Updated: Sep 23, 2021
It’s been a while since I’ve put together a new walk for Hidden Wiltshire. And I have to admit I didn’t put this one together either. It was my walking buddy Stu. So if you have any complaints I can give you his number.
Stu decided we were going to do a walk starting at Salisbury Racecourse, along the old Salisbury to Shaftesbury turnpike to Fovant badges, then down to the Ebble Valley before heading back up to the racecourse. However, having plotted it on the map it turned out to be nearly 15 miles. So there were two problems – a) it’s probably a bit further than I’d normally propose as a Hidden Wiltshire walk, and b) the old turnpike is about as interesting as watching a 0-0 draw between Southampton and Hull (the last football match I went to). So we went back to the drawing board to see if we could find a shorter more interesting route.
We wanted to visit Chiselbury Camp and Fovant badges (albeit from above). Whatever way we looked at it this would involve a stretch along the old turnpike. As we looked at the 1:25,000 OS map we noticed an open access area linking Chiselbury Camp to Broad Chalke way below in the Ebble Valley. The open access area was a sea of close fitting V-shaped contours. Which could only mean one thing – bottoms! So we strung together a series of rights of way that would take us from the start of the walk somewhere in Broad Chalke, along the valley to Bishopstone then straight up to the old turnpike. What follows is the walk we did. It’s still just over 10 miles (16 kms) and if I’m honest we still spent far too long on the old Salisbury-Shaftesbury road. Ideally you’d find a way to keep this stretch to a minimum but it was definitely worthwhile for the walk along the River Ebble but above all for the simply stunning Knapp Down. The latter proved to be one of the most beautiful parts of Wiltshire I’ve ever seen, a place I’d never heard of.
I’ve included two route maps for the walk. The first is the route Stu and I took, and from where I took the photographs. The second is a shorter alternative. There are parts of this I haven’t actually walked although I could see it from where we were.
We parked by Broad Chalke school. There was a small parking area at the bottom of the drive up to the school from the north west but I’m not sure it wasn’t parking for the school so it would not be viable during term time. I would suggest parking instead by All Saints Church or at the village hall. Alternatively you could start and end the walk from Bishopstone, where the village hall also has a large car park, and they're used to walkers parking there.
From the school car park we made for the river. It’s narrow here and broadly runs parallel to the main valley road. The first point of interest was a building site. A huge building completely swathed in scaffolding. As we walked around it we could make out that underneath the steel framework was an old mill. It looked as though the whole building had either been demolished and was being re-built, or that this was a renovation of epic proportions. On the gatepost of what was once the main entrance a sign revealed this was Knighton Mill. It was only as I was writing this piece that I discovered the mill is being completely re-built as an enormous residence for a property developer. It appears that Knighton Mill Pottery once operated from here. I’m not sure whether it will do so in future.
From the mill our next objective was the footpath between Stoke Farthing and Croucheston on the western edge of Bishopstone, passing Knighton Manor on the way, all along following the Ebble. At one point we found ourselves walking through a recently harvested field. We should have been on a path between two wire fences to our left but there were no directional signs and we missed the turn, so after a little while we hopped over the fence onto the path. From talking to a delightful local lady it seems we weren’t the only ones to make this mistake.
We needed to check our route finding again as we reached Croucheston. I’ve included a couple of photographs that should keep you on track but don’t be put off by the “Private Road” sign at the bridge.
The way on foot at least is straight ahead. But shortly thereafter we appeared to be on someone’s drive. On this occasion I was happy to be welcomed by a dog. A very friendly black Labrador. As it explored my crotch it’s owner emerged from the house behind the wall in front of us. We spent a few minutes talking to the lovely Wendy. She asked what our plans were. I was a bit reluctant to say that we were plotting a route for thousands of Hidden Wiltshire fans to follow up her drive but Stu spilled the beans. Incredibly she thought it was a wonderful idea. What then transpired was one of life’s miraculous coincidences. Wendy revealed she was a teacher. As was my wife. I wondered if she knew the Head from my wife’s old school who happened to live nearby. But Wendy actually teaches at a school in Hampshire. To which I replied “so you’ll know my dear friend and other walking buddy Julia”. (Sadly for Julia she has been mistaken for my wife as we’ve met people on our many happy walks together!) And sure enough Wendy did know Julia. Not only that but when Julia turned up to work at the same school as Wendy they'd reconnected for the first time in 20 years, having known each other long ago. What a small world!
Having taken our leave of the delightful Wendy, who directed us between her house and the bungalow next door, we followed the Ebble along what was the first of the highlights of the walk. The river splits into two channels with the path running in-between. Dripping with willows and dappled in sunshine this was a scene of the utmost tranquillity and beauty. With substantial houses whose gardens swept down to the banks of the river this was rural heaven. But all too soon we emerged onto a road, albeit a quiet narrow lane. We wended our way past what appear to have been old trout fisheries, all the while following close by the Ebble.
A hundred metres or so from the fishery you’ll find Bishopstone village hall. Not just a place to park but a popular coffee stop. However we continued along the lane passing several very pretty little thatched cottages, our target being Pitt Lane where we would cross the main valley road by the bus stop and phone box that would give us access to the climb to the turnpike on the ridge a couple of kilometres to the north.
The path up to the ridge is dead ahead along the edge of a field. As we climbed the views behind us over Bishopstone to the hills above it to the south gradually opened up.
Sadly, as we approached the turnpike close by Windwhistle, we were to encounter the handiwork of the dreaded fly tipper. There were two caravans surrounded by rubbish. Stu said he saw a cat in one of the windows so presumably they are inhabited. I have no issue with people living in caravans deep in the countryside. In many ways I’m envious, inhabiting such a remote location. But why not look after the place? Why trash your own doorstep?
What followed can only be described as a 4.5 km trudge. I was glad of the company as Stu and I chatted and joked, trying to make light of the gravel track between double hedges with little or no view of what we knew to be stunning countryside behind the screens. We took solace in the fact that this was an ancient trackway and imagined the lives that had trodden this path long ago. We talked about how the turnpike trust had competed with the competing route in t