East Knoyle is a small village which feels like a small oasis, tucked away just off the A350 and a short distance below the A303. It is on the edge of Cranborne Chase, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it is fair to say that the countryside around the village is indeed beautiful. The village is also the birthplace of Sir Christopher Wren in 1632. His father was the village Rector before becoming the Dean of Windsor in 1635.
Before visiting, I planned out a circular route that would take me through the local countryside to West Knoyle, before coming back via another rural route through Mackintosh Davidson Wood and over Windmill Hill. Having not really explored these parts before I didn't know what to expect, and was rewarded with sweeping views across Dorset to the south.
I started my journey on the main street through East Knoyle, near the village shop. There was a plaque nearby commemorating the birth of Wren. From here, I went up Wise Lane before veering right and following a footpath towards the village of Milton. To my left I got a glimpse of Clouds House, a rural mansion set in substantial grounds. Built in the late 1800's for Percy Wyndham, he was an MP and public intellectual who was one the original members of The Souls. Since 1983, the house has been a treatment centre for addiction and is currently the headquarters for the charity, Action on Addiction. I couldn't think of a more pleasant place to be located while getting well. It has a rural isolation that is both safe haven and restorative.
Once the footpath veered left towards Clouds Stables, I went right and dropped to a road junction in Milton. Heading north west, I picked up a right of way to the right, just past a thatched cottage to go up into the woodland on Haddon Hill. The path by the thatched cottage was one of those easy to miss routes. It looks like it is heading steeply up into a private back garden, and those paths always make me feel a little uneasy. But once up there the right of way is signposted and after walking through an orchard, I was soon deep into woodland.
You do need a map of some sorts to get you around Haddon Hill, as the wood contains many tributary paths and it is easy to get lost. Essentially, you are heading toward Upton Bottom Farm and Chapel Farm. The woods here occasionally offered glimpses of the downland towards Hindon and I can imagine in the winter these views would be clearer as the trees would be bare.
After descending out of the woods onto a road called Sutton Bottom, I turned left, then right in front of Chapel Farm before heading left again on a bridleway that leads up to Cleeve Hill and beyond that, a bottom called The Warren.
On Cleeve Hill there were clear views back across to Haddon Hill. I also came across a wonderful viewpoint across to Dorset, with Duncliffe Hill clearly visible in the distance. As I headed down The Warren, I glimpsed St Mary's Church in West Knoyle which would be my next stop. Looking on the horizon, I could see King Alfred's Tower near Stourhead. Wonderful views all around.
As I got to the Church in West Knoyle I got my camera out to take some snaps. A helpful villager stopped and suggested I used my zoom lens to focus on one of the gargoyles on the tower. Having done so, I nearly dropped the camera ! This grotesque was male in character, and appeared to doing something to itself which should never be done in public. I will leave the photo to speak for itself.
From here I followed the main road south west to get deeper into the village, until I found a footpath on the left which would take me into Mackintosh Davidson wood. This is a good sized wood with plenty of open glades and many branches of footpath. It provided welcome shade on a hot day. But from here I was heading back towards East Knoyle. I passed across a track called Upton Lane, before heading across a field and over a stile into Great High Croft, another section of woodland. I eventually came out into a field, where I followed the boundary uphill to Windmill Hill. At the top of this hill you come to a place called The Green, which has a nice pub - The Fox and Hounds.
This Windmill Hill also has a windmill. With no sails and clearly out of action, the main building remains in situ. Up on the hill are several benches with an open vista across Dorset. Another wonderful viewpoint.
At this point I was back on Wise Lane, and descended down the hill towards my starting point, before turning right down a narrow alley which brought me into the churchyard at East Knoyle.
All in all, it was 5 miles or so of wonderful countryside and meanders through rural Wiltshire villages. Although never too far from the main roads of the A350 and the A303 I never felt their presence. It was a walk in splendid rural isolation.