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Walking in the North Wessex Downs

A guidebook detailing 30 circular walks in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covering parts of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.

The North Wessex Downs AONB, the third largest AONB in England, covers an area of 1730 sq km and encompasses one of the largest and least developed tracts of chalk downland in southern England. The AONB has a relatively low population, but because its boundary skirts around larger urban areas, such as Swindon, Reading and Basingstoke, a large number of people live within easy access.

The walks in this guidebook offer fantastic half and full days for walkers of all abilities. Alongside detailed route descriptions and OS maps, is a wealth of detail on points of interest along the way, as well as practical information on the area from public transport links, to ideal refreshment stops on each walk.

Publisher: Cicerone Press Ltd

ISBN: 9781786311108

Publication Date: November 2021

(first edition: 9781852847289; published June 2015)

The book is available from local independent bookshops, direct from the publisher, or from online sellers, including
North Wessex Downs cover
This rolling chalk downland stretches west from the River Thames in a broad arc to the south of Swindon, including the Berkshire and Marlborough Downs, with a steep scarp slope looking out over the Vale of White Horse, and then sweeps south and east to include the Vale of Pewsey and the North Hampshire Downs before circling round Newbury back to the Thames.

Although the downs are termed ‘hilly’, they don’t rise to any great height, which makes the walks here suitable for a wide range of abilities. Nevertheless, the walks in this guide take in not only the highest chalk hill in England (and highest point in Berkshire), Walbury Hill (297m; Walk 26), but also the highest points in three other counties - Milk Hill in Wiltshire (295m; Walk 21), Pilot Hill in Hampshire (286m; Walk 27) and Whitehorse Hill in Oxfordshire (262m; Walk 11).

This classic chalk landscape has been shaped by human activity for thousands of years, and some of the walks follow ancient trackways past some stunning historic sites, such as Avebury (one of the largest henge monuments in Britain; Walk 18), the 3000-year-old stylised galloping figure of the Uffington White Horse (Walk 11), impressive Neolithic long barrows, Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hill forts. Take time to admire the views and ponder why and how our ancestors created these iconic features.

But that’s not all. The walks allow you to explore parts of the Ridgeway National Trail, the Kennet and Avon Canal, peaceful riverside locations and picture-postcard villages with thatched cottages, historic churches and cosy pubs.

The North Wessex Downs offer an abundance of peace and tranquillity - here you can listen to skylarks singing over the open chalk grassland and the wind gently rustling through the trees; be dazzled by the myriad of flowers and butterflies; in late autumn see flocks of fieldfares and redwings feed along the hedgerows; and enjoy the views across the gently rolling chalk landscape that has inspired many a writer, poet and artist over the years.
St Mary's Church, Aldworth - statue of Sir Nicholas de la Beche (Walk 3)Sarsen stone at Avebury (Walk 18)Combe Gibbet, North Hampshire Downs (Walk 26)Devil's Den Fyfield (Walk 17)Sarsen field at Fyfield Down (Walk 17)Wayfarer's Way on White Hill above Kingsclere (Walk 30)St Michael's Church, Lambourn (Walk 9)The Manger and Uffington White Horse (Walk 12)Vale of Pewsey from the Giant's Grave (Walk 23)The Wansdyke at Tan Hill (Walk 21)
Introduction section - this briefly covers the history, geology and nature of the North Wessex Downs

Walk 1 Chapel Row, Bucklebury and Stanford Dingley
Walk 2 Ashampstead and Yattendon
Walk 3 Aldworth
Walk 4 Shillingford, Wittenham Clumps and Dorchester on Thames
Walk 5 Blewbury and the Astons

Walk 6 West Ilsley and Farnborough
Walk 7 Ardington and the Hendreds
Walk 8 Great Shefford, Chaddleworth and East Garston
Walk 9 Lambourn and Eastbury
Walk 10 The Ridgeway and the Letcombe villages
Walk 11 Compton Beauchamp, Woolstone and the Uffington White Horse
Walk 12 Ashbury and Bishopstone

Walk 13 Ramsbury and Littlecote
Walk 14 Mildenhall and the River Kennet
Walk 15 Marlborough and Savernake Forest
Walk 16 Ogbourne St Andrew, Rockley and Barbury Castle
Walk 17 Fyfield Down and the Devil’s Den
Walk 18 Avebury

Walk 19 Cherhill and Oldbury Castle
Walk 20 Heddington, Oliver’s Castle, Roundway Down and Morgan’s Hill
Walk 21 Alton Barnes and the Wansdyke
Walk 22 Knap Hill and Oare
Walk 23 Martinsell Hill and Wootton Rivers
Walk 24 Great Bedwyn and Wilton

Walk 25 Tidcombe and Hippenscombe Bottom
Walk 26 Inkpen and Walbury Hill
Walk 27 Ashmansworth and Faccombe
Walk 28 St Mary Bourne and the Bourne Valley
Walk 29 Ecchinswell and Ladle Hill
Walk 30 Kingsclere and Hannington

Appendices: Route summary table, useful contacts & further reading
Walking in the NWD walk location map