Flocks around Finchamstead (10 miles)
From: A circular walk from Simon's Wood Car Park on Wellingtonia Avenue, Crowthorne. The car park is just North of postcode RG45 6AE (for those of you with satnavs) and grid reference SU813636 (for those with OS maps).
Length: 10 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 5 hours.
Terrain: Pretty flat with a tiny 'sting in the tail.'
Suitable for dogs: Yes, but there are lots of birdy areas where they need to be kept on leads.
Look out for: Birds. Birds. Birds and more birds!
Leave the car park on the left of the two paths at the back, opposite the track in. Cross a small track and keep going towards Heath Pond. It's a bit of a guessing game, as the tracks are not marked on the OS map, and when we walked it, we followed the one path. It's 300m from the car park to the pond. Head North and eventually you will meet the main track at the North end of Simons Wood, where you turn left. If everything works well, you will walk along the side of Heath Pond, the first of many ponds today. Whichever way you wiggle through Simon's Wood, make sure you pass the North end of Heath Pond. This track will take you to an evocatively named place marked as 'Armholes' on the map. The path takes a 3/4 turn right here, pointed out by a clear 'dead end' sign and a sign pointing the bridleway right.
There is now a rather lovely section through rhododendrons. The path goes straight, until after 300m you meet a crossing track where you turn right. Arriving at Wick Hill, you continue on the path taking two left forks, one after the other. A lovely view over the fields, with Finchampstead church on the horizon, guides you towards the outskirts of the village itself. After leaving Wick Hill, walk for around 500m to a main road (the B3016, Finchampstead Road). Take care in crossing this as it can be quite busy. Your ears are the best guide to approaching traffic (apart from bikes and electric cars that is). A footpath directly opposite cuts a corner of Church Lane, and brings you out at St James Church. The Parish is known as "Finchampstead and California". Don't worry. You've not suddenly sped across the Atlantic. The village is named after an old brickworks and not the State in the US.
Turn right just before the church and follow the road as it wiggles left then right for about 150m. The path leads off right and ahead of you on a left bend. It now runs for 500m along the side of a field. This is where we saw the kites, but I can't guarantee they will perform for you. At the end of the field, ignore the path to the right and continue straight along Warren Lane to Nine-mile Ride. At the ride, turn left for 100m, where you turn right into the California Country Park. You can follow the road into the lake (about 150m), or you can wiggle through the woods on the footpath (more scenic). If you take this route, don't cross the attractive wooden footbridge, but bear round left and follow the track to the lake.
Longmoor lake is a wonderful place for a (slightly late) coffee stop. There are toilets here (hooray) and a café. There's also a children's play area and a paddling pool, although at this time of year that's not likely to be an attraction for the family. On the pond, we saw swans, ducks (lots of varieties including an Aylesbury), moorhen, cormorants and our heron. This bevvy of birds was enjoyed before, refuelled, we set off again. Continue along the side of the pond, leaving the pond-side track as it swings right and take a path into the Long Moor itself. This twists and winds around a boardwalk, allowing good views across the Nature Reserve, until it re-joins the lake-side path. Our heron, which we spotted during our coffee break was still sitting on its branch, waiting patiently for us. The fact it moved its head from time to time was the only clue that it wasn't nailed or super-glued to the tree branch. I hope it waits for you to visit!
Follow the north side of Longmoor Lake, until it passes among some caravans and winds its way south again. Now the path meanders through woods until it crosses the attractive wooden footbridge I noted before. Follow the path back to the road (Nine Mile Ride) and turn right out of the park. 150m along the road a track turns off sharp left, through Greenacres Farm. Resist buying a 'Quality used car' here, as you are walking and not riding. Pass all the cars and exit the yards on a path slightly to the left. You now walk down a fenced path on the opposite side of the 'Kite field' we passed on the way in. Cross a minor road at Larchwood Farm, and keep going for another 800m. After Rectory Farm, take an obvious footpath on the left leading up to a small wood. The track skirts the side of the wood and after 250m meets a T-junction. Left would take you back to St James Church, but we want to move on, so turn right. 150m later, playing fields open out on the right. Turn into them and cross the fields diagonally. There are plenty of seats and even shelters at the cricket pitch, and this provides a good place for lunch. If you're cheeky and ask nicely, the pavilion might be open and you could use their toilets here too!
After lunch, leave the fields from the far left-hand corner, opposite the one you entered. This will take you out onto Manor Road, where you turn right. 30m further, cross the road and take a footpath on the left side of the road. Follow this for 150m until you reach a T-junction where you turn right. 300m more and you turn left. Here, you have a choice. There's a path to the left of the hedge, which goes past a very boring lake, or there's a path to the right of the hedge, which goes past 'swan lake'. We took the swan lake, and all stood watching the birds while I snapped a quick photo.
At the end of swan lake, continue straight on. You are now on the Blackwater Valley Path, which runs for 34 miles from here back to Badshot Lea. Enjoy the river as it tinkles and leads you (past the sewage works) in rural peacefulness. Stay with this for 2 1/2 km, until there is a bird hide on the left with a sign on it about viewing hire, and a second path to the Horseshoe Lakes. Take this path and head off around the Horseshoe lake. They sail here in the Summer, but they weren't risking it when we visited. At the far corner of the lake, you meet the Three Castles Path.
Turn left, and you're on the home stretch now. 250m now and you reach a small road, where you turn left. Stick with the road for 50m, and a path heads off right on a bend (so it's straight ahead). Follow round the unwelcoming Beech Hill (trespassers will be shot), and into the woods. There's a sting-in-the-tail climb here – but it's super-short and not too steep, so don't cry. After an impressive ravine, there's a junction with a main track where you turn right. 200m more and you're home on Wellingtonia Avenue. At this point, take a moment to admire the trees. There are over 100 giant sequoias here, which were known as Wellingtonias when they were planted in the 1860s. They were erected to commemorate the Duke of Wellington (who had lived in the nearby Stratfield Saye estate). Admire! They are fine.
On your left is the car park and you're back. I've put in a word with the birds to perform as well for you as they did for us, and I hope you enjoy them. I want to say a big thank you to Glenn and the Farnham Ramblers for taking us around this splendid walk. Thanks, Glenn!