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  • Paul Timlett

Britain's Largest Henge and the Hangman's Stone

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

I would venture to suggest that this easy going almost flat 7.3 mile (11.7 km) walk has something for (almost) everyone. On the route, or a short distance from it, you will find - three cafes; three pubs; a canal; two churches; some beautiful Wiltshire houses and cottages; enduring views of the Pewsey Downs and the White Horse; views of Woodborough Hill; and of course a Neolithic henge and a gruesome reminder of our sometimes barbaric past. Oh, and on the day I did this walk, a totally unexpected field of sunflowers.


One of the things I love about these walks is meeting and chatting to people on the way. I learn so much more about the area through which I’m walking by talking to people who live and work there. And by inviting them to talk about themselves and their love for their environment I can divert attention from my own natural shyness! This day was no different.


This walk begins from the village of Woodborough. The first task was to find somewhere to park for the day. My regular walking buddy Stu and I parked in front of the church. I’ve parked here several times before without issue but on this occasion we were confronted by a new sign warning us that we were not to park there unless we were visiting the church. Well we intended to start our walk by visiting the church so had half a mind to park there anyway, but begrudgingly decided to shuffle the car to one side so that we did not park right in front of the sign. However, this turned out to be pointless. As we got out of the car another car approached driven by a lady with a scowl on her face. We thought we were going to get a talking to, but we couldn’t have been more wrong!


St Mary Magdalene, Woodborough

The driver of the car was a delightful woman who had planned to meet a friend at the church in order to do a walk (as we were to discover) up Woodborough Hill. She got out of her car and asked “Where did that bloody sign come from?” I knew instantly we were going to get along! To my regret I didn’t ask her name (and as you’re about to find out, that was probably just as well) but what began was a delightful 15 minute conversation. It turned out that she had grown up in Woodborough and spent most of her life there. Many members of her family were buried in the churchyard. But priced out of the village she said by wealthy incomers she had been forced to move away. She had parked right in front of the sign and had no intention whatsoever of moving her car, her justification, if any was needed, being that she was going to visit the church before starting her walk. She told us how, when she was about eight years old, she had ridden her horse there. “What, into the churchyard?” I asked. “No, into the church!” she replied. This was my kind of gal! She then exclaimed that she couldn’t believe she’d told us that, and that we were not to tell anyone or that her horse was called Nutmeg. On the basis that nobody reads these blogs anyway I have respected her wishes! (Don’t worry, she did relent and said I could share her story which her friend later confirmed.)


An additional word on parking. If you didn’t want to squeeze into the limited space in front of the church you could just follow the road past the church all the way round the bend, keeping left, where it finishes at what I think is a village hall. There was one other car there, and a skip. There is plenty of space to park there. Another place is just past Church Farm, which is on the route, but this gets very muddy.


Anyway, it was time got started. We had a mooch round the churchyard which was heavily populated by ancestors of the locally well-known Stratton family and noted the sundial on a tombstone to the right of the porch.


Sundial, Woodborough Church

We then entered the church itself. The impressive entrance would easily allow access for a horse and rider should one be so inclined!


Woodborough Church - room for a pony

This is the Church of St Mary Magdalene, and what we see now dates from the 19thcentury, although there has been a church on this site from at least the 12th century. Anyone who has read my blog about St Mary’s Church in Maddington will have read about the restoration work of T H Wyatt in the 19thcentury. He also had a hand in re-building part of the church in Woodborough. From the outside the current building looks older than it is, but the interior, which is perfectly maintained, shows all the hallmarks of a Victorian construction.


Chancel - Woodborough Church

Woodborough Church. A fine organ!

In the churchyard we followed the cobbled path eastwards towards Church Farm.


Cobbled path to Church Farm

There is a wide track here which leads north towards the Kennet and Avon canal and on to Woodborough Hill. Unless you are inclined to stray from public rights of way, this is the only way up (and down) Woodborough Hill. On reaching the stone bridge over the canal we were joined once again by our new favourite lady, this time accompanied by her friend, and after a short continuation of our chat Stu and I dropped down to the canal towpath and turned westwards as our erstwhile companions continued on towards the Hill.


Woodborough Hill from canal bridge at Woodborough

This is a quiet stretch of the Kennet and Avon with views all along of the Pewsey Downs and the White Horse. To begin with we were accompanied only by a kingfisher as we passed the occasional narrowboat moored by the bank. Our next target was Honeystreet and as we approached the bridge carrying the road between Woodborough and Alton Barnes over the canal we came across more moored boats. This stretch of the canal is only about a mile and the nearer we got to the bridge the more it became apparent that the towpath is popular with dog walkers. If I’m honest, the state of the path is an absolute disgrace from that perspective. It’s very difficult to enjoy the scenery as you tiptoe your way through the ghastly mounds. I’m pretty sure that dogs weren’t the only ones leaving behind their parcels too.


But we were determined not to let this ruin our walk as we stopped and chatted to some boat owners who lived on the canal for much of the year. On a beautiful warm day like this it’s easy to see the attraction. But they admitted that the winter life of a narrowboat dweller is harsh (as my brother-in-law found) and the people we spoke to said they move ashore during the winter. The owners of two of the boats had constructed wonderful hazelwood cabins over the sterns of their boats and explained that the hazel, unlike willow, becomes brittle and inflexible as it dries so their cabins need replacing every now and then or, as they explained, when you stagger into them after a long night in a canal side pub. One of the boats was charmingly named “Stinky”, which wasn’t a reference to the state of the towpath but an abbreviation of its full name “Still Thinking”.


Stinky

Saying our farewells to the boat owners, and to the Canal and River Trust chap checking boat permits and length of stay (two weeks is the maximum on this stretch) we came off the towpath at Honeystreet and crossed the canal for an early coffee at the fantastic Honeystreet Mill café.