Bone dry in Berks
How many, if any at all, of the thousands of drivers who thunder along the M4 every day realise that they are passing within spitting distance of a network of magical Byways? I only spotted the existence of the byways when I was doing the planning for last months trip, on the Ridgeway. I had been looking to see how far north and east we could drive the Ridgeway but sadly its mainly now a restricted byway from just north of the M4 at Swindon. My eyes were drawn, however, to the area around The Lambourns which is criss-crossed by tracks. Needing somewhere to try for the August outing I decided the area was worth further investigation and managed to work out a route sufficient to fill the day.
As usual the places for the trip were very quickly taken up but as the day approached gremlins started getting to work. Mike Fry had to drop out with exhaust and throttle cable problems and Luke Baker arrived at the RV with a badly rumbling wheel bearing so decided not to risk coming any further. That just left me and Dan Garner in his 90 to set out towards the days exploration.
Our first byway, part of The Ridgeway, started near Ogbourne St George so it was about half an hour to get there. The Ridgeway here is also subject to the seasonal TRO from 1st October so this was probably our last chance to drive it this year.
After about 1km we diverted off the Ridgeway to drop down into a valley, through woods then a sharp left on another byway back towards the ridge. The tracks presented no hazard although the surface on much of them was very flinty, not a surface I’d want to do a lot of driving on as they can be really hard on tyres. Once back to the Ridgeway we turned north again, heading for Liddington Castle, another ancient earthworks. The area was clearly popular with walkers, cylists and horseriders. We passed several groups and were always greeted cheerfully.
The Ridgeway turns eastward just before reaching Liddington Castle and drops downhill again, becoming increasingly narrow and quite rutted but still quite driveable.
Crossing the B4192 this route then climbs steeply up Sugar Hill. The surface is rutted chalk and was no problem in the very dry conditions but might have been difficult in the wet.. From here it dropped again towards the M4. A short road section took us over the motorway to our next byway.
Leading up a valley bottom the track was quite narrow with some deep ruts that needed to be straddled in places, it was ok in the 90s but probably not useable by anything with low ground clearance. A fairly steep and rutted track then took us up to the top of the Lambourn Downs. We crossed one of the many horse
training gallops (no gee-gees today) and decided it was a great place for a lunch stop. Within sight of the Comms mast at Membury a couple of miles away we could faintly hear the rumble of motorway traffic but this was well offset by the fantastic scenery, views for miles and te sight of Red Kite in the sky overhead.
From this stop we dropped down alnong wide gravel tacks towards Upper Lambourn Village, climbing up the other side of the valley to a track running alongside another set of gallops. This byway was well surfaced but narrow in places with a lot of overhanging vegetation.
Turning to head south again we entered a byway that started out fairly wide and clear but after a few hundred metres turned, started to climb and became very, very overgrown. With nowhere to turn round we really had no chance to plough on. Definitely not a track to take in your shiney new Rangie! Both vehicles emerged at the other end with a few more fresh scratches.
Back down through Upper Lambourn and back to a wide, well surfaced track. Sadly this didn’t last long as we again reached a narrow, rutted and overgrown section, down into another valley and then up and across a hillside track. Not much sign of recent vehicular use and one or two overhanging bushes but it was still a good drive.
From here I had intended to go through Lambourn to another track, leading to another series of byways but on arriving at the start of the first we found it to be again very overgrown. Deciding to give it a miss a quick rethink of the route and we were off again, crossing over the M$ again, towards the village of Aldbourne.
A good track took us down from the roman road near Baydon and directly into Aldbourne village, attracting some attention as the byway runs along the back of gardens, past the village church and then along the edge of village green by one of the village pubs. Being a warm sunny afternoon there were a lot of customers sitting outside and heads were turned in our direction.
From Aldbourne we had a choice of 2 routes to take us generally back towards our starting point. On reaching the junction I decided, on a whim, to take the left track, along the valley bottom, rather than the right track which climbed uphill. Not sure if it was really the right choice as, yet again, after a few hundred metres the track narrowed and became overgrown and rutted. It was still driveable in our 90s but, again, not suitable for low ground clearance or newer vehicles. Faced with nowhere to turn and not fancying a long difficult reverse out we had to soldier on. A bit of careful driving was need in places to avoid obstacles and it was here, in the woods of the valley bottom, that we found the
only damp patch of the entire run. Nothing to shout about, only a few yards of barely tyre deep mud and easily got through.
Eventually the track opened up again and started to climb, winding its way through woodland. As we rounded one bend I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, what appeared to be a grave stone right beside the track. A closer look revealed the inscription “In memory of the people of Snap. Toothill School….” and a date in 1991. The OS map shows a Snap Farm nearby and Snap Village is written in italic script, the way of showing something ancient. There were no signs of any buildings or structures in the woods so it was something of a puzzle. A quick Google search on getting home revealed that Snap Village was a tiny hamlet with never more than 50 residents and had only been abandoned in 1914, making it one of the few villages in UK to have been abandoned only in the 20th century (as opposed to villages taken over by military etc forcing residents out.) There was nothing left on the ground to show the place ever existed and the marker had been put up by pupils from Toothill School, Swindon in 1991 to ma
rk the site. Interesting things we see on our trips!
Moving on past this stone we came up to a complete blockage on the lane where several trees had fallen. Fortunately there was a suitable alternative at hand, leading us across a bone dry field of dusty grass and back towards the end of our journey.
A brief stop showed both vehicles had survived intact, albeit with a few new scratches (nothing T-cut wont sort) and with a liberal coating of dust. Without doubt one of the driest green road runs I’ve ever known! Another great day out on the byways. Thanks for your company, Dan.
There will be no greenroad run in September as I’m away and nobody else seems keen to lead. In October we will probably be returning to T’Plain.