First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cold morning nipping at the nose and fingertips, and a clear blue sky fitted like a bowl over East Berkshire. The paths between Moor Green Lakes were a stodge of dark mud, but the open fleets of water winked and glittered in the low winter sun.
Wintering wildfowl love these flooded gravel pits, packed with food and secure from disturbance. A dozen cormorants stretched their wings to dry on the stony ridge of Plover Island. Chestnut-headed wigeon with ginger foreheads sailed together in a silent company, while the white flanks of tufted duck showed up bravely in the sunlight, the brilliant gold of their eyes only revealed in our binocular lenses.
We followed the chuckle and swish of the fast-flowing River Blackwater past contorted willows and leafless hazel whips where catkins were dangling. Soon we had left behind the eternal background screeching of black-headed gulls on the lakes, and were headed north past a paddock where a horse in a quilted winter jacket patterned with zebras snorted out twin jets of steamy breath as it gave us the sideways eye.
Among rhododendrons, berried hollies and tall pines in the tangled grounds of Ambarrow Court we passed a frosty hollow where a huge Victorian mansion once stood. During the Second World War the Royal Aircraft Establishment took over the house and conducted top secret research here into early forms of radar.
The railway line from Reading to Aldershot runs dead straight through the pinewoods beyond, and we followed a trackside footpath up to the station at Crowthorne, its windows extravagantly gabled like a Bavarian hunting lodge.
Beyond Crowthorne a byway led through more coniferous woodland, before cutting south in a beeline for the heathy heights and hollows of Finchampstead Ridge. Here on sandy soil glinting with mica chips we stood under the tall pines of a spinney at the edge of the ridge, looking out over thickly wooded country.
Here was the place to breathe in the cold air of a winter afternoon scented with pine resin, the landscape before us a blur of bright sun striking through the misty exhalations of the forest.
How hard is it? 5¾ miles; easy; lakeside and woodland tracks
Start: Moor Green Lakes car park, Finchampstead, RG40 3TF (OS ref SU 806628)
Getting there: Train to Crowthorne
Road – car park is 1 mile southwest of Crowthorne (A321 Sandhurst-Wokingham)
Walk (OS Explorer 160): Head towards lakes. In 700m, left (806621), following Blackwater Valley Path/BVP). In 1 mile just before road, left through barrier (819619). In 450m cross road (821623). At next road, right (822627); ahead on path (‘Ambarrow Court’). Cross A371 (824627, take care!). Through car park; ahead between metal bollards. At path T-junction, left; in 50m, left (red marker). In 50m, right at fingerpost to railway (827627). Don’t cross; left beside line; in 250m, right across railway (825630). Left beside line to road at Crowthorne Station (823638). Left to roundabout (821637); take Restrictive Byway/RB opposite. In 800m, left at 6-finger post (814641, RB). In 200m, left (813641, RB) for 700m to road (811634). Right; on bend, head past NT notice (‘FPC’). Follow path to left; head for bench at spinney viewpoint (809633). Descend path on right to track crossing (808632), left. In 400m pass metal barrier (810630); right down lane to road (809627); right to car park.
Lunch: Tally Ho, Fleet Hill, Eversley, RG27 0RR (0118-973-2134. brunningandprice.co.uk/tallyho)
Accommodation: The Kingsley at Eversley, Reading Road, Eversley RG27 0NB (0118-907-6322, thekingsley.co.uk)
Info: Moor Green Lakes Group (mglg.org.uk)