Ellie & I have been doing walks with Gary Bebb’s fabulous ‘Go London’ hiking group for more than two years now. Yesterday we joined Neil (Neil Froggitt) and 20 other hiking enthusiasts for the “Secret Berkshire – The Hollies and the North Wessex Downs” walk. It is my understanding that this walk is also being referred to as Goring Circular Walk, even though it was slightly amended by Go London.
This blog post does not include any maps or specific instructions. It is not aimed at enabling you to do the walk on your own. It is instead intended to give you an idea for what to do on London weekends or – even if you don’t live nearby – show you some of the beauty that one can find near The Big Smoke. Even if you’re an experienced navigator we’d still highly recommend the tours offered by Go London, as they are a great way to meet new people. We like the fact that we do not have to stress about finding the path, reading the map, looking for road signs and markers.
The train from London Paddington takes about an hour, and we arrived ten minutes before the official departure time of 10:45am at Goring and Streatley Station. Goring and Streatley are more or less one town split by the Thames into two halves.
This was our second time doing the Goring Circular Walk and our third time hiking with Neil. We recognised some of the faces of the other hikers, which is always nice. One lady greeted me “Mr Lamprey Man”. Turned out she remembered that I had told her during a conversation on another recent walk that I was planning to go snorkelling with lampreys in a tiny chalk stream in Suffolk later this month. Ellie liked the nickname so much, I was worried a bit that it might stick.
Goring and Streatley are among the most picturesque, quaint, little villages you can find anywhere in England. Many of the rich and famous bought ‘cottages’ (i.e. massive mansions) here during the past few decades, driving house prices right into orbit. Otherwise Ms B & I would have almost certainly relocated here a long time ago.
Perhaps unexpectedly, considering the official name of our walk, Goring-on-Thames is located in the county of Oxfordshire. Streatley is already part of Berkshire, though, and the whole walk is on Berkshire lands.
Besides of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire to the north, the county of Berkshire is surrounded by London to the east and Wiltshire to the west. Hampshire and Surrey lie to the south.
The twin villages are located in a valley that is called the Goring Gap. This is where the River Thames separates the Chiltern Hills from the Berkshire Downs. You’re starting out on the Ridgeway trail from the Gap before passing the hamlet of Aldworth, where Alfred defeated the Danes. From there the path descends to Stitches.
The hardest, steepest hill is close to the finish line, when you climb the sides of The Hollies (also spelt Holies) just before the path meanders down to Streatley again. The Hollies are a dry valley or combe between these hills of the Wessex Downs.
While most of the walking took place on mud tracks and unsurfaced country roads, about one fifth took place on surfaced roads with plenty of cars. Luckily all drivers we encountered were extremely considerate and slowed down immediately on sight.
On the Go London scale this 19km walk, which includes 450 vertical metres of ascent (if all added up) and which takes about 5h30m to complete (incl. a few short breaks), is ranked intermediate to hard. However, the Go London scale is a scale for city dwellers. So if you’ve done some proper hiking in hilly or mountainous areas before, then the walk is easy. Our group included walkers from varying fitness levels and no one struggled, as far as we could tell. Well done everyone.
As with all Go London walks, the price (here: £10 per person; train tickets extra) was very reasonable. Everyone brought their own packed lunch, which also saves money. We can’t wait for our next walk with this fun group. 5 out of 5 in our book.