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North Wessex Downs Walk
The Southern Escarpment of the Marlborough Downs

Region - North Wessex Downs

County/Area - Wiltshire

Author - Jon Glew

Length - 6.5 miles / 10.6 km

Ascent - 820 feet / 248 metres

Time - 4 hours 0 minutes

Grade - easy/mod

Start - OS grid reference SU116637
Lat 51.372241 // Long -1.834742
Postcode SN8 4JX (approx. location only)

Walk Route Description

Photo from the walk - The Southern Escarpment of the Marlborough Downs Photo from the walk - The Southern Escarpment of the Marlborough Downs Photo from the walk - The Southern Escarpment of the Marlborough Downs
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A walk along the Southern edge of the Marlborough Downs overlooking the Vale of Pewsey visiting the medieval village of Shaw and dipping down into the Vale to visit the hamlets of Oare and Huish. The walk starts at a small, un-surfaced car park (Grid ref. SU116637) on Lockeridge Lane, 3.5miles southwest of the village of Lockeridge which itself is just south of the A4, 10miles east of Calne and 3 miles west of Marlborough.

From the car park head east onto the top of Knap Hill (Grid ref. SU121636), a pleasant grassy walk gaining 40m of ascent. Apart from being a Neolithic camp with pronounced earthworks, the vantage point here is breathtaking. To the east and west the edge of the Marlborough Downs stretch away into the distances, but the best view is south, across the Vale of Pewsey to Salisbury Plain. On a fine misty morning the twin peaks of Woodborough and Pecked Hills rise through the mist like islands in a sea, whilst the high ground of Salisbury Plain becomes the far shore - a truly exhilarating view.

Come off the hill heading northeast down towards the Tan Hill Way, but when meeting that ancient thoroughfare at Grid ref. SU122638, take the left-hand gate continuing northeast on a smaller path towards the medieval village of Shaw (Grid ref. SU139649). Shaw (see notes at end of description) was abandoned in medieval times and all that remains now are the clearly discerned earthworks. Until recently there was no public access, but a permissive path through the village has been opened up by agreement of the landowner. To discover this little known site detour off your path by taking a sharp left turn when reaching a gate at grid ref. SU136647 heading first northwest to meet the Wansdyke Path, then east along the permissive way.

Finally, return to grid ref. SU139649 and continue southeast towards Gopher Wood to a veritable spaghetti junction of paths (grid ref. SU142645). This is a meeting of six paths located at the northeast corner of Gopher Wood. From here head due east on the Tan Hill Way, which immediately bears right, diverging from another path. You will now be gaining height and walking over and along clearly defined earthworks. The southerly aspect again comes into view across the Vale and is never less than stunning with the going easy along a clearly defined and grassy pathway heading towards Huish Hill. As you progress, the beautiful hamlet of Oare comes into view below; pause at grid ref. SU157638 on a well-placed bench seat to soak up the magnificent scenery. This vantage point also brings into view the prominent feature of Giant's Grave to the southwest, and beyond, but not visible, Martinsell Hillfort, the highest point on the Marlborough Downs. A worthwhile diversion to these features will add approx 5km onto your walk.

After the exhilarating views it is time to head down a steep grassy slope to the Vale below. Coming out onto the minor Oare to Huish road, turn left and after a short distance meet the A345 Marlborough to Pewsey road. Turn right, and just after the White Hart Inn (a welcome stop at your halfway point?) turn right at a crossroad. Follow this small road round to the left and you will see after approx 50m a sign-posted footpath off to the right. Total time spent on tarmac is less than 500m. This section of the route is in the Vale of Pewsey with the Marlborough Downs on your right. Oare, Huish and Draycott Hills are an impressive sight when seen from below and would have formed a formidable barrier in ancient times.

The walk progresses across fields to the hamlet of Huish, which is little more than Manor Farm with attendant des res workers cottages, which are probably no longer occupied by farm workers! Walk through a small, but delightfully landscaped pond area, complete with curved walkways over the water and an intriguing piece of modern art that takes the form of a 7ft tall chicken constructed in metal strips! On gaining the metalled road, turn right to the 13th century church of St Nicholas (always worth a visit), turning left onto a farm track immediately before the church leading onto a path between 2 large open fields; head along the path to grid ref. SU140635. This marks the end of your valley walk and a steep climb ensues to bring you back onto the Tan Hill Way.

Head northwest onto Draycott Hill making for grid ref. SU133639. The path here is the steepest of the walk gaining 100m in ascent for about 900m as the crow flies. Once back on the escarpment path, it is an easy walk back to the car park along a level, grassy path, once again with those stunning views south to keep you occupied en-route.

Notes For more information about Shaw, including a plan of the earthworks, and the Marlborough Downs in general get hold of a copy of Ken Watts' outstanding book entitled The Marlborough Downs.

Please maintain social distancing - keep at least 2 metres away from other walkers.

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Ordnance Survey Explorer 157Sheet Map1:25kBUY
Anquet OS Explorer 157Digital Map1:25kBUY
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