First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The blowy blue afternoon sky over Berkshire was patchworked with vast silvery clouds backlit by the sun. Along the hedges in the broad valley of the River Pang wind-dried umbellifers stood as tall as a man, each papery seedpod holding the blood-red streak of a single seed.
This is understated countryside, with a faint dip and roll to it. The sun put a glossy green polish on the wooded ridges of the valley. A jay, disturbed by our passing, swore like a trooper from its hideout in a thicket, and high overhead a stunting plane growled among the clouds.
We trod a carpet of gold and silver willow leaves beside the slow-flowing Pang. The water rippled as clear as gin over a gravelly bed. An angler had snagged his line in an elder bush; with great patience and dexterity he freed it and drew a flapping brown trout from the water. Then he lay prone, cradling the fish in a wetted palm, and slipped it very carefully back into the river.
Bradfield was a gorgeous dream of mellow red brick houses, the shaven playing fields of its college still smelling faintly of cut grass. Here we crossed the Pang and climbed the gentle slope to the north, into woods where horse chestnuts shone a rich mahogany in the leaf litter, as though freshly polished.
At a point where the sigh of wind in the treetops was overlaid by the seashore roar of the M4, we turned away through the silver birch and tall pines of The Gravels. This is sand and gravel country, a place of old heathy commons now overgrown with woodland, from which we looked out across the Pang valley to a rainstorm gathering in the south.
A tawny owl hooted among the hazels at Nightingale Green as we dropped down to recross the Pang and take the path through sedgy pastures back to Stanford Dingley. In St Denys’s Church we found red ochre frescoes 800 years old, and a medieval tile on which the Lamb of God gambolled with shaggy legs as unco-ordinated as a puppy’s – an image that bridged the centuries with charm and humour.
Start: Bull Inn, Stanford Dingley, Berks RG7 6LS (OS ref SU 576716)
Getting there: Stanford Dingley is 2 miles north of Chapel Row, west of Theale (between Jcts 12 and 13, M4)
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 159): From Bull Inn, left along road. At junction, left (fingerpost) on footpath (yellow arrows/YA) for nearly 1 mile to road (591719). Dogleg right/left across, and on (YAs) for 1 mile to road in Bradfield (604727).
Left; in 200m, left past ‘Private Road’ notice (603728; white arrow/WA; ‘Recreational Route’/RR). In 150m, right through gate (fingerpost). Aim half left across field to corner of hedge (599728); same line to gate through hedge, and on to cross road (596728). Up Greathouse Walk track (‘Bridleway’/BW). In ½ mile pass entrance to Great House Cottages (590734); in another 150m, at crossing of tracks, follow main track round to left (BW). In ⅓ mile, halfway up slope, left (585736, YA, RR) through ‘The Gravels’ wood. In 700m leave wood; forward to cross Scratchface Lane (577733).
Take path opposite (WA, RR); in 100m, right (WA, ‘Permitted Footpath’). Follow this path, ignoring side turnings. In 350m, at T-junction by post, left (574732, YA). Follow path (YAs) for ¼ mile; at wood bottom bear right (YA) to cross stile (574728). Down long field to lane (571727). Right; in 200m, opposite Mazelands Farm, left up track. In ¼ mile at 3 gates, right (567725; WA, RR, BW). In 200m, left through KG (YA), up fence and into House Leas wood (563725). Left (WA, RR), following wood edge south (‘Restrictive Byway’/RB) for ½ mile to Pangfield Farm (564719).
Skirt clockwise round buildings on marked ‘Preferred Pathway’, before turning left down drive. Cross road (566716); down track opposite. In ¼ mile, left at gate (569713, RB). Immediately left through gate (YA); half left across field to gate (571713, YA). Through trees; aim across field for St Denys’s Church; at road (575717), right to Bull Inn.
Lunch/Accommodation: Bull Inn, Stanford Dingley (0118-974-4582, thebullinnstanforddingley.co.uk) – cosy, stylish and friendly
Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122