Ask any Didcot’ite their favourite local walk and a large percentage will opt for Wittenham Clumps. This circular route passes by (or over) the Clumps, across the Thames into Dorchester and back alongside the river. It’s the perfect choice for a Sunday afternoon walk.
Starting from the main car park take the footpath between the Clumps in the direction of Little Wittenham.
You’ll hardly ever be alone on the Clumps (which are names of the wooded summits, not the hills). On any given day you’ll meet kite flyers, runners, dog walkers, a herd of cows, ramblers or family groups.
If you’re feeling energetic head to the top of Round Hill (the left clump) for great views of the walk you’re about to do. You should be able to pick out the River Thames, Day’s Lock and Dorchester Abbey from the 120 metre summit. There’s a stone viewpoint with engraved directions on it if you need any help.
St Peter’s Church, Little Wittenham
From the Clumps head down towards St Peter’s Church in Little Wittenham. I’m ashamed to say I’ve passed this church hundreds of times but have never stepped inside.
Although most of the church was rebuilt in 1862 it does have a 14th Century bell tower. Inside are monuments to the well connected Dunche family who lived in and around the village. One day I’ll manage to visit them!
From the church follow the road down to the bridge crossing the River Thames.
A few years ago Day’s Lock was the scene of my most successful sporting achievement. I was runner up in the World Pooh Stick Championships! My carefully dropped sticks earned me a trophy which still has pride of place on my windowsill. The Championships are no longer held here but I occasionally drop a stick in to see if I still have the magic touch.
After crossing the Thames take the footpath through the field towards Dorchester. You cannot get lost as barbed wire fences were installed relatively recently to direct you exactly where to walk. Pass through the gate into a hedge lined path and continue towards Dorchester.
The area to your right forms the Dyke Hills, which are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort. The site once comprised of two banks, a ditch, several Bronze Age burial mounds, hut circles and pits. Sadly the earthworks were damaged by ploughing in the 19th Century and although the landowner was persuaded to stop in 1870 much of the damage had already occurred. The only positive outcome was that the destruction resulted in Dyke Hills becoming the first ever nationally recorded ancient monument.
When you draw level with the edge of Dorchester-on-Thames take the left hand footpath into the village. This will bring you into Watling Lane, follow this straight on to reach High Street.
Dorchester-on-Thames, with a population of around 1000, is a village that punches well above its weight. Archaeological digs have uncovered finds from Iron Age, Roman and Saxon settlements whilst above ground you can enjoy the medieval cottages, a twelfth century abbey and museum (seasonal opening).
On top of that Dorchester-on-Thames is a filming location for Midsomer Murders. If you’re a fan you can download a map here of the village filming locations. Alternatively the village walk leaflet provides lots of interesting history details.
Dorchester is the perfect refuelling stop. Cake lovers can indulge at Lily’s Tearoom (closed Tuesday) or in the Dorchester Abbey tearooms (April-September only, limited opening hours). If you prefer a pint then there’s the White Hart. Or the George. Or the Fleur de Lys.
The Abbey dominates Dorchester. It dates from the 12th Century although is on the site of an earlier Saxon cathedral. Whatever your thoughts on religion it’s an incredible building, with 14th Century wall paintings, a huge lead font and medieval stained glass windows. There’s a museum too; this houses exhibitions on Dorchester’s history and the story of the abbey.
If you’re visiting with children there are I Spy sheets to keep them entertained. And even a Pokemon Go stop in the herb garden!
From the abbey head towards Wittenham Lane to pick up the footpath back to the Clumps. When the track veers to the right keep straight on instead, all the way to the River Thames. You’ll pass a pill box which, according to my Internet research, is type variant 28A. In layman’s terms that means it’s big enough to house anti-tank guns. Or, when we visited, picnickers!
Turn right when you reach the River Thames and follow the path back to Day’s Lock. In summer the river is busy with boat traffic. In winter there’ll probably be ducks and fishermen.
From Day’s Lock retrace your steps to the church and then over the Clumps to end the walk back at the car park. If you’ve eaten a lot of cake, you might want to climb Round Hill again. Bear in mind it’s much steeper in this direction!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk. If you’d like to receive notification of new blog posts from me please like the In Didcot Facebook page or sign up to the mailing list on the blog.
Start and end point: Wittenham Clumps car park. Alternatively, for a shorter walk you could park outside the church at Little Wittenham. Both have limited parking.
Distance: Approximately 7 km, 4.35 miles
Terrain: well marked footpaths through fields and riverside. Some parts likely to be muddy after rain.
Refreshments: tea rooms and pubs in Dorchester-on-Thames.