Quaker's Walk, Oliver's Castle and Battle of Roundway Down
In the first major excursion of 2022, the Hidden Wiltshire team met up in Devizes to do a walk. Glyn Coy and Paul Timlett (the podcasters) met up with Steve Dixon (podcast musician) at the bottom of Quaker's Walk. This long avenue lined by trees leads from the end of New Park Road and drops you back out on Folly Road in Roundway. At this point you are at the foot of the downland that leads steeply up to Roundway Down and Oliver's Castle. Time to go up.
On the day we chose to do the walk the weather was awful. In Devizes itself, it was wet and drizzly but as we got up to higher land, a strong wind would drive the rain into our faces and clothes. As expected at this time of year the paths were a quagmire of mud, and as we reached Oliver's Castle we all remarked how remarkable it was that no one had slipped over. A few minutes later Glyn's feet slipped away beneath him, leaving him prostrate in what can only be described as a mud bath. It was one of those days. Later on in the walk, we ended up on King's Play Hill where the wind had picked up even more. He didn't tell us at the time but as we were descending, a strong gust lifted Paul off his feet and on to his backside on top of a Bronze Age bowl barrow.
But back to the beginning. Quaker's Walk has been a right of way for over 190 years, and originally crossed the New Park Estate, which was established as a Deer Park in the 12th Century. It has the feel of a long drive, that you can imagine once led to the front door of a stately home. It is a wonderful place to start a walk that on this occasion, starts and ends in urban Devizes. But it takes you deep into rural Wiltshire, where at times you will feel far from civilisation.
At the end of Quaker's Walk, when you are in Roundway, you are heading uphill following the road. There is another right of way that takes you across a field and steeply uphill but at this time of year with the mud and weather the road was a safer option. Eventually the road splits into two directions in front of Leipzig Plantation (named after the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, during the Napoleonic Wars). The right hand fork takes you up Roundway Hill to the Devizes White Horse. But we take the left fork, which heads towards Roundway Hill Covert. As we reached the plateau, the wind and rain was so severe we cut left across a field to enter the shelter of the wood, following its well marked paths to Oliver's Castle.
Oliver's Castle is a stunning location. Wild and windswept, it offers outstanding views across to Morgan's Hill in the East and Salisbury Plain to the South. Once an Iron Age hillfort, its exposed location means that the few trees that grow up here are hardy, and shaped by the wind. It is a well known location in Wiltshire, and once featured in the movie "1984", where Richard Burton and John Hurt glanced across to the trees on the summit.
The edge of the hill offers extremely steep sides down to the flatter lands below, and the aptly named "Bloody Ditch" can be clearly seen. This place is well known as the final scene of the Battle of Roundway Down in 1643. The battle is described as follows:
The Royalist cavalry was divided into three brigades; as well as being in overall command, Wilmot led that on the left, with Sir John Byron on the right, and the Earl of Crawford in reserve. Despite having ridden all night, Wilmot attacked immediately and caught Waller out of position, with Haselrig and his regiment of "London lobsters" in an exposed forward position. Haselrig tried to rally his men but withdrew when he saw Bryon preparing to attack, and rejoined the rest of Waller's cavalry.
As Waller advanced down the hill, Byron continued his attack supported by Wilmot and the Royalist reserve under Crawford; with their infantry unable to fire for fear of hitting their own men, the Parliamentarian cavalry were swept from the field. Pursued by the Royalists, some of them rode over the edge of a steep precipice and into an area that became known as "the Bloody Ditch".
Now isolated and with 3,000 Royalists from Devizes advancing against their rear, Waller ordered his infantry into defensive squares and began withdrawing towards the northwest. After approximately an hour, Bryon’s cavalry returned from their pursuit and captured the Parliamentarian artillery which they turned on the retreating enemy, quickly causing them to break apart. Fleeing in all directions, many were cut down by Wilmot's men; Waller and the remnants of his cavalry escaped toward Bristol, leaving the remainder to surrender.
(Source: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Roundway_Down )
From Oliver's Castle we headed over to King's Play Hill to the North. This hill is just as dramatic, but less well trodden so we had it to ourselves. The views across to the Pewsey Vale and beyond were outstanding and at this point in the walk, we felt we were in a really remote place. Then we headed East towards Morgan's Hill and Furze Knoll in the distance along a byway, until we hit the Wessex Ridgeway route which would take us back into Devizes to retrace our steps along Quaker's Walk.
We started the walk at 9:30am, and the sun was setting at 4pm when we got back. We took our time because we recorded a podcast along the way (listen to it here: Podcast 27 ). It was a long day, but an extremely rewarding walk. The weather started terribly but did clear up, and the ground was challenging. But a fine walk in good company in the stunning Wiltshire countryside? Days don't get much better than this.
Thanks Paul Timlett for taking the photographs on the day. The route itself is around 9 miles, but you start and end in Devizes where parking is plentiful.