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  • Paul Timlett

Tidcombe, Hippenscombe and the Devil’s Waistcoat

Updated: Jun 11, 2022

This blog has become something of a labour of love, albeit a challenging one. It also became somewhat of a saga. Chute Causeway, close to the Hampshire border, has long held a fascination for me. A mixture of romanticism and intrigue attracted me to its name, together with a distant memory of a long day’s bike ride from Shrewton.

On 6 April 2021 I found myself back on Chute Causeway after a gap of many years. I can’t remember why I went. I was driving up the steep narrow lane that is Conholt Hill from Vernham Dean heading to the Causeway when I glanced to my right. In an instant the view took me aback. I slammed on the brakes and stopped dead, blocking the road. Thankfully there were no other vehicles around. The landscape before me was simply breath taking. It seemed somehow familiar. Far below me a lane snaked its way through the sinuous curves of a combe and disappeared on its journey to some unseen destination. A timeless scene. A rural idyll. I leapt from the car, the engine still running, and took a single photograph on my phone from the side of the road. This was my introduction to what I later discovered to be Hippenscombe.

The Causeway by Eric Ravilious - where it all began

Hippenscombe from Chute Causeway - channelling my inner Ravilious

Later that day I posted the photograph on the Hidden Wiltshire Facebook page. Glyn Coy responded with an image of the 1937 painting by Eric Ravilious entitled “The Causeway”. My photograph was taken from almost exactly the same spot where Ravilious created his painting 84 years earlier. The only difference was that he had painted it from a position just above the road so that the road appears in the foreground of his painting. Other than that the combe itself was almost unchanged. The field boundaries and woodlands were in their exact same places. I realised that I had seen the painting before and that perhaps it had remained in my subconscious until that fateful day in April 2021.

Fast forward to later in 2021 and a conversation Glyn and I had with David Dawson at Wiltshire Museum. He asked us if we could put together a walk for the Museum taking in Tidcombe Long Barrow, Hippenscombe and the Devil’s Waistcoat. Ever since that conversation I’ve been on a quest to create a route of an acceptable length with places to park. This turned out to be more difficult than I thought!

At the time of writing this I’ve been back to this area five times and in all weathers. My trusted walking buddy Stu joined me on three occasions. The first time I returned on a scouting expedition and it snowed, although sadly not enough to settle (I’d love to see Chute Causeway and Hippenscombe under a blanket of snow). I took some photographs in bitterly cold conditions and departed. The next time Stu and I did a short walk starting from Tidcombe Church up to the open access area of Tidcombe Down and Wexcombe Down above Tidcombe to the west. We wanted to check that we could reach the bridleway to the west of the Downs. (It was blocked by a fence line through which we could only pass by cutting the string that held a Wiltshire gate in place – we replaced it having passed through.) On the third occasion Stu and I trialled the walk that I’m about to describe. But it was a cold grey day and the photographs were dull and flat, so I returned twice more in better light to re-shoot the photographs. The photographs here are from several visits.

Before we start the walk, a disclaimer. This route is not the finished article. I’m sure there are some minor improvements that could be made but I think it’s best for the visitor to decide these for themselves. Think of this as more of a guide to the area.

The walk Stu and I did began at the tiny village of Tidcombe. We parked by a wall opposite the church but there’s only room for three or four cars here if parked carefully. I’ve parked here on four occasions now and there has only ever been space for one or two cars as the local residents (of whom there are few) also park here.

Tidcombe is little more than a hamlet at the end of a narrow lane. It contains several large houses including The Manor House which faces the church porch across a field. The manor’s history can be traced back to at least the 8th century AD and at one time was held by the Seymour family, relatives of Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour. The Manor House was built in 1742, possibly by John Tanner, but a short history of the house inside the church states that it was commissioned by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. Over the years the house was owned variously by the Rendall, Tanner and Hayward families, all of whom are commemorated in the church.

The Manor House, Tidcombe

The church itself, St Michael’s, was certainly standing in the 12th century. There’s a lot more detail about the village and the church, together with several photographs, in my post in the Hidden Wiltshire Facebook Group dated 21 November 2021. As I said in that post the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the church as “humble”. That it may be but it’s a wonderfully peaceful place and well worth a visit. So much so that Andrew Rumsey, the Bishop of Ramsbury, performed some of his songs and read from his book there on Christmas Eve 2021. His photographs of the light pouring through the stained glass windows into the churchyard are stunning.

St Michael's, Tidcombe

Chancel, St Michael's Tidcombe

Stained Glass Window, St Michael's Tidcombe

From our parking place we headed a few metres due south along the lane where, on the outside of and below the bend a footpath crosses a stile and heads across the fields. At the bend do not turn right along the metalled lane unless you intend to do this walk in reverse when we’ll come down that lane at the end of the walk. Once over the stile we passed a poorly restored dew pond, and headed up towards a small wood in the direction of Tidcombe long barrow. It’s a stiff climb up the hill with fine views to the right of a little combe with its prehistoric earthworks. But you soon reach Tidcombe long barrow, which sits beside Chute Causeway around 700m from the village.

Tidcombe long barrow is a substantial Neolithic burial mound 54m long, 24m wide, varying in height between 3m and 4m. The chamber was plundered by local villagers in 1750 and consequently appears as a hollowed area containing four large sarsen blocks. If memory serves correctly I believe there may be some finds from the barrow in Wiltshire Museum. Meanwhile the whole area here is a mass of earthworks, with the ditches close to the barrow likely to have been from the excavation of material for the mound around 3500-4500 years ago. Other earthworks are evidence of ancient field systems.

Tidcombe Long Barrow from Chute Causeway