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  • Paul Timlett

Newton Tony - its Railway and its Roman Road

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

Inspired by Elaine Perkins’ post of 2 February in the Hidden Wiltshire Facebook Group about Newton Tony and the Winterbourne Downs RSPB Reserve, my walking buddy and fellow Natural England volunteer Stu and I decided it was time to re-visit the area and explore a bit more widely (Last time we ended up in the Malet Arms for lunch so we didn’t get very far!) But on this occasion we wanted to dig into Newton Tony’s past as a transportation hub dating from the Iron Age all the way to the mid 20th century. We plotted a walk starting at Winterbourne Downs that would hopefully take us along a disused railway to the Port Way Roman Road, thence to Boscombe and over to Allington before returning to Newton Tony and the Reserve. We wanted to see if it was possible to walk along the old disused railway line that passes through Newton Tony – more of that anon. In all it was just over 6 miles (just under 10 kms).

As with our previous visit we were somewhat flummoxed by Ordnance Survey. Both the 1:25,000 and the 1:50,000 maps show the Reserve as being located to the south of the minor road between Allington and Newton Tony. It most definitely is not. The car park can be found on the north side of the road just outside Newton Tony and the Reserve extends on the north side of the road towards Allington.

We left the car park and onto the road, hoping that we could cross it to get to the line of the disused railway opposite, by Manor Farm. In short, you cannot. The field is clearly private property and is fenced off. But the earthworks in the field mark the site of what was Newton Tony railway station. According to Wikipedia “The Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway, opened in 1902, connected with the main line…” (London & South Western Railway) “… to the east of the village. It carried largely military goods and passengers to Amesbury, extending later to Bulford, Larkhill and Rollestone. There was a station with two platforms, a goods siding and cattle yard west of Newton Tony, to the south of the Allington road. The line closed to passengers in 1952 and to goods in 1963, after which the track was dismantled.” The line can be traced all the way through the Winterbourne Downs Reserve to the Port Way to the south-east. I think the cattle yard mentioned must have been where the Reserve is marked now on the OS map.

Unable to follow the railway we descended the hill on the road into Newton Tony where we turned right and followed the road alongside the still dry bed of the River Bourne. When we’re on a walk we always make a point of stopping at village churches. Sadly St Andrew’s Church was locked but there was a stunning spread of primroses in the church yard.

St Andrew's Church, Newton Tony

The road alongside the Bourne is lined with many attractive houses and cottages. Since it is a No Through Road it is lovely and quiet. Our next objective was the Port Way Roman road alongside the main railway to London. This is where the road ends, around a mile away. Teasing us slightly above and to our right was the disused railway.

The Old Rectory, Newton Tony - a snip at £3.5m in 2018!

The Old Reading Room, Newton Tony

Cottages by the Bourne, Newton Tony

Leaving the village we continued along the road until we came to a substantial bridge high above the bed of the disused railway. The road continues to what is still called Amesbury Junction where the Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway would have joined the mainline for rail traffic heading west towards Salisbury or east towards Andover. We decided to see if we could get down from the bridge onto the track bed and follow it to Newton Tony Junction where the the Amesbury and Military Camp line split – one branch for westbound trains via Amesbury Junction, the other for eastbound trains. For safety reasons there is fencing preventing access to the track bed. It’s a steep climb down. But the fence in one place was missing so we decided to have a look. Both Stu and I are experienced climbers so we risked it and it was clear many had done so before us. But to be honest I would advise against. It’s a long steep drop if you slip. Once on the track bed we headed towards what was Newton Tony Junction where the line once divided. There is nothing see other than the earthworks in an otherwise featureless field so we returned to the road.

Road Bridge over The Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway

Back on the road it arrives at a T-junction with the line of the Roman road – Port Way (or Portway). This ancient road linked Silchester and Old Sarum and may have pre-dated the Roman occupation. But the Romans adopted and improved it, forming part of a longer route between Londinium (London) and Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter), although the section between Londinium and Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) is correctly known as The Devil's Highway, and the section between Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum) and Vindocladia (Badbury Rings) is Ackling Dyke. Silchester and Old Sarum were both important Iron Age settlements hence the theory that Port Way pre-dates the Romans, although both settlements were later occupied by the Romans. Nowadays the route runs parallel to the mainline railway from Salisbury to Basingstoke and on to London.

Port Way - course of the Roman Road

Despite being next to the railway this is an incredibly peaceful place. Walking as we did on a weekday, we saw only one other person as we continued the couple of kms from the junction to the turn towards Boscombe, accompanied only by birdsong. The peace was only interrupted periodically by trains thundering past at 90 mph (the speed limit on this stretch of the line) but we both remarked that the absence of the continuous intrusive sound of traffic was at once noticeable. As we continued alongside the railway line the brooding presence of Porton Down came into view on the other side of the tracks. There are reputedly 18 bowl barrows in the parish of Newton Tony but almost all of them are in the restricted area of Porton Down. Bristling with CCTV cameras, the huge mysterious buildings and plant seem menacing, yet the civilian laboratories there are home to scientists undertaking important and valuable medical research. But the rolling farmland and a willow humming with bees right by a tunnel underneath the railway seemed an inviting place to stop for a coffee.

From the Port Way we turned onto the byway to Boscombe. We wanted to visit the simple but pretty little 12thcentury church of St Andrew. Sadly this was church number two during the day that was locked. It’s interesting that whilst Boscombe lies in the parish of Allington, it is St Andrew’s that serves both parishes whilst the church at Allington is now redundant. Thankfully the busy A338 that passes through the village bypasses the church. The little lane in front of it was likely the original route but is now a little safe haven from cars and lorries, lined as it is with pretty cottages.

East Farm House, Boscombe by the bridleway to Boscombe

Church of St Andrew, Boscombe

Bridge Cottage - next to the church in Boscombe