This Wittenham clumps walk covers 4 miles of beautiful Oxfordshire countryside. AKA ‘Mother Dunch’s Buttocks’, the Clumps are a pair of chalk hills located in an otherwise flat area of the Thames Valley. Named Castle Hill and Round Hill, the heights offer sightseers a stunning panorama of the surrounding Oxfordshire countryside. Both hills are crowned by wreaths of woodland and one of the clumps is the site of an ancient hill fort dating back to the Bronze Age.
Given their height, the clumps provide breath taking views of the surrounding countryside. I regularly train on these peaks and every time I reach the top I always pause to take in the sights – something not to be missed.
Standing at over 300 feet tall and topped with a crown of trees, the two hills of Wittenham Clumps are local landmarks in this otherwise flat part of the Thames Valley. Stunning views of the surrounding countryside are a hallmark of the Clumps. As is the fact that is hotspot for sledging mayhem in the winter months!
Before I lay out the routes, be aware that the clumps are very steep and if you are unfit you’re going to need to pause from time to time on the steepest side. On a more positive note, there is a second approach to the peaks which is a gentle walk up the hill.
The Hard Route
- Distance: 4+ miles
- Ascent: 85m
- Grade: 2/5
- Start grid ref: SU 578 940
There are two ways to get to the top of the Clumps and this route is definitely the more taxing.
Bridge End is the most convenient parking place for this route. For your convenience, I’ve added the grid reference and postcode at the end of this article.
Once parked, head South on Wittenham Lane track (travelling away from the heart of Dorchester village). After a couple of hundred metres the road will peter out and turn into a trail.
At the pillbox, a remnant of the bunker system built to protect Great Britain during WWII, turn right. Follow the dykes – another remnant of the Iron Age inhabitants of this area – for 300m at which point the footpath will take a gentle left turn. Pass through the gate and follow the footpath on its slow, south westerly meander. This leg of the route draws you towards the lazy swirl of the Thames and three bridges that span the width. Beautiful as this sight is, now is not the time to get distracted!
In the distance you will see three bridges, all of which will bring you to far bank. For this walk you’ll want to head towards the brick construction – the furthest away of the three.
Cross the bridge.
A quick note – on the left, just before you start to cross, you’ll see Day’s campsite. Camping here, in the stunning countryside of Oxfordshire, makes sense for anyone wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. Maintained by the Duty Lock Keeper, the site is basic and has no vehicular access – perfect if you feel like going native.
Follow the track. The route curves up a gentle incline until you reach the church at the heart of Little Wittenham. Opposite the church is a stile. Cross over and you’ll spot a signpost pointing up a pretty big hill.
The height gain is ‘only’ 85 metres, but the gradient is 2/5 (40%, for anyone working in metric). Walking to the top of this side of the clumps will take you about, if you move at a leisurely pace. If you really want to get the heart and lungs (and everything between your calf and buttock muscles) working hard, then pick up the pace and go for it.
Rings of beech trees crown the top of the Clumps, but there is a subtle difference (which we’ll come to in a minute). When you reach the first peak take some time relax on one of the seats arranged around the woods. The view is spectacular.
Look to your right and you will see the second Clump, Castle Hill. It’s here you’ll find the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, most of which is now covered by trees. The distance between the Clumps is only a few hundred metres.
Walking to Castle Hill will take only a couple of minutes. Once there, pause again to take in the views out over the Thames. You’ll be able to see prominent landmarks such as the Ridgeway, the Berkshire Downs and Didcot power station (not very appealing to most, but we’re sure there some readers who appreciate 1960’s industrial architecture).
On a good day you’ll spot countless red kites wheeling through the sky in search of carrion (and the occasional discarded takeaway meal). Even though kites are fairly common the Oxfordshire do take some time to appreciate their beauty and graceful movements. If you’re really lucky you might also spot a buzzard, or a barn owl. The best time to see the latter in late afternoon.
Now it’s time to descend. Place yourself in a position where you can see the village of Dorchester. You see a track that heads to the north east. Follow the trail towards Little Wittenham Woods. The footpath traces the edge of the woodland and eventually comes to an opening in the hedge. Go through this gap onto the Star Walk and travel north until the track meet a wide, well-trodden path travelling through the woods. Turn left at this junction and follow this path until you arrive back at Church Meadow.
Cross back over the bridge, but instead of turning left and retracing your route, turn right. I recommend taking your time on this leg of the hike. The river is a paradise for bird spotter and wildlife enthusiasts alike. Otters are frequently spotted in the river and on the banks. Swans, ducks, herons and even kingfisher have been sighted in the area.
Keeping the Thames on your right, walk for about half a mile until you come to a footbridge. Do not cross the bridge. Instead, turn left and follow the footpath back to the pillbox, then the car park at Bridge End.
The Easy Route
- Distance: 1 mile, max
- Ascent: 25m
- Grade: 2/5
- Start grid ref: SU 567 923
The second route up the Clumps is far shorter, less strenuous, but no less stunning. Rather than travelling to Dorchester, your start point is located in a car park a short distance from Castle Hill. Use the grid reference above to find the location.
Once parked, face north and you’ll see a pretty well worn track that lead straight up to the Clumps. This route will take you to Castle Hill and from there you can either walk across to Round Hill, or simply take some time to soak up the views.
Although this route is only about a mile at the most – if you take walk across to Round Hill and back – your legs will get a good workout. The rise to the settlement is pretty steep.
Extending Your Walk Around the Clumps
If you want to add a little extra distance to your walk you could walk from the car park to Dorchester and back again.
This isn’t the only Wittenham Clumps walk you can experience – there are numerous ways to extend the route and I’ll cover some more of those soon. For now, don’t rush! Take your time and enjoy the views.