Berkshire walk near Inkpen Common
PUBLISHED: 10:52 11 September 2020 | UPDATED: 14:46 11 September 2020
© Steve Davison
Steve Davison heads to West Berkshire and the North Wessex Downs for a fairly long and hilly walk, passing a grisly reminder of a bygone era
From the lofty heights of West Woodhay Down the route heads down through fields and along tracks to arrive at Inkpen Common, home to the Crown and Garter pub and cafe. We then head through the hamlet of Lower Green before heading towards Gallows Down. The walk up to the top of the downs is rather steep, so take your time and enjoy the great views to the north across the Kennet Valley on the way.
The final leg of the walk follows a track eastwards along the crest of the downs, passing Combe Gibbet – a grisly reminder of a bygone era. The original double gibbet was erected in 1676 to hang in ‘chaynes’, the bodies of local man, George Bromham, and his mistress, Dorothy Newman, who were found guilty of the brutal murder of Bromham’s wife, Martha, and son, Robert, close to this very spot.
Fast forward 270 years and the story of the murders was used as the basis of the 1948 film: Black Legend, which was produced by Oxford undergraduates, Alan Cooke and John Schlesinger; the latter became a well known Oscar-winning film director. Many of the film’s characters were played by local people, although fellow undergraduate, Robert Hardy, played the village idiot who is said to have identified the murderers.
Whilst passing the small car park stop-off at the well-placed seat to admire the views , visit the small memorial on the north side of the road. This recalls that the area was used in 1944 by the 9th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, in preparation for the successful assault on the German coastal artillery battery at Merville, France, before the invasion of Normandy. From here it’s a short walk over Walbury Hill, which, at 297m, is the highest chalk hill in England, passing through the earthworks of Berkshire’s largest Iron Age hill fort before arriving back at the start.
• Start/finish: small car park on the east side of Walbury Hill, 3.5 miles south from Kintbury; grid ref SU379616
• Map: OS Explorer 158
• Distance: 6 miles (9.4km)
• Terrain: some gates and stiles, steep ups and downs, paths and tracks, and quite lanes
• Time: 3 hours
• Refreshments: Inkpen Common – The Crown and Garter (01488 668325) and café
1 (SU379616) – From the car park head north-east across the minor road and go through the large gate. Follow the bridleway diagonally east-north-east down across West Woodhay Down, passing just below a small wood. Keep ahead, staying to the right of the bushes. Go through a small gate and turn left down the lane for 300m to a crossing track. Turn left along the track (bridleway), which soon swings right (north) towards Highwood Farm. At the field corner, beside the farm buildings, stay in the field and turn left, following a track alongside the right-hand field margin.
Follow this as it swings left, with a wood on the right. At the western field corner follow the track to the right, keeping the trees on the right, and then continue along the field margin; look right for a view of West Woodhay House on the way.
2 (SU382629) – At the field corner bear right to join a minor road beside Park House. Follow the road north-eastwards for 450m and, once level with the buildings on the right, turn left along the tarred track. Continue past some houses and follow the track straight on past Prosser’s Farm to a minor road beside The Crown and Garter at Inkpen Common. Cross straight over and take the track opposite into the trees. After passing a cottage the route splits, ignore the restricted byway and continue along the track for 5m before turning left along a narrow signed path. Keep ahead at the cross-path junction and soon continue along the restricted byway, later passing cottages to join a lane.
3 (SU371639) – Turn left to a T-junction and go right, then left at the next junction, following Bell Lane as it soon swings right. After the next bend, go left up the bank and follow a signed path across the corner of the field, then turn left along the lane for 300m. Shortly after the reservoir tank (left), turn left through a hedge gap beside the beech tree and follow the signed path down across the field. Turn left along the lane and at the left-hand bend, beside a footpath sign, turn right through the bushes and cross two stiles to enter the open access land of Gallows Down.
4 (SU365625) – Straight on leads up the steep hill to the gibbet, but we’ll take the path diagonally right as it climbs more steadily up the grassy slope. Stay just left of a hawthorn bush, and later pass some more bushes and gorse, heading south-west; the aim is to arrive at the top furthest corner of the field; take your time and admire the views. Cross the stile and turn left along the track for 500m. As the track skirts right past the gibbet, turn left through a small gate to get a closer view, before continuing through another small gate to rejoin the track, heading downhill. Cross straight over the minor road and take the track just to the right of the car park (over to left is the memorial stone). Follow the track for three quarters of a mile over Walbury Hill to arrive back at the start.
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