A cold sunny morning among the peerless estate villages of south Oxfordshire. If you’re looking for red tiles, spreading chestnut trees, gravelled drives and leafy lanes, here’s the spot. On our way out of Ardington, Jane and I passed cottages sunk in fabulously pretty gardens.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
From the field track we looked back to admire the mellow brick frontage of Ardington House among its trees, with the stumpy spire of the church crouched alongside like a curate at the elbow of a squire.
Glossy horses galloped the trackways, and hares chased each other in circles over the milky grey ploughlands. We crossed the shallow, chalk-bedded Ginge Brook, and followed the deep canyon it had cut for itself between the thatched and whitewashed cottages of East and West Ginge. A sunken track climbed south to the roof of the downs, crossing the puckered green scar of Grim’s Ditch. Iron Age folk dug the ditch and mounded its rampart around 300 BC, but what for is anyone’s guess. Anglo-Saxon settlers took it to be the work of giants and named it after their god Grim.
The ancient downland track of the Ridgeway could predate Grim’s Ditch by three thousand years or more. We followed its rutted course along the crest of the downs, looking out over many miles of sunlit Oxfordshire, to reach the tall stone cross that commemorates Robert Loyd Lindsay, Lord Wantage. A Crimean War hero (he won the first VC of the campaign in 1854), Lindsay was a founder of the British Red Cross and a great local benefactor.
If the woods on Lord Wantage’s Lockinge estate hereabouts were laid out, as stories say, in the formation employed by his troops at the Battle of the Alma, it’s hard to make out on the ground. But there’s no mistaking the order, neatness and good taste he brought to the building of the estate village of East Lockinge below the downs. On the immaculately kept village green stands a beautiful bronze statue of Best Mate, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in three successive years, who was trained in the village and on the gallops nearby.
On the duckpond near Ardington, coot were feeding their crimson-faced chicks beak to beak. A blackbird sang in a horse chestnut tree, and all really did seem right with this particular corner of the world.
Start & finish: Boar’s Head Inn, Ardington, Wantage, Oxon OX12 8QA (OS ref SU 432883)
Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 170): From Boar’s Head Inn, right; past Ardington House entrance, right through arch; path to road. Right; cross brook; ahead past barns (437879). At gate, left (437875; blue arrow) to cross Ginge Brook (444875). Right by brook for 2/3mile to road in East Ginge (446866). Dogleg right and left (‘bridleway’); track for 1 mile, past Upper Farm, to Ridgeway (445851). Right for 1 1/3miles to monument (424844). Right downhill on footpath to track crossing (424846). Take track to right of one marked ‘No Public Right of Way’, down right side of field; follow it for 1¾miles past Chalkhill Barn and Bitham Farm to road (425873). Left through East Lockinge, passing West Lockinge turn; by ‘Lockinge’ village nameplate, right (425878; yellow arrow) across bridge; follow path. Where it forks, left (‘permissive path’) to road; left, then right to Boar’s Head.
NB – Detailed directions, online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch and accommodation: Boar’s Head Inn (friendly and comfortable): 01235-833254; www.boarsheadardington.co.uk
More info: Wantage TIC, Vale & Downland Museum, Church Street (01235-760176); www.visitsouthoxfordshire.co.uk