Dec 162023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
chalk track to the Ridgeway dry valley with cultivation and erosion terraces on the way to the Ridgeway The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 2 The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 1 The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 3 The Ridgeway above Bishopstone 4 The Ridgeway near Ridgeway Farm permissive path through Eastbrook Valley tower of Ashdown House Ashdown House in its misty valley

It was scarf and frozen fingers weather over the Wiltshire Downs on a murky, muted morning. As we left Bishopstone the village children were prancing to school past the thatched houses with their walls of clunch or chalk blocks. ‘David Beal, Master of Thatch’ proclaimed a board outside a cottage, with the proof of the pudding on show all through the twisty byways of Bishopstone.

Chaffinches sang us off along an ivy-tangled lane that led to a dry valley with medieval strip lynchets lying in parallel ledges along the slopes. We threaded our way among a flock of recumbent sheep, the gently rising track turning from grass green to chalky white as it reached the Ridgeway on the crest ahead.

The ancient ridge track, a dozen paces wide, was potholed and puddled. A blackbird sang with piercing sweetness from a hawthorn twig just above our heads, so close and unafraid that we could see the working of its throat and the trembling of its bright orange beak with every phrase.

A line of leafless beeches kept the wind from the sheds at Ridgeway Farm. Here we turned south past a pig farm, the pink incumbents scampering away as though stung simultaneously into flight. Solitary crows stalked the plough furrows around the dishearteningly named Starveall Farm, and a shaggy-legged horse with a white nose blaze came up to accept a handful of grass from the greener side of the fence.

At the top of the track we turned east with red kites cutting circles overhead. There were big views to far downland ridges north and south, and as we descended the slope of Idstone Down a fine prospect ahead to the tall white shape of Ashdown House, a grand hunting lodge built in the 17th century for Elizabeth Stuart, elder sister of King Charles I and sometime Queen of Bohemia.

Elizabeth had a curious life, targeted by the Gunpowder Plotters at nine years old to be a hostage and puppet Catholic monarch, then in her teenage years as marriage fodder for the European monarchies. She was nobody’s stooge, however, but a highly educated and accomplished person with a passion for literature and language.

We passed the clamorous rookery in Swinley Copse and followed a wide valley track up to turn for home along the Ridgeway. A permissive path led us aside down a steep, twisting valley, quiet and beautiful, and we beat the rain into Bishopstone by a very short head.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; downland tracks

Start: Royal Oak, Bishopstone, Swindon SN6 8PP (OS ref SU 247837)

Getting there: Bus 47 (Lambourn–Swindon)
Road: signed from A419, Swindon-Cricklade (M4, Jct 15)

Walk: Between Bishopstone Stores and Village Hall, take pathway (‘Ridgeway’) to road (247836). Right; right up Nell Hill. In 150m fork right (‘Ridgeway’). Follow ‘Ridgeway’ signs up valley to The Ridgeway (249823). Left; in ⅓ mile at Ridgeway Farm, right (253827, ‘Public Right of Way’) along track. In ¾ mile climb slope; at top, left at track crossing (259810); in 100m, fork left (260809, arrows). In ¼ mile through gate (265809, blue arrow); on along fence. In ½ mile bear half left (273810, ‘Ashdown’) to cross stile. Keep same direction downhill, pass Swinley Copse (276816); in 100m in valley bottom, left on grassy track (277818). In 1⅓ mile, left along The Ridgeway (264835). In ⅓ mile, right over stile (260832, ‘Permissive Path’). After next stile, bear left down Eastbrook Valley. At bottom, through squeeze stile (251834); down track to road (249837); left (take care!) into Bishopstone.

Lunch/Accommodation: Royal Oak, Bishopstone (01793-790481, – superb throughout.


 Posted by at 01:34

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