Aldbourne Circular Route and the Abandoned Village of Snap
Updated: Mar 12, 2022
This is another walk that I’ve had planned for a long time. But I needed the right weather and the right time of the year (for reasons that will be come clear). Keeping an eye on the forecast my walking buddy Stu and I settled on a day that offered intermittent sunny spells – the perfect balance between clear blue and flat grey skies, both hopeless for photography. Come the day we sort of got what we hoped for although the grey returned mid afternoon.
Our plan was to do a longish circular walk in the hills based on Aldbourne. Not a place either of us knew particularly well. Our favourite walks are those that take us up onto chalk downland with sweeping views and plenty of history, together with some hidden quirky finds to satisfy Hidden Wiltshire followers. We got that in spades on this day. Stu was struggling with a twisted ankle sustained whilst we were volunteering at Prescombe Down a couple of weeks before. I was concerned the 10 miles I had mapped out might be a bit much for him but ever the old soldier he dosed himself up with pain killers, strapped up his ankle and got on with the job in hand without so much as a whimper (well just one anyway).
The route I had plotted in the OS Maps app started in the village of Aldbourne and headed up to Liddington Castle along one ridge above the valley before returning on the ridge on the opposite side. When I was doing my research the day before the walk I discovered that this is actually a recognised walking trail called the Aldbourne Circular Route. It also intersected with the Liddington Castle Circular Walk and offered several options to shorten the walk if necessary. The route we did was 10.39 miles (16.72 kms).
We parked in The Square in Aldbourne by the pond in front of The Crown pub (you can no doubt guess what our intention was for later that day)! I was chatting to a villager who said there was no limit to how long you can park there but he warned me that during school drop off and pick up times parents just abandon their vehicles in the square so you will likely be blocked in for a while. There were plenty of spaces available when we went (a Tuesday) but I suspect it would be busy on a Saturday. There is on-street parking elsewhere in the village if you are considerate.
One of the key decisions we had to make was which way round to do the walk. This is why I was anxious to do it at the right time. The walk involves a very unpleasant stretch along the verge next to the B4192 which goes to Swindon. The stretch took us 12 minutes and the verge was mostly wide but required extreme caution. People drive at insane speeds along this road and later that day we saw one car travelling at what I estimated to be between 90 and 100 mph. As we walked along the verge not a single driver made any attempt to slow down as they passed us. But there was no way of avoiding this stretch, although as I will explain later you could make it slightly safer for yourself for a bit. So the decision to make is do you want to do this stretch at the beginning or the end of the walk, at what time of day and at what time of year (assuming it’s a bit quieter during the holiday season)? My advice is to avoid rush hour. Anyway, we decided to do the road walk at the end so we did the route anti-clockwise.
From The Square we walked up the narrow street alongside The Crown (Green Steet?) towards the church and the village green. This was a lovely spot and I was taken aback by quite how big the green was, bounded as it was by several delightful old cottages on two sides and The Blue Boar pub on another. Photographs duly snapped we walked along the road up the hill in front of the pub. I would love to have visited the church but we had a long day ahead and I knew we wouldn’t have time. How right I was! Alongside and above the narrow lane was an ancient cobbled pavement. It looked a bit greasy and not wishing to slip down into the road we continued along the road. We had to step aside pretty sharply as a lady drove down towards us cheerfully smiling as she juggled a large mug of tea or coffee in one hand whilst wrestling with the steering wheel in the other. Shortly afterwards we forked left onto the bridleway that was to keep us company for the next few miles as we climbed steadily towards Sugar Hill.
I’m afraid the local dog walkers have not done themselves proud on this part of the walk. This was to become something of a theme anywhere within a couple of hundred metres of a road during the day. The path was strewn with little black bags or worse still mounds of the brown stuff. We really had to keep our eyes fixed firmly to the ground. Thankfully most of them seem to run out of steam before too long as they turn and head back to the village. But before we felt comfortable enough to begin to admire the scenery we came to what was presumably an echo of Aldbourne’s World War II history, when it played host to the men of America's 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, or Easy Company as featured in the film Band of Brothers. On a gate post we came across what looked like a rat dangling from a parachute. As we were to discover later The Blue Boar played a role in this part of Aldbourne’s past whilst the rat is a Banksy stencil, presumably put here because of the connection with the 101st Airborne?
The route is very simply here (and in fact was so throughout the day) and continues wide and dead ahead. The views to the ridges to the east and the west rapidly open up as you gain height. By this time the clouds were scudding across the sky and the sun illuminated patches on the distant hills.
The wind was picking up and we were glad of the extra layers we had brought with us. One of the reasons I chose this particular route was the plethora of pre-historic monuments alongside the track. After about 2 kms (1 mile) we came to a stone cairn beyond which could be seen the barrow cemetery known as four barrows. This whole area along the entire length of the walk is strewn with burial bounds, signifying the importance of the area throughout man’s history here. There are simply too many to mention but The Aldbourne Heritage Centre website is a great source of information.
The four bronze age barrows at this location comprise three bell barrows and a bowl barrow dating from between 2500 and 1500 BC. This site, and many others in the area, was excavated by prolific excavator Canon William Greenwell between 1885 and 1890, and produced many finds including cremation burials, amber beads, flint flakes, a grooved dagger and animal bones. In another burial mound to the west of and below the four barrows Greenwell found the famed Aldbourne Cup, a remarkably well preserved ceramic funerary cup with lid which is currently on loan to Wiltshire Museum in Devizes from the British Museum.
Immediately behind the four barrows was a peculiar fence post. I’m not sure of the purpose or origin of this, or indeed whether it was just a piece of wood that had been re-purposed, but there was another similar post across the field to the east and a third by the track to the north. Soon after was another burial mound, this one in the field to the right (east). This is another bowl barrow where Greenwell excavated a cremation burial and worked flint flakes.
This ridge is known as Sugar Hill and further on again we could see a prominent bowl barrow in the field to the left (west) by an avenue of trees, topped with a lone hawthorn tree. Here Greenwell found the cremated remains of an adult in a cist and covered by cairn together with a bronze dagger and bone pin. The right of way on the map is shown as passing to the left (west) of the barrow