Vale of Pewsey and Oare Hill




5 miles (8kms)

393ft (120m)
2hrs 15min

About the walk

The Vale of Pewsey separates Wiltshire’s two principal areas of chalk downland, Salisbury Plain to the south and the Marlborough Downs to the north. Through its heart meanders the Kennet and Avon Canal, the longest and most important of the canals within Wiltshire, built between 1794 and 1810 to link the River Kennet, which flows into the Thames at Reading, with the River Avon at Bath. It was used to carry iron, coal, stone and timber from Bristol and to bring luxuries like tobacco and spirits from London. Along the canal you can still spot the remains of old pill boxes, a grim reminder of the dark days of 1940 when the Kennet and Avon Canal was designated the second line of defence in the event of the enemy invading this country. Tank traps were laid and bridges blown up, but it is unlikely this would have deterred invasion forces.

The Giant's Grave

The canal company built the wharf at Pewsey to serve the village, but it was never a great commercial success and was eclipsed by those at nearby Burbage to the east and Honey Street to the west. It remains much as it was in the past. The main buildings consist of a cottage, which would have housed the wharfinger – owner or keeper – of the wharf, and the two-storey warehouse, used to store goods transported by canal. Much older than this charming old inland waterway, but overlooking it from the north is the Giant’s Grave, an ancient unchambered burial site that has a charming legend associated with it. It is claimed that the giant will stir from his slumbers if anyone runs around the tomb seven times. Standing as it does on the top of Oare Hill, it is a splendid vantage point from which to savour far-reaching views across the Vale of Pewsey and the North Wessex Downs.

Away to the west lie the villages of Oare and Huish. The latter includes a church with a timeless air about it. This was where the British film actor David Niven was married before departing with his new bride for Hollywood during World War II. You can also see the impressive combes and dry valleys etched into the downland scarp slopes away to your right. The unimproved chalk downlands along the steep escarpment of the vale and on nearby Martinsell Hill are noted for their extremely rich chalk grassland flora, notably cowslip, burnt orchid and devil’s bit scabious, and a wide variety of butterflies including Adonis and chalkhill blue and dark green fritillary.

The Vera Jeans Nature Reserve

Bordering the River Avon and fed by numerous springs is the Vera Jeans Nature Reserve. This wetland reserve, or fen, is a rare environment within Wiltshire and an exciting place because of the diverse wildlife it supports. Since the water-meadows were abandoned, the site has developed an exceptionally rich flora with 14 species of sedge (a grass-like plant) alone. Dotted among the sedge you will also find bogbean, bog pimpernel and southern marsh orchid. An unusual sight are the belted Galloway cattle which graze the fen to keep the coarser vegetation at bay, thus allowing the more delicate flowers to thrive. The wet woodland in the middle of the reserve has an understorey of huge tussock sedges and great horsetails creating a fascinating prehistoric landscape.

Walk directions

Facing the canal, turn right along the tow path and walk beside the canal for just over a mile (1.6km) to the second bridge. Turn right just before it and head up to a lane. Turn left, crossing the canal bridge, and walk away from the waterway.

At a road junction, keep ahead towards downland. Pass cottages on your right and proceed ahead through the gateway along the drive. When this bears left to West Wick House, continue straight on along the track, which soon narrows and begins to climb steadily towards Martinsell Hill.

Go through a gate, avoid a path on the immediate left and bear left at the fork to ascend a steep sunken lane (note this can be muddy). At the top, keep left of the gate, disregard the waymarked stile on your right and bear left alongside the fence, following a path towards the long barrow on the summit of Oare Hill. Follow the path past the trig point and descend the steep grassy slope towards Oare, soon to reach a stile at the bottom. Cross the stile, bear left along the field edge and follow the path across the field to a gate and crossing of ways.

Take the footpath ahead, bearing right, then left around the field edge to reach a lane. Turn left and pass a bungalow. Continue on the lane and take the next track on the right (signposted Pewsey), heading in a southerly direction across open farmland.

Keep ahead where it bears right towards a farm and continue to the Kennet and Avon Canal. Cross the bridge and bear left, passing the Vera Jeans Nature Reserve. On reaching the tow path just beyond it, turn left and retrace your steps back to the car park at Pewsey Wharf.

Additional information

Tow paths, tracks, field paths, lanes

Vale of Pewsey and chalk downland

Let off lead along tow path

AA Leisure Map 15 Swindon & Devizes

Fee-paying car park at Pewsey Wharf

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.