By Paul Timlett
Apart from a description of my walk together with accompanying photographs, in this blog you’ll find a few comments about privacy rules and rights of way. It’s a sensitive subject for both walkers and photographers. But first of all a little about the area.
The start of this walk is tucked away down in the south west of the county south of Tisbury, and takes in a stretch of the River Ebble before heading up into the hills to the south. A magnificent 12 km hike which was testing at times on yet another roasting hot day. This is a part of Wiltshire where I haven’t walked for a few years now. Actually that’s not quite true. The Current Mrs Timlett and I met up with some friends last year and did a splendid walk from Win Green a few miles away, but I only took a couple of phone shots and did not take notes! I did walk a section of today’s walk several years ago and remember how quiet and peaceful the Ebble was, the river being in its infancy here. A crystal clear chalk stream. So I’d long planned a return visit.
The walk begins in Ebbesbourne Wake. The lanes here are narrow and twisting so parking is not easy. I’d suggest that if you do this walk then you do so on a week day if possible. As travel was still restricted when I went I was fortunate enough to park in the village centre in the little layby next to the bus stop on Handley Street, just across from The Horseshoe Inn. I’d already driven past the layby twice and decided against it as I didn’t want to block the bus. I asked a couple of villagers where I could park and they immediately said everybody uses the layby to park, especially as the bus only comes through twice a day. I’d had to reverse about 100 metres a little earlier to allow it to pass so figured I was safe.
Opposite the layby is the tiny Ebbesbourne Wake Chapel. It seems to be still in use despite the proximity of the much larger St John the Baptist Church. Next to the chapel is what used to be the village shop, Valley Stores, now sadly closed.
I’m not going to describe in detail the first part of the walk from Ebbesbourne Wake as much will depend on where you park. But I found myself on Top Road just before it reaches West End where there was a much bigger layby. It was empty as I walked past and it’s certainly possible to park a few cars in there whilst still leaving room for traffic to pull in on this narrow lane.
In West End, which couldn’t be any further removed from its more famous namesake, walking along Top Road I dropped down to the little junction by the river. This is where the lower roads heads one way back to Ebbesbourne Wake and the other to Alvediston. By the junction you’ll see a bridleway that looks like a driveway between cottages. This continues across meadows alongside the Ebble to Alvediston and is the way you should go. Just after the garden of the last of the few houses in West End I found some old stones and remains of some steps, presumably what is left of a long gone cottage.
As you head across the meadows you will see to your right a magnificent house on the edge of Alvediston. You won’t be surprised to learn that this is The Old Rectory as it’s next to the Church of St Mary. Alvediston has more than its fair share of impressive eye-wateringly expensive houses!
The church dates back to around the 12th century and is located in an elevated position commanding views across the valley. However, it is most famous as the final resting place of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden. His tomb in the graveyard near the gate lists his various titles and Governmental positions, although it’s becoming difficult to read. Sadly for Eden he is best remembered as the British Prime Minister during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Opinions vary as to his success as Prime Minister but I’ll leave you to read about him if it interests you. It’s worth spending some time here, although the church was locked when I visited. There can’t be many more peaceful spots to spend eternity.
From the church (which I visited twice having left my OS map on the steps) I followed the bridleway parallel to the Ebble which begins (or ends) here. I guess there must be a spring nearby as the stream at this point was now dry, although the shallow river course suggests the waters rise here in wetter times. Across the meadows to your right you will see the substantial, sturdy structure of Grade 1 listed Norrington Manor and farm buildings.
The mediaeval manor house is thought to have been built by John Gawen (linked to Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table) in the 14th century. In all this time the manor has been owned by only three families – Gawen, Wyndham and the current owners, Sykes.
Sadly Norrington is not open to the public despite its historical significance. This was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms during a firm but polite exchange as I stood on the bridleway that passes in front of the house (another passes behind it). I’d been carrying my camera since I left my car in Ebbesbourne Wake. As I stood admiring the house a lady came out to her car on the drive. I asked if she lived there and whether she knew if there was anything online about the history. She was clearly on her way out and I didn’t want to delay her. She said that I must not take any photographs of the house because it was private, and that if I already had I should delete them and remove any that I had posted online. I pointed out that there were already many photographs of the house online and that the house was clearly marked on the OS map which is how I knew of its existence. It was hardly a secret.
So, this leads me onto the subject of privacy laws. A public right of way is widely held in law to be a public place, even if it crosses over private property (I know this because a footpath crosses my own garden). The public are perfectly entitled to take photographs in a public place but must not commit a trespass or cause a harassment. I hasten to say that I did not point any of this out at the time. I didn’t want to antagonise the woman further. I respected her wishes and carried on with my walk.
I have to say this encounter, whilst polite, irked me. It was unnecessary. Maybe I should have walked meekly away? But it soured my mood for some time afterwards.
From Norrington I followed the bridleway south-west along the edge of the fields presumably owned by the Sykes. There are fine views here to the south and west, taking in nearby Windmill Hill, Trow Down, Winkelbury (hillfort and barrows) and Ox Drove on the ridge beyond. Win Green can be seen in the distance above Berwick St. John.
Whilst the map suggests this is a simple amble across open country, it was not. As you will see from the map the route almost goes back on itself for a moment before heading west along the contours of the hill. The way forward here was challenging. The path has become almost completely overgrown with stinging nettles, and is very indistinct. You pass through a series of gates in a thicket and then emerge onto the slopes of a hill dotted with hawthorn. There is no sign of the path but as I realised later it runs beside the fence to your left. I went up the hill slightly and sat down dejectedly for a coffee. The views remain inspiring but after my earlier encounter I was silently cursing landowners, especially those who don’t keep rights of way clear! I blundered along higher up the slopes of the hill before I realised I should be walking beside the fence below. This meant more wading through stinging nettles to get back on track.
The route then passes through a gate into woodland before emerging on the other side via another gate onto open hillside where the map shows the earthworks up to your right and clearly evident on the ground. If there were any directional signs here I failed to see them. What I should have done was turn sharp left out of the gate following the fence along the edge of the wood downhill towards the barely visible house called Woodlands on the map, before then heading almost north back uphill along the chalk track sunk through a small beech wood. I assume the earthworks here are part what was some sort of defensive settlement above.
The alternative to following the bridleway is, on exiting the wood via the gate mentioned above, to continue straight ahead across the slopes of the hill in front of you rather than heading downhill only to come back up. Here you will find the little stone fella in my photograph. He is facing to the north west so as you look at him back the way you just came you can see Woodlands down the hill to the right. From the little stone fella you could continue along and up the slope to the fence at the top of the hill which you then follow until you meet the chalk bridleway coming up from your left. They both meet at a metal five bar gate.
Before going through this gate it’s worth looking behind you where you will see a perfect little coombe below, which sadly no one has seen fit to name. Once through the gate the bridleway strikes out across open grassland north towards Cross Dyke and White Sheet Hill (yet another Wiltshire White Sheet Hill!) The views down to your right back towards Norrington below, across to Gallows Hill and beyond for mile after mile won’t have escaped your eye. They are spectacular and uplifting. I was in a better mood now and decided to stop here on the little bench at the head of the coombe for lunch.
After a well earned rest, I continued a short distance to the ridge top. Here I turned right and struck out along the ancient Salisbury Way which leads all the way eventually to Salisbury itself. I continued along the track for about four kilometres. The views south remain almost the entire way, with glimpses to the north in the direction of Tisbury here and there.
I must admit this section of the walk became tedious. The surface is hard and at times it’s tarmacked. As the tarmac turned to gravel then earth I could see from the tyre marks that it was well used by off-roaders and motor bikes. I would imagine it’s a quagmire in winter and that it becomes busy at weekends, although on this weekday I only saw two vehicles, one being the local farmer.
The track crosses the steep road up from Ansty and the A30 below after about two kilometres. Here I spent 20 minutes chasing a lamb that had escaped from the field by the road. I was about to give up as it was clearly enjoying leading me up and down the road when a couple arrived in a car from Ansty. The passenger jumped out, herded the lamb towards me, then opened the gate into the field whereupon I herded the little git back into its field with its chums. Have you ever heard lambs laughing?
I trudged onwards for about two kilometres, ignoring the several rights of way that criss-crossed the byway, with Swallowcliffe Down unseen to my left. After a while I passed beside dense woodland on the edge of the Prescombe Down Nature Reserve to my right. Here I heard the unmistakeable call of a tawny owl – at 3:15 in the afternoon. Shouldn’t it be in bed? My plan was to leave Salisbury Way and head into Prescombe Down on my route back to the start of the walk at Ebbesbourne Wake. There are a couple of turning points but I chose to take the furthest one where the track from Sutton Down joins from the left (north).
Through the gate on your right you enter farmland. You come to a point where a chalk track continues ahead and slightly to your right. This is the obvious way to go but it is not the right of way. This is on the left (north) side of the hedge on your left along a field boundary. I went wrong and stuck to the right hand side of the hedge but they both end up at the same place where the right of way then turns sharp right across a field of crops where the farmer has left a very clear path. You then join the chalk track I just mentioned, which is the much more direct route. I’ll leave you to decide what the right thing to do is but I could not figure out why the rights of way take you through two fields of crops when you’d be causing far less damage simply following the chalk track.
Anyway, you now cross said chalk track into dense woodland. This could be a dark gloomy place but on this day it was welcome shade from the fierce sun. The sound of birds and insects was everywhere. And then, just as I reached the metal gate at the edge of the wood into Prescombe Down Nature Reserve, I heard it. A cuckoo! It was the first I’d heard this year. In fact it was the first in several years for me in this country. As I listened I looked into the coombe below and there were three guineafowl grazing peacefully by a cattle trough.
Prescombe Down is a truly beautiful place. It is managed by Natural England from Parsonage Down where I volunteer. I was supposed to be working here just before lockdown but all volunteering was suspended so I missed out. The bridleway continues along the bottom of the coombe. It was a beautiful magical place in the late afternoon sun. I ambled slowly on savouring the stillness.
As the bridleway levelled out at the edge of a small wood to the right I passed through a pedestrian gate with a five bar gate to the side. Another coombe crossed left-right in front of me. Standing at the gate I was aware of a herd of cows coming silently across the brow of the hill up to my left. They’d been in the same field as me all along but I had no idea they were there. Down to my left was a flock of sheep. A perfect rural idyll.
Whilst at the gate it’s worth checking the route onwards. If you look half right up the steep hill opposite you can just make out the next gate, which leaves the Reserve. You quickly lose sight of this as the slope is so steep. Of course I immediately forgot about it in my wonder at the scenery around me. I blundered around for a while, eking out the final couple of percent battery life left on my phone in attempt to get back on course using my phone app. Then I remembered the gate above and climbed up towards it. Just before the gate I sat in the grass, determined to spend a little longer marvelling at the scene. I could hear turkeys “gobbling” away to themselves somewhere, and the screech of peacocks. Up to my right behind some bushes I could hear human voices. I can only imagine what was going on up there!
It was time to leave the Reserve and head the final kilometre along the path carved through the crops by the farmer back to Ebbesbourne Wake. And time to linger on the brow of the hill to take in the evening light over the village. Again, I won’t provide detailed instructions back to the village as much will depend on where you leave your car.
This was another glorious walk in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside. Sure it was soured slightly by my grumbles about privacy and rights of way, but that won’t happen to you! Simply go and enjoy the spectacular countryside and the peace this part of the county offers. For me all that was missing was a pint in The Horseshoe Inn at the end of the day.
Postscript: I’ll just say that sitting in long grass on Prescombe Down in shorts for half an hour in the evening sun was not a particularly smart thing to do. 24 hours later I found I’d brought seven ticks home with me, which had spent all night helping themselves to my blood. Contrary to popular belief they do not wash off in the shower. I would thoroughly recommend having a pair of tick tweezers handy just in case.