Updated: May 18
By Paul Timlett
That’s the thing about my blogs. Nothing for weeks then two come along at once. But now that travel restrictions have been eased a little I’ve taken the opportunity to drive a short distance in order to walk. This was another occasion where I wanted to return to a favourite location but to explore somewhere slightly different. Again I didn’t intend to write a blog about my walk but I was so overwhelmed by the countryside I felt I should share it, but in the hope that it still remains less frequented.
I’ve walked in the hills above the Deverills and indeed have written a blog for Hidden Wiltshire about it before. As usual I parked up in the little layby by the old telephone box in Kingston Deverill. But my plan was to first head up into the hills to the south of the village instead of heading north straight up to Cold Kitchen Hill. However, Cold Kitchen Hill always beckons and I intended to return that way later.
From the phone box I did first walk along the road north for a few hundred metres but then turned right where a sign warns you of the approaching ford which crosses the River Wylye. This was risky. I’d driven across the ford many years ago in a Landrover (which wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done) but I couldn’t remember whether there was a pedestrian bridge. I didn’t fancy an early bath so was relieved to find a bridge. Just as I reached the other side white van man appeared. He had passed a sign warning that the road was not suitable for motorised vehicles but he decided he knew better. I watched as he drove into the river whereupon he stopped abruptly as steam gushed from the bonnet of his van. This was going to be fun. I stood for a while as he wondered whether to plough on or reverse. Eventually discretion won over valour and he returned the way he had come, presumably to double check the warning sign.
Just after the ford I followed the footpath diagonally across the field on my left to the B3095 road that follows the valley from Hill Deverill eventually to Mere. Crossing the road I followed the bridleway south and then south west up through woodland from where I could see distant Little Knoll peeping through the trees. At the edge of the wood was a gate which took me into a field where I continued south west towards King’s Hill and glorious views of Kingston Deverill below with the ever present Cold Kitchen Hill looming above. If you look on the Hidden Wiltshire Facebook page you will see my phone picture of this view.
Just before King’s Hill there is a junction where a footpath leaves the bridleway and heads south east. This was to be my route, and this was where the most stunning views began to open up. The footpath continues gently downhill to what we in Wiltshire would call a “bottom”. Unfortunately this one has no name. All I had for company were the many red kites that hunt here. On the steep slopes on the other side of the valley a precariously balanced tractor was sowing seeds across the side of the hill followed by a flock of seagulls. You could almost believe that the sea was on the other side of the hill. Sadly it’s just the A303! I do wonder why farmers still cultivate such marginal land. But then if I was the farmer I would, just for the views.
The first of my photographs were taken as I descended towards the bottom of the bottom. Across to the right (south west) is the beautifully manicured South Down with the lorries just seen but not heard on the A303 in the distance. At the bottom of the bottom on your right is a cattle crush. I have a thing about farm machinery so couldn’t resist a timeless black and white shot.
Whilst descending the aforementioned footpath, off to the left are the strip lynchets marked on the OS map. These gradually reveal themselves enticing the walker to explore. To reach them, having visited the cattle crush, it’s necessary to turn left and north along the bridleway you meet here. Tip – go through the metal gate in front of you at the bottom of the hill to reach the eastern side of the hedge row. Otherwise you will find yourself marooned on the wrong side of the hedge, looking back up at the view of the hill from whence you came as in the image I’ve included here.
The strip lynchets are some of the finest and least disturbed I have ever seen. In the evening light I imagine they would be spectacular with the shadows picking out the form of the earth mounds. I’ve already posted a phone shot I took here on the Hidden Wiltshire Facebook page but thrown in another for good measure, with the ubiquitous hawthorn tree in the foreground.
After a delightful stroll north along the valley bottom listening to the cries of buzzards overhead you reach a range of large cattle sheds. To the right is a wood with a metal gate just wide enough for horse and human to pass. The route heads through this delightful wood, a welcome break from the fierce sun on the day I visited. Emerging at the other end of the wood you come to the minor road that leaves Monkton Deverill and climbs its way to the A350 (if you’re a cyclist this a fabulous testing little climb, gradually getting steeper as you ascend). On the corner of the bridleway from the wood and the road was a very odd little habitation. It looked as though it was the residence of some eccentric local, but I’m sure it has a more rational explanation. I loved the dilapidated caravan and the perfect little shepherd’s hut with its uPVC door.
Follow the road away from Monkton Deverill for about 100 metres. At the sharp right-hand bend there are two rights of way. To the left is a footpath heading back to the village. Ignore this. Straight ahead is the bridleway that heads north-east up the hill in the direction of Summerslade Down. After a little while there is a gate, a photo of which I posted previously on the Facebook page. The sign tells you that you are about to enter an organic farm, and politely requesting that you keep your dog on a lead.
A few hundred metres further along from the gate I was fortunate to experience one of the highlights of my day. I’d stopped about two thirds of the way up the hill for a coffee, just where a footpath from the north-west joins the bridleway. Off to the right are the widespread views in the direction of the A350 and the stunning Pertwood Down. In the field to my right there was what I assumed to be an area prepared for stone-curlew. The barren edge to a field of barley fringed with rampant charlock mustard. A tractor soon appeared, coming down the footpath to my left. The driver hopped out of the cab to retrieve his strimmer from the back. This, ladies and gentleman, was the delightful Chris Gregory.
After his initial reticence when I asked about the stone-curlew, and after I explained about my work on Parsonage Down nature reserve, Chris relaxed. We spent a very pleasant hour chatting about the farm and the conservation work they are doing. He explained how the previous owners had run it down. A small commune was established further on up the hill and, as I was to discover a short while later, a stone circle was erected. (It had me fooled. It's not the ancient monument it appears!) Chris even let me take his photograph, but I’ll spare his blushes now until he’s given me permission to share it. Just off to our right we could see Pertwood Down Long Barrow. Apart from its dimensions I’ve not managed to find out anything about it.
A bit further up the hill, before reaching the top and directed by Chris, there is a stile on the left of the track. Diagonally left across the field is the stone circle. If I hadn’t met Chris I’d be having a very frustrating time trying to research the circle and figure out why it doesn’t rank with places like Castlerigg Stone Circle to which it bears a vague resemblance. However, Chris, who by now had driven his tractor up to join me in order to strim the area around the stile, pointed out what looked like a bush on the brow of the hill directly across the field in front of me in a north-easterly direction. He explained that the bush was in fact the top of a beech tree which survives as part of a small clump in the field, a favourite spot of a long deceased old farm worker whose ashes are scattered there. In early spring it is surrounded by daffodils but on this day it was surrounded by recently shorn sheep sheltering from the sun. I took their photograph – a timeless scene that could have been in the blistering heat of Greece.
I do love talking to farm workers on my walks. I’ve learned so much from them over the years. Things you’d never find on the internet or from a book.
From the beech tree I headed across the fields towards Brixton Deverill. The bridleway is not visible at first but if you continue straight ahead to the north it becomes clear once again.
Brixton Deverill is a delightful, peaceful little place. The road through its heart is not too obtrusive and the village was dozing peacefully in the mid-afternoon Spring sunshine. I headed north a little way along the road before taking the next turn on my left onto a track which wends its way up into the hills towards Brims Down. Just before the large untidy barn a bridleway is signposted to your right. It meanders its way up the hill between hedge rows awash with red campion, celandine and violets. I don’t know why but every time I make this climb up to Brims Down it is fiercely hot. Maybe I’m just lucky! As you reach a small wood be careful not to deviate along the bridleway to the right but head straight on up. The other way is delightful but that’s for another day. The small copse at the top of Brims Down is now through a couple of metal gates and up to the south-west.
The way on from the copse is now very straight forward, following the bridleway ever upwards along the ridge to the currently invisible trig point at Cold Kitchen Hill. Savour the views up here as they are truly immense in all directions.
Halfway along the ridge between Brims Down and Cold Kitchen Hill is what I can only describe as a man cave! It is a large hut built at the top of the chalk track we first saw down in Brixton Deverill. I’ve had a nose through the windows before and it’s thoroughly well equipped for a couple of days out on the hill. I can only assume the local farmer, or his wife, retain it as a bolt hole.
Just before reaching the trig point and on your right is the almost perfectly shaped Neolithic long barrow - a chambered tomb dating to between 3,800 and 3,700 BC. Take a look at David Abram’s Instagram feed if you can. He has a fantastic drone shot of the barrow. You get no sense of its perfection from the ground.
After the summit of Cold Kitchen Hill, you soon reach the jubilee beacon. I’ve photographed this many times before with the views of Little Knoll in the distance and Alfred’s Tower on the horizon, but I couldn’t resist doing so again.
Shortly after the beacon along the chalk track there is what looks like a jump made for horses on the left. Climb over this and then head to your left downhill back towards Kingston Deverill. Initially the right of way is indistinct but it soon becomes evident before the church in the village appears down below. I always take my time coming down from the ridge. I want to make the most of the views, as the gliders soar overhead. I can only imagine what it must look like from up there.
This really is a beautiful walk of about 11 kms. Wiltshire at its finest. I can’t believe I haven’t explored the countryside to the south and east of the B3095 before. And by the looks of things not many walkers head this way. Apart from Chris, I saw two other people in the six hours I was out there.
All images are copyright of Paul Timlett
Editors note: Map added to help follow the route