Streatley’s Chalk Grasslands and Countryside Trail
Lardon Chase, the Holies and Lough Down are three adjacent National Trust countryside properties located above the village of Streatley and overlooking the Goring Gap. Lardon Chase, and a part of the Holies known as Holies Down, are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Before acquisition by the National Trust, the Holies was used for motorbike scrambling, resulting in considerable damage to the ground. Since they were acquired by the National Trust, the landscape at all three sites have been managed by a mixture of scrub clearance and cattle grazing to encourage the growth of chalk-loving plants. The slopes of all three properties now form one of the largest remaining areas of chalk grassland in the country and support a wide range of wildflowers and rare and endangered butterflies. This walk explores these areas or downland and the scenic West Berkshire countryside to the west of Streatley. Please park responsibly, and if the area is busy on your arrival please help us keep everyone safe by coming back another time.
Lardon Chase National Trust car park at SU583806
Do not cross the road, but leave the car park on the gravel track in the opposite corner to the car entrance and next to the National Trust Lardon Chase sign. Go through the wooden gate then continue ahead keeping the hedge on your left. You soon see views over Streatley, Goring and the Thames. About 600m beyond the car park the hedge takes a 90 degree turn to the left.
Turn left for about 30m then go through a gate to enter Lough Down. Now bear about 30 degrees to the right and head due north following a broad track across the open grassland. As you start heading more steeply downhill aim for an opening just to the right of a distinctive white house on the road below. There are panoramic views to the north here and you should be able to make out the distinctive twin wooded hills called the Wittenham Clumps. Go through the gate and down the track beside the white house to reach Rectory Road.
Lardon Chase and Lough Down
Lardon Chase and Lough Down are managed by the National Trust to encourage the growth of a large variety of chalk-loving plants using a combination of scrub clearance and cattle grazing. The diverse flora supports a wide variety of insects including many rare and endangered species of butterfly (See Holies Down at Step 8 for details). Lardon Chase is also an excellent viewpoint over the Goring Gap; a geological feature formed during the Ice Age. Half a million years ago the River Thames flowed on its existing course through Oxfordshire, but then turned northeast to eventually reach the North Sea in East Anglia near Ipswich. During the last Ice Age, an ice sheet blocked the river's exit to the sea, whilst the amounts of meltwater entering the river caused it to pond up into a vast lake. The water eventually cut a new route through the chalk hills at the site of the Goring Gap.
Turn left along the road, which here is part of The Ridgeway long distance footpath. You pass Goring and Streatley Golf Club on your left, Thurle Grange on your right, then a riding stables on your left. About 120m after the stables you come to a sign-posted track next to a house called Wynders.
Turn left and follow the track gently uphill. When the track enters a field bear left onto the signed footpath. Continue on the path though open fields at the base of a broad dry valley. After passing the distinctive and isolated Kiddington Cottage on your right, you join the track to the cottage that heads more steeply uphill into Westridge Copse, then past farm buildings to reach the B4009 road at Westridge Green.
Turn left along the road then, after 80m where the road bends left, turn right onto a farm track heading downhill. When the track bends left to Gould’s Cottage continue ahead and uphill on a signed footpath. This path soon bends left to run along the flank of a dry valley to your left. Continue ahead over a crossing farm track. The bluebells beside the path through College Wood and Beechcroft Shaw are beautiful in late spring. Bear right to join a farm track when you emerge from the woods then follow the signed footpath straight ahead (not the bridleway to the right) to meet a road next to Pyghtle Cottage.
Turn left along the road. After 400m, at a minor road junction, follow the road left then right beside Southridge House. After 300m, bear left to join a road coming from your right. After passing Manor Farm the road passes under electricity pylons then heads steeply downhill to Stichens Green. Here the road bends sharply right then heads uphill to a crossroads.
Cross the road then follow a drive uphill signed as a Public Bridleway and past the marker post for Ash Hill (not the drive to the left of this to Holies Shaw House). This drive runs parallel to Grim’s Ditch in the woodland just to your left. At the top, when the drive bends sharply left, keep ahead, crossing Grim’s Ditch, on a footpath that now heads downhill. Soon you see the open grassland of The Holies on your left. After passing stables on your right you see the main A329 road ahead.
Grim’s Ditch is a section of earthwork that consists of a ditch and low upstanding rampart; it is a scheduled ancient monument. The name is given to a number of prehistoric bank-and-ditch earthworks found in various places across the chalk uplands of southern England. Archaeologists believe Iron Age people built the earthworks around 300 BC. The purpose of these earthworks remains a mystery, but they may have served to mark the boundaries of territory as they are too small to have served military purposes. Even the origin of the term Grim, isn’t clear, although the word was commonly used by Anglo Saxons to name features of unexplained or mysterious origin. The word may be derives from the Old Norse word grimr meaning devil or mask, and one of numerous nicknames given to Odin (or Woden), the God of war and sorcery.
Before reaching the road turn sharply left and partially back on yourself then go through a wooden kissing gate beside the National Trust sign to enter The Holies. Keep left to join the track along the edge of the grassland, with woodland on your left. Follow the track when it bends right away from the woodland edge to pass a wooden signpost. Bear left and uphill towards a gate. Go through this then continue uphill across Holies Down until the track goes through another gate into woodland.
Part of the Holies known as Holies Down is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. Before acquisition by the National Trust, Holies Down was used for motorbike scrambling and turf stripping, resulting in considerable damage to the ground. The National Trust rangers have encouraged the natural recolonization of the area by chalk-loving plants. The slopes support a wide range of chalk grassland plants include autumn gentian, blue fleabane, chalk milkwort, clustered bellflower, common rock-rose, common spotted orchid, eyebright, hairy violet, hawkweed oxtongue, horseshoe vetch, kidney vetch, marjoram, pyramidal orchid, purging flax, wild carrot, stemless thistle, wild thyme , squinancywort and yellow-wort. Scattered bands of hawthorn scrub provide shelter for insect life and several butterfly species can be found, including chalkhill blue, marbled white, Adonis blue, grizzled skipper and dingy skipper
Continue ahead on the track through Common Wood. The path levels out with woodland on the right and more open acid grassland on the left. You re-enter woodland then dip down to cross the head of a dry valley to your right called The Coombe. You pass through an area carpeted with bluebells in late spring. On reaching the road, cross over and turn right to return to the car park where you started the walk.
Common Wood is a mixture of mature woodland and acid grassland. The underlying rock is not chalk, but a superficial deposit of sand and gravel laid down 3 million years ago in the Quaternary Period by rivers. The resulting free drainage leads to acid soils, so acid loving plants like gorse and silver birch grow well. On a clear day, you can enjoy views to your right as far as the North Downs.
Lardon Chase National Trust car park at SU583806
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