First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The font in the Church of St John the Baptist at Ebbesbourne Wake has its drain hole stopped with a champagne cork. What fun christenings must be in this little Wiltshire village.
Outside, pyramidal orchids grew in the unmown churchyard. Slowly moving elephantine clouds jostled each other 20,000 feet above the chalk downs that cradle Ebbesbourne Wake.
Skylarks sang at full tilt over the blue-green wheat fields where flints rattled under my boots as I gained height above the village. A young roe deer stared, then turned tail. As she cantered off, two tiny fawns rose from where they had been crouching stock-still and bobbed away after her.
Yellow rattle, lady’s bedstraw and big clumps of wild thyme grew on the slopes of the steep dry chalk valley of Church Bottom. Frisky bullocks were playing follow-my-leader, and I was glad to leave them behind and walk up onto the roof of the downs.
The views were sensational all round the compass: a long procession of folded downland country, the chalk foundations smoothed and sculpted by millennia of weathering, their thin skin of agriculture a patchwork of white plough, yellow mown grass, green corn and dun scrub. The downs looked as elastic and bouncy in their rounded forms as the cumulus clouds piling up overhead.
Two hares sat beside the track, ears erect, on half-alert. One lolloped slowly away, and the other yawned and stayed put. Humans? I can take ’em or leave ’em, quite frankly.
The path led across a field of barley, the bearded heads sinuating in silky waves at every gust of wind. Beyond ran Old Shaftesbury Drove, an ancient ridgeway, once the chief coach road between Salisbury and Shaftesbury, nowadays a fine rutted trackway between hedges as thick and species-rich as linear slices of woodland.
I followed the old drove for a mile or so, then cut back from the ridge along a green lane. Down in the valley, late sunlight lit houses and hill slopes. There was time for one more surprise – a beautiful old traction engine that went clattering and panting up the hill and away, leaving behind the evocative smell of coal smoke to cense the evening lanes.
How hard is it? 5 miles; easy; field and downland tracks.
Start: Church car park, Hay Lane, Ebbesbourne Wake SP5 5JJ approx (OS ref ST 991241)
Getting there: Bus 29 (Shaftesbury – Salisbury)
Road: A30 (Salisbury-Shaftesbury); at Fovant, minor road to Fifield Bavant; Ebbesbourne Wake signed from here.
Walk (OS Explorer 118): From corner of car park follow path past church, and through lych gate. Left on path to road (991242). Right; in 50m left (fingerpost) on path. In 75m left over stile; along valley to cross road (989243). Up bank; left up field edge. In 100m fork right across field (988245) and on. In 400m through gate (991247, ‘Bridleway’), down to valley bottom. Half right to gate by wood (992249). On up Church Bottom. In 800m at water trough, up through gate on right (993257). Woodland path; cross track; on across field. At far side, gate (995259); on (blue arrow) across field. Pass gate, left along drove road (998263). In 1 mile watch for crossing track (982257). Left here, down for 1 mile to valley road at West End. Right at bus shelter (984242); at top of hill, left (983240, ‘Bridleway’) up drive. Pass gate; round left bend; immediately left (983238) on grass path back to car park.
Lunch: Horseshoe Inn, Ebbesbourne Wake SP5 5JF (01722-780474, thehorseshoe-inn.co.uk)
Accommodation: Queen’s Head, Broad Chalke SP5 5EN (01722-780344, queensheadbroadchalke.co.uk)
Info: Chalke Valley History Festival, 26 June-2 July – 01722-781133, cvhf.org.uk