Day 11 – Wantage to Didcot
We left the home of our hosts James and Emma shortly after nine o’clock, a bit later than intended, and headed into Wantage. After stocking up with some provisions we headed to the statute of King Alfred where James took photographs of myself and Rhiannon with our national flags since today is the final day of the 2019 Six Nations rugby union competition where Wales are playing Ireland in Cardiff this afternoon. Victory for Wales would mean that they win the Grand Slam and the Championship. Shortly after ten o’clock, we headed off out of town, stopping briefly to talk with a Big Issue vendor, Lucica, who was from Romania and seemed a bit bemused when we explained what I was doing. Rhiannon left me at the edge of the town as she had arranged to meet up with Anne Marie, our host for tonight, in Didcot and would join me again later in the day to complete the final part of today’s walk.
I joined the national cycleway 544 on the edge of town and started off along a small track running past some allotments, being observed momentarily by a rabbit who hopped out of a bramble thicket when I paused for a while for a drink. It was a cloudy day with a moderate wind as I set out; there had been a shower earlier as I was getting ready so I had my waterproof trousers on. As it happened it remained dry for the rest of the day – in contrast to Wales where footage of the rugby match which we saw later showed very heavy rain. Outside West Lockinge, I stopped to talk with a man walking his dog who turned out to be a Leave voter who stated his objection to the ability of the ECJ to overturn the UK Supreme Court, and the ability of the UK to make its own laws, as his main reason for wanting to leave. We had a reasonable chat and we both agreed that the country would need to come together for the future and that the vast majority of UK citizens want a better future for their children even if we disagree on how to obtain this. He expressed concern that the EU was developing into a superstate with its own army. He also expressed his annoyance about how leavers tend to be stereotyped in the press, and that many like himself were university educated with good jobs. On an interesting note, he did remark that the big mistake about the current situation was the fact that a ‘super-majority’ had not been required in the original referendum. He said that he realised that there would be some “rocky times” ahead but was prepared to accept that as the price of Brexit.
The countryside which I was walking through this morning is horse country; whilst talking to the man walking the dog I could see horses being exercised in the background. Later on I passed several stud farms including one with a statue of a horse on a grassy green by the roadside. The houses here are now nearly all red brick, reflecting the fact that I have left the Cotswolds well and truly behind me on the other side of Swindon. Entering East Lockinge, I saw signs warning of toads crossing the road, of which more information is provided below. Rounding a corner in the road, I came on three walkers out for a morning stroll. When I explained to them what I was doing and asked them their views on the subject they indicated clearly that they all favoured exiting without a deal. They again cited the ability to make our own laws and considered that UK standards were better than the EU’s and, in some cases had to be relaxed to meet their criteria. I found this unusual in that in my work on international mineral resource reporting we talk of minimum standards and would not penalise anyone for having better standards than the minimum. Their parting remark was that we need to get on with things and that there would be a “new normal”. Mentally, I found this an interesting contrast between strong leave views here in the prosperous Oxfordshire countryside compared with the views of homeless people in Newport who I had met earlier in the week who stated their motivation for leaving as being the monetary contributions to the EU and lack of local spending on things that would benefit them.
Around midday, I stopped for refreshments at an ‘island’ at the junction of three tracks, eating my sandwiches surrounded by yellow and orange daffodils which matched the colour of my high visibility jacket. Continuing on, I joined a bridleway which paralleled the slope. The sun was now peeping through gaps in the clouds periodically, but the wind was getting up again and became quite strong at times. The presence of windbreaks consisting of narrow linear strips of evergreen trees indicated that this is not uncommon in this area. The bridleway next led me to the edge of the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, formerly the main research establishment of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority which is now being converted in a science and business park. Checking the internet later, I found that the European Space Agency (ESA) has had a facility called the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ESCAT) on the site since 2013. No doubt uncertainty hangs over its future also.
At this point, the bridleway was closed due to construction work on the Harwell site and I had to follow a diversion through the campus. Shortly after negotiating the diversion and after crossing the A34 whilst being buffeted by strong winds, Rhiannon called to say that she was heading out to meet me following the cycleway 544 along a dismantled railway line. By the time I reached Upton where the cycle track left the railway line, I realised that we were not going to reach Didcot in time to see the first half of the rugby match live which had been our original intention. On reaching the old railway track, I sat down to have a drink and a few minutes later Rhiannon appeared around a corner to join me. We then set on our way back into Swindon making good time as we were pushed on by a strong wind at our backs. On the outskirts of the town, we had brief conversations with two other people out walking, one a lady with her grandchildren who had voted leave and wanted parliament to come together to get things sorted. She did not have time to give me her reasons for voting leave. The other walker we talked to, was a young man with a large white dog, who indicated that he worked for a European company that manufactured trucks and he was extremely concerned about the prospect of export taxes hitting the business he worked for. He noted that many of the problems that people complained about during the referendum were nothing to do with the EU, but were things that the UK government could sort out on its own.
We arrived at the Prince of Wales pub opposite Didcot Parkway Station shortly after four o’clock in time the see the last quarter of an hour of the match. Wales were comprehensively beating Ireland and the only consolation for me was to see a try for Ireland in the final minute of the match which meant that they at least got some points in the match. The final result was Wales 15, Ireland 7, meaning that Wales won a historic Grand Slam and Championship victory. Rhiannon was extremely happy with the result and we both regretted the fact that we were not in Cardiff enjoying the match day atmosphere which had been our original intention before the idea of this walk was conceived.
Today I covered 12.0 miles (19.2 km), starting beside the statue of King Alfred in Wantage at 10:05 and finishing at Didcot Parkway station at 16:05.
Interesting encounter on today’s walk:
I found more information about the toad crossing signs which I saw at East Lockinge at the following website:
They report that: “Common Toads are very particular about where they breed and often migrate back to their ancestral breeding ponds each year. They follow the same route, regardless of what gets in their way, which sometimes leads to them crossing roads. We get a toad vs. traffic scenario and the toads inevitably come off worse.
The Toads on Roads project registers these sites as ‘migratory crossings’ and helps coordinate local Toad Patrols. Patrols can apply to their local council for road warning signs to be installed and actively help the toads across the road. The Toads on Roads project has been running for over twenty years and we know of numerous crossings nationwide.”
Elsewhere on their website, they state that it is estimated that 20 tonnes of toads are killed on the UK roads every year. I certainly saw the remains of several flattened toads as I walked through East and West Lockinge.