Wittenham Clumps


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There aren’t too many hills in Oxfordshire but this four-mile walk takes in two with surely some of the county’s finest views. The hike up to Round Hill and its neighbour, Castle Hill, is rewarded with stunning views of the county, stretching as far as the Chilterns to the east and the Cotswolds to the west. Known as Wittenham Clumps, the trees on both summits are the oldest known planted hilltop beeches in England, dating back more than 300 years. The rich wildflower meadows and thriving forests are maintained by a local organisation called Earth Trust.

Park in the free car park in Bridge End, Dorchester-on-Thames, and head south to pick up the footpath along Wittenham Lane. Follow the footpath around the edge of the field, passing the Iron Age Dyke Hills on your left hand side and crossing over a farm track. Stay on the path as it turns slightly to the left and pass through a gate into the field beyond.

Cross the field in a southwesterly direction to another gate, through which are three bridges which take you over the River Thames. Follow the road as it curves around the outskirts of Little Wittenham until you reach the village church. The entrance to Wittenham Clumps nature reserve is just past the church on your left hand side.

Wittenham Clumps is made up of two chalk hills - Round Hill and Castle Hill - upon which sit two clumps of beech trees. Managed by Earth Trust, this beautiful reserve comprises wildflower meadows, woodlands and the clumps themselves. Paradise Wood, Neptune Wood and Broad Arboretum to the west of this route are home to more than 70,000 trees. This rich landscape is home to an abundance of wildlife, from red kites, buzzards and barn owls, to great crested newts, otters and no less than five species of bat. Pick up a copy of the Earth Trust's guide to Wittenham Clumps or download a copy before your visit for more information.

From the entrance to the reserve, walk in a northerly direction and climb steeply to the summit of Round Hill, with its spectacular panoramic views of Oxfordshire. Curve around to the left of the trees on the hilltop and follow the footpath in an easterly direction to Castle Hill, once home to a Bronze Age hill fort. Take a moment to enjoy the stunning views of the Thames Valley, the Berkshire Downs and the Ridgeway, and follow the path around to the back of the hill for views across to Didcot power station. You'll also spot a plaque containing a rubbing of a poem carved into a nearby tree - the Poem Tree, which toppled in 2012 - by local poet Joseph Tubb in the 1840s.

Now head downhill in a northeasterly direction towards Little Wittenham Wood. The footpath skirts along its edge and leads to an opening on your left. Take this path, known as Star Walk, and follow it north until it joins a central, clearly-defined track through the wood. Turn left onto this track and you'll end up back in Church Meadow where you first entered the nature reserve. From here, retrace your steps back to the car park in Dorchester-on-Thames.