The other week we visited Clearbury Ring. We had been planning a visit there for quite some time. It has always intrigued me sat there on a tree covered hill to the south of Salisbury. An Iron Age univallate hillfort, it can be clearly seen from the Avon Valley and demonstrates what a good defensive vantage point it had over the land to the south of Wiltshire, although, as we know the exact reasons for some of these hill enclosures are lost in time.
For our visit we decided on a circular walk taking in Nunton, Clearbury and Odstock. All told the walk was about five miles long but could be easily extended to include a loop around the River Ebble. I recommend this walk as the views are lovely and the villages interesting.
Starting in the centre of Nunton we headed east towards the Radnor Arms pub, where we stopped to investigate the Nunton Farm Dairy vending machine.
This seems like a great way to get fresh milk and rapeseed oil. Investigating further it appears that they have machines in a number of locations in the south east of the county (https://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/.../19500733.nunton.../). I do hope that this type of sustainable local amenity takes off.
After passing the pub we crossed the road and turned right onto a footpath that led through a garden and past the front door of a cottage then onto the 12th century village church of Saint Andrew. Before reaching the church we crossed a small meadow and encountered some dairy cattle, no doubt some of the Nunton Farm herd. The meadow had many buttercups so I expect the milk is lovely and rich.
Heading towards the church we found that the early bird doesn’t always catch the worm as we were too early for it to be open, so we left seeing the interior for another day and satisfied ourselves with admiring the lovely flint building from the outside.
Moving on from the church, we crossed a road and headed south on a treelined footpath out of the village. The cow parsley was in full bloom and at times you could hardly see the path but we didn’t mind the minor inconvenience as it was so lovely to walk though nature in all of its glory.
At the top of this footpath we encountered some more of the dairy herd. This time on its way back to pasture after being milked. We waited for the last of the herd to pass before crossing over the track and into the farm yard where we turned left onto the Avon Valley Path and up through another tree lined lane where the horse chestnuts seemed to form candelabra arches along the way for us.
Emerging from the trees we continued on through open pasture until arriving at a crossroads where we turned right to head up towards Clearbury. Although slightly misty the views towards the Avon Valley started to hint at how far reaching they would be at the hillfort.
We continued on the path, skirting the edges of fields, until we arrived at our destination. The views across to the Avon Valley and New Forest were lovely and immense.
At the top there was a gate that led onto the fort. As there were no signs to say that the area is private we entered and walked a short way in order to sense the atmosphere of the place. The area is totally wild and, although the earthworks can be seen they are, in places, not as well defined as some. Perhaps it was the trees and the solitude but this fort had an almost enchanted feel and is very different to the larger sites such as Old Sarum. I wondered briefly if it was this enchanted nature of the site that had led the Ancients to build the hillfort in this particular location. Maybe they believed in a spirit or deity associated with the place. This thought reminded me of the Shinto shrines that the Japanese people have in locations such as hill tops. Whatever your beliefs such respect for these ancient areas certainly go a long way towards their protection.
Having stayed for a while in the fort investigating the earthworks and peeking at the views through the trees we bade it a fond farewell and went back through the gate to the path. We turned right and skirted most of the outer perimeter and then headed down the other side of the hill towards Yews Farm. Once again the views were stunning made more so by the blossom on the hawthorns, which were giving a really excellent display on Clearbury Down.
We turned and looked back for one final view of the fort before heading down and through the gate where the path joined a byway. Here we turned right to head back northwards towards a road and on to Odstock.
As we walked we were greeted by yet more lovely views, this time out to the west towards Little Yews and Pheasantry Copse. The road then became treelined predominantly with the oak and beech trees of Odstock Copse. This copse is interesting because it too has earthworks in it. These are believed to have once been part of a larger hillfort. There are some thoughts that it might have been a threat to Clearbury during Saxon times. However the copse is private and we couldn’t really make out any details from the road.
After a short distance we arrived in Odstock and walked past some interesting cottages and the Yew Tree Inn before reaching the road and turning right to head back to Nunton. The name Odstock is believed to have derived from it once being known as Odo’s Stockade suggesting that animal farming has long been a tradition in this area.
On the way back we spent a moment looking at the River Ebble which, as it is so close to its confluence with the Avon, is in full flow at this location. We then visited the 12th century flint chequered church of St Mary.
As well as a resident bat the church has a couple of other curiosities; one an Elizabethan wooden pulpit with a dedication to the queen, the other a gypsy curse! This curse came about after the burial in the church yard of Joshua Scamp a Romany who had been wrongfully accused of stealing a horse. It is believed that the poor fellow’s son in law had committed the crime and that Mr Scamp had heroically taken the blame for his daughter’s sake. Needless to say, because of this, many of the Romany community annually visited Joshua’s grave. As years went by these visits were deemed to have led to a certain amount of rowdiness. In an effort to prevent this continuing the villagers locked the church, which angered the Gypsy Queen. She is said to have laid a curse on the church suggesting that anyone who locked the church door would die within the year. As a consequence, and due to the untimely deaths of two who had tested the curse, the church remained unlocked until recently when, happily, the curse was lifted. Joshua’s grave can be easily located in the graveyard as it has a rambling rose growing around it and a metal plaque that reiterates the words on the now weathered grave stone.
From the church we followed the path back to Nunton passing on the way a number of farm buildings again reminding us of the long standing agricultural nature of the settlements.
We will definitely return again to this walk and perhaps include a longer walk along the Ebble. We may even get the chance to see the county’s flower on Clearbury Down.