The River Wylye

Updated: May 1, 2021

By Steve Dewey


Introduction


In this post I'm going to take you on a photographic trip along the Wylye valley. To do this we're going to stop at road bridges or public crossings across the Wylye, from Kingston Deverill to where it joins the Nadder at Wilton. There are of course many other footbridges, but these are mostly on private land. The Wylye is, of course, not hidden but, like me, you might have crossed many of these bridges over the years without stopping to admire the views up and down stream.


The Wylye begins in the south-west of Wiltshire, near the village of Kingston Deverill, and heads east towards Salisbury. The river is shallow and clear for much of its run. The Wylye cuts through the chalk downs of Wiltshire towards Wilton and as it does so it winds its way through the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This AONB stretches across the south west of Wiltshire and is one of the largest and most rural of the AONBs in England and Wales. It covers nearly 400 square miles of chalkland and ancient woodland, downs and plains.


Note: For the sake of brevity, and safety, a couple of bridges have been omitted, although I note their whereabouts.


The beginning


The Wylye rises about 2.25 miles/3.6 kilometres west of Kingston Deverill, perhaps somewhere after Rodmead farm, perhaps near Maiden Bradley, perhaps near Kilmington, perhaps beneath the slopes of the Long Knoll.


The ridge above Kilmington, which runs from Penselwood to Horningsham and includes Gare Hill, appears to be a watershed with many springs along it. The Wylye, the Brue, the Stour, and the Frome all rise somewhere to the east or west of this ridge.


The OS map shows the Wylye flowing through Kilmington. Where the Wylye rises and where it issues is undoubtedly determined by the weather and the season, dry or wet. Still, by the time it reaches Kingston Deverill, in that short few miles, it has already become a river full enough to warrant a stone bridge rather than a ford.


The name Wylye (which, for readers not from these parts, is pronounced why-lee) is, as noted in The Place Names of Wiltshire, of 'uncertain etymology'. The authors of that book suggest it might mean tricky stream, but also note the word has no connection to the adjective wily. The Wylye gives its name to the county, and perhaps to the local inhabitants under the Saxons. Again, in The Placenames of Wiltshire we read that the tribal name of the people who lived around the Wylye in the ninth century were called 'the Wilsætan, or dwellers by the Wylye.' The authors go on to suggest that Wiltshire, as an administrative unit, existed within what would be its medieval boundaries by the end of the eighth century.


It is possible that the first bridge to cross the Wylye is at Kilmington, but the current COVID-19 restrictions have limited my travel. If there is a bridge there, it will have to wait for another, less restricted time.


Kingston Deverill


So, we head east along the Wylye seeking the first bridge. The first bridge is at Kingston Deverill, which is the first of the four Deverills heading east. And now there is some confusion, for which river flows under this bridge? It seems the headwaters of the Wylye once had another name, the Deverill. There are two competing ideas about the derivation of this name. Etymologists suggest that the name could be Celtic, similar to Welsh dwfr idl, 'the river of the fertile upland region', or that it could be British dubroialon, 'fertile land on the stream'.


There is another tradition, however, a more folksy tradition, that suggests the name is derived from 'diving rill', because the stream first starts as an underground watercourse before becoming a stream above ground. The third song of Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion (1612) declares that the Wylye rises in Selwood Forest, and brings up:


…Diver in her traine Which, when the envious soile would from her course restraine, A mile creeps under earth…


The first bridge at Kingston Deverill

However, the diving rill seems unlikely to me. Rill is not really a Wiltshire word.


Kingston Deverill was once the King's farm (tun) on the Deverill. It is the only Deverill to have been royal property, having been taken into the Crown's possession after the Norman Conquest.


At Kingston Deverill, the river is crossed three times. The second bridge overlooks the gardens that butt up against the river. The old school sits next to it.


The third crossing of the Wylye, or the Deverill, is a ford. It's a long ford, and quite deep in places, so not easily traversed by vehicle. (In fact, I once fell off my trail bike trying to get through it.) Best to walk across the footbridge.


It is thought that at this ford two Roman roads crossed the Wylye. According to the Wiltshire Community History Web site, one was the ancient lead road from Portchester to the Mendip Hills (via Winchester and Salisbury), while the other headed north from Poole, presumably towards Bath. The two roads joined at the boundary between Monkton and Kingston Deverill. The road from Poole, however, seems speculative; according to the Ordnance survey map of Roman Britain, once the route reaches a point east of Shaftesbury, its route north of there is only a possibility. Perhaps it never reached this ford. The same can be said of the road to the Mendips; its route is also speculative after Pertwood.


However old the ford is, in spring and summer, with green trees arching over it and reflecting in the slow river, it is a lovely spot.


The ford at Kingston Deverill

Brixton Deverill


The next bridge downstream on the diving rill, the wriggling Wylye, the (perhaps) Roman-forded stream, is Brixton Deverill. We have skipped through Monkton Deverill (the monk's farm) as there is no crossing of the river there.


The etymology of Brixton is the farm or settlement of Brihtric. This is one possible site where King Alfred gathered his army before the battle at Edington (Ethandune) – the other possibility being Penselwood.


It is suggested that this is the earliest inhabited site along the Deverill. On the downs above the village, to the south-east, is evidence of the Roman road heading towards Monkton Deverill, and ultimately, perhaps, to the ford at Kingston Deverill.


At the bridge here, the river can be seen meandering along the edges of well-kept gardens.


The bridge at Brixton Deverill

Longbridge Deverill - first bridge


At Longbridge Deverill there are two bridges. At least this Deverill is named after a bridge. The Domesday book shows all the Deverills as being named Deveral. By 1239, Longbridge Deverill is distinguished from the others as Peverel Longpunt.


Longbridge Deverill has two bridges. Which one of the two was the long bridge? I suspect the upstream one, the bridge the modern A350 crosses, the main road to Poole on the south coast. The road has long been important and might once have been either the southern continuation of the Ridgeway, or a loop or branch off it.


The view from the first bridge at Longbridge Deverill

Longbridge Deverill - second bridge


The second bridge in Longbridge Deverill carries the Heytesbury to Bruton turnpike road across the river. East is Sutton Veny, west is Maiden Bradley. It is difficult to work out the age of bridges. One wonders how old the bridges along the Wylye are, and how they can be dated. When was the first bridge built here or there, of what material? Was it always bridged in stone, or did a wooden bridge first exist? Is the bridge we see a replacement, and if so, is it the first, second or third replacement?


We do know that the second Longbridge Deverill bridge is a replacement; a new bridge was built in the 1940s, as indicated by an inscription on the bridge.


The view from the second bridge at Longbridge Deverill

Job's Mill, Crockerton


The river runs east of Crockerton, and winds towards Warminster. The next road crossing is at Job's Mill, on Five Ash Lane between Crockerton Green and Sutton Veny.


Job's Mill was known in the 19th Century as Sutton Veny Mill. It had been informally known as Job's Mill since the eighteenth century because Job Lewis and his son, also called Job, became tenants of the mill. After 1963, when it became the home of Lord Bath, the name Job's Mill replaced the older name.


Job's Mill is an impressive, stately, building and its water management is very structured. After passing through the mill, the tail race of the mill stream runs for a length – the length of a large, well-kept lawn – underground. The river itself tumbles most elegantly from the head race down a stepped stone weir.


The weir at Job's Mill

Near Warminster and Bore Hill farm, under the A36 Bypass


The next bridge across the Wylye is one of the newest bridges. Built in 1988 to carry the Warminster bypass, this bridge passes high across the river. The river here runs through trees at the edge of Southleigh Wood. The day I took this photo, the area was lush with spring green and yellows. It is a very bosky stretch of the Wylye.



The first bridge on the bypass

Henford’s Marsh


The Wylye now skirts along the south edge of Warminster. Warminster itself stands on much higher ground than the river, but the hamlets of Henford's Marsh and Boreham are touched by its waters. At Henford's Marsh, a way crosses the river. Was this way ever a road? Was this a road crossing? Certainly, in the days before the combustion engine, horses could have crossed here, and possibly carts. However, as the name Henford's Marsh suggests the land around the river was marshy and, perhaps, most certainly in winter, too claggy for anything but a walker over a footbridge.

A private footbridge in a garden at Henford Marsh

Boreham Mill


The Wylye at Boreham is bridged twice by the Sutton Veny road, once for the river, and once for the mill stream There has been a mill here since at least the Domesday Book. The current mill is a rather impressive brick building of 1886.

The first bridge at Boreham Mill

Between Heytesbury and Sutton Veny


In the shadow of the Warminster bypass, the Heytesbury to Bruton road again crosses the Wylye, having crossed it at Longbridge Deverill second bridge a few miles back downstream.


Between Sutton Veny and Heytesbury

The river then goes under the bypass again on its journey towards Wilton. This bridge is far too close to the Warminster bypass to risk taking a photograph from, and there is no footpath by the river. Hereabouts, the Wylye leaves West Wiltshire and heads into countryside that somehow feels a little different to that it has left.


Heytesbury to Tytherington


The river now runs along the south of Heytesbury. The first bridge is on the road from Heytesbury to Tytherington. Here, the river runs along the back of gardens. Willows hang over the river, yellow in spring.


The bridge on the Heytesbury to Tytherington road

Heytesbury – Heytesbury Mill


A lot of water management once took place around Heytesbury – channels diverted water from the Wylye to the meadows, and to a mill stream for Heytesbury Mill. Many of the watercourses were crossed by fords as late as the early 20th century. Now, many of those water courses are dry, including the mill race. The bridge that crosses the river here is a modern concrete affair (and is interesting because of that).


Upstream from the crossing near Heytesbury Mill

Upton Lovell


The next bridge is that which takes the road from Upton Lovell across the river. The bridge is one of the few named bridges along the length of the river; it is named Suffers Bridge. This sounds like a personal name rather than a condition, perhaps the landowner who built the bridge. Next to the bridge is a willow. This lovely willow is best seen in early spring, before the other trees come into leaf and crowd around it. Arriving at this bridge at the time of year at which this photograph was taken was a highlight in this photographic journey. The tree can be spectacular in the right light.


The weeping willow at the bridge on the Upton Lovell road

Boyton


When Codford had a station, the station was closer to Boyton than it was to Codford St Peter. There is a bridge on the road from the station to the Boyton. The road is called Station Road. Where it makes a junction with the Wylye Road, the elaborate gates of Boyton Manor sit opposite. As interesting as those gates are, and that manor is, this is a story about views from bridges. So, next is the view downstream from the bridge on Station Road.


The river downstream of the bridge near Boynton

Codford St Mary


The road from Codford St Mary to Stockton is the next to cross the river. The river has since Boreham been winding some way to the south of the intervening villages, but here the river has turned slightly north to kiss the very edge of Codford St Mary.