Searching for Kitt’s Grave (In Memory of Kay Chalk 1929-2019)
Updated: May 18, 2021
By Paul Timlett
This walk scrapes into Wiltshire by the skin of its teeth. In fact I parked my car in Hampshire but within 100 metres managed to escape back to Wiltshire. The walk takes in some truly spectacular scenery mixed with a little history and a smattering of mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed every 59.9 seconds of this walk. But what, I hear you ask, of the remaining 0.1 second? Well, let’s get this out of the way. It’s time for a rant.
Why is that people come to some of the most beautiful places and decide to trash them? Why go to the trouble of driving all the way to out of the way places only to scatter litter and leave piles of dog poo? Surely they must look with disgust at what other people have left behind, only to then add their contribution? Or maybe they don’t notice these things? They clearly give no thought to those that follow. It’s not a huge difference to fly tipping. As the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said about panic buying “STOP IT. JUST STOP IT”!
Anyway, I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest. Back to the matter in hand.
This 14.5 km/9 mile walk across easy terrain begins at the Martin Down Nature Reserve free car park by the A354, passes through Vernditch Chase, over Marleycombe Hill, along the Chalke Valley before returning up Church Bottom to briefly touch Ox Drove and the final leg on a Roman road. The start and end of the walk tracks the county border so if we ignore the car park this definitely qualifies as Wiltshire.
Having parked the car it was necessary to cross to the north side of the A354. This can be a precarious process. Traffic always travels quickly along this road, and at the wrong time it can be busy. I set off at 9:15 on a weekday so the rush hour had passed. But extreme caution was still required to cross safely to the track opposite the car park entrance.
Once safely across the road the track quickly led into the Forestry Commission woodland of Vernditch Chase. This is a 230ha/568 acre area of mixed woodland managed by the Woodland Trust. You very quickly get a sense of the history of this place just before you enter the wood. On my left next to the bridleway was a hump which I first thought was a long barrow. It is in fact the bank, or agger, on top of which ran Ackling Dyke Roman Road. The road runs for 22 miles from Old Sarum to the hill fort at Badbury Rings, providing a rapid transit route for Roman soldiers. It formed part of a wider network or roads. From Badbury Rings the network heads south to the harbour at Hamworthy, and west through Dorchester onwards to Exeter. To the east from Old Sarum it connected to the Port Way to Silchester and London. The top of the embankment now forms the border with Hampshire/Dorset.
Once into the woodland I quickly came across a long barrow in a small clearing to my right. As you pass this barrow you enter deep into the twisted chaos of woodland following a clearly defined path. Even at this early hour the heat was fierce on this end of July day so the shade provided by the dense cover of a trees was a welcome relief.
Route finding through this part of the wood was pretty straight forward. Emerging briefly from the tree cover into an open glade I bear right towards a rather pointless metal pedestrian gate standing alone in the glade. On passing the gate (you can go through it if you like!) I entered the woodland once again. After about 75 metres I followed the bridleway round to the left ignoring the wooden gate to the right with its information board. A couple of days after I completed this walk someone told me that the large edible Roman snail can be found on Vernditch Chase. It’s a protected species and the largest in the UK. I did not see any. And they weren’t the only thing I didn’t see as you’re about to find out.
This brings me to the title of this walk. The 1:25,000 OS map has the words ‘Kitt’s Grave” to the west of the wood. Intrigued by this I headed to the end of the bridleway to the point where it leaves the wood and a track joins from the right, before heading north west through a tunnel of trees between open fields of crop. I ventured onto the edge of the field of crops to my left. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for but could see nothing that looked like a grave. So I went into the field to the right. At the corner of the field formed by the two aforementioned tracks there were several clumps of tall grass. Thinking each one might conceal a grave I poked around but to no avail. This was starting to get personal. I Googled Kitt’s Grave to find out more. The sensible thing to do would have been to do this before I set off. Various stories abound as to who Kitt was. Some say Kit(t) was a highwayman. Others that Kit(t) was an old gypsy woman found dead hereabouts. However, someone who claimed to have found Kitt’s Grave identified it as a long barrow in the beech wood that lay to the right of the bridleway I had been following before reaching the edge of the wood, and indeed the map shows a long barrow in the wood. I plunged into the trees and started to hunt around, getting further and further into the woodland. After spending far too long searching, I gave up. Notwithstanding the folklore, it seems Kitt’s Grave is in fact a very indistinct long barrow, so likely Neolithic or Bronze Age. Being (how I read someone else describe themselves) a completist this really irked me. I’m a stubborn persistent bugger and this was unfinished business. Hold that thought!
I continued on my way back along the bridleway through the tunnel of trees between the fields, north west in the direction of Marleycombe Hill. On reaching a minor road I turned right along it for a short distance reaching a yellow grit bin at the junction of the road and Ox Drove. There was a small copse to the right which seemed to be a favourite spot for fly tipping. Passing the sodden mattress (which will hopefully be gone by the time you visit) I climbed the stile next to the metal gate on my left onto the footpath over Marleycombe Hill towards Bowerchalke. The views that open up to the left and behind as the path climbed gently were spectacular. It was now 11:00 and it had taken me nearly two hours to make not very much progress at all, due to my blundering around in search of long barrows. It was getting near to coffee time.
Passing the magnificent lonely and photogenic flint barn by the path I descended towards a style where I was greeted by yet more stunning views. The perfect spot to take a panorama since there was no way I was going to get all that countryside in one frame. I then turned to the right away from the path heading to the clearly defined earthworks on the hillside. The perfect place for coffee and to watch the cricket match taking place on the immaculate pitch in Bowerchalke far below.
I was going to say I wasted yet more time sitting on Marleycombe Hill but that’s not true. It wasn’t wasted time. After all, enjoying the peace and solitude is what it’s all about for me. I could easily have spent hours here, surrounded by red clover and betony, nodding off in the morning sunshine to the soporific sound of the buzzards circling overhead. However there was a walk to be completed. There were two route options here. Backtrack to the footpath and descend into Bowerchalke in order to head north east along the road through the village, or continue along the escarpment of the hill. Being a miserable old sod I took the latter course. I had no wish to hasten my encounter with “civilisation”. So I continued across the northern face of the hill and then zigzagged on the faint path downhill to pick up another footpath into Mead End, at the eastern end of Bowerchalke. This was a wide grassy path and it’s worth looking back at this point to the brooding bulk of Marleycombe Hill as it watches over the village.