The Lambourn Valley Way by Dr John Davies
The Lambourn Valley Way (LVW) runs 22 miles and about 600 feet gently down from Uffington Iron-age Fort and the Ridgeway to the Kennet and Avon Canal Towpath in Newbury and was 25 years old on July 11th. West Berks Ramblers celebrated with several walks thereon about this date, culminating on August 9th with John Davies, the group’s first chairman 50 years ago, ‘untarpaulining’ a magnificent oak seat. John thanked 30 wet walkers for turning out, Mr & Mrs Ivor Denton for permitting the seat on their land, West Berkshire Council for providing it, Colin Honeybone and his team for its erection, Elaine Cox and Sallie Jennings who have looked after the way, first with Berkshire County Council and now with West Berks; finally Graham Smith for his hasty replacement of curtain by tarpaulin and for some excellent champagne. This allowed a toast to 25 very happy years of LVW use and to an even happier future.
The seat is on the LVW between East Garston and Eastbury, about 100m. west of the steps up out of the old railway cutting. Views up and down the valley are excellent. Opposite is the West Fields of the former medieval farm. There is a big argument about the horizontal strips in the hillside – natural , ancient ploughing or cattle walking up and down? Unploughed for more than 300 years, this is a superb example of flower bedecked chalk downland grass.
The route is based on that of the 1970’s Christian Aid walk that joined the churches of the valley. In 1969 the valley path went through sow and piglet pens and was overgrown, blocked, hard to find, off course, grazed by a dairy bull, carrying a crop of chicken sheds and had several ‘Wiltshire gates’ – 2m. of barbed wire nailed to a post at one end and with a loop at the other (in Wiltshire they’re known as ‘Berkshire gates’). An excellent collaboration between the Newbury RA group, several farmers and W.I.’s, all with the Church’s blessing, established a ‘route’. After 9 years it was written up and given to Berkshire County Council to, inter ‘many’ alia, legalise the diversions along the track of the former Lambourn Valley Railway. They did a great job with the help of Michael Weideli, the group’s then footpath secretary.
The first 6 miles from the Ridgeway are on the high, open, chalk Lambourn Downs. This can grow soft, springy, dry turf ideal for the many horse gallops. The upper valley is the U.K. centre for National Hunt (jump) racehorse training with many stables in Upper Lambourn and Lambourn, and several in each of Eastbury and East Garston. There is also some first-class flat training. The best time to see the horses is during the Good Friday open day or from public land twixt stable and gallop on weekday mornings. Please be considerate and pass horses smoothly. N.B. The use of the narrow ‘hollow’ way down into Upper Lambourn at these times is inadvisable unless you can climb a steep bank quickly.
Settlements have grown along the only easily accessible water supply, the River Lambourn. Winter rains seep through the porous chalk to reach the water table but summer rains return to the atmosphere via transpiration from plant leaves. The highest occasional (permanent) springs are Upper Lambourn (Great Shefford) between which the river source migrates. Some old houses in this region have shallow wells whereas the well of a downland farm can be hundreds of feet deep.
Below Great Shefford the river becomes that rare and beautiful, chalk trout stream. Between Weston and Boxford the LVW loops to the SW above Welford Park, the ancestral home of the Great British Bake Off, because we couldn’t get a public path under the M4. Bagnor provides the delightful Watermill Theatre, formerly a cloth mill, and an alternative finish via Donnington Castle and its Civil War defences.
On the ground the way is well signposted with waymark discs and finger posts. The route is labelled and shown on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps 158 and 170. There is a bus every two hours between Newbury and Lambourn during the day Monday to Saturday (not bank holidays) – West Berks Council can answer timetable queries on 01635 503248.