Walk along a canal to a notorious common, returning to the start by train.
Distance 7 miles (11.3km)
Minimum time 2hrs 45min
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Canal tow path, tracks, common paths, roads, 1 stile
Landscape Valley rising to wooded commons
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 158 Newbury & Hungerford
Start/finish SU 527663
Dog friendliness On lead at Crookham and Greenham commons during breeding season, under control on canal tow path
Parking Thatcham Station
Public toilets Newbury town and station
1 From Thatcham Station make for the Kennet and Avon Canal, a few paces to the south of the barrier, and turn right, signposted 'Ham Bridge'. Pass Monkey Marsh Lock and at the swing bridge, by a bridleway sign, turn left to Chamberhouse Farm. Pass between the sprawling farm outbuildings and follow the drive past the farmhouse and several cottages. The density of the buildings somehow conveys the impression that you are walking along the main street of a small village.
2 Cross the River Kennet and just beyond it the drive curves left. Keep right here and follow the track as it runs up through woodland to the road. Cross over to a gate leading on to Crookham Common and turn right. Follow the path parallel to the road, heading west. The television mast at Hannington and the ridge of Watership Down define the horizon.
3 Follow the former taxiway, now a popular walk, and pass a hewn log at the side of the path, carved and sculpted to provide three welcome seats. On reaching the disused control tower, branch off to the right and pass a gate on the left, leading into the main car park. Follow the path towards a cattle grid on the road, veering left as you approach it towards some trees and bushes. Look for a gate in the fence, cross the road to a track and head down through the trees into Bowdown Woods, a nature reserve.
4 Pass Bowdown Farm and the fairways of Newbury and Crookham Golf Course. Beyond the greens the chutes and conveyor belts of Lower Farm Quarry loom into view. A bird hide can also be seen here. Continue on the lane to a stile and gate and keep ahead, passing alongside the buildings of Lower Farm. Newbury Racecourse adjoins the route now, its striking grandstand can be seen in the distance. Pass under the railway and look for a swing bridge on the right, crossing the Kennet and Avon Canal. Once across, turn left and follow the tow path as far as Ham Bridge.
5 Cross over and follow the path along the south bank of the Kennet and Avon, making for Ham Lock at the confluence of the Kennet and the River Lambourn. Continue on a leafy stretch of tow path and cross over at the next footbridge, within sight of the White House pub. Keep to the path and cross the next bridge at the entrance to the marina. Pass Greenham Lock and walk ahead to the ring road. Pass under the road and alongside Victoria Park before reaching the next bridge. Leave the tow path, cross the canal into the wharf and keep right towards the tourist information centre and the Market Place. Bear left and head south, following Cheap Street to its right-hand bend. Continue ahead and then go round to the right for the railway station and a train back to Thatcham.
Greenham Common's former airbase was once synonymous with CND rallies, women's protest groups and cruise missiles - a powerful evocation of the Cold War period and the threat of nuclear attack. But, today, the cruise missiles have gone, the derelict buildings have been demolished and the perimeter fence has been removed. At last new life is being breathed into Greenham Common, giving the site a softer, user-friendly image for the 21st century.
Originally an area of open common land, Greenham was acquired by the Air Ministry in 1941 for use as a military base, home to British squadrons and then the United States Air Force. In 1951 the Americans set about building the longest military runway in Europe here and in the early 1980s the nuclear-armed cruise missiles arrived, making Greenham Common a focus of world attention. In its day, the airbase was virtually a self-contained American city, with everything from baseball pitches to its own school. The 1,000 acre (405ha) site even hosted international air shows and some local people feared that it might become the new London airport. Today the only sound you are likely to hear is that of birdsong. Thanks to a £7 million package, Greenham Common is at last being restored to its pre-Second World War state.
The more acceptable 'churring' song of the nightjar has thankfully replaced the deafening roar of the American planes at Greenham Common. Listen out, too, for the songs of the Dartford warbler and the woodlark, among Britain's rarest birds. As Greenham Common continues to be transformed, so the wildlife gradually returns.
If you've got the time, take a stroll through Newbury itself. There's plenty to see, including the Town Museum, housed in the 17th-century Cloth Hall, built to provide unemployed weavers with work. Next door to is the tourist information centre.
The Swan is an ideal watering hole at the start and finish of the walk. Snacks and hot meals are available daily. Alternatively, pause for refreshment in Newbury where there is an excellent range of pubs, café bars and restaurants, including the White Horse close to the canal.