[This post was originally written for and published in The Backpackers Club magazine. It’s a write-up of the backpacking meet I arranged for the club this summer along the Ridgeway from the Court Hill Centre to Britchcombe Farm.]
Ten people turned up to the Court Hill Centre near Wantage, Oxfordshire on Friday night for our Ridgeway weekend. It’s a great site as it commands fine views across the countryside and feels like a wild pitch with facilities. Keith the manager made everyone very welcome and is a font of local knowledge. We watched a beautiful sunset and then headed to our tents with some trepidation considering the weather forecast for heavy rain and thunderstorms overnight. Clive and Nev saw lightning on the horizon but we couldn’t hear the thunder and despite the ominous forecast we had a peaceful night.
In the morning David, Howard, and Glenn headed home by bicycle and car and the rest of us walked west to Uffington along the ancient road. Despite the humidity and occasional rain shower the views were long across the downs. There are some interesting features on the way and we explored the earthwork remains of Letcombe Castle and the naturally carved landscape feature, the Devil’s Punchbowl, now open access land. Frank and Sean turned North to investigate the local pubs, Clive headed off to visit Waylands Smithy (a neolithic long barrow), and the rest of us made a beeline for cream teas at Britchcombe Farm.
As we relaxed by our tents during the hottest part of the afternoon we watched one storm pass over Dragon Hill to our left and across the valley. Then a second storm came over Uffington Wood to our right. As the third black cloud came over the crest of Uffington Castle behind us we thought we’d better not push our luck and headed back to the tea room for ice creams.
We met Tony, Lynette, and Lisa there who’d just arrived and were checking in. Just after Lisa went off to pitch her tent we had an almightily hailstorm. The rest of us sat in the tea room watching hailstones bounce off the flooded cobblestones and ate ice creams, cream teas, and drank coffee. Some concerns were raised when we realised the farmhouse back-wall was leaking rain water but mostly though, of course, we were worried about Lisa, Chris, Frank, and Sean who were out in the storm!
When it passed and the sun returned we left the tea room to find Lisa safely tucked up in her tent and Sean and Frank arriving in full wet-weather gear. They’d found two pubs, local ale, good chips, a ploughed footpath, the hailstorm, and a bull! Chris and his dogs arrived too after a long walk and we all settled in for the long summer’s evening, enjoying some real ales brought by Lisa (thanks Lisa!), the warm weather, and good company.
Sunday morning we climbed Dragon Hill behind the farm, visited the earthwork remains of Uffington Castle, and saw the White Horse, a carved chalk figure in the hillside that dates from about the same age as the Iron Age hill fort. Then Frank and Lisa went west for a long walk back to Court Hill Centre, Chris did another long walk back, while the rest of us headed straight east. The humidity was high and the Ridgeway was covered in very hot, tired people coming the other way on the 100 Km “Race to the Stones” event. I’m not sure all of them appreciated our sense of humour.
With the hot sunshine, still air, and high humidity we were very grateful for the well-maintained water tap half-way between the two sites. The best refreshments though were the bacon sarnies, chips, and cold drinks waiting for us at the Court Hill Centre tea room when we arrived back.
Thanks very much to everyone who came along and made it such a fun, memorable weekend.