On completing this walk I didn’t feel much like writing it up as a blog. My regular walking buddy Stu and I did this walk on a grey miserable November day which was forecast to be dry with sunny spells. Instead we got mizzle all day until the final half hour. It didn’t help our mood, already soured by what felt like a six mile walk in a bog. But on reflection, whilst there were none of the usual scheduled monuments we manage to find in Wiltshire, there were some lovely secluded valleys and woods together with more listed buildings than you can shake a stick at. So, imagining what the walk would be like on a sunny day after a dry spell, I decided to put finger to keyboard. (Note “finger” singular – I never have mastered using more than one per hand to type with.)
This was another route recommended by Hidden Wiltshire follower Jill Caudle. And despite my whinging I am grateful to her for her suggestion. But, if you are going to follow this route, I would urge you to either wear wellies or do it after a prolonged dry spell. Or even on a crisp winter’s day.
The walk begins and ends in the large village (or is it a small town) of Tisbury. For a place with something like 2,500 inhabitants Tisbury really punches above its weight. It has a railway station and buses which means it is feasible to do this walk using public transport. It has two pubs (or more perhaps), two cafes (one of which doubles as a bookshop), a deli and several other shops. It also sports a library, uniquely for Wiltshire an open-air heated swimming pool, a fire station and of course it is home to the famous Messums arts centre. A vibrant place, unlike so many villages in Wiltshire that have become little more than commuter villages having lost all their services.
Whilst this route is more about the landscape, Tisbury itself has a long history and there is evidence of man’s occupation in the area dating back to at least the Bronze Age. There are historical references to the village itself from the 8th century AD. Nearby are the two Wardour castles, Pythouse and its gardens, and the Fonthill Estate about which we have often written here at Hidden Wiltshire.
We parked at the free car park in Nadder Close just off The Avenue and I’ve shown this as the start on the route map. But the car park does get busy so you may have to park on the roadside somewhere if you can do so safely. So for the purposes of this description I’ll begin by the war memorial on The Square in the centre of the village opposite the old Wiltshire Brewery.
We spent a little time at the memorial reading the two plaques, one of which commemorates the loss of the crew of an RAF Liberator bomber which crashed nearby in Oddford Vale on 28 July 1943. The plaque is made of a very shiny brass so it’s quite difficult to read the inscription in my photograph.
From the memorial we crossed over the road and into the churchyard of the large 12th century Church of St John the Baptist.
Opposite the churchyard look out for what was once the mid 19th century Crown Inn, now a private house.
Alongside the church a lane lined with what were once church houses leads down to a path that follows the river Nadder. Don’t be tempted to follow the footpath across the field which you’ll find soon after you join this path. We did and it was a quagmire. You will have plenty of opportunity to get your feet wet later. Instead follow the path a short distance to the bridleway that ascends on the right, which meets the aforementioned footpath at the far side of the field.
We are aiming for the site of abandoned Medieval Village of Wyck on the outskirts of Tisbury. Passing through a gate on the outside of a bend in the bridleway the earthworks of what was once a village are visible above and to your left. Numerous signs warn you not to stray from the right of way (now a footpath across the field) towards Wick Farm - note different spelling. This landowner really doesn’t want people straying from the path! According to Historic England the village was first documented in the 13th century. But there is no evidence of habitation beyond the 14th century which leads me to wonder whether its inhabitants fell victim to the plague after which the village was deserted.
Standing on the metaled road leading to Wick Barn (making sure not to deviate from the right of way) it is possible to see the extent of what was once the village, evidenced now only by the earthworks. It would be interesting to see an aerial view to get a full impression of the layout. We then continued along the Wick Barn road past the house and above the three ponds to our left, with the West of England railway line beyond. Just after Wick Barn where a gate gives access into a meadow there is another field gate ahead and to the right. The footpath passes through this gate. It does not continue along the meadow despite the fact we saw someone walking her dogs there. Be warned, the area around the gate is another quagmire in wet weather, which is impossible to avoid.
Crossing the fields we were aiming for Wick Wood and the next route finding challenge.
Standing on the raised ground slightly above the house the footpath passes between the fence at the bottom of the garden and the pond over which a magnificent willow towers, dressed in autumn gold when we passed by.
On the other side of the pond is a stand of bamboo and the footpath passes through a gap in the hedge (you can see Stu in the photo showing us the way).
Next stop was East Hatch which is little more than three or four houses, one of which is a delightful grade II listed thatched cottage called Nadder House which sits on the junction of two lanes.
We continued along the lane past Nadder House and shortly thereafter to the gate on the left leading into a large field down to the railway line. In the far south-west corner is a gate which gives access to the railway crossing above.
This is one of those slightly unusual crossings where you literally step over the rails. Fortunately the line is single track here and the views both ways are far reaching. No chance of being surprised by a train thundering towards you.
Once across the line the route crosses the meadow to the banks of the Nadder which is little more than a stream here. But at some point it is necessary to head back on what is now the Wessex Ridgeway up towards the railway line and the stone bridge which you will have seen when crossing the line and which carries Share Lane towards West Hatch. The lane was flooded the day we were there but easily passable. Just before a large house (Stile House) across the field to your right, there are two paths. The route map shows the path that passes by the house (ignore the one that forks right) – this is still the Wessex Ridgeway. Assuming the Ridgeway route would be boggy we foolishly stayed on the lane past the entrance to Stile House. We were lucky – it is a very narrow lane and if a vehicle had been travelling along it we would have had nowhere to safely stand out of the way.
Assuming you stayed on the Wessex Ridgeway the next reference point is New Barn (the clue is in the name). There is a well-used track across arable fields which actually deviates from the line of the Ridgeway so we stuck to the track via Bottom Copse as we aimed for distant Newtown. This stretch of arable farm was particularly dull but the attraction is the view behind you where wooded countryside seems to stretch forever. The mizzle gave the impression of fog on this day.
At the north-west corner of Bottom Copse on the right, and slightly hidden, is a gate leading to the head of beautiful dry valley. The bottom. On the far side is a bench. This is Harold’s bench. I’ve no idea who Harold was but his bench was perfectly positioned for a coffee stop from where we could enjoy the views down the bottom towards East Hatch and the countryside beyond. We’ll call it Harold’s Bottom! Don’t be tempted to borrow Harold’s flat cap. Like the bench it is also made of steel.
Continuing through a short stretch of woodland (in which someone had thoughtfully fly-tipped a fridge – no sign of Boris Johnson hiding in there) we were heading to Newtown.
A tiny village it once boasted a chapel, a schoolhouse and a village hall. Although it required a short deviation from the route, passing the phone box we wanted to see the latter two buildings which are listed and date from the mid 19th century. They both have unusual fishscale tiled rooves.
Returning to the phone box and the junction we turned north-west along the lane. Along this stretch we passed a house called Beckfords – a nod to the dominance of the Fonthill Estate and its history.
After this we actually followed Jill’s route and left the lane to take the Wessex Ridgeway to the left across a field towards the trig point at the corner of Pythouse Plantation. But this proved to be a somewhat pointless deviation so I’ve plotted the route to show it continuing along the lane. At the next junction by a large farmhouse we turned onto the footpath into White Mead Wood and Rough Lawn. This for me was the start of the best part of the walk.
Despite, or because of, the gloomy weather the woods through which we descended were aglow with autumn colour.
As a photographer I always relish days like this in the autumn as the colours are softened and glow. I’m not keen on the harsh contrasty light of sunny autumn days. These woods are part of the Fonthill Estate and there is a degree of woodland management with trees having been felled by heavy machinery which left deep ruts in some of the trails.
Following the gently sloping valley we eventually emerged at a lane leading to Lawn Lodge. We decided to take another short deviation following the lane up to the left until we reached the lodge which is one of the gate houses to the estate. It dates from the mid 19th century and was built by William Burn for the Marquess of Westminster. A second lodge, West Gate Lodge, also built by Burn for the Marquess of Westminster can been found a short distance from this route north of where we turned into White Mead Wood. Honestly, how many lodges does a Marquess need!
Returning to where we emerged from the wood the route takes us into the glorious Oddford Vale. On the opposite side of the road from where the footpath from White Mead Wood emerges, the right of way follows Oddford Brook across a very soggy field. The was a small herd of bullocks in there when we did this walk. They seemed placid so we walked through them towards the gate at the far side of the field. Being young and inquisitive they followed us such that we had to chase them away a couple of times. Instead of crossing this field I would recommend you follow the driveway to Lawn Quarry Cottage (the name suggesting another of the industries that make this area famous). Before and out of sight of the cottage there is a well worn path on the left, on the outside of the bend in the drive, which leads into the edge of a copse. This will take you to the gate at the far side of the bullock field and it was clear that this what most people do since it was so well worn.
At this point there is a pumping station next to the brook. It is now a case of following Oddford Brook all the way along the vale to Tuckingmill on the outskirts of Tisbury.
We tried to follow the line of the footpath using the OS Maps app but we found the best solution was just to follow the worn path which was generally below the route shown on the path. Caution is needed as the slope is steep and those with weak knees or ankles may find themselves with a few aches and pains the following day. I though this section of the route was beautiful. The trees again in their autumn clothing with the brook babbling below.
It is sobering to think that such a tranquil setting was the place where seven young men in their 20s lost their lives in 1943. Whilst considering this I looked to the heights above the vale where first Lower Lawn House to the north and then Lawn Farmhouse (also built for the Marquess of Westminster) to the south looked down upon the same scene. As we walked along the vale the sun finally emerged from behind the clouds illuminating the tops of the trees before disappearing again behind the ridge to the south. This lifted our spirits immeasurably.
The map shows the route back to the centre of Tisbury once we exit Oddford Vale, or you can find your own route through the outskirts of the village if you prefer.
We turned right from the vale up towards Tuckinmill so that we could look back down the lane to Tuckingmill Farmhouse, yet another grade II listed building this time from the 18th century.
This is but one of many walks that can be undertaken in this area. I already have another planned but I’ll wait for better weather. It is also worth exploring the many historic buildings in Tisbury, several of which are decorated with grotesques. Meanwhile this walk is definitely one for drier times at which point, at 6.23 miles (10kms), I would thoroughly recommend it.
Want to read more about the area? Well you'll find some suggestions below this blog.