Berkshire walk in the North Wessex Downs near Fawley
PUBLISHED: 16:00 17 September 2018
Steve Davison takes us across a patchwork of ancient fields in the North Wessex Downs as we visit Jude Fawley's 'Marygreen'
Our walk explores the undulating chalk landscape of the Berkshire Downs to the east of Lambourn which form part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The area has a history going back thousands of years; Roman artefacts have been found and the ancient Ridgeway – said to be Britain’s oldest green road – passes to the north.
We start our journey at the little village of Fawley, once known as North Fawley to distinguish it from its near neighbour, South Fawley; at the time of the Domesday Book (completed in 1086) the manor belonged to the nuns of the Benedictine abbey at Amesbury, later passing to the Abbey of Fontevraud in the Anjou region of France until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The village church, built in the 1860’s and dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, was designed by George Edmund Street to replace an earlier medieval building; Street is probably best known for designing the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The church was commissioned by Blanche Wroughton of Chaddleworth; the Wroughtons had held the manor of Fawley since the 18th century.
Fawley has a place in literary history, as it was the home of Thomas Hardy’s grandmother. Hardy used the village as the inspiration for ‘Marygreen’ in his last novel, Jude the Obscure (1895), whilst he gave the fictional character, Jude, a stonemason, whose dreams of becoming a scholar sadly remained unfulfilled, the surname, Fawley.
From the church we head through fields with views over the downs. We soon head south-east passing Pound’s Farm and Oakhedge Copse, before turning again north to the hamlet of South Fawley, home to the metal, stone and glass sculptor, Johannes von Stumm (www.vonstumm.co.uk). The manor house (private), was built in the early 1600’s for Sir Francis Moore, a barrister and member of parliament.
From here, it’s an easy three quarters of a mile walk back to Fawley. Unfortunately, there are no pubs on the walk, the nearest being at Great Shefford and East Garston, whilst there is a tea room at the Court Hill Centre just to the north of the Ridgeway.
• Start and finish: Fawley church, 0.75 miles off the A338 between Great Shefford and Wantage (SU391813); limited on-street parking Car parks at either end
• Map: OS Explorer 170
• Distance: 5 miles (8.1km)
• Terrain: Some gates, ups and downs, paths and tracks that can be muddy, and sections of country lane
• Time: 2.5 hours
• More Information: To find out more about Steve, including his walking books, visit: www.steve-davison.co.uk
1 (SU391813) – Stand with your back to the church and turn right (westwards) up along the lane for 600m and where this turns sharp right, go straight on between fields (over to the left is a trig point) heading gently downhill. Pass a gate and continue along the left-hand margin of the field to the corner. Keep ahead into the next field and bear half-right, soon following the right-hand edge down to a dip, continue along the field edge as it turns left for 200m.
2 (SU377808) – Turn right through a gap in the trees (footpath sign) and follow the path up alongside the fence (right) with trees to the left. Keep ahead along the track to a lane and turn left, passing Old Warren Farm. Follow the lane for 200m to a sharp left bend, at a junction with a track on the right. Go straight on past the gate and head up through the field aiming for the left corner of the trees on the horizon. Go through a gate at the top and continue along the right-hand field edge, with Cranes Copse on the right. Leave through a gate and follow the enclosed track to a cross-track junction beside Cranes Farm.
3 (SU370798) – Keep straight on along the tarmac track to a T-junction and turn left, soon passing some buildings and then Pound’s Farmhouse (left). Keep ahead with views to the right to reach a sharp right-hand corner beside Oakhedge Copse. Go straight on along the track and after 350m keep to the main track as it swings left and then starts heading downhill. Pass the trees of Well Copse (right) and later the trees at Field Border (left). Shortly after, fork left along the enclosed waymarked route (ignoring the farm track that goes into the field) and head up to a lane in South Fawley.
4 (SU390801) – Turn left to a T-junction, go straight across, pass just left of the brick house and follow the track between the farm buildings to enter a field where the route splits. Take the right-hand fork, following the waymarked footpath across the field, then alongside the hedge on the right. Keep along the field edge to the far corner and pass through into the next field. Continue through the middle of the field dropping down to the trees. Go straight on with the fence on the left through the trees to a small meadow and bear slightly left to reach a gravel drive. Bear right to a lane in Fawley and turn left back to the church.
• The best walks in Berkshire - With the North Wessex Downs, Windsor’s Long Walk and a whole host of beautiful towns and villages, Berkshire is an amazing place for a stroll