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The Salisbury Plain Triangle, and Open Access Islands

Updated: Apr 2

If you spend any time with ordnance survey maps you will be familiar with rights of way. The green dashed lines on the map mark walking routes open to all, and they often cross private land. On the 1:25000 maps, you will also come across areas that are bounded by thick orange lines. These are open access areas, where we have a right to roam across the whole space. A good example of this can be found in the hills just south of Edington. I often roam these parts and while you can see the familiar rights of way marked, you have the freedom to explore the whole of the map contained in the orange shaded area.

There is a slight problem with some of these open access areas though. If you look closely at the maps, you will find that many of them are essentially open access islands - in that, while they exist, there is no right of way to access them. So, they sit on private land, isolated from the public, where the only way to access them is to trespass. This is an anomaly created by The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. It was a commendable effort to work with landowners to lock in the legal right to access much of the English countryside, but they must have run out of time to complete the exercise as we are now with this absurd situation where many of the areas with a right to roam are essentially inaccessible. Unless you have a parachute to drop yourself in and a helicopter to get you out.

Anyway, a while ago I was looking at the Ordnance Survey map to find a walking route on Salisbury Plain when I came across one of these open access islands. It was a triangular shaped piece of land on Great Cheverell Hill. If you look at the map extract below, you can see the absurdity of it.

So I decided to to find a walking route to go and see this for myself, and try to find out what is so special about this mysterious triangle. I drove up to New Zealand Farm Camp from Gore Cross. Heading along a byway called the Wessex Ridgeway on the map, I stopped where a bridleway was marked to the right, which would lead me up to Great Cheverell Hill. In mid February, this path was impassable without wellies, as the mud was thick and deep, but as the route descended into the valley there were extensive views across the Plain to the Pewsey Vale.

The Pewsey Vale, visible on the horizon

The valley I was trying to across appears to be called Hill Bottom, and there are two farms that can be found within it. The farm buildings themselves are now used for military training, but there were grazing animals around, as the land is still used for cows and sheep.

Hill Bottom

After reaching the valley floor, a steep path took me up to the summit of Great Cheverell Hill, where I found a track leading south west across a field. According to my map, the fence line along the field would lead me to my mysterious triangle of open access land.

Once there, I found a sign which identified the whole of the hillside including the triangle as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. At either edge of the triangle were wooden blocks in the fence which would have allowed a more athletic person to jump over and explore further but there wasn't much to see. The triangle has been left to scrub, and is full of hawthorn and ant hills.

The fenced off open access triangle

Making my way back down the valley to Hill Bottom Farm and up the other side, I looked back at the triangle, and noticed you could see the shape of it on the side of the hill. Take a look at the photo and see what you think.

The open access triangle on the side of Great Cheverell Hill

So while I have seen the triangle up close, I'm still none the wiser as to why it exists. Yes, it is part of the SSSI, but the boundary of the SSSI extends across the whole of the hillside. There doesn't appear to be a particular reason why this parcel of land would be separated out and given special status as open access. Unless anyone reading this knows and can let me know?

One good thing to come out of this walk, was the wonderful view from the top of Great Cheverell Hill. Views like this are one of the reasons why I love walking in Wiltshire.

The view from Great Cheverell Hill

I didn't know it at the time, but on the weekend that I did this walk there was a national campaign for people to visit their own nearby open access islands. This was organised by a national campaign group called Right to Roam.

So the next day, fellow Hidden Wiltshire writer Paul Timlett visited some other open access islands in Wiltshire and he posted a video about it which can be viewed below.

In the case of my open access triangle, I didn't have to trespass in the end to get there. The land around it is owned by the MOD and is a part of Salisbury Plain with permissive access to walkers but it doesn't alter the fact that these islands exist, and they make no sense at all.

If you want to find out more about this thorny issue, Hidden Wiltshire friend Paul Whitewick has put up an excellent video on youtube which goes into it in more depth. Handily enough, in this video he is exploring open access islands in Wiltshire !


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