Wiltshire’s Thankful Village

It is taking me a while but I am gradually bagging the Ordnance Survey trig pillars in Wiltshire. I have yet to work out how many there are, but I know a few sit on Ministry of Defence Land with limited or no access, so getting them all is unlikely.  There are also a few others where access might prove difficult, so for the time being I am going for those that are easy to get.  Today I have my sights set on a couple more and I am joined on my jaunt by my walking buddy Mandy.

The starting point for our walk is the village of Stapleford, just off of the busy A36 in the Wylye Valley.   We start from the parking area in the village just past the village church (Grid Ref SU070373).  From here we walk back along the road to the visit St Mary’s Church.

On my walks I frequently pop into churches to admire the architecture rather than the spiritual aspect.  For me it is usually a cursory glance, but Mandy is more into churches so we spend time having a good look inside.  Immediately I am glad we have as there are many interesting features in this church.  Behind the 12th century font in a window is a notice explaining that Stapleford is a Thankful Village.

During my walks I have stumbled on a few Thankful Villages, these are villages where residents served in the First World War and all returned.  The exact number of “Thankful Villages” is unclear.  In 1930 the writer Arthur Lee identified thirty-two such villages and then later research in 2013 identified fifty-three villages.  Neither list contains any Wiltshire Village.

However, the notice says that Stapleford is the only “Thankful Village” in Wiltshire and lists the names of nine men who fought in the so called “Great War”.  However, there is a caveat in the notice saying it is unclear exactly how many men from the village went to fight in the War and how many returned.

I have driven along the A36 passing the edge of Stapleford hundreds of times, but I am sorry to say that I have never ventured into this attractive village.  Along with being a “Thankful Village” apparently it is where, in the summer of 1938, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams stayed and composed part of his Fifth Symphony.

Just before reaching a bus stop we turn right into Chapel Lane and then take a footpath between walls and follow the path across a field to reach the A36.  After carefully crossing this busy road we turn right and then take a footpath on the left between the Petrol Station and the Pelican Bridge. This path soon leads us to meadows besides the River Wylye.

The path takes us through fields to cross the river at Kingsmead Bridge.

Over the bridge we continue to a road and turn right.  This is a quiet country lane and it is pleasant walking along with good views of the edge of Cranbourne Chase to our left.

After just over a mile on the road we reach a junction at the edge of Little Langford.  Here we turn right and cross the railway line and then take a path on the left heading towards the church of St Nicholas.  This is an attractive small church originally dating from the 12th century and the interior was refurbished in 1864.  

The church is locked but there’s plenty to see on the outside as the walls are littered with interesting stone carvings.

From the church we continue on a footpath taking us through a pasture field to join a road which we follow for half a mile to reach Hanging Langford where we pass the village hall and continue along the road for a further two miles to reach Wylye.  

In this attractive village we turn right opposite the old Chapel and continue through the village to reach St Mary’s church.

There are a number of interesting features in this church but I am drawn to the notice explaining the background to the Popjay Tomb. This stands opposite the south porch and is an ornate tomb inside railings. According to the story, an 18th century local man by the name of Popjay was convicted of crimes and transported to Australia. When he eventually returned to Wylye it was in a fine carriage, and he was dressed with all the trappings of great wealth.  Popjay lodged at the Bell Inn and enquired after his mother and sister. He was dismayed to find that in his absence both had died and been buried in pauper’s graves. He ordered an elaborate tomb and had his relatives reburied.  But when the bills arrived for the work on the tomb Popjay disappeared, leaving the bills unpaid. He was never seen again, and the rector of St Mary’s had to pay the bills out of his own pocket. In 1840 Rev Francis Baker chose to be buried within the Popjay tomb.

Leaving the churchyard we turn right and pass the Bell Inn and then the Village Hall.  We soon cross the River Wylye and then take a footpath on the left which passes under the busy A303 and leads into fields besides the river.

The path leads us to the small village of Fisherton de la Mere where we stop at St Nicholas’ Church.  Dating back to the 14th century the church had substantial rebuilding in the 1830s and 1860s.

The church is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust.  Inside is a 12th century font.

From the church we head west and then at a junction of lanes turn right to reach the A36.  We turn right for a few yards and then cross this busy road to take a track on the opposite side leading to Manor Farm.  The track takes us through farm buildings and then continues north through arable fields.

This is a long straight track with stunning views over rolling down land.  

The track turns to the left and then at junction of tracks we go right to continue north to reach a crossing of tracks.  Here we turn left to make a short detour to the Ordnance Survey Trig Pillar on Clay Pit Hill.  This the 286th I have bagged.

From the trig we return to the crossing of tracks and this time go east on a route which skirts the edge of a copse.

From the corner of the trees the path heads across a field to reach a track where we turn right and follow it in a south easterly direction across Deptford Down.

There are soon signs to our left warning of an active airstrip and then a helicopter flies low overhead.  It continues to do a range of manoeuvres, we assume this is part of a training regime rather than a private show for our benefit.

We stay with this main track heading in a south easterly direction towards Yarnbury Castle.  On reaching the edge of the castle site I take a brief diversion from the public right of way to enter the site of the old hill fort.

Yarnbury Castle is a large iron age hillfort covering an area of 28.5 acres.  There are panoramic views from the site and well maintained ramparts.  It is now designated as a site of special scientific interest, but from the 1700’s through to 1916 it was the site of the Winterbourne sheep fair.  In 1916 the area was commandeered by the Ministry of Defence as a training area.  Now it is used for pasture.

On the south eastern side of the hillfort there is an ordnance survey trig pillar, I have passed this on many occasions driving along the nearby A303 but have never noticed it.

Returning to the track we carry on towards the A303.  This section of the road is a dual carriageway and there is a large refuge area in the centre so we are able to cross comfortably.  However, I would not want to try and get across here in peak holiday season when it is really busy.

Our route continues along a drove and we soon pass a milestone. The engraving is worn but it is dated 1750 and indicates that it is IX miles to Sarum (Salisbury) and XXVII Miles to Bath.

Staying with the track we soon start to descend and go straight on at a crossing of tracks.  As we descend there are fine views across the Wylye Valley.

At the next junction of tracks we turn left, leaving the main track and heading towards Stapleford Castle.  

Stapleford Castle is a medieval Ring and Bailey castle that sits beside the River Till.  It is not accessible and hard to make out from the path.  On reaching a minor road we continue straight on.  After crossing a bridge over a stream we turn right onto the B3083 and follow this road through the village to reach our starting point in the church car park.

Our walk has covered 16.5 miles and despite the early section along minor roads it has been a cracking day out exploring a part of the Wiltshire countryside I have not previously visited.

You can view this 16.5 mile walk on OS Maps and download the GPX File Here 

To follow my walk you will need Ordnance Survey Explorer Map – 130 – Salisbury & Stonehenge

22nd October 2021

© Two Dogs and an Awning (2021)

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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