Updated: Apr 7, 2019
Long Knoll (grid reference ST794376) is just to the south of Maiden Bradley and has long been a visible milestone to me on the way down to Stourhead. When walking in the landscape around there, I have often taken photos of it and use it as an orientation point when walking.
It is a distinctive ridge of chalk grassland which is about a mile in length and looks like a spine. There are fine views of it from White Sheet Hill and King Alfred's Tower, but it is not easily accessible. In late February, Hidden Wiltshire contributor Paul Timlett walked the length of it, as well as it's near sibling, Little Knoll and he describes this below.
Long Knoll and Little Knoll by Paul Timlett.
On Friday 22 February I set off bright and early, once again in thick fog. The forecast was for the fog to slowly give way to mist and clear completely by 10:00 so I thought if I could get to the top of my designated hill of the day by 09:00 I’d have plenty of time to watch the mist clear and hopefully get some great shots.
My targets this time were Long Knoll and Little Knoll near Kilmington. These hills straddle the B3092 just to the south of Maiden Bradley. I arrived at Kilmington at 08:00 and parked in the lane that ends at the church. My plan was to use the footpaths from Kilmington and to climb the western flanks of Long Knoll from where I would capture the views through the clearing mist. From there I would walk the 1.5km ridge eastwards dropping down to the B3092 where I would cross the road and somehow climb up onto Little Knoll, notwithstanding the absence of footpaths. After taking some shots from Little Knoll back towards Long Knoll, south towards Mere and east toward the Deverills I would then loop roughly south before heading west back to Kilmington along a series of Byways and Bridleways. That was the plan!
Things did not start well. Far from lifting the fog was thickening. Visibility was no more than about 10 metres. But worse was the fact that the series of connecting footpaths between Kilmington and the western flank of Long Knoll have been ploughed up, and most of the signs have disappeared (or been disappeared). Someone doesn’t want people walking across their land! With no landmarks or visual references whatsoever I took repeated compass bearings from my map. I’d walk towards the furthest clump of mud that I could see in the ploughed field, before taking another bearing. Miraculously I managed to hit each successive stile as I made slow progress across acres of mud.
At one point I came to a stile where the map told me the footpath went straight ahead between two buildings, marked Homestalls on the OS map. One of these was a large and expensive looking new house. The footpath quite literally appeared to go up their drive past the garage. Mysteriously the footpath sign was missing. Or most of it was. It appeared to have been neatly cut off. Anyway, not to be deterred (I know my rights) I ploughed on…into another ploughed field behind the very expensive house.
Eventually I reached the slopes of Long Knoll. I knew that only because I was aware of being very shot of breath. I still couldn’t see anything other than the vague outline of hawthorn that appeared to be leaning at an angle of 45 degrees.
Now for the facts. Long Knoll is an 85 acre biological Site of Special Scientific Interest. The trig point at the western end is 288 metres high. From Kilmington it is an extremely steep climb. With a very heavy load of camera equipment I was almost on my hands and knees. I’d love to say the views from the top made the climb worthwhile but I still couldn’t see anything. And to make matters worse it was freezing cold despite the double figure temperatures that were promised. By now it was 09:30 (90 minutes after I set off from the church about a mile away) and there was no way I was going have spectacular views by 10:00. So I contented myself with taking pictures of the contorted and twisted trees silhouetted against the mist in the woodland that stretches along the northern edge of the summit ridge. After a gentle 1.5km descent I decided to sit it out. I wasn’t going to leave without a shot of the views. Huddled in a ditch sheltering from the bitterly cold wind dressed in four layers including thermals and a down jacket I waited for an hour and a half! Eventually things started to happen. The wind dropped, there was light and there was warmth. The mist was clearing, but not yet enough to get the far-reaching views I had promised myself. So I took some photographs and decided to complete the descent to the road.
In true Wiltshire Council style the footpath at the bottom of Long Knoll deposits you onto the busy B3092 with no onward right of way. I was damned if I was going to walk along a busy and dangerous road so I crossed it whereupon I found a gate and a gap in a fence (I don’t like climbing fences as they are usually there for a reason) and made my escape onto the track/road past Little Knoll heading towards Rodmead Farm and the White Sheet Downs.
The OS map does not reveal any rights of way on Little Knoll but there was a gate and a style so I needed no second invitation. The hill reared sharply in front of me but by tracking along its base either left or right you can find a more gentle climb from both the western and eastern ends of the knoll. By this time the fog had lifted to reveal a beautiful blue sky and warm sunlight. From the top I finally found my spectacular views, albeit south towards Mere was still hazy. I walked along the top from west to east. By heading in this direction a view of the Deverills (and the subject of one of my earlier blogs) gradually emerges. Even though I knew it was coming, the view was still stunning.
Apart from its sumptuous shape there is little to tell about Little Knoll. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry! But it seems the word “knoll”, meaning a small hill or mound, is derived from the Old English word “cnoll” meaning hilltop and is of Germanic origin. However, since access to Little Knoll from the little road along its southern edge is easy I would thoroughly recommend making the effort.
As for the return journey, in truth it was a bit of a slog. The views ahead towards the National Trust Reserve of White Sheet Downs look enticing. But the views back north that take in the full length of the two knolls make them look inconsequential form this angle. But from above? Well take a look at this link:
Absolutely breathtaking. We need our very own Glyn Coy to get up there with his drone. The Bronze Age earthworks (where I sheltered from the cold when I first arrived at the summit) are clearly visible. In 1810 Sir Richard Colt-Hoare (the Hoare banking family built the house and gardens at Stourhead) wrote in Ancient Wiltshire, Vol.i, p.41-2. “At the western and most elevated point of this hill [Long Knoll] is a low tumulus, which on opening, we found had once contained a skeleton, but had been disturbed, probably when the boundary ditch between the counties of Wilts and Somerset was made across the barrow." Ancient Monuments says “Early 19th century excavation uncovered 'ancient' pottery, an inhumation and Roman coins”.
The final leg of my walk involved an interminable trudge along an almost impassable Byway. It has clearly been the victim of a hedge cutting machine recently. It is deeply rutted with thick cloying mud. The scene of devastation caused by the hedge cutting was frankly appalling. More slash and burn than a manicure. In places it was impossible to walk any further so I took to the adjacent fields. Upon crossing the ever-present B3092 again the way was only slightly easier but I’m not sure I would like to try driving along it at the national speed limit as the sign at the top of the lane was urging me to do!
In summary I can’t in all honestly recommend the walk that I did, unless the landowners improve the rights of way. Unfortunately it is only possible to access Long Knoll on public rights of way from Kilmington in the west or from the B3092 in the east. I would counsel against attempting to walk along the B3092 so that leaves the ploughed fields of Kilmington. However, I would recommend that you find your way to the top of both Knolls if you don’t mind a stiff climb. It’s worth it for the splendid views.
All images copyright of Paul Timlett unless stated otherwise