The start of a bank holiday weekend, the first one in May, was the perfect time to complete the Bracknell Ramblers Route. Starting where we finished the first section of the walk, Bracknell Ramblers Route #1, at St Michael’s Church in Warfield, we set off to complete the rest of the Ramblers Route Circuit, a walk of about 19 miles. This was a challenge, further than I have ever walked before in a day. We started early, taking snacks, sandwiches and plenty of water. Despite being several weeks further into the year, the day was much colder than when we had previously walked the first section of the Ramblers Route in April and my hands and feet were chilled as we started across the fields.
The first part of the route took us across fields and then along a pretty stream “The Cut” until we reached Winkfield and a section of road walking. This is the only downside with this walk, there is a little too much walking next to roads, and some sections where there is no pavement at all. I can see the necessity for this to link all the beautiful countryside, but it is still a shame. This section was around a mile long, fortunately on pavements, and took us along residential streets and along a small stretch of a busy A road, before we turned onto a quiet tree lined byway. We warmed up quickly as we walked and by now the day was a very pleasant temperature, warm and breezy. It was amazing how quickly if felt like we were away from the busyness of a Saturday morning and into a much quieter world.
The byway led out onto more residential streets and to the parade of shops and library in Ascot Heath. Heading through further residential areas we found ourselves back on a quiet path between houses which eventually led out on to the hustle and bustle of the busy London Road.
Crossing this we found ourselves in the sanctuary of the Englemere Pond Nature Reserve. This is a beautiful spot, the pond fringed with reeds, surrounded by woodland and full of life. Fortunately it was also somewhat drier underfoot than when we walked here last, a year and a bit ago, when wellies, and possibly even waders, would definitely have been more appropriate than walking boots. The Ramblers Route heads through the nature reserve and finally exits by the car park. We took advantage of the picnic tables to have a quick break for some water and a flapjack, then strode on with renewed vigour. From here there is a slightly dicey stretch of road walking to get you over the narrow road bridge over the railway line, before the route takes you into Swinley Park. It was here that we first went wrong. One of the way markers had been uprooted during works in the area and we lost our trail. With the help of the map on the Ramblers Route leaflet and the mapping on my phone we got ourselves back on track, but ended up walking two sides of a triangle rather than a more direct route. Despite our lost meanderings, the walk through Swinley Park was lovely. Since the first section of the walk, the leaves on most trees have burst into life and the woods were a vibrant beautiful green. It felt very spring like, all the more so when a cuckoo burst into song somewhere in the woods to the left of where we were walking. Buzzards swooped overhead and we were happy to be walking in the fresh air.
The path through the woods led us out onto Nine Mile Ride and to a bridge across the busy A322. I felt a certain satisfaction looking down onto the queue of traffic, busy through roadworks, knowing that my legs would eventually carry me home, with no need to sit in a jam today. Striding on, we arrived at the Look Out in Swinley Forest. There is mountain bike hire here, trails through the forest, a large children’s playground, filled with wildly energetic and noisy children enjoying the Spring sunshine and a science discovery centre for the kids. Reaching here, we were 8 miles (plus lost meanderings) into our walk. We followed the Ramblers Route signs out into the forest and then quickly managed to lose our way again. We have walked in Swinley Forest many times before, but always find that the rides through the woods look very similar to each other. When we noticed Ceaser’s Camp, we knew we were definitely not on the right track, but also knew the way to the Devil’s Highway, the route through the woods that we were seeking. The Devil’s Highway is the route of a Roman Road that led from Silchester to London, and is so called as the local people apparently could not believe that anyone but the Devil could make a road so straight.
The gorse was in bloom along the road, and work had been undertaken to clear birch from some of the area, to provide a heathland corridor. The piles of birch waiting to be removed looked like giant besom brooms waiting for a huge coven of witches to come and take them and zoom off into the sky. The land here was sandy underfoot, and soft in places, gentle under our feet.
Finally back on route, we found a Ramblers Route sign to confirm our course and carried on more confidently.
From here we headed into territory we hadn’t previously explored, skirting below Broadmoor Secure Hospital on the hill above us. The hospital is vast, neither of us had realised before how enormous it is. The area we walked through around the hospital felt wild and remote, passing a derelict looking farm, and heathland areas. As we turned a corner we startled a deer, who stood, frozen, eyes meeting ours, for what felt like a long time, us not wanting to move and alarm the beautiful creature any further. The spell broke and the deer leapt off, leaving us to continue on our way.
Entering Wildmoor Heath, the sun came out and the heady coconut scent of the flowering gorse filled the air around us as we tramped across the sandy ground. We stopped on a bench on the heath to eat our lunch, listening to birdsong ring out. By this time I was tired and my feet were aching, walking was becoming more of an effort. I knew that it would be easy to call up a taxi to collect us from the car park close by, and we would be home in just a few minutes time. The thought flickered through my mind, but I did not utter it, as if to do so would be to start to admit defeat. Instead I kept on walking, determined to finish the challenge I had set myself.
Leaving Wildmoor Heath, we were into the final stretch of the walk, a 5½ mile tramp through Crowthorne, into Wokingham borough and finally back into Easthampstead Park and then about a mile through Jennett’s Park to home. This took us through the extensive grounds of Wellington College, past their golf driving range and clay pigeon shooting area, along the railway line and into Crowthorne, where a sign on the pavement, mocking me with its call to action “Order a taxi now”, train station and bus stops all offering an option to get me off my tired, smarting feet and home by an easier route. Instead we carried on, tottering through a golf course, past a village for children with learning difficulties and along country lanes. By this time I was really feeling the walking, my feet hurt, my back ached and I was tired. My wonderful husband was doing better than I was, and carried my rucksack as well as his own for a time to take a little pressure off my back. The very welcome site of a pub, The Crooked Billet, appeared at the end of the lane. We sat outside in the sun and had a well deserved drink before staggering back to our feet for the last stretch of the walk. From the pub we walked down a lane and a bridge across a fun, splashy looking ford in the road, across a field with beautiful horses in it, along the edge of a fast road and across fields before entering Easthampstead Park and back into familiar ground that we had walked many times before. We were nearly there but my feet were increasingly painful and each step was slower than the last. I wanted to stride confidently to our front door, but if I was honest, I was hobbling rather than striding by this point. We stopped again briefly next to a copse filled with bluebells just outside Jennett’s Park before walking through the housing estate, over Jennett’s Hill, and through the beautiful bluebell carpeted Tinkers Copse before reaching our home.
I have rarely been so pleased to see my own front door. I was tired, aching, there were blisters on my feet, but I felt amazing. I had set myself a challenge and completed it, I had walked further than I ever had before and I loved it! The Ramblers Route had challenged me physically, but it also opened up the area close to where I lived in a new way, and allowed me to see places and experience the nature around us in a way I hadn’t before.
I recommend taking in a stretch (or all of) the route. The guide to the Ramblers Route splits it down into four sections, each a reasonable walk in their own right for a weekend wander and can be found on the Bracknell Forest Council website here: http://www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/bracknell-forest-ramblers-route.pdf