing, from bush to bush as we close the last two miles to the car which sits not far from Baron Wantage's monument, erected by his caring wife, just visible ahead. God, meantime, perhaps guiltily concerned that the punishment may have been too severe, given the temperature, rewards us - a trailbiker, who had earlier covered us in dust and noise as he hurtled past, comes into view ahead on a return run and grinds to a halt yards away. 'I've run out of petrol' he shouts aloud to his companion. Yes! Four smiling ramblers pass quickly by with rejuvenated feet. Smiles fade as a cry of 'I'll switch on my reserve tank' reaches their ears, along with a roar from the beastly machine's exhaust pipe. Smiles fade, bike roar fades as bike fades from view, our parked car comes into view. We sit patiently by the car waiting for the day's heat, stored inside, to fade.