May 112019
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Chaffinches spurting out their stuttering song, a wren squeaking and trilling, blackbirds fluting, the throaty cooing of pigeons – Combe was a valley full of birdsong. White violets dotted the mossy lane banks, and a partridge scuttled brainlessly ahead of us before ducking at last gasp under a gate.

The broad field beyond Combe village was more flint than soil. Our boots clinked with every step, disturbing a sleek and handsome brown hare who cantered away across the young wheat like a miniature racehorse.

Steeply up the face of Sugglestone Down and we were up on the heights under a wide and blowy Berkshire sky. From the crest we looked back over the Combe valley, a patchwork of milky chalk soil and green wheat, all under the eye of a red kite riding the wind with exquisite balance as it scanned the fields two hundred feet below.

A long flinty holloway dropped through hazel copses where sheaves of wild garlic leaves rustled and long-tailed tits swung twittering on the topmost twigs. At the bottom under Cleve Hill Down we found the Test Way footpath, a guide through the quiet hollows and inlands of these downs.

Someone in a conifer plantation was whistling to the kites, a close imitation of their sharp descending wail of a call. Two of the birds were flapping and playing over the wood, swooping together, springing apart at the last moment, while much higher overhead a pair of buzzards performed the same springtime dance.

The Test Way tilted and steepened as it climbed to the roof of the downs once more. An ancient ridge-way on Inkpen Hill ran east past the tall stark T-shape of Combe Gibbet, at whose yard ends in 1676 murderers George Broomham and Dorothy Newman had swung. They had drowned Broomham’s wife Margaret in a pond after she had caught them in flagrante delicto on the downs nearby.

On the great Iron Age rampart of Walbury Camp hill fort we paused for a final stare out over a prospect of farmlands, villages, woods and hills, stretching away west, north and east for dozens of miles – one of the great high vistas of southern Britain.

Start: Walbury Hill easterly car park, near Inkpen, Berks RG17 9EH approx (OS ref SU 380616)

Getting there: Kintbury (signed from A4, Hungerford-Newbury); Kintbury Cross Ways, Rooksnest, Inkpen Common, Crown & Garter PH, then follow ‘Faccombe’ to car park.

Walk (8 miles, moderate, OS Explorers 158, 131): West up trackway. In 200m, left (378616, fingerpost/FP) down path to Combe. At memorial bench, left (373609, FP) past cottages; in 200m, left (373607), then across wide field. From old fencepost (378606) path goes half right, steeply up Sugglestone Down to stile (379604). Aim for mast; path curves right to road (384601). Right (red arrow/RA) on Byway. In 1¼ miles cross road (372587, ‘Linkenholt’). In 100m, right on track. In ½ mile pass Adventure Centre (364586; Test Way/TW joins from left). In 250m, TW forks left past barn (364588). In 1 mile, at west edge of Combe Wood (353598), TW turns right, steeply uphill. In 1 mile, right through gate (358613, TW, Buttermere Estate notice). In ¼ mile at hedge break (359617, 3-finger post), ahead (not right) to ridge track (358621); TW right to Combe Gibbet and Walbury Hill.

Conditions: 2 short steep climbs

Lunch/Accommodation: Crown & Garter, Great Common Rd, Inkpen RG17 9QR (01488-668325, crownandgarter.co.uk)

Info: West Berks Museum, Newbury (01635-519562)

satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

Ships of Heaven – The Private Life of Britain’s Cathedrals by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday) out now

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  One Response to “Walbury Hill and the Test Way, Berkshire”

  1. […] West Berkshire in The Times, and so we did this on 19 May.  Chris helpfully puts the walks on his website for those of us who do not subscribe to The […]

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