First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Strong morning sunlight threw into prominence the lumpy shapes of house foundations and sunken lanes, all that remains of the medieval village of Hill Deverill.
In the green lane that led west towards the Wiltshire downs, a bench had been placed in the shade of a field maple. ‘Bob Hembury,’ said the memorial plaque. ‘He loved to walk this lane every day with his dog’. A man and a place summed up with perfect simplicity.
At the roots of a coppiced hazel badgers had dug out the multiple entrances to their subterranean city, throwing back the pale chalky earth in showers as though miniature shells had exploded there.
A side lane led up between wheat and barley fields onto the rolling back of Cold Kitchen Hill. In pre-Roman times it was Col Cruachan, the ‘wizard’s hill’, perhaps in deference to the spirits of the Neolithic long barrow that lies at the crest of the down. A wonderful bronze brooch was unearthed here, a rider on a capering horse, his clubbed hair bouncing behind him.
At the crest of Cold Kitchen Hill a magnificent view unfolded, a great semi-circle of undulating downs patterned in green, tan and grey, folding in steep hollows to the level farmland below. The ridge track ran west, a white streak ribboning away through dull gold wheatfields past the iron cresset of a Jubilee beacon, with King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead a pointed finger raised on the distant skyline.
Steep-sided Bushcombe Bottom sank out of view, a green basin down whose flanks the bushes and trees appeared to be sliding towards an invisible plughole. We followed the track through grasses awash with the pale purple fronds of bartsia, looking down into the horseshoe of Woodcombe Bottom three hundred feet below.
Down through a nameless wood of old oak and beech, its floor thick with the dried-up seed heads of last spring’s bluebells, and out at the bottom to turn along the homeward track at the foot of the downs.
In a grassy meadow by the path a rough square block of stone carried the names and dates of Joan and Bernard Russell. No other clues about them, but they, like Bob Hembury and his dog, must have loved this beautiful corner of countryside.
How hard is it? 6¾ miles; easy; green lanes, downland tracks, muddy in parts.
Start: George Inn, Longbridge Deverill, Warminster BA12 7DG (OS ref ST 869408). Please ask parking permission, and give them your custom.
Getting there: Bus 57 (Warminster-Mere)
Road: Longbridge Deverill is on A350 (Warminster-Shaftesbury)
Walk (OS Explorer 143): Right along A350, in 100m, right (‘The Deverills’). In 500m, past ‘Stonewold’, right (868403, fingerpost/FP) up field. At top, 2 opposing gates (865404); through right-hand gate along lane. In 700m at crossroads, left (859402, ‘Restricted Byway’, bridleway FP) up hedged lane. In ½ mile, right through gate (860395); in 100m, over rusted-up gate; fork left (ignore ‘Permissive Path’) up to gate (858395, yellow arrow). Up field to FP (858394); on past tree clump. In 300m, successive gates (854391, FP); on past barrow mound (847383), Cold Kitchen Hill trig pillar (846382) and beacon cresset (841391). In another 900m on Whitecliff Down, keep ahead (834386), following fence on left. In ½ mile, track curves sharp right away from fence (827389), round top of Woodcombe Wood. In 250m fork left (828391, gate, FP, ‘Mid Wilts Way) through trees. At bottom of slope, through gate (828399); right (orange arrow, ‘Byway’) along path/lane at foot of downs for 3¼ miles back to Hill Deverill, then Longbridge Deverill.
Lunch/Accommodation: George Inn, Longbridge Deverill (01985-840396, the-georgeinn.co.uk)