Pewsey Vale's views


Alton Barnes


8.75 miles (14.1kms)

492ft (150m)

About the walk

No one who travels in Wiltshire can fail to be impressed by the sweep of softly rounded chalk downland that rises to over 800ft (244m) above the fertile farmlands of the Vale of Pewsey. Walking across such high ground is one of the greatest walking experiences in the county. Not only are the views some of the best in Wiltshire, the land is rich in ancient settlements, frontier lines and burial sites. This walk is varied and exhilarating, encapsulating these archaeological treasures as well as exploring the vale with its meandering canal and unspoilt villages. It is a tale of travelling and travellers, a preoccupation we have had since the dawn of time, travelling for sustenance, for conquest, for trade and for pleasure.

Walking Wansdyke

The high and relatively unforested downland ridges were the prehistoric motorways. They also became the boundaries between clans and kingdoms. For the defence of one in post-Roman times, the massive bank and ditch of the Wansdyke was built, clearly visible for 12 miles (19.3km) in Wiltshire from Morgan Hill to Savernake Forest. At least two major Saxon battles were fought along its length, one in AD 592 by the Neolithic long barrow now known as Adam's Grave, the best-sited long barrow in Wiltshire. In more peaceful times the Wansdyke became a natural road for drovers bringing their animals to the great stock fairs at Tan Hill, echoing not only the tramp of herdsmen, but the cows and sheep that were often shod for the long trek. Saxon settlers would have been attracted by the springs and pastureland in the valley and villages would have been established, although the twin villages of Alton Barnes and Alton Priors seem scarcely large enough to make one village. Nonetheless, each had its own church, linked by an interesting sarsen stone footpath. Next upon the scene were the navvies and bargees when the Kennet and Avon Canal was built between 1794 and 1810, providing an important link between Bristol and London. Unfortunately for the 87-mile (140km) long canal and its total of 107 locks, the benefits were short lived when Brunel's railway from London to Bristol opened in 1841.

Alton Barnes White Horse

Spiritual as well as physical journeys also figure in this landscape. High on the downs in tumuli and barrows lie ancient chieftains, with our nearer ancestors in homely churchyards. Wiltshire is famous for the chalk figures in honour of the horse, our long-valued travelling companion. However the one etched into Milk Hill above Alton Barnes is relatively recent. Created in 1812, it measures 166ft (50.5m) high by 160ft (49m) long and is noted for the fact that the journeyman artist absconded with the £20 fee before completing the task. He was subsequently caught and hung for his crime! No perpetrators have yet suffered that fate for the crop circles, which now regularly decorate the great sweeping fields of corn around Alton Barnes. Hints of yet further journeys to come?

Walk directions

From the car park, cross the road to a gate and follow the grassy track along the left-hand field-edge to a gate. Ascend to another gate, continue uphill and soon descend through earthworks to a T-junction with the Wansdyke.

Turn left and continue with earthworks on your left. Begin to descend, continue ahead, cross a wooden barrier, then go through a gate and bear left off the Wansdyke on to a metalled track. Just after the track becomes concrete, fork right through a gate and follow the grassy track downhill to a gate.

Rejoin the main track by a barn and continue on the track. Pass more barns (on the left) and continue down to the road. Ignore the road opposite signed to Stanton St Bernard. Turn left and walk along the road (no pavement and only small grass verge) to take the next right turning for Stanton St Bernard. After this road bends left, take a narrow path on the right between fences. Turn left at the junction to follow a metalled lane. At the T-junction, turn right and pass the church, then swing left to Pewsey Vale Riding School. Turn left opposite the Riding School reception building and follow the track to the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Cross the canal bridge and bear right through a gate to join the tow path. Go under the bridge and, with the canal on your left, keep to the tow path for 1 mile (1.6km), passing The Barge Inn, and bear left up to the road at Honeystreet. Turn left over the bridge into Alton Barnes. In 550yds (500m), turn right, signed to St Mary's Church.

Just before the church, turn left through a turnstile and walk down a cobbled path. Follow the path right, cross two footbridges via turnstiles then, where the path turns sharp right to All Saints Church in Alton Priors, turn left across the field to a gate. A wall topped with thatch stands to the right.

Turn left along the road, then just beyond the village sign, take the footpath (signed) right up the right-hand edge of the field. When the path bends sharp left by trees, follow it towards a waymarker. At the road, turn right for 50yds (46m) and fork left up a track to a gate leading on to Pewsey Down.

Follow the track ahead, parallel to the road, and gradually it sweeps to the left, heading for windswept downland. Avoid a path running in from the left and continue along the track to walk above the White Horse.

Continue ahead on the White Horse Trail and follow it through a gate and on until it bends right by clumps of trees. Keep right with fields on the right and a sweeping downland combe to the left. Continue round, fork right to a stile, then cross to another stile to reach the Wansdyke. Turn immediately right and retrace your steps to the car park.

Additional information

Tracks, field paths, tow path, metalled lane, several stiles

High downland pasture, Vale of Pewsey, village streets

Keep dogs under control across downland pasture

AA Leisure Map 15 Swindon & Devizes

Tan Hill car park

None on route

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About the area

Discover Wiltshire

A land shrouded in mystery, myth and legend, Wiltshire evokes images of ancient stone circles, white chalk horses carved into hillsides, crop circles and the forbidden, empty landscape of Salisbury Plain. To many M4 and A303 drivers heading out of London through the clutter of the Thames Valley, Wiltshire is where the landscape opens out and rural England begins.

Wiltshire’s charm lies in the beauty of its countryside. The expansive chalk landscapes of the Marlborough and Pewsey downs and Cranborne Chase inspire a sense of space and freedom, offering miles of uninterrupted views deep into Dorset, Somerset and the Cotswolds. Wiltshire’s thriving market towns and picturesque villages provide worthwhile visits and welcome diversions. Stroll through quaint timbered and thatched villages in the southern Woodford and Avon valleys and explore the historic streets of the stone villages of Lacock, Castle Combe and Sherston. Walk around Salisbury and discover architectural styles from the 13th century to the present and take time to visit the city’s elegant cathedral and fascinating museums. And if all of that isn’t enough, the county is also richly endowed with manor houses, mansions and beautiful gardens.

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