Dadima’s walk

The Chilterns is a geological palimpsest. We learnt this from Anjana Khatwa and Clare Warren on one of the Dadima’s walks, organised by Geeta Ludhra, in the Chilterns last month. Dadima is Hindu for grandmother, and Geeta encourages people from diverse backgrounds to come and enjoy the countryside and nature, and to learn a little about them.

Geeta explains the origin of her walks on the Museum of English Rural Life website here. She writes:

My family and I set up Dadima’s walking group in 2018, as a simple way of encouraging local communities and interested people to connect with nature for physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. The group started off in Slough and Windsor with mainly South Asian communities on a Sunday morning. It quickly became a safe space to talk and share stories, learn from each other, and offer encouragement (and accountability) for regular outdoor movement.

In 2020, we moved to the Chilterns and decided to restart the walking group, this time with greater apprehension. I didn’t see myself represented or reflected in the Chilterns countryside, so I created the space that I wanted to see when I first moved here.

The group proved popular and is now flourishing.

On the side of Beacon Hill, approaching Cuckoo Pen

Geeta, Anjana, and Clare have been working on an Open University project, Reading the Natural Landscape, to enable people from marginalised communities to appreciate the landscape and all it offers. Geeta is a lecturer in education at Brunel University. Anjana is Wessex Museums’ engagement lead, an earth scientist and researcher, who previously led an education programme for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Clare is professor of geomorphic geology with the Open University.

Anjana had come fresh from the unveiling of Mary Anning’s statue the previous day in Lyme Regis. Mary Anning (1799-1847) was an acclaimed fossil hunter, and the campaign for her statue was inspired by nine-year-old Evie Swire, who with her mother invented the Mary Anning Rocks campaign and raised £150,000 through crowd funding for the sculpture. It was not quick: Evie is now 15, but it was well worth the effort, to celebrate the achievements of this amazing woman who, being a woman, was not acknowledged in her lifetime. The sculpture of Mary and her dog Tray is the most beautiful, lively creation by Denise Dutton.

The Mary Anning Statue. Photo © Marika Reinholds and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

We gathered near the bus stop at junction 6 on the M40, the Lewknor turn. The theme of the walk was geology and landscape, and Anjana and Clare were our guest leaders. We walked up Hill Road and stopped at the crossing of the Ridgeway for introductory talks from Geeta, Anjana, and Clare. Geeta invited me to introduce myself.

Further up the hill we turned off the path to cross access land, south over the Aston Rowant nature reserve.

Crossing access land

We stood near the top with a view over the Vale of Oxford. Here Clare and Anjana explained the origin of the Chiltern chalk, formed from tiny algae, starting about 145 million years ago in shallow, subtropical seas, when this part of the earth’s surface was where north Africa is today. There is an excellent exposition of the Chilterns geology here.

Clare and Anjana near the top of the Chilterns

Anjana urged us to ‘look at a rock as you would look at a bird or flower, and consider that the rock is part of nature itself, it forms the soil which supports plants and insects’.

I explained a bit about access land, and the battle for access to the Shirburn and Pyrton Hills.

We walked further up the hill along the side of a dry valley, ‘a fingerprint of the ice age’ as one of our guides put it. The ice did not cover the Chilterns but it was tundra, and the dry valleys were formed by water flowing over the chalk during the cold periods. It was here that Anjana referred to the palimpsest, the layers of geological features extending over millennia, all in one landscape.

Dry valley

We continued to the top of the escarpment

Up to the top

and took a bridleway on which there was a stile—clearly an illegal obstruction which I have reported.

Illegal stile on Lewknor bridleway 29

Returning to the road we crossed the motorway bridge then turned left, back into Aston Rowant nature reserve. We followed the side of Beacon Hill, high above the M40 cutting, with views over the vale and the long fields created during the inclosure movement. At the top there is a wooden sculpture of a red kite.

Then we dropped down the hill,

Heading down to Lewknor

under the M40, and back to the Ridgeway junction. Here we had a group photo.

We descended to Lewknor village to find a spring which bubbles up on the spring line at the base of the chalk. We ended in the pub.

Along the way I had fascinating conversations with Geeta, Anjana, and Clare, as I am keen to learn how the Ramblers and Open Spaces Society can work with people of colour to achieve our aims. They gave me some valuable insights. It is evident from the feedback from Geeta, and from some of those on the walk, that our organisations can be off-putting, and we must turn that around. Geeta is a secretary of state appointee on the Chiltern Conservation Board and I know she is making a difference in broadening its thinking and actions.

I greatly enjoyed the walk and the company, and shall be joining another of the Dadima’s walks before long.

A week before I had found a fossil in a flint in the wood above Turville and I showed it to Anjana. She was puzzled and put a photo on twitter. She received many helpful suggestions. I think the conclusion was that it was the hinge of a large bivalve. It was a lucky find, but goes to show the value of Anjana’s advice to look at the rock as one would look at a bird or flower.


About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, AONB, Chilterns, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, walking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dadima’s walk

  1. Susan Ashbrook says:

    Good piece but would like to see the artists’ names included.


    Mobile: 617-285-8274

  2. Thanks, I have added it with a link. Just love the dog.

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