First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The great rural writer W H Hudson stayed at the Lamb Inn at Hindon in 1909 while he was writing his classic book, A Shepherd’s Life. He watched fledgling throstles, flycatchers and pied wagtails make their maiden flights from their nests in the ivy above his bedroom window, and rejoiced that the village had become ‘sober and purified’ since the bad old days.
The gamekeepers, beaters and shooters who packed the bar of the Lamb the night before our walk were celebrating a good day in the open air with plenty of beer and plenty of talk, their wind-reddened faces growing ever more rosy in front of the log fire. This part of South Wiltshire is pheasant-shooting country, and almost the first thing we heard as we stepped out next morning was the flat ‘pop-pop!’ of shotguns from distant ridges.
The broad track of the Wessex Ridgeway led us through fields where yellow-faced siskins flitted in the hawthorn bushes. Once across the roar and swish of the A303, we followed a quiet green valley up into the skirts of Great Ridge Wood. Hudson came here day after day, revelling in the silence and solitude of the ancient wood. He met no-one – locals had been banned from their traditional right of gathering firesticks in the wood since the introduction of pheasants reared for the shoots.
All was quiet in Great Ridge Wood for us, too, a century later, tracing the route of the Roman road that once brought lead from Somerset’s Mendip Hills to Old Sarum. A cold wind rose, tossing the fir tops and the flame-like leaves of the young larches. At the edge of the wood we saw a line of shooters and dogs in the valley beyond, patiently waiting for the beaters to initiate their morning’s sport.
Another ancient trackway brought us south again off the ridge, walking beside milky green fields of winter wheat. Dusky pink spindle berries hung in thick clusters in the hedges, and the track rose and fell in a beautiful tumble of downland valleys, silent and still under a pearly winter sky.
Start: Lamb Inn, Hindon, Wilts SP3 6DP (OS ref ST 910329).
Getting there: Bus 25, 26 (Salisbury-Gillingham)
Road: Hindon is signed off A303 between Wylye and Mere.
Walk (7¾ miles, easy, OS Explorer 143): From Lamb Inn, right past church. In 150m, just past Fairmead bungalow, right (909330; ‘Bridleway’ fingerpost/BFP in left hedge) along fenced path of Wessex Ridgeway. At road, left (912333); at left bend, ahead (913337, BFP) between hedges, then across fields to A303 (920346). Right alongside road for 300m; left across it (922346); through gate (BFP) and up valley. Keeping fence, then track at bottom on your left, follow grass path for ¾ mile to join track (926358); follow it up to T-junction in woods (928361). Left; in 50m pass grass track on left; in another 150m, left (928362) on grassy ride between tall and short conifers. In 650m, at T-junction, right (921362); in 200m, left along wide forest road.
In 1 mile, at edge of wood, left on track (906362); in 200m, right (BFP) inside trees. In ½ mile, at end of trees at T-junction, left (898364) along track. In ¾ mile, at bottom of valley (898354), keep ahead on right-hand of 2 parallel tracks, rising to pass inside Bockerly Coppice. At top of rise, at gate into open field, 2 tracks fork left into wood (899351). Take right-hand one (BFP) inside top edge of wood. On down to cross A303 (901343, take care!). Uphill in tunnel of trees. At reservoir at top (903339), ahead on track to road (904336); left to Hindon.
Conditions: Take great care at 2 crossings of A303!
Lunch/Accommodation: Lamb Inn, Hindon (01747-820573, lambhindon.com) – lively local inn, scented by log fire.
Ramblers Festival of Winter Walks, 19 Dec – 3 Jan: ramblers.org.uk/winterwalks