Above: Starry, Pudders, DJ and Noycey relaxing in West Oxfordshire
There was a definite spring in our step as we set out from Faringdon in search of a country stroll a little further afield. But first we had to obey the rules of Active Travel.
So what is this "Active Travel" malarkey then?
In a short sentence: no private cars allowed. To put it a bit more verbosely: get to the start point and return from the end point using public or self-propelled transport.
Occasionally this can introduce a few extra challenges into the equation. For this escapade we were to get the S6 bus from Faringdon to Oxford train station from where we would intercept the London to Hereford train for a shortish journey to Charlbury. From there we would take the long way around to walk to Finstock and the Plough Inn before stumbling back via a shorter route.
Reaching Oxford was easy enough and it was only when we were equipped with return rail tickets to Charlbury that the wheels started to fall off. There had been a "trackside" fire between London and Maidenhead and our train was going nowhere soon. The inquiries desk was understandably noncommittal about its ETA in Oxford. Maybe an hour late? This was a setback but not a terminal one. We'd still have time to walk from Charlbury to Finstock in time for lunch. A couple of us saw this as an opportunity for a swift half before our departure, requiring a stroll into town. So we meandered severally about only to return to the station to find that the train had now been cancelled.
A sortie to the bus and taxi rank in front of Oxford Station showed that the hourly bus to Charlbury had only just departed.
Should we take a taxi? There were five of us to share the fare, after all, so that wasn't strictly breaking the Active Travel rules. We then noticed that some disappointed rail passengers were being ushered on to what were apparently free taxis. Seemingly surreptitiously, we thought. DJ sprang into action, taking himself off to the inquiries desk with lawyerly panache. He reappeared with a rather disgruntled looking railway official and the promise of a free taxi to Charlbury. Kudos.
All this took a not inconsiderable time so we had to abandon the long way around to Finstock and take the shorter route. Given the slippery state of the footpaths this was, no doubt, fortuitous.
The Plough at Finstock
Above (clockwise from top left): finally settled in front of the fire at the Plough, rather later than expected due to aforementioned hiccoughs and slippery walking terrain, the landlord calls for orders while Pudders deliberates over the desserts; a measure of derision for those who stoop to ordering halves (the orderer was already a pint ahead but tradition is hard to shake); something Baby Boomers and Generation-Z-ers have in common; time to get a move on, chaps.
Jolly good nosh it was in the Plough with some decent beer. We enjoyed a local brew, too, although it was somewhat eclipsed by the excellent Adnams Broadside on tap, which is a hard act to follow anywhere it is to be found in the UK despite its East Suffolk origins.
The return journey to Charlbury was infinitesimally longer than the outward trip but was pretty slippery and interrupted by some hilarity at the name of the lane leaving Finstock. A photograph that seemed appropriate at the time, taken at the entrance to this slippery track was subsequently consigned to the cutting bin. Not, though, before substantial deliberation by the life model. A discussion that continued all the way back to Charlbury and even continuing on the return train to Oxford.
Returning through Cornbury Park
We set off on our return journey through Cornbury Park, braving occasional showers which did little to diminish the splendour of the parkland, which is the annual home to the Wilderness Festival at a warmer and sometimes drier time of the year.
But the trees were shooting and the grass greening - this really is a sublime part of our countryside and a great time to visit it if the weather is halfway reasonable (which it was for the appropriately equipped).
Above (clockwise from top left): estate fencing showing signs of a life well lived but with many decades of life still remaining; a river runs through it - I suspect the one used for bathing au naturel during the Wilderness Festival; Starry giving our DJ some pointers on country ways; while standing on the bridge over the single-track railway that would be our route home.
On our way home
We stopped at the Rose & Crown in central Charlbury and, of course, a fine spread of local beers were on the menu. The pub was heaving in the late afternoon/early evening but, when asked for advice on the various ales, the local punters at the bar were all drinking something else, mainly shorts.
Above (l to r): the Rose & Crown in Charlbury, recommended for diverse local beers; Noycey looking sceptical as DJ seemingly expounds
The sojourn in the Rose & Crown was necessarily a short one given that the trains from Charlbury to Oxford only run once an hour - although, as it turns out, we needn't have worried had we known that our southbound train would be delayed. We sat in Charlbury Station for a fair old while while a northbound train was stuck on the single track line going into Charlbury ... see pictures above.
So we had more time to deliberate on the bottom pic while we waited. Thank goodness for the trusty S6 bus that completed the journey after only a short interval. Ambitions for a stop halfway to Faringdon were abandoned and the quintet returned to base frighteningly unaffected by a day's walking and beering.
Next time we're starting out from Faringdon for brekker ...