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LITTLE WITTENHAM AND DORCHESTER ABBEY TEA ROOMS IN DORCHESTER-ON-THAMES

Nothing like a ramble and a cup of Twinings tea: 'You’ll be blown away by the Wittenham Clumps, charmed by Oxfordshire’s thatched cottages and finally delighted by the unique Abby Tea Rooms

This walk is exceptionally varied and interesting with something to please everyone. It starts with a climb to Wittenham Clumps from which there are wonderful views in all directions - well worth the effort! The route then drops down through woodland to the Thames and there is a stretch by the river before visiting the ancient town of Dorchester with its wealth of historic interest and tea. The last leg is an easy stroll through meadows back to Little Wittenham.

Dorchester Abbey Tea Rooms is most unusual. Situated in a former guesthouse, all the cakes are donated by local people and the profits support a wide range of charities both national and international.

This means that the cakes on offer depend on what has been made by the people involved. Indoors the service is family-style, sat round large tables spread with plates of cakes and you pay for what you take, adding up your own bill.

There is also a sheltered garden at the rear. Teas are served from 2.30 pm at the weekend on Saturday and Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from Easter until the end of September and on Wednesday and Thursday from mid May. Telephone 01865 340054.

When the teashop is closed there are several pubs in Dorchester that serve food.

DISTANCE: 6 miles.

MAP: OS Explorer 170 Abingdon, Wantage & Vale of White Horse and 171 Chiltern Hills West.

How to get there

From the A4130 between Wallingford and Didcot, 3 miles west of Wallingford, take a minor road signed 'Wittenhams 11/2 Appleford 31/2'.

After about 1/2 mile turn right, signed 'Wittenham Clumps 1/2 Little Wittenham 1', and follow this road to Little Wittenham church. Little Wittenham may also be reached from the A415 at Clifton Hampden, between Abingdon and Burcot, continuing via Long Wittenham. '

ALTERNATIVE STARTING POINT

If you wish to visit the teashop at the beginning or end of your walk, start in Dorchester where there is 21 signed public car park across the road from the abbey. You will then start the walk at point 11. 

STARTING POINT

Little Wittenham church where there is some parking outside (GR 566935). If this is full, return to a car park passed coming from the A4130 GR 567924).

Take a path from the back of this car park and almost immediately fork right uphill. Follow the path into the trees crowning the hill and continue ahead when a path joins on the left, so joining the route at point 4. The disadvantage of this starting point is that the last part of the walk is the climb up to Wittenllam Clumps.

The Walk

Today, Little Wittenham is a peaceful backwater. The oldest part of St Peter's church is the tower, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries; the rest was reconstructed in the last century. The church has many memorials to the influential Dunch family. 

The founder of the family's fortunes was William Dunch, Auditor to the Mint in1546 and granted the manor of Little Wittenham by Elizabeth I in 1562. There is a brass showing him and his wife and an elaborate effigy to his grandson, another William, who was MP for Wallingford and died in 1611, aged 33.

This also commemorates his wife, Marie, who was a sister-in-law of John Hampden, the parliamentary leader, and aunt to Oliver Cromwell. The Dunches held the manor until 1719 and their manor house, just north of the village, was demolished soon after this date.

The Poem Tree

1. Go through a gate almost opposite the church and immediately bear right on a clear path leading to the top of the hill.

(If you do not want to Climb the hill - well Worth the effort for the stunning Views - take the Centre path to rejoin the route at point 6.)

These hills are properly the Sinodun Hills but are universally known as Wittenham Clumps due to the trees crowning their summits. It is said they are seen at their best under a full moon on a cloudless summers night but on a clear day the views are outstanding. This first hill, Haip Hill, is the slightly higher of the two at 403 feet and was never fortified.

To the west the Vale of White Horse can be seen on a clear day while the view to the north makes the strategic position of the hills obvious. To the south the view is bounded by the Berkshire Downs while eastwards the Chilterns can be seen.

A viewfinder helps pick out the main features and, interestingly, does not mention Didcot Power Station which, depending on your attitude, lends dramatic contrast or is a dreadful blot on the landscape.

2. At the top turn left to walk round a Wooded enclosure and at the far side turn left again to Walk to the second clump, crossing a track from a car park.

3. Some 15 yards after crossing a stile, the path forks. Bear right, across the ditch of the Iron Age fort, and up some steps.

Head straight across a grassy area and into some trees crowning the hill.

Did you know...

The well-drained, easily cultivated soils by the important highway of the Thames were fought over for centuries and there was a fort on this strategically important bill before the Romans came, when the Atrebates to the north were battling the Catuvellauni to the south.

A deep ditch was dug partway up the hill and the spoil used to construct ramparts behind it. The only entrance was on the south-west side of the hill, away from the river. A ditch on the eastern side was called the Money Pit and was believed to contain buried treasure, guarded by a ghostly raven!

4. At a T junction with a cross path turn left, soon leaving the trees and heading half left downhill to a stile. Continue about halfwaydown the left-hand side of a field to a stile on the left. Over this follow the path ahead down to a track.

take note

Just as you leave the trees on Castle Hill note the massive stump of a dead beech on the right. This is the Poem Tree. It was the subject of some superior graffiti in the19th century when Joseph Tubb inscribed a poem in its bark. This is barely visible today, but there is a rendering on a stone just beyond the trees. You might find the first line of the poem particularly apposite.

Shillingford Bridge was constructed in 1827 in conjunction with a new turnpike road to Reading. Many think it is one of the most graceful bridges on the river.

5. Turn right and, ignoring tracks joining on the right, follow the track to a T junction with a cross track.

6. Some 250 yards before a farm, turn right, signed at the time of writing 'Diverted bridle path' for 200 yards. Turn left to pass the farm on the left and continue across a track to a T-junction with a farm drive.

Cross the drive and carry on along a broad, grassy path to a metal field gate across the path. Immediately after the gate, turn left to the river, then right by the river to Shillingford Bridge.

7. Turn left over the bridge and at the end of the bridge turn left along a private road, signed 'Thames Path'. At the river turn right along a lane to a main road.

8. Turn left. Unfortunately, there is no way of avoiding walking along this stretch of busy main road but at least there is a footpath on the right.

9. Opposite the road sign for Dorchester, turn left on a path signed once more 'Thames Path', to the river. Turn right by the river and continue along the bank.

The Thames has always been a potential invasion route and defensive line. Note the pillbox on the right, one of many built in 1940-1 to hold the line of the Thames against the threatened German invasion.

10. Cross the bridge over the river Thame at the confluence of the two rivers and immediately turn right to follow a path and then a track across fields towards Dorchester. When the track joins a road, continue ahead in the same direction, soon passing a Catholic church on the right.

11. At a main road cross over into the abbey grounds and the teashop is to the left of the church.

Did you know...

People have lived in this favoured spot for thousands of years. Just to the north west of the town was a Neolithic henge, now destroyed by gravel workings as were a number of Bronze Age barrows. This was a significant site in the Iron Age. The Romans built a fort here to control the river and the road from Winchester to Lincoln. When the legions left in the 5th century, the Saxons moved in. The most significant event in Dorchester's history occurred in AD 635. A Benedictine monk,

Birinus, was sent by Pope Honorius to convert the West Saxons. He succeeded in his mission and baptised King Cynegils and his court in the Thame while the King of Northumbria looked on. Birinus stayed on as Bishop and Dorchester remained a cathedral city until after the Norman Conquest. In 1072 the bishopric moved to Lincoln and the church was given to the Augustinians in about 1140. Over the next 400 years they built the great abbey church over the Saxon cathedral. There is much of interest to see and it is well worth a visit.

Most of the rest of the abbey disappeared after the Dissolution in 1536 and no doubt stones from the buildings are to be found in many local houses. The church endures because it was bought for £140 and given to the town as its parish church.

The only other building to survive was the Guest House, which houses the teashop and also contains a museum. It is open Tuesday to Saturday and Bank Holidays from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm and 2 pm to 5.30 pm. On Sundays it is just open in the afternoon. Admission is free.

12. From the teashop turn right, then right along the High Street.

Turn left along Malthouse Lane. Turn right in front of a row of thatched cottages and continue in the same direction after the last Cottage.

Did you know..

Dorchester presents a particularly attractive townscape with many 17th and 18th-century buildings. Until the bypass was opened in 1982, the traffic was dreadful and you may have noticed a tunnel on the right as you approached the abbey, which you formerly used to avoid taking your life in your hands by attempting to cross the main road. Thankfully, such extreme measures are not needed today.

Time to grab a drink?

There are many old pubs that used to be coaching inns for the last change of horses before Oxford. The attractive row of thatched cottages used to be one building, a malthouse where barley was prepared for brewing.

13. At a lane turn left.

Did you know..

A substantial town, Dorocina, grew up around the Roman fort. Some 13 acres were enclosed by stonewalls that apparently were still standing in the 12th century. Since there is a shortage of suitable building stone in this area, perhaps they were used to build the abbey. The town outside the walls extended to approximately a further 60 acres. Some of this settlement was on the site now occupied by the allotments.

14. At some allotments on the left, turn right on a path signed 'Day's

Lock 5/4'. Walk across a field on a clear path then turn right in front of the Iron Age ramparts. Follow the path across a farm track until it ends in a field.

Did you know...

These substantial ramparts are known as Dyke Hills. They were built to secure the landward side of a piece of land bounded on two sides by the Thames and on the third by Thame. The area thus enclosed provided a refuge for people and animals on this dangerous frontier.

15. Walk ahead to a bridge over the river. Cross the bridges and continue a short distance along the lane, back to the start.

This walk is from the book: Walk 18 Little Wittenham and Dorchester Abbey Tea Rooms in Dorchester-on-Thames by Jean Patefield from the book Thames Valley Teashop Walks

Image Credits: Some images have not been credited to their rightful owners, should one of these images be yours, please do contact us and we will credit you accordingly.

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