Day 2 - Didcot to Uffington - 33 miles

The next morning we got up at a reasonable time and did our final packing and covered ourselves with sunblock. We had route options - either head straight south to get the Ridgeway at its nearest point to Didcot, or start going east and then along the Thames south to pick up the path at Goring. We took this option since it didn't seem right to not do the whole of the western section of the track. And we had plenty of time, plus the weather was perfect.

At first we took country lanes that weaved through chocolate-box villages with thatched cottages and old stone churches. The head of an alsatian dog poked out of a Land Rover waiting at some traffic lights and I couldn't resist stopping alongside to fuss it.

From Wallingford we tried to keep off the roads and stay close to the Thames. But this meant using footpaths. We walked our bikes along these, but hit big trouble at gates and styles. From South Stoke church we had to haul our loads over four kissing gates. The road is probably easier.

At Goring you cross the river to Streatley, where the signs point the way ahead.

From here its almost all off-road for over sixty miles. The tracks are well-signposted and easy to follow. We found a shady spot for an early lunch snack and watched the dancing butterflies. The way was quiet, with only a few walkers and one or two cyclists. The surface was mostly dirt and gravel, with occasional solid surfaces. We carried on, and then as we rode between fields on a track slightly rutted by motor vehicles, I heard a yelp behind me. Caroline had hit a lump, wobbled, and fallen off. Nothing serious, just skinned her elbow.

She patched herself up and we decided it was time to get out of the heat of the sun for a siesta. A tree provided shelter from the sun and the grasses provided a springy mattress for our aching parts. Caroline read her book and I watched the butterflies and listened to the birds.

After an hour's relaxation it was time to hit the trail again. By now we were up on the ridge of the Ridgeway, with views to the farmland to the north. We arrived at the Baron's Monument, put up by a local landowner.

Finding water up on chalk hills is a problem, and on a day like this it was good to see that some drinking water taps and troughs for horses had been installed along the way. I approached one and prepared to empty my water bottle over my head before refilling it with cold clear refreshing liquid. Then I noticed the tap wasn't connected. Ah. Lesson learnt.

The fields along the way were fringed with poppies.

Somewhere along the way there were two women walking two dogs. They were at the bottom of a slope and Caroline hurtled down and past them. The big alsatian decided to give chase. The woman at the other end of the leash was struggling to hold her back and being almost dragged off her feet by the dog. He really wanted to go play with Caroline. I thought for a second he would break his leash and get away. I slowed down, and by now Caroline was almost out of sight and I was a less entertaining target. The owner apologised for her dog's behaviour but I just told her how cute her dog was. Second cute alsatian in one day. Caroline meanwhile was almost oblivious to the action going on behind her!

The Ridgeway has been occupied for thousands of years, partly as a route across the landscape and partly as a place for elevated defences. There are hill forts dotted along the track, and features with evocative names such as "The Devil's Punchbowl".

By about 5pm we arrived at Down Barn Farm. We were greeted by one of Mrs Reid's Tamworth pigs as we interrupted its repose in mud.

After a friendly greeting (from Mrs Reid as well as from her dogs, cows, pigs, and horses) we relaxed in our room. For dinner Caroline had the farm's pork and enjoyed crunching into the crackling. I had a veggie burger fresh from a supermarket but did at least have potatoes and carrots straight from the farm. Mrs Reid said she couldn't really grow soya round here. We chatted to a couple who were walking the Ridgeway in the other direction and were the only other people staying that night. Dessert was a summer fruit pudding.

After dinner I wandered out to take some pictures of the horses that Mrs Reid has for endurance horse racing - the equine equivalent of marathon running. This white horse caught my eye.

Down Barn Farm is isolated and quiet, and from our window I couldn't see any other farmhouses or dwellings, just rolling chalk fields and trees. Time for bed.

Day 3