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#SwanseaWalk4EU – Day 10 – Wantage

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Edmund Sides

Day 10 – Swindon to Wantage

We had breakfast with our hosts Steve and Marisa, and then drove to the entrance to the Honda Plant in northeast Swindon to meet up with Steve and some fellow activists for a media event.  After a last-minute change of plan to go to the South gate rather than the North gate of the plant, we joined Steve, Zoe and Sam and started walking to the South gate of the Honda plant where we were due to meet with a journalist and photographer from a local paper.  As we crossed the road on the approach to the plant we saw several security personnel observing us.  Two large stocky security men, who towered over us all, came over to talk to us to find out what was going on.  When they discovered that I had walked from Swansea and that we only wanted to take a few photographs and would then be on our way, they were happy to let us proceed.  After some photographs had been taken, I had a short interview with the journalist from the Swindon Advertiser, and we then returned to our cars to go our separate ways.

I commenced walking from the North Wiltshire Police HQ at 10:15, initially walking on my own again today.  Meanwhile, Rhiannon drove off to meet up with James, our host for this evening, who was planning to do some of the walk with us later in the day.  The weather was dry, cloudy and quite windy.  The first stretch of the walk was alongside the extremely busy A420, which had no footpaths and scarcely any verges. It was probably the stretch of my walk so far which had the highest risk from traffic, so I was extremely glad to leave it.  The next stretch, along a bridleway across a field recently planted with a cereal crop, had different issues it that it was very wet and sticky clay.  I wonder if anyone on the mainline train from Swindon to London which overlooked the field saw a madman with a flag trudging across a field in the middle of the countryside!  I succeeded in traversing this field and then came to the village of Bourton.  After this, my route south to Ashbury was along minor country roads with relatively little traffic.  It was very windy, good weather for flying the flag.  I arrived at the Rose Pub in Ashbury shortly before one o’clock to rendezvous with Rhiannon who joined me shortly afterwards. I ordered a pint of Wiltshire Gold beer, to compare with our local Gower Gold beer back in Swansea.  It was slightly more bitter in taste to my mind so I think that I’ll stick with Gower Gold!

After a short lunch stop, I headed south climbing the hill, up the chalk escarpment which forms the Ridgeway, the underlying geology again having a dramatic influence on the landscape.  Halfway up the hill, a passing motorist stopped and opened her window to ask if I was the person walking from Swansea to London.  When I replied that I was she asked if she could take some photographs to send to her friends.  Shortly after this, I reached the car park next to the Ridgeway, where Rhiannon, James and his dog Frank were waiting.  Frank, my second canine walking companion of the trip so far, was notable for having only one eye, the result of some past incident.  He was a large pale coloured crossbreed with a mixture of golden Labrador and German shepherd characteristics.  We all set off together heading east along the Ridgeway and I was immediately glad that I had added the extra distance and altitude to do a stretch of my walk along this famous route.  The ground was generally dry underfoot and there were excellent views of the surrounding countryside.  As when walking along the routes of Roman roads in south Wales, I felt a deep sense of history and was conscious of the fact that I was walking in the footsteps of people from a long time ago, in this case along what is believed to be a significant pre-historic trading route.  Along our way we stopped to examine some of the pre-historic remains, including Wayland’s Smithy (a Neolithic long barrow and chamber tomb), Uffington Castle (an early Iron Age hill fort) and the Uffington White Horse (a highly stylised prehistoric hill figure which is considered to be the oldest of such white horse figures in Britain).  All these sites are perched at the top of the chalk escarpment, and we were buffeted by a strong wind, whilst we enjoyed excellent views of the countryside.  I felt a unique atmosphere about this place and I will definitely try to return to the area again to walk more of the Ridgeway.

After inspecting the White Horse, we decided to part ways, with Rhiannon, James and dog Frank returning to the cars whilst I proceeded on my own heading towards Wantage.  After traversing several more kilometres along the Ridgeway, I descended a minor road that headed towards the town.  This was followed by a stretch along a deeply rutted bridleway where I had to concentrate intensely in order to make sure that I did not put a foot wrong – I cannot afford to get a twisted ankle at this stage of the journey. The final stretch into Wantage was along a road busy with evening traffic until I managed to find a quieter route following Locks Lane and passing by King Alfred’s Well and the Betjeman Millenium Park, before emerging in the town centre.  King Alfred’s Well is one of many natural springs at the base of the Chalk escarpment where descending groundwater meets the impermeable Gault Clay which underlies the chalk and emerges as surface streams.  Finally, I emerged into the square in the centre of town to reach the endpoint for the day by the marble statue of King Alfred.  Rhiannon emerged from a nearby coffee shop where she had been waiting for me, and after taking the obligatory end of leg photograph we drove off to the home of our hosts for tonight, James and Emma.

Most interesting names on today’s map:

I have always been fascinated by the variety of place names around the country. This area seems to have a lot of interesting names, reflecting its geography and history.  Here are three names that caught my attention today:

  • Blowingstone Hill
  • Thick Thorn
  • Snivelling Corner

Today I covered 17.0 miles (27.4 km), starting from North Wiltshire Police HQ in Swindon at 10:15 and finishing beside the statue of King Alfred in Wantage at 18:25.  My cumulative distance walked is now around 150 miles (250 km) which is about 25% more than the original plan.  The extra distance is explained by the fact that in several places I have deviated from the original route in order to follow a more pleasant walking route and also the fact that the planned distances were based on Google Maps which seems to use straight-line distances for some long stretches of the route which do not take into account the deviations from a straight line that occur in reality.

March 15th, Global Climate Strike For Future!

Yesterday was a “Global Climate Strike for Future” day when school students in at least 100 countries went on strike to protest about the lack of serious action in tackling climate change.  I had intended to make the subject of climate change the theme of my walk today and to discuss whether the UK being inside or outside the EU would make any difference to our approaches in tackling the issue.  Since I was mostly walking on my own and spending my time admiring the views from the Ridgeway, I did not in fact have time to discuss it with anyone. 

For those who are interested details about the global climate strike and the history behind it can be found at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_strike_for_climate

The development of the movement owes much to the actions of a fifteen-year-old Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, who caught media attention in August 2018 when she commenced the first school strike for climate, outside the Swedish parliament building.  More details about her activism are available at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greta_Thunberg

Climate change and related issues such as habitat loss and species extinction are serious issues which need to be tackled through cooperation on a global scale.  The younger generation must be quite frustrated that the country is devoting so much time and energy to Brexit, an activity which is trying to dismantle many of the elements of our cooperation with the rest of the EU, and which could potentially set back efforts for global cooperation to address climate change issues.