The weather on 28 April 2013 was cloudy with sunny intervals, cool – indeed chilly for a brief period after lunch when a brisk breeze picked up – ideal conditions for around 160 walkers who turned out to Walk The Path 2013. Our course covered ten and a half miles from Sandhurst to Swallowfield, generally along the Blackwater Valley Path although at three points the generosity of local landowners allowed us to deviate across private land to avoid busy roads. Other landowners allowed us space to park cars and pause for refreshments (and the loo). Local supermarkets were generous too, donating the biscuits, squash and hot drinks with which scouts, family and friends refreshed us at morning and lunchtime breaks.
A fortnight earlier, inspection of the path had revealed difficult terrain. A high water table caused floods near Finchampstead; mud churned by the hooves of horses impeded the way a little further on; and bramble and holly made it hard to squeeze past obstacles. Fortunately the weather over the following two weeks dried the soil; while rangers and volunteers working for the Blackwater Valley Partnership displayed their secateur-wielding and duckboarding skills to good effect.
The Sandhurst town crier donned rich red robes and turned up to start us off. At 10.00 he rang his bell, raised his voice, and declared that we were ready to Walk. Away we went. In this cold spring when growth has been late to start few trees were clothed with even a dusting of green leaves, yet the first bluebells were displaying their purplish blooms near Swallowfield. Primroses, wood anemones and celandines abounded, dandelions scattered gold around the grasslands, an early alkanet cast sapphires in a hedgerow near Eversley, and forget-me-nots reminded us of the pleasures of the season to come. Timorous terrestrial creatures were easily frightened by the passage of so many clumping feet, but herons and egrets populated the valley lakes, the flash of a kingfisher was seen skimming the water, overhead the ornithologically knowledgeable identified early swallows, buzzards and red kites, and even a cuckoo was heard.
Even after ten and a half miles, we found a spurt of energy to bring us to the Crown Inn in Swallowfield where food, ale and coffee awaited. The smiles on walkers’ faces showed that, in time-honoured words, a good time was had by all! Thank you to the trustees and other helpers who organised it and made it such a great day.