A White Horse and Moonrakers

At the start of the year my walking buddy Mandy suggested we try to visit all the Wiltshire White Horses in 2020.  Normally this would not be too difficult to organize, however the travel restrictions around the Covid pandemic has made it more challenging.  Today we are setting off to the Pewsey Vale to bag the Alton Barnes White Horse and in the process also visit Milk Hill the second highest point in Wiltshire.

The starting point for our walk is the free car park at Walkers Hill besides the road between Alton Barnes and Lockridge (Grid Ref: SU116638).  Leaving the car park we cross the road and go through a gate and then immediately take a gate on our left and follow the path to reach another gate.  In front of us is Walkers Hill but we take a path that goes to the right and gradually ascends to get fine view across the Pewsey Vale.

The path is clear and easy to follow and we soon get a great view of the Alton Barnes White Horse.  Originally there were thirteen White Horses in Wiltshire, but now only eight remain. This horse was first cut in 1812 when Robert Pile of Manor Farm in Alton Barnes paid twenty pounds to John Thorne, known as Jack the Painter, to design and cut the horse.  

With the white horses at Pewsey, Devizes, Marlborough, Cherhill, Hackpen Hill, Broad Town and Westbury in the bag this one today completes the full set.  As we continue our walk on the path above the white horse we discuss which has been our favourite.  The most impressive is Westbury, but as that is now concrete we are not sure it really counts, on balance I favour Cherhill and we agree the most disappointing is Marlborough.

We are following the route of the White Horse Trail and we stay with this as we head around the top of the downs enjoying stunning views.

We are now on Milk Hill, the highest point in Wiltshire standing at 968 feet above sea level.  It is said to be 26 centimetres higher than its neighbour Tan Hill.  We stay with the White Horse Way until we reach a track where we turn left and then at a junction of paths continue heading west on a path that follows the impressive medieval earthworks.

We stay with the path on the earthworks for just over a mile and then at a junction of paths turn left to follow a path heading south along the edge of a field.  The OS Map shows there is trig point just over the fence, but from research prior to setting out today I know that it has been moved to the south west corner of the field so we continue on the path until we reach a junction of fences and then take a brief detour to visit the relocated Tan Hill trig pillar.  

This trig is the 232nd I have bagged.  It is disappointing it has been moved, but rather that than destroyed.  It is not the first I have come across that is not in its original location, but the views from here are still impressive and we can see the Cherhill Monument in the far distance.

From the trig we head back to the path and follow this downhill through cattle to go through a gate to reach a junction of paths.

We take the right fork following the path to meet a minor road at Cannings Cross Farm.  Here a notice states this is the site of the real Moonraker Pond.  Legend has it that in the 1780’s locals hid smuggled contraband in a pond to avoid the revenue men. Whilst retrieving it the revenue men arrived and the locals explained their activity by pointing to the moons reflection in the pond and saying they were trying to rake the big cheese from the pond. The revenue men laughed thinking them simple folk and went on their way.  The contraband was then retrieved.  This tale has led to people born in Wiltshire being known as Moonraker’s, a term that applies to both Mandy and I.  However, there are many ponds in Wiltshire claiming to have been the source of this tale and strangely there does not appear to be a pond marked on the map at Cross Cannings Farm.

The footpath leads through the farm and then continues across fields.  To our right the map shows a long barrow so when we reach a track we turn right to make a slight detour to explore.  This is a modern Long Barrow built in 2014 to enable 340 people to have their ashes interned.  It has been aligned so that the sunrise of the winter solstice lights up the internal chamber.

Returning to our route we go back along the track and then cross the Woodway Bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal and immediately turn left to join the canal towpath.  Over recent years I have walked many sections of the canal, but this is new to me.  It appears a number of permanent barge dwellers are moored here.

We stay with the towpath to pass under All Cannings Bridge (No.127) and continue on until we reach England’s Bridge (No.126).

It is around lunchtime so we decide to leave the canal and cross the bridge to wander into Stanton St Bernard to visit the church and hopefully find a bench for lunch.  In the field beside the track we see a World War II pillbox.  This is one of the many pillboxes along the Kennet and Avon Canal and formed what was known as the Blue Line.  This was one of a number of “Stop Lines” that were established in the event of a German invasion during the war.

We soon reach All Saints Church.  There was originally a church here in the 13th century which had a tower added in the 15th century.  In 1832 all the church apart from the tower was rebuilt.  As anticipated we find a bench in the churchyard which is an ideal spot to stop for our refreshments.

The church is locked so we are unable to look inside.  It is not clear if it is locked due to concerns about Covid or for security.  Either way I find it odd that buildings traditionally providing people with a place for reflection and sanctuary are locked, especially at times when so many are struggling with the impact of the pandemic. We continue our walk and Mandy, who unlike me is a believer moans about the church hierarchy and its locked church policy.  I think a letter to the diocese will be winging its way soon after she returns home.

Rather than retrace our steps to the canal we decide to walk through the village and rejoin it at Stanton Bridge.  This is straightforward and we keep right at every junction until we get to the canal where we rejoin the towpath heading east.  This soon leads us to the Barge Inn at Honeystreet.

We now have over three miles on the canal towpath as it heads east.

After two miles we reach the ornate Ladies Bridge built by John Rennie in 1808.  The design was at the behest of local land owner Susannah Wroughton and the reference to Ladies refers to her and her daughter, also named Susannah.

Almost a mile from Ladies Bridge we reach Wilcot Bridge.  Here we leave the towpath to join a minor road running parallel to the canal.  After a few hundred yards the road bends to the left away from the canal and we start to head steadily uphill.  At a junction we go left and then almost immediately right.  Reaching a crossroads we go straight across on a road signposted to Huish and Draycot and soon reach Draycot Farm.

The road bends to the north and we stay with it for a few hundred yards and then as it turns to the right we go straight on along a footpath into a field. After a second gate the path starts to steeply ascend Draycot Hill.

At the top of the hill we go through a gate and join the Tan Hill Way and Mid Wilts Way heading west.  This is a cracking hill to walk along with numerous inlets with great contours.  They look spectacular on the map but even better when viewed from above.

The path is well marked and passes through gates and by a large dew pond.  These ponds are a common feature on chalk downland.  They were dug out and lined with clay so they filled naturally with rainwater, thereby providing drinking water for the grazing livestock.  

For the last couple of hours rain has threatened, now it arrives.  We are walking directly into the wind with no protection from the elements so we quickly don our full waterproofs.

The route is now very straightforward, the well worn path leads us back to our starting point at the car park.  Despite the last half hour of rain our walk has been a cracking 15 mile route.  

You can view this 15 mile walk on OS Maps and download the GPX File Here

To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Outdoor Explorer Map – 157 – Marlborough & Savernake Forest

11th November 2020

© Two Dogs and an Awning (2020)

All information on this site is provided free of charge and in good faith and no liability is accepted in respect of damage, loss or injury which might result from it.  To the best of my knowledge the routes are entirely on public rights of way or within areas that are open for public access.
Walking can be hazardous and is done entirely at your own risk.  It is your responsibility to check your route and navigate using a map and compass.

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