International Women’s Day

Breaking the Bias

On March 8th, we come together to celebrate wonderful women during International Women’s Day (#IWD2022 #BreakTheBias). This annual event celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women from all over the world.

How is this global event relevant to an ancient trackway through southern England?

The Ridgeway National Trail is a walking route in a surprisingly remote part of southern central England. Linking Wiltshire with Buckinghamshire, the route travels in a northeasterly direction for 87 miles (139 Km). From its start in the World Heritage Site of Avebury and ending at a dramatic Iron Age hill fort on Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chiltern Hills. As Britain’s oldest road, the Ridgeway still follows the same high route used since prehistoric times by travellers, traders, herdsmen and soldiers.

The Trail inspires artists, writers and historians, who between them, enable us to better interpret the collective story and appreciate this wonderful national asset.

Thanks to another group of remarkable women, who are breaking the bias through a passion for art, archeology, history, education and farming. They bring an important national asset into our communities and collective conscious, to enjoy, explore, respect and care for.

This is their contribution

Jo Beal

Jo Beal is a professional artist who loves to combine walking and drawing. Based in Swindon, she loves to walk and draw along the Ridgeway National Trail. Jo takes her landscape inspiration from its flora and fauna, historic sites including Wayland’s Smithy and Avebury.  Drawing from observation capturing her daily life through her art journals is forms the bases for her drawing workshops; supporting others to build confidence, learn new skills and techniques whilst encouraging a personal exploration and enjoyment of drawing.

We asked Jo what makes the Trail special to her: ‘The Ridgeway has so many incredible historic features, I feel really lucky to have it on my doorstep. Drawing in situ helps me to tune in to its many wonders. I’ve learnt so much about it through drawing – being in nature and enjoying the physical exercise is good for me, my art and wellbeing! It is also free for everyone to enjoy and there is something amazing to discover – whether you walk just one stretch or the entire route. Jo is on twitter: @jobeal4

Sarah Burns-Morwood

Sarah Burns-Morwood holds the fastest record for running The Ridgeway during the UK Ultra Distance Trail Running 2018 championship. It took her just an incredible 14 hours to run 86 miles! Imagine the effort and skill. Sarah has recovered from a fractured knee and spine and believes running is a great way to manage mental health. She hopes her efforts inspire other women, including young girls, to enjoy running. Listen to Sarah’s interview with Runner’s World about recovering from injury.

International Women’s Day
Record holder Sarah Burns-Morwood

Summer Courts and Seongmee Yoon

Summer Courts and Seongmee Yoon are PhD students from the University of Reading’s Classics Department. They are researching the mystery of the female skeleton found at Lowbury Hill, who is associated with a Scheduled Monument comprising an Early Medieval barrow and Roman enclosure. Their projects are supported by a supervisory team comprised of; Professor Amy Smith (Classics at University of Reading), Dr Sophie Beckett (Cranfield University), and Dr Rhi Smith (Museum Studies at University of Reading), in partnership with Ms Angie Bolton (Oxfordshire Museums Service).

International Women’s Day 2022
Summer Courts and Seongmee Yoon. Photo credit Hedley Thorne

We asked Summer and Seongmee what drew them to this story: “The female burial from Lowbury Hill is interesting because of the nature of her burial and the unusual ways that people have chosen to explain it: a ritual sacrifice or a Celtic priestess? Our research offers a chance to raise awareness of women’ roles in society in the past and how these historical women are perceived today.”

Tory Drewe and Georgie Carlisle

Tory Drewe and Georgie Carlisle work on their family farms along The Ridgeway. They work behind the scenes so that Trail visitors can enjoy some of the sights, sounds and smells, particularly farmland wildlife.

We asked them for their highlights: “We are very lucky to live and work in such a beautiful area. The Ridgeway and the Berkshire Downs have such an array of wildlife that make their home on the farm. As a farming family we try and give as much ‘back’ to the nature and wildlife as we can. We plant wild bird seed mix around the farm to provide habitat and over-wintering feed for vulnerable farmland birds including the Grey Partridge. On early mornings when checking stock near the Ridgeway you can glimpse the barn owl hunting. A view which never gets old!”

International Women’s Day
Tory Drewe and Georgie Carlisle

We salute you!

We are really pleased to acknowledge and celebrate the women who are making a contribution to the Ridgeway landscape, understanding of and making our heritage accessible and culture enjoyable. Each in their own fields of expertise, are choosing to challenge perceptions, cracking those glass ceilings and breaking the bias for those women who will follow. Thank you!

With contributions from Sarah Wright, Trail Officer Ridgeway National Trail.

Further Information

This is the second year International Women’s Day has been celebrated along the Ridgeway National Trail. Read about the women who were celebrated in 2021.

Find out more about the Ridgeway National Trail and how to plan a future trip.

The Ridgeway has been portrayed by many artists, one in particular, was of great cultural importance. John Constable visited the pretty villages of Goring and Streatley to paint timeless English landscapes.

Bledlow Manor

To A Manor Born

Located about 2km west of Princes Risborough in the central Chilterns, Bledlow really is off the beaten track.

Refreshingly Wild

With the Lions of Bledlow pub at one end, wobbly brick and flint cottages either side of the shady street, the parish church described as ‘fabulously wild’, and a manor house with a secret water garden at the other end, it’s quite a place!

Bledlow is in fact derived from ‘Bled-Hlaw’ meaning Bloody Hill, from a battle between the Danes and Saxon’s – way back. Two ancient trails pass by the village; the Icknield Way and Ridgeway National Trail. It would be no coincidence that the communities who lived here either welcomed visitors, or had to defend themselves at the sound of soldiers boots on the chalk. Not hard to imagine as there’s something refreshingly untamed about the place. Footpaths and signs for the long distance trails inviting you both up and away over the hills, or inviting you down into the village.

The Manor House and gardens
An intriguing water sculpture
Manor House and Gardens

The Manor House dates from the 17th century and has been long associated with the Carrington family. Built by the Blancks family, it was bought by the first Lord Carrington for his eldest son in the late 18th century. It has endured multiple change of function, and is once again being renovated by current owners, the seventh Lord and Lady Carrington. His father held key government posts during 1980’s and was the sixth Secretary General of NATO.

Sculpture garden
Fruit in the Sculpture Garden

Before 1950, there wasn’t a garden. What is here now was designed by landscape architect Robert Adams following destruction of a 15th century tithe barn in 1967 that necessitated a re-design.

A kitchen garden, sculpture garden, fish ponds, snail gardens and orchard now surround the house in a carpet of deep green, lilac, lots of bees and whichever shade of rose you prefer.

Situated beside the church in a deep, shaded ravine, is the the Lyde Garden. Also landscaped by Robert Adams for the sixth Lord Carrington in the 1980’s.

The ravine is full of noisy tumbling streams. They converge into clear pools marking the rising of the River Lyde, a tributary of the River Thame. No wonder it was the site of watercress beds, a once popular Chilterns crop.

Lyde Garden
That water is so clear! Perfect for watercress beds.

I could see why Bledlow is called a spring line village. This is a settlement formed around chalk springs through which water escapes between a layer of permeable rock above impermeable rock.

‘They who live and abide,

shall see Bledlow Church fall into the Lyde”

Medieval nursery rhymn

The shady gardens have a distinctive sub-tropical feel, with some leaves the circumference of tractor tires. Moody willows droop into the ponds, exotic ferns jostle with Californian trees and brightly coloured Himalayan flowers line the path. Even the duck house looks exotic!

Lyde garden duck house
Lush, full vegetation
Fabulously Wild

Holy Trinity church is described by Simon Jenkins, (author of England’s Thousand Best Churches), as ‘fabulously wild’. This largely unaltered Romanesque church dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. Sadly, due to Covid restrictions, I have not yet been able to go inside. I will return.

Bledlow church
Residents past and present

A microcosm of an English village, Bledlow is a blip on the landscape, but very much shaped by it. The church is still standing, but who knows, in thousands of years, perhaps the nursery rhyme will come true?

Further Information

The Manor House Garden, Bledlow HP27 9PB is open to visitors by appointment.

The Lyde Garden, is on Church End and is open all year around from 9 – 5pm. No dogs please.

Explore the veritable feast that is the Central Chilterns including extensive Ashridge woodland, Dunstable downs, a Norman castle, historic market towns and the Grand Union Canal.

Discover holidays and long-distance hiking holidays along the ancient Ridgeway National Trail.

Celebrate the seasons in the Chiltern Hills with a NEW range of beautifully designed gifts and souvenirs to take home with you. Chilterns Gifts are available for delivery to mainland UK addresses only.

Chilterns Gifts
Gifts for friends

A journey into a Chilterns desert

Poking around in unassuming, tucked-away local parish churches, so often reveal remarkable links with the national story, told in place names, headstones and the tombs of those buried there.

Seasonal cravings

February is the time to satisfy seasonal cravings for warmth, sunshine or a dash of colour in an otherwise challenging month. Carpets of aconites and snowdrops start off the race to spring, hellebores and daffodils in hot pursuit, with the ultimate spectacle of the iconic bluebells that light up the woodlands from April to May that will herald long overdue summer days.

St Botolph’s Swyncombe
Carpets of churchyard aconites

Social media are the new jungle drums; informing and directing with seasonal excursions, news and sightings of what is in bloom and where. So it was that I headed off seeking the pleasure of carpets of snowdrops in the grounds of the tiny parish church of Saint Botolph at Swyncombe.

North, south, east or west?

Travelling north to south and back again is easy to do, the challenge is crossing from west to east as there is no direct route. Therein lies the joy of Chilterns travel: unhurried, with the slight edge of not really knowing where you are, glimpses of the road ahead not really helpful as their unfamiliarity only confirms my sense of trepidation, when all of sudden, the bare tree canopy opens up revealing wonderful views down the valley as I watched an approaching rain shower racing towards me.

Down the valley from St Botolph’s Swyncombe
A rain shower races up the valley

I followed a succession of narrow windy lanes, thick mud and leaf litter piled up on either side, making me glad I was visiting mid-week, so wouldn’t have to negotiate these mires with other road users travelling in the opposite direction. To understand why this area has been called the ‘desert of the Chilterns’, is to experience its remoteness, despite being so close to London and nearby market towns of Wallingford and Henley on Thames.

Turning off the track and following signs for the Norman parish church, and apart from a photographer with an enormous zoom lens, there wasn’t anyone about. I was underwhelmed with the snowdrop display, the aconites were much prettier and were working hard to cheer up a gloomy corner of the graveyard. The church itself is small, unassuming and gives no hint at what is inside.

Pilgrims routes

Poking around in tucked-away local parish churches, so often reveal remarkable links with the nations story, told in place names, headstones and the tombs of those buried there. This particular church is a Norman Pilgrim Church, a reference to its place on a Pilgrims route, and now a National Trail.

A well travelled Saint

St. Botolph was one of the earliest and most revered of East Anglian saints, and became known as the patron saint of wayfarers. A Saxon noble who lived in the 7th century, he spent time abroad and upon his return was given, by King Anna, a grant of land near either Aldeburgh in Suffolk, or Boston in Lincolnshire to build a monastery. Two centuries later in around 870, it was destroyed by Danish invaders and the saint’s remains were divided into three parts and taken from the ruins to be housed in Ely and Westminster Abbey.

It is likely, given the flourishing trade in relics at the time, that the parts were conveyed from place to place and so his name became synonymous with wayfarers and travellers. Over 70 Churches, along with five towns and villages are dedicated to him, and although he has no place in the Prayer Book Calendar, his feast day is June 17.

Not many parish churches are open to the casual visitor, so I am never sure if the sturdy doors will yield when pushed. This one did, and opened into the warm and colourful interior that far surpassed the seasonal exterior. Some hikers were eating their sandwiches in the back pews and returned to their murmurings beside the font. Although extensively restored in 1850, thankfully much of the original Norman church is recognisable, with the font that possibly predates even this.

The ceiling has been restored. It is painted a summer blue with a brooding red reserved for the Norman apse, off set by simple white walls and red floor tiles, some looked medieval. The rood screen and loft date from the early 20th century. The refurbished wall paintings behind the alter are impressive and make for a cheerful and pleasant space. The wall plaques commemorating former vicars, wardens and parishioners remind me I am in England, not in some far off exotic place.

St Botolph’s Swyncombe

No sign of any relics, but I am delighted that this special place, tucked away in this ‘green desert’ that involves a purposeful journey is named after the English patron saint of wayfarers and travellers. It means even more to me now.

Further inspiration

Why not try these other Chilterns winter warmers?

The Ridgeway National Trail passes right by this historic church. Stop awhile to enjoy the views and visit this special place.

There is an 80 page illustrated book reaching from the earliest religion in the Chilterns, and from Roman times up to the building of this church here. Contact for further information

Why not celebrate the seasons in the Chiltern Hills with our range of beautifully designed gifts from Chilterns Gifts that reflect the special qualities of this lovely region – including many of the high quality photographs in this blog. Buy online for UK mainland deliveries only.