Wessex Ridgeway: Westbury to Tisbury

For the next instalment of the Wessex Ridgeway I did a slightly shorter section, from Westbury to Tilbury. Had I stuck as close as possible to the official trail this would have come in at around 26 miles, bearing in mind that neither the start nor the end are directly on the Wessex Ridgeway, they're just the two most convenient stations to bookend this chunk. As it turned out though I took a few shortcuts here and there, and the actual distance I covered was more like 20 miles.

As is often the case with my walking expeditions, it was a bit of a late start today, and the night before I had spent some time thinking I just can't really be bothered... but I did eventually get my act together, and got on the 12:35 train out of Paddington, which got me to Westbury just before 2pm. Given the time of year I still had plenty of daylight hours ahead of me to get the walking I needed to done.

The weather forecast had suggested it would be raining on and off, and the temperature would be relatively cool for the time of year. After getting quite overheated on the previous section that didn't sound like such a bad thing. As it turned out though, the rain never really materialised, and it was a bit warmer than I anticipated. I particularly felt this on the first bit of ascent, heading out of Westbury, up Westbury Hill.

Once Westbury Hill had been climbed, the route of the Wessex Ridgeway follows around the edge of the military training area for a while - along the Imber Perimiter Path. I'd formed the opinion on the last section that I'm really not a fan of the Imber Perimiter Path, but thankfully today's walk would eventually take me far away from the military training area, of which I was quite glad.

As I approached Warminster, I saw a deer beside a barn, who for a few moments seemed quite unaware of - or unconcerned by - my presence.

What I saw of Warminster looked rather dominated by the military, thinking about it I suppose it's quite an appropriate name. Fortunately though this was to be the last point on today's walk to be on the edge of grim military architecture, fences and keep out signs. Beyond there lay a really interesting section of today's walk, starting with Battlesbury Camp.

This is quite a sizable hill fort, apparently dating to the Iron Age, with much of the earthworks still intact, and offering far reaching views, beyond Warminster (thankfully), into Somerset and Dorset. There were some interestingly shaped hills off in the distance, a noticeable change in style of landscape from Salisbury Plain, and I wondered if I might encounter some of these later along the Wessex Ridgeway. I paused here for a little while and ate a sausage roll I had picked up from the bakery in Westbury.

The next in the trio of hills which the Wessex Ridgeway traverses here was the rather unimaginatively titled Middle Hill. It lacked the major earthworks of its two neighbours, instead just having a single tumulus at the top. As a result of its isolation of an otherwise fairly featureless hill it had quite an atmosphere to it.

The final of the three was Scratchbury Hill, apparently the subject of a Siegfried Sasson poem. This had a different atmosphere again, the remnants of the earthworks not quite as pronounced as Battlesbury, albeit more obviously a hillfort than Middle Hill. The sky by this point had turned a little moody, the air a bit chilly, and there was almost a hint of menace about it. The flock of sheep grazing atop the hill seemed largely unconcerned.

Beyond there, a gradual descent down into Heytesbury, which ended with a slightly hair raising crossing of the A36. 

Once in Heytesbury, it by now being around 6pm, and having walked 9 or 10 miles, I thought it might be appropriate to have a break, and stop for refreshement. The first pub I encountered didn't bode well, but fortunately Heytesbury is a two pub village, and the Angel Inn was dutifully picking up the slack. I sat outside there recharging my batteries, both metaphorically and literally - my phone's battery seems to go very quickly nowadays when I'm out walking, although I suppose I do make fairly intense use of it for the Ordnance Survey maps an, of course, photos.

I was a little disappointed there were no local ales at the Angel, so I settled for a pint of Tribute. I know some people refer to Wiltshire as being part of the West Country, but it's a long way from Cornwall.

After Heytesbury the Wessex Ridgeway has a pleasant stretch, at least to begin with, following the River Wylye. This became less pleasant a little later on with an extremely overgrown path I had to practically hack my way through.

Eventually I arrived in the little village of Corton, which was to be the last point of civilisation I'd be passing through today. I thought I'd also give the local pub there - the Dove Inn - a go, hoping second time round I might find a more local ale. Strangely again most of the offering was from Cornwall. So instead I went for a pint of Bass, which you don't actually see very often in the UK. It more commonly occurs in paintings by Manet.

Beyond the village of Corton I had a climb up Corton Hill. En route I took a slight detour to get as close as I could from the footpath to Corton Long Barrow. Given the light at this time of the evening, and the breeze, this made for quite an evocative spot.

Returning to the Wessex Ridgeway, I followed it up and over Corton Down, enjoying the golden evening light and the glimpses of the setting sun off to my right. This was another highlight of today's walk, and hopefully you can see from the photos I was rather enjoying myself.

Of course sunset meant the light would now start to fade, and my thoughts were turning to finding a spot to rest for the night. I was entering a wooded area and that seemed like a good candidate. After a bit of further walking I eventually found  a spot which seemed like a good compromise - a bit secluded, but not densely covered in foliage, and with a view to the sky, such that I might get a few glimpses of stars. Once again I enjoyed a Summit To Eat Macaroni Cheese for supper, and while it was rehydrating I did a fairly thorough job of setting up my bivvy bag / sleeping pad / quilt / pillow etc. After one final check of the weather forecast I decided to chance it and not put up a tarp, instead just relying on the bivvy to keep me dry, and a waterproof cover to keep my backpack dry.

Alas despite being warm, dry and relatively comfortable, I still barely slept. It was actually comparatively quiet in the woods, certainly quieter than the copse I had tried to sleep in last summer, which was like some kind of airport for birds, constantly taking off and landing. Tonight I could occasionally hear an owl in the distance, and at one point an irate sounding deer was crashing through the undergrowth somewhere nearby, barking loudly as it did so. Another loud animal sound later on sounded more like it was squealing - a wild boar perhaps? Plus there was the occasional snuffling sounds of some presumably more modestly sized mammal.

So, just like the last two times I gave up trying to sleep at first light, packed up and got back on the trail instead. Fully expecting the usual soaked boats from the morning dew, I took pre-emptive action on this occasion, and changed into the waterproof hiking socks I'd recently bought. They're not as comfortable as the other hiking socks I usually wear, but then nothing is comfortable once you've developed blisters. This did actually seem to help, although maybe it's an unfair comparison as this morning's walk was a fair bit shorter than the walk I'd done on day two of the previous outing.

I had decided to cheat for the remainder of the walk. I'd originally planned to follow the Wessex Ridgeway as it goes through Hindon, and only divert away from it at the last minute to head into Tisbury. Not really being in the mood for another long walk after a very poor night's sleep though, I instead just followed a fairly direct route down to Tisbury.

This alternative route initially took me over the A303. Normally if I have to cross over an A road as part of a walk it's some unfamiliar one I've possibly never driven down. The A303 however is probably the only A road I can say I have any real affection for, so for once I actually didn't mind having to briefly get to grips with a highway like this. Although the Ordnance Survey map was overselling it a bit when it suggested there was a footpath running along side it - it was a best an overgrown grass verge.

Beyond the A303 I took another overgrown path down to Fonthill Bishop. Once I got to Fonthill Bishop I was then really glad of my diversion. The Fonthill Estate there is really grand and impressive, with a very majestic archway leading into the rest of the estate (not sure if this was always a public road, but it is now).

Through the archway, a lovely road which runs alongside Fonthill Lake, with the sweeping landscape of Fonthill Park on the other side. I hadn't really studied the map carefully here before deciding to come this way, and hadn't heard of Fonthill before, so this was a lovely surprise. Nicer still for the fact the sun was rising over the other side of the lake.

After Fonthill Lake I had more overgrown paths to negotiate, and ultimately gave up on them and went back to walking along the road for the remainder of the way to Tisbury.

I arrived a full 45 minutes before the first train of the day to London - at 8am, it being a Sunday, but fortunately found the little Coop in the village was open already, so was able to pick up some breakfast there, which I sat and ate on the platform while waiting for the train.

The next section is going to be a bit more of a challenge - from here on, there's a large gap before the next station which is anywhere near the route of the Wessex Ridgeway: Maiden Newton. I plotted the route from Tisbury to Maiden Newton and it's apparently 70.5km (43.8 miles), which allowing for the elevation involved OS Maps calculates as being about 18 hours of walking. I've been budgeting for 15 miles a day - and even that can prove tough on day two of the walk. So 70km is really three days of walking.  However, given that I haven't yet managed anything even vaguely approximating a decent night's sleep when camping in this way, the thought of trying to do that for two consecutive nights isn't particularly appealing. Definitely needs more thought!


  1. I love the way you make constant tactical route changes as you go .... that is the joy of real hiking.... and you get to see so much more. These days your equipment is much better and more comprehensive than when you first started walking. In the days long ago (very!) when I used to do what you are doing now, this was always one of the most interesting and engaging aspects ... being prepared with lots of little bits 'just in case' ... down to the proverbial lengths of baler twine.and of course Kendal Mint Cake?! And we did not have GPS so there was so much more map reading and route finding ... but I still did it in much the same way as you do now ...look at what is in front of you, always have a basic idea of where you are and where you want to get to.




Post a Comment