We knew this was a lovely area from the Great Stones Way walk, and decided to approach Salisbury from the South West,
through the varied-looking countryside of Cranborne Chase. The network of trading routes/drove roads
meant there were good paths. Starting at Blandford Forum meant a distance of about 25 miles, though we wandered a bit and our total was higher.
This is a good walk to do with others and we walked with a
couple of friends; we did it in April and the spring flowers were a constant delight. It also turned
out to be an amazing history lesson for me.
DAY 1: Blandford Forum to Alvediston. 15 miles, 8 hours.
The Georgian town of Blandford Forum was a striking mix of slightly dusty 18th century
elegance and modern-day charity shops. We left town, going towards the entrance gate of Blandford Camp. After some badinage with
the chap on duty there, we went left beside their perimeter fence and playing fields.
The path immediately disappeared and at one point we had to scramble under some barbed wire, but we found a route.
The broad plain north of the camp was of a generally flat, chalky country, with farmland
and young crops showing fresh, green growth on the surface fields of earth, flints and chalk.
By the War Memorial to a Signals Regiment almost wiped out at Gallipoli, we crossed the A354
to Pimperne Long Barrow and our first meeting with ancient history - one of the best
preserved Neolithic burial mounds in Wessex. And as its name implied it was more than 100 meters
long. Not only impressive in size, the top also had wide, spreading vistas of the
surrounding downland, with numerous fields of oilseed rape. The Park, before Tarrant
Gunville had some lovely old beech trees. The Manor there was one of many grand estates in these parts; they implied
artistcrats who were in Royal favour, probably managing in feudal style; now the lands are
well-managed farms. Up the hill there were more earth-works - Chettle's (not quite so) Long Barrow.
We turned right to the edge of Little Wood, which had a haze of blue from a fine carpet of
After the village of Chettle we joined the Jubilee Trail to Farnham, where we had lunch at
the Museum pub. It was named after Colonel Pitt Rivers, whose Wessex archaeological
excavations were preserved near there.
We set off northwards in the afternoon, uphill to Park View Point, with a striking orange
Hindu-style gateway standing proud on the skyline. The Larmer Tree Gardens (created by Pitt
Rivers) were closed, so we went on down the hill, through the woods, to Tollard Royal and
more history: the very grand King John's House - an impressive Tudor mansion, surrounded by
his hunting grounds. (Clearly the house was built after his time.) I began to understand
the idea of this area as a Mediaeval Royal hunting ground and why it is named 'Chase'; it
was the last place in the UK to uphold the traditions, while most others had disappeared
in Tudor times.
The long climb towards Win Green rewarded us with ever-expanding views of the chalk downs
all round. The day had been cloudy, but brightened with the beautiful slanting light of the
late afternoon. We'd had a fine mixture of bird song, from the crockling pheasants, via
skylarks, vociferous blackbirds, to more tuneful robins. We went over the top at Monk's
Down and descended Ashcombe Lane, to another sweeping panorama. The village of Berwick St
John felt quite cosy after being out on top; there were charming flint and brick cottages,
layered like strata, in the local style.
After Norrington Pond, we got on the wrong side of the the (young) River Ebble; Jeremy
splashed through, while Henry and I walked back to cross by a little stone bridge. The
excess water was almost certainly from the rains of March, the chalk being reluctant to let
it run off. It was a long day and we finally arrived at Alvediston, with little thatched
cottages and a 14th century Inn.
DAY 2: Alvediston to Salisbury.
13+ miles, 6½ hours
Sunshine galore - what a glorious day! On our landlady's recommendation, we climbed the
little road to Elcombe Farm and on up Elcombe Hollow. There was a semi-circular shape on
the hillside: remains of an old Roman amphitheatre, of a quarry, or just natural slippage,
creating 'terracing' on the hillside? The old track at the top of the hill, Ox Drove,
would have been used as the route to market in the Middle Ages.
After Rookhay Farm, a path on the left took us to Little London - now smartly done-up houses
with spacious gardens and fine views, but thought to have been named after the rough London
-types who'd previously lowered the tone of the neighbourhood. Down by the River Ebble
there was a great series of watercress beds. Sifted through the chalk, the clear water is
what watercress likes; so there was a thriving business here. We put our 50p in the honesty
box and took a packet of fresh cress (which later turned out to have a firm texture and
strong, peppery taste). Walking on into Broad Chalke, the only shop was part of the Church,
and this was a Sunday and so not open; what a pity - no picnic. The Causeway Bridge led to
a glorious flowering cherry, covered in frothy, creamy-white blossom. Then it was on to the
Queen's Head beer garden.
In this valley the streams often ran in several channels and the path from Manor Farm to
Long Bridge has rivulets and springs on its left; then the route to Knighton Mill
was between two flowing bourns. We found a delightful place beside the streams and relaxed
for half an hour to the soothing accompaniment of the flowing water; we rested on sawdust
from sawn tree-trunks freshly toppled in the recent extreme weather; we've seen a striking
number of fallen trees, their shallow roots unable to hold on in the
rather thin, chalky soil. However, we have seen a wonderful range of different trees,
impressive in their variety, age, spread and positions - often silhouetted against the sky-
line, as a hilltop avenue.
After the Fly Fishing Centre at Croucheston, we passed through Bishopstone, where there
was an unusual old house, with the building stones arranged in a checker-board
pattern and dated 1683. Then a short section of road walking from (another) Manor Farm
took us to the Roman Road, and climbed to North Down. There were more sheep farms around,
including one with pretty 'black' sheep (actually dark brown), and a sweet group of five
lambs, lazing in the sun.
At the top we found ourselves next to Salisbury Race Course (nothing going on) and we
turned East along Old Shaftesbury Drove, soon seeing Salisbury Cathedral spire. There was a settlement there with old cars and barking dogs
- the first transition from the glories of nature to the outskirts of civilisation. Then on down Hareham Hill, through the city suburbs, across the (big) Avon,
to the Cathedral. One of the Church Wardens was locking up; he told us it had taken 38
years to build, starting in 1220; probably it hadn't been damaged in the War as it was a
big landmark for German pilots to navigate by. For us, it was an impressive building,
which made gratifying conclusion to our walk. The grey, Chilmark stone had been beautifully
crafted for belief and community, and boasts other impressive aspects, such as the tallest
spire in Britain and housing the best surviving copies of Magna Carta.
This walk was a great education for me, with my thin historical knowledge; it was like the
country showing me how things were. Of course we went principally for the beauties of the
countryside; similar to the enjoyment we have felt in the Chiltern Hills, the lines and
curves of the land gave us great aesthetic pleasure. Then there were the wonders of nature,
ranging from the sparkling white May flowers, to water meadows with marsh marigolds and
flowing willow branches; it was a rich encounter. Also there was the variety of villages,
some a bit run down, others visibly prosperous, presenting their historical buildings for
modern-day visitors, and many with attractive, thatched cottages. We had traversed land
imbued with our history and expressing our roots, with the ground delineated by the network
of trading routes. From the geology of the thick limestone of Chilmark oolite (used in many
of the local buildings), with the villages and ponds in the valleys, via our famous 12th
century King, through the feudal systems of the 18th century, to the wheat, sheep and
dairy farming of today and the watery, weedy meadows around the River Ebble, illustrating
the inundations of March.
Our friends Maryon and Henry commented on how charming it all was - charming without being
pretentious or self-conscious, but natural; a lovely slice of middle England.
© Diana Ambache 2014