First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Heddington lay in thatch and mellow brick, cradled by the Wiltshire downs, as pretty and sleepy as a summer photograph from long ago.
We passed the tiny half-timbered Ivy Inn and were soon walking through green pastures towards the hills.
At Harley Farm we crossed the neat garden and the cornfields beyond, to join the straight old track that leads as a deep chalky holloway due east up on to the crest of Morgan’s Hill. A crowd gathered here to see local man John Morgan hanged in 1720 for the murder of his uncle. Today the hill has a gentler reputation as a nature reserve with wonderful views to all quarters.
We sat in the sun and wind among wild thyme and common spotted orchids to eat macaroons like the Famous Five, gazing north over a landscape striped and chequerboarded in white chalk and green barley and beans. The wind moved the unripe barley in silky waves and brought us the sweetly pungent smell of the bean flowers.
The patchwork variety of the plants and creatures of the reserve came as a striking contrast to the shaven uniformity of golf course grass on the south slope of Morgan’s Hill. Soon we were down in a long valley that looked south towards Salisbury Plain, following the ancient Wessex Ridgeway between fields of oats and beans and barley, just as the old song names them.
Corn buntings are in severe decline across the UK, their habitat degraded and food sources diminished by pesticides. But now one of these chunky little birds with a striped chest and thick bill kept us company, flitting a little ahead and perching along the fence wire.
The way home ran past the Iron Age hill fort called Oliver’s Castle. Here on 13 July 1643 a Parliamentarian army suffered heavy defeat by Royalist forces. Many of the Roundhead casualties were troopers in flight; they rode in panic over the steep edge of the down and crashed to their deaths in a heap of men and horses.
On this sunny afternoon the banks of the ‘Bloody Ditch’ were thick with bee and lesser butterfly orchids. Wandering here, it was hard to give credence to the awful scenes of the long-ago disaster that gave this flowery cleft its ominous name.
How hard is it? 8¼ miles; easy; field paths and trackways
Start: St Andrew’s Church, Heddington, Calne, Wilts SN11 0PL (OS ref ST 999663)
Getting there: Bus 43 from Calne
Road: Heddington is signed off A3102 between Calne and Devizes
Walk (OS Explorers 156, 157): Stockley Road north out of Heddington. In ⅓ mile, opposite row of cottages, right (SU 001666, stile); follow field path (unwaymarked) for ⅓ mile east, then north-east to Harley Farm (006671). Through gate into garden (unwaymarked, but it’s a Right of Way); half right to stile. On across 2 fields to stony lane (006675). Right; in 300m, ahead at bend (009675). In ½ mile dogleg right/left across road (018673, ‘Byway’) and on.
In 500m, reach Morgan’s Hill Nature Reserve gate on right, with another gate/track on left (023672). Take middle track between them along north edge of reserve. In 500m, right (027672, gate, white arrow), diagonally across nature reserve. At top, through gate onto golf course (025671). Dogleg left/right down path through golf course; in 300m bear right (025668, arrows) to cross road near Club House (023667). On along Wessex Ridgeway. In 1¾ miles pass Plantation car park (015642); in 300m, right (013639, ‘Leipzig Plantation’) up road. In just under 1 mile, near Oliver’s Castle, dogleg left/right and on (005648). In ¼ mile, left through gate (003651); down steep cleft. In ¾ mile at bottom of hill, on left bend just after gates on right (992655), go right through hedge gap by wooden post. North along path; in 300m cross marked Byway and on (992658, ‘Restricted Byway’) to Heddington.
Lunch: Ivy Inn, Heddington SN11 0PL (01380-859652, ivyinnheddington.co.uk)
Accommodation: George & Dragon, High Street, Rowde, Devizes SN10 2PN (01380-723053, thegeorgeanddragonrowde.co.uk)