On Tuesday 7 September I joined the Singles Outdoor Club for a walk just west of Swindon. As usual I drove to the nominated railway station to offer lifts to any walkers arriving by train, given the rather poor weather forecast for the day I did not expect to see many arrivals and when there were three drivers and only two people got off the trains I was not surprised.
After losing the car that was leading the way to the pub where everyone else was to gather I was a little later joining the main group than planned, fortunately I was not the last and so had time for a swift pint of “Arkells 2B” before the off. Once everyone had arrived, a quick count up revealed that there were 21 walkers present, a far better turn out than I’d expected and it was good to see a number of familiar faces. (I was going to say old friends but somehow that seems unkind).
The walk started from a small rough parking area on the Ridgeway, a mile or two from the pub (the more convenient pub by the start having now turned into a curry house), so we all piled into a few cars to travel there.
The first section of the Ridgeway that we walked is rough tarmaced and not very pleasant on bare feet, so I elected to wear my Merrell sandal / trainers. These are good because they can be worn comfortably without socks making them easy to take off and put on if required; I usually hang them from the back of my rucksack on a cord if I’m not wearing them, that way they don’t make my lunch muddy.
Most of the group were naked under the cloudy sky within a minute or so of the off, though some folks elected to remain dressed against the elements. There was a quick cover up a few minutes later as a car went past. The driver was staring resolutely ahead but the dog travelling with him did not seem bothered by the few folks who had not covered up in time. We soon stripped off again and then turned down a narrow path into the valley to our left.
I reckoned the naked types were better dressed for the conditions, though some of the nettles overhanging the path had me wondering whether I was going to regret my lack of clothing. In the event I was able to stay naked with only one slight sting. Shortly after we reached the bottom of the path the heavens opened and we got thoroughly deluged as we looked for the leaders preferred lunchtime picnic spot. The group decided to press on for a while in the hopes that we could stop in the dry a little later. There was enough breeze that, with several hours to go, I elected to use a waterproof poncho to keep the worst of the weather off my otherwise bare skin; getting uncomfortably cold so early in a walk could really take the gloss off the day.
The rain did not last long and half an hour later my poncho was back in my bag as I warmed up in the hazy sunshine. The temperature was around 18C (64F) now that the rain had stopped and the wind dropped too. We paused for lunch in a large field, hidden from the track by a thick hedge heavy with fruits; rosehips, elderberries, sloes and crab apples.
After lunch the walk continued along the Ridgeway. At one point the message came back from the front to cover up for a couple of joggers heading towards us. In the event they saw us and turned around heading back the way they had come.
A little further along the route were a couple of signs where I got another walker to take some pictures:
Once we left the Ridgeway, the walk continued over more open ground towards an old earthwork hill fort. Before we got there there was another call to cover up for approaching walkers, however I elected to move off the path out of sight until they passed instead.
The remains of the earthworks provided a good spot to stop for a drink and a nibble, of which the group took full advantage.
From the fort we had a good view of Ashdown House, leased to one of my musical heroes, Pete Townshend of The Who. Although there was a van and some evidence of a gardener working, it did not look like anyone was in residence as all the shutters inside the windows were closed. Somehow I doubt whether I’d have wandered over to introduce myself, even if the great man had been home.
After tea we continued past Ashdown House and this tree that was just too impressive to pass without a picture:
Then we went across some open land before joining a section of minor road that necessitated a cover up. We walked about a mile along this road, accompanied by the drone of traffic on the nearby M4, before turning right towards our start point.
The group became rather strung out, as usual in the later stages of the walk, as some of the walkers grew anxious to get to the pub and a pint of beer, while others were too tired to hurry. It was on this stretch that a dog walker passed us on a parallel path just a few yards away. No one saw him until it was far too late to cover up and pretend, so we just stayed comfortable, greeted him and walked past. We did get a sort of mumbled reply, but the lack of eye contact suggested he was not too pleased to see us. Oh well, at least there was no negative reaction.
All too soon we were back at the Ridgeway just yards from the cars, I managed to get a final picture by a sign before dressing and travelling back to the pub for a good meal before heading home.
Checking my GPS revealed that we had walked a total of 10.6 miles at an average speed of a little under two miles an hour (including stops). Of that I had been naked for just over five hours.
All in all a very pleasant day and as a bonus I now have another walk route stored in my memory (and more permanently in the GPS) that is close to a motorway route I use fairly frequently. I have a feeling that I will be doing sections of this walk again.
Note: SOC no longer organises walks