Berkshire walk over the North Wessex Downs
PUBLISHED: 14:56 04 April 2016
Enjoy a more leisurely pace as Steve Davison heads to West Ilsley for a dog (and horse) friendly five and a half mile walk over the rolling North Wessex Downs
Our walk this month is based at the picturesque West-Berkshire village of West Ilsley, tucked amongst the rolling landscape of the Berkshire Downs that make up part of the North Wessex Downs area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). The village was the original home of the Morland Brewery. John Morland, a local farmer, started brewing his much-sought-after ale here in 1711, though the business eventually moved to Abingdon in 1887 and was bought by Greene King in 2000. Along the Main Street is the old village school, rectory and church. All Saints Church underwent major alterations in the 1870s, though the underlying fabric of the church is much older. Inside there is a fine carved wood Jacobean pulpit along with a rood screen and cross.
The chalk downs with their soft, springy turf, coupled with the free-draining nature of the soil that ensures the ground does not get too ‘heavy’ during the wetter winter months, makes the chalk grassland around West Ilsley ideal horse-training terrain; Mick Channon (West Ilsley Stables) and Denis Coakley (Keeper’s Stables), both train horses in the area.
From the church, the route heads south, offering some views before following a wooded route past Woolvers Borders to join Old Street, an old droving track. We follow this track north-westwards for three quarters of a mile before heading past Starveall Farm; from up here there are some great views across Old Down to the Chiltern Hills, some 20 miles to the north-east. The final leg of the walk heads back through West Ilsley, passing the perfectly located Harrow pub that looks out over the village cricket pitch and pond.
For anyone wanting a longer horse-riding route, the 21-mile circular Downland Villages Riding Route passes through West Ilsley and follows part of the Ridgeway.
• Start/Finish: West Ilsley church near junction of Main Street and Bury Lane; limited on-street parking in the village
• Map: OS Explorer 170
• Distance: 5.5 miles (9km)
• Terrain: some gates, ups and downs, bridleways and tracks that can be muddy, and sections of quite minor roads
• Time: 2.5 hours
• Refreshments: West Ilsley – The Harrow (01635 281260)
1 (SU473825) – Stand facing the church and turn left along the pavement following Main Street for 150m. Shortly after the right¬hand curve in the road and before The Maltings on the left, turn right across the road to a track opposite; this is Church Way. Follow the track, which soon swings to the left past houses to reach a tarmac lane beside Keepers Stables (which is on the right). Go straight on here, following the tarmac drive (heading south) and shortly before Hodcott House and the West Ilsley Stables, turn right up the waymarked track. Pass a gate to reach a track junction and turn left, with paddocks on the right. At the next junction turn right, heading uphill (anyone following the route on horseback or bike should go straight across at this junction and follow the enclosed bridleway which soon swings right before rejoining the main route shortly after the start of Point 2). From the top of the rise admire the views before heading down into a dip and then up to the corner of Hodcott Copse.
2 (SU471810) – Turn left down the enclosed track and keep right (straight on) at the junction (the bridleway route rejoins here and turns left), following the track as it soon swings right. Continue along the tree¬shaded route for 175m before turning down to the right (waymark sign). Follow the tree¬shaded route, which soon swings left, for one mile, passing along the edge of Woolvers Borders. Then pass an open grassy area surrounded by trees before heading up through High Robins wood to reach a T¬junction with a well¬defined track, known as Old Street.
3 (SU459802) – Turn right along the track for 175m and where the track swings left, go straight on along the bridleway through the trees. Continue across the large field. On reaching the hedge on the left, exit the field and continue along the minor road. Where this turns right, fork left (almost straight on) along the byway – Old Street – into the trees and continue for three quarters of a mile. On the way, keep ahead at the cross junction, then ignore a bridleway and later a path (left), to reach a gate on the right before the track starts to descend.
4 (SU448822) – Turn right here into the field and follow the left¬hand margin – admire the views which include the Chiltern Hills. At the fence corner, exit the field and continue down the track, soon passing the barns at Starveall Farm. Just before the road turn right into the field and follow the path alongside the hedge on the left for 350m. Turn left through the field entrance and then turn right down the lane towards West Ilsley. Pass the cricket ground and The Harrow pub (left), followed by the duck pond and gazebo and continue along the Main Street back to the church.
• 5 of the best Berkshire dog walks - Steve Davison suggests some super short walks that are great for both you and your four-legged companion
• Berkshire walk through Cookham - Steve Davison leads the way on a choice of perfect walks through Cookham in winter – once home to the artist, Sir Stanley Spencer – before meandering along the river