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  • Writer's picturePaul Timlett

A French Enclave in Wiltshire?

Updated: Feb 14

My first Hidden Wiltshire walk in a while, this was in more ways than one a journey into the past for me. It’s a walk I set out to do on two previous occasions in the last couple of months but somehow I got distracted both times. However, in early February on a beautiful misty frosty morning under clear skies, my usual walking buddy Stu and I determined to complete the walk. Things didn’t go entirely to plan!

Our walk began by the bridge over the Wylye River in the village of Wylye. Almost immediately we were confronted by the sight of a bridge lined with flowers and wreathes. We later discovered that just two days before hand the long-standing postmaster in Wylye was found dead in the river at this spot. I don’t know the full story and won’t hypothesise here but it seems he may have taken his own life. How desperately sad.

Our first objective was the curiously named village of Fisherton de la Mere. From there our plan was to return to Wylye in order to climb up to Wyle Down National Nature Reserve then on to the Monarch’s Way on the ridge above. On our way over to the Wylye valley we were greeted by a fairy tale scene of a frozen valley slumbering under a blanket of mist whilst the sun blazed down from the empty skies above. The frost was so thick it was like a dusting of snow, the roadsides lined with icicles hanging from every bush. Puddles had turned to sheet ice. The scene was so dazzling I nearly diverted once again in order to take to the heights to capture the scene from above, a vision of church spires piercing the mist in the valley below in my mind’s eye. However, the pressure of having someone else along for the ride made me stick to the plan.

So we spent some time at the bridge reading the messages left with wreathes and flowers before setting off along the footpath next to the bridge parapet to follow along the banks of the river. Mist rose gently from the waters which glowed from the by now brilliant sunshine. Very quickly you pass underneath the A303 which thunders above your head. For a short distance you are never far from the din of “The Road to the Sun”. `but before long the noise melts aways and peace descends, although being sandwiched between both the A303 and the A36 it is never entirely quiet here.

River Wyle at Wylye

There are several simple benches along this stretch of the river, presumably for the fishermen. As a fly fisherman this was heaven for Stu. And as a photographer I felt like a kid in a sweet shop not knowing where to turn next. This stretch of the path is very muddy in places. If it weren’t for the freezing temperatures I might have worn wellies, albeit they would not have been suitable for the later sections of the walk that follow the road.

Fisherman's bench by the River Wylye

River Wylye

With breath taking views across the river south to the ridge that plays host to Grovely Wood we soon caught sight of some of the beautiful cottages in Fisherton de la Mere. As we rounded a curve between hedges the tower of the church appeared ahead of us. This was the muddiest section of the walk as walkers are funnelled along a narrow channel.

Then on our left the stunning Fisherton Mill appeared (not the one in Salisbury)! A beautiful house in an idyllic setting as water tumbled past on the millstream, there has been a mill here since at least 1086 when it was recorded in the Domesday Book. I’ve always thought it would be very soporific to lie at night listening to sound of a mill race. But many years ago, when I lived in the Cotswolds, we once stayed with friends who lived in a mill. I spent all night getting up to the loo, and that had nothing to do with the amount of wine we’d drunk!