Swelling Downland: West Ilsley, Farnborough & The Ridgeway

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Lowland and Hill Walks
May 05

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Event booking closes on May 5 at 08:00:00
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16km walk with 200m of gently undulating terrain, generally good underfoot.

Indulgent overview: 

"Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!"

I apologise to all those with “SL” for Slough in their postcode but blame John Betjeman, not me. I have to find something startling and eye catching to imprison your eyes on this description I have spent far too long agonising over.

Betjeman occupied The Old Rectory in Farnborough (video of the gardens in link or see photo below of this Georgian manor house) from 1945-1951. Before becoming Poet Laureate in 1972, he saved London St Pancras station from demolition; if not for him, it would have been replaced by some concrete monolith, like Euston was. To commemorate his efforts, a statue of him was erected, his hands holding onto his hat in awkward reverence as he gazes up at the intricate iron roof he worked so hard to save. Closer to our walk, Betjeman’s life and residency in Farnborough is recognised with a stunning stained glass window in the parish church (see photo below). Ultimately however, Betjeman’s dream of the ‘rural idyll’ was financially unsustainable and they moved out. 

You can see why he moved to West Berkshire. Betjeman was a traditionalist and conservative, spending much of his life, outside of writing poetry, attempting to preserve our architectural heritage. In spite of being more interested in conserving built heritage than natural heritage, he still had a deep appreciation of both, with nature inspiring much of his poetry: the pillowy hedgerows, the winding bright chalk tracks, and soft hills provided an antidote to what he saw as the rapacious and unnatural urbanisation of post-war Britain. 

You get the impression that West Berkshire hasn’t changed much since Betjeman lived there. I’m never awestruck or intimidated by this landscape. You don’t get the sharp or chaotic geometries of mountainous regions, themselves the product of ferocious erosive forces (glaciation, volcanic eruptions, landslides, freeze-thaw cycles etc). 100 million years ago these down-lands were once the seafloor until the African and European tectonic plates smashed into one another, resulting in their uplift above sea-level. The forces that shaped them were less severe and this gradual erosion led to their rounded and softer forms. From a distance, the chalk hills we’ll be walking over seem to swell like the ocean from which they emerged. 

"Feathery ash in leathery Lambourne 
Waves above the sarsen stone,
As to make the swelling downland,
Far surrounding, seem their own.”


Brief overview: 

A circular walk approximately 16 km in length, beginning in West Ilsley, stopping off in Farnborough, and ending with a walk along the Ridgeway back to The Harrow pub where we started. The walk takes in the North Wessex Downs, an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". The terrain underfoot is generally good and often not particularly muddy; we will follow clear footpaths, bridleways, and the Ridgeway. 



Is it dog friendly? 

Dogs are welcome on the walk but please abide by the Countryside Code (https://tinyurl.com/rlqvp3h). Please also remember not everyone loves dogs as much as you do so please be mindful of other members.

New Members

Please feel free to join this as your first OutdoorLads event. If you have any questions then feel free to message me, or go to the "My First Event" section under "About Us".

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