Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Invigorating time spent upon Watlington Hill with all its winter beauty

Invigorating time spent upon Watlington Hill with all its winter beauty

FROM time to time escaping from the confines of your domestic surroundings can feel extremely liberating.

We are just days into another calendar year and as I stand on this wonderful hill I am reminded of its history and also filled with hope for the future.

Watlington Hill, owned by the National Trust, forms part of the great Chiltern escarpment that faces north-west.

It is a wonder to think that all the hills that surround Henley were formed by ancient geological processes.

The last glacier retreated, rivers formed and changed their flows, gravels were deposited and eventually the town we know today nested in its cradle, the Thames Valley.

We are privileged to inhabit a beautiful part of the world where every season reveals something new.

Up on the hill with two friends, I’m looking about to catch sight of anything of note through my pair of binoculars. If I am lucky I might catch sight of a raven, our largest corvid. They are such clever birds and sometimes will deliberately give you a display of their aerial prowess as they twist and turn like a Spitfire.

Today, sadly, none appears. Kites, rooks and lapwings announce their presence, all quartering the ground and making their tell-tale notes. We head westwards down an old lane that I’m not familiar with and to one side is an impressive and seemingly never-ending line of ancient yew trees.

The roots of these trees sprawl across the ground by the path, resembling superannuated toenails. In between them some old whitebeams lean towards the path. The presence of a badger’s sett is given away by piles of chalk.

Burdock and hypericum have left a winter trace and then all of a sudden we are in the open.

The sky opens as we stand on the crest of the hill and are presented with grand views.

Dogwood looks as if it is on fire with its red stalks and among the scrub some juniper bushes can be found.

One bush is quite obviously aged, reportedly one of the oldest in south Oxfordshire. Its berries glow in the sunlight, crying out to be part of an artisan gin.

The grass here is so short that only hungry rabbits could be responsible.

There is a neat car park up here, just past Christmas Common, and the waymarking is good.

Another great walk ends with a bite at the Fox and Hounds pub. There is nothing like a roaring fire when relaxing after a great day out.

Vincent Ruane

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