Erlestoke Wood and the 1917 field

Erlestoke Wood is quite a pleasant place to walk and I've already written on this site about its abundance of bluebells in the spring. But in this article, I've stretched a route out of the woods up onto the escarpment of Salisbury Plain that takes you past a field where they filmed some key scenes from the movie "1917". The route passes through some wonderful undulating countryside before bringing you back into the woodland for the journey back.

Spring Bluebells in Erlestoke Wood

You can start the route from the village car park which is just behind the church. Crossing the main road, you walk on a wide track through the wood. After a short while you will see a small lake (or large pond) on your left, and walking past this you will shortly reach the exit of the wood.

The terrain opens up here into a wide field, where you can see the horseshoe shape of another woodland enveloping the scene around you. To your left you will see the steeply wooded area of Hill Wood.

The steep sides of Hill Wood to the left

If you look at an ordnance survey map the contours of the aptly named Hill Wood are so close together they almost paint the area brown, as the woods cover an extremely steep escarpment. Our goal is to reach the top, but I have come up with a route which is the least painful, but still gets the heart pumping.

Heading out of Erlestoke Wood you go straight ahead to the next tree line and then turn right. You follow the edge of this wooded area towards Coulston Hollow, until you find a track on the left which draws you deep into Hill Wood. This track takes you up to the plateau of Salisbury Plain, and as you emerge out of the wood take a moment to stop and look behind you. On a clear day you will be able to clearly see the Pewsey Downs and the Alton Barnes White Horse.

Ahead of you here is the main road in these parts, which after a while changes from tarmac to potholes and gravel. A couple of paths converge on this route - the Imber Range Perimeter Path and the Wessex Ridgeway walking route. But this was also the route of the Old Slow Coach Road, which Steve Dewey has written about on this site. Whereas now, if you drive up there the route implores you to turn left at New Zealand Farm Camp down to Gore Gross, in the past the coach route would take you down to Yarnbury Castle. But this area past the farm is now out of bounds as it forms part of the Imber Range. Except for a few days each year when the MOD allows access to Imber, these old roads are not to be used by us civvies.

The Lollipop Tree

But I digress. At this stage of the route we are actually just past Stokehill Farm on the map. As you walk along the byway, the field on the right is hidden behind a hedge line, but in a couple of places it opens up so you can see clearly into it. Before too long you will start to see the a solitary tree, which some of us photographers call the lollipop tree. The tree itself was in the end scene of "1917" - you can see it in this clip here:

But if you had been here in the summer of 2018, you would have seen more than the tree. Big parts of the field were dug up to create trenches, as the first few minutes of the film took place. The movie was shot with the illusion of being a single continuous shot, so the set building was large and elaborate. Again, watch this clip below to see what I mean. I once played this clip while I was stood in the exact same place as the actors, to line up the landscape I could see with my own eyes with the landscape in the movie.

When you reach the end of the field boundary, you then need to look on the other side of the road for a track which takes you back towards the wood. Here you are heading to Cheverell Hill Farm, which is no longer a working farm. The military use it for training. As you descend to the farm some wonderful vistas open up around you as there are deep bottoms carved out of the landscape. Once you are at the farm it gets very quiet and quite peaceful.

Cheverell Hill Farm

From the farm you follow the road back up to Hill Wood, where you can choose many different routes to get you back to Erlestoke Wood. I would not recommend taking one of the insanely steep routes taking you straight down - there are one or two diagonal paths that are more manageable.

The route I took is shown on the map extract below, and is around 5 miles in length.


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