Relive the past in two museums on this delightful linear walk.
Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Urban walkway, clear field paths
Landscape Town outskirts and flat farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 170 Abingdon, Wantage
Start/finish SU 525904
Dog friendliness On lead on outskirts of Didcot, in Long Wittenham and Appleford. Under control in vicinity of Bow Bridge
Parking Large car park at Didcot Parkway Station
Public toilets Didcot Parkway Station, Pendon Museum (for visitors)
1 From the station forecourt turn left and pass Didcot Labour Club, then turn left at the junction 75yds (69m) beyond. Once through the railway tunnel, turn left to join a tarmac path signposted to Long Wittenham. Follow the path alongside the railway line, with the familiar chimneys of Didcot Power Station ahead of you on the horizon. Pass alongside modern housing estates, merge with another path and keep a footbridge on the left. Continue to a tunnel beneath the A4130 and leave the outskirts of Didcot, following the path along the field edge.
2 Keep ahead between fence and stream and look for the outline of Wittenham Clumps on the far horizon over to the right. Make for a millennium mile post, one of 1,000 such posts to mark the creation of the National Cycle Network, and cross the road at Bow Bridge. Continue towards Long Wittenham, cross a bridge and swing away from the water by a tongue of woodland. Keep on the path between fields and thick hedgerows and enter Long Wittenham. The tarmac path graduates to a lane before reaching Pendon Museum on the left.
3 Continue to the junction and war memorial and follow the main street. Pass the Plough and the Vine pubs and turn left by some thatched and timber-framed barns to reach St Mary's Church, cutting between two yew trees to the main door. Inside is a most impressive 12th-century font, made by casting two flat slabs of lead, embossed in the lower half with 30 figures of archbishops holding their right hands in benediction and their crosiers in their left hands. Each stands beneath a pointed arch which forms a complete arcade.
4 After visiting the church, return to the gate and swing right to join a footpath. Cross the churchyard to a kissing gate and follow the path as it curves left across a small pasture to reach a drive. Turn left to the road, then turn right and retrace your steps to the war memorial. Keep ahead towards the museum and turn right immediately before a cottage (No 15).
5 Follow the track, keeping to the left of some gates, and emerge from some trees to skirt a field, hugging the right-hand boundary. Glancing to the left reveals a good view of a railway signal, part of Pendon Museum. Continue ahead in the field corner, cross a concrete footbridge and turn right to reach a wooden footbridge. Follow the path across the field towards trees and Appleford's church spire, just visible beyond. Make for a large oak on the far side of the field, pass into the next pasture and follow the path to the edge of Appleford. Make for the churchyard boundary, pass Manor Farm on the right and follow the road between houses. Keep right at the triangular junction and walk along to Appleford Station, from where frequent trains head back to Didcot Parkway.
6 When you get back, follow the signs for the Didcot Railway Centre.
Established on its present site in 1954, the Pendon Museum reproduces, in miniature, scenes of the English countryside around 1930 - an evocative but accurate depiction of a bygone age. Exquisitely modelled cottages, farms, fields and chalky lanes recall the quiet charm of the Vale of White Horse. The museum houses many fascinating railway relics, as well as a reconstruction of a small Great Western Railway signal box. John Ahern's classic Madder Valley Railway, dating from the 1930s, is on permanent display. This fascinating relic, which pioneered scenic craftsmanship, is operated on only five days a year because of its fragile condition.
Like the Pendon Museum, the Didcot Railway Centre recalls the great days of steam travel. The site is operated by the Great Western Society, formed in 1961 and now one of the oldest preservation societies in Britain. The centre opened to the public in 1967, and a tour reveals the engine shed where visitors can see at first hand the magnificent collection of steam locomotives, many of them painstakingly restored over the years. A wide range of Great Western passenger coaches and a large assortment of vintage freight wagons can also be viewed.
A re-created country station is among the railway centre's many attractions, complete with its own level crossing and signal box. A unique Victorian signalling system can also be seen, as well as a faithful recreation of Brunel's broad-gauge railway. The railway centre appears regularly on television and featured prominently in a memorable Inspector Morse episode, The Wolvercote Tongue.
The Vine and the Plough at Long Wittenham both serve food. Didcot has several pubs and cafés. Light refreshments are available at the Didcot Railway Centre and Pendon Museum.
Didcot's huge coal-fired power station dominates much of this corner of Oxfordshire. The six cooling towers, built in the 1960s, are a very useful landmark for motorists and walkers. There was a great deal of opposition when they were first erected, but now they are mostly acknowledged as part of the landscape.