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Amesbury and the Woodford Valley

Catch a glimpse of Stonehenge on this downland and riverside ramble.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 518ft (158m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Tracks, field and bridle paths, roads, 3 stiles

Landscape River valley and chalk downland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 130 Salisbury & Stonehenge

Start/finish SU 149411

Dog friendliness Keep dogs on lead through villages and water-meadows

Parking Free parking at Amesbury Recreation Ground car park

Public toilets Amesbury

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1 Take the footpath to the right of the play area, cross a footbridge and bear right to cross the main footbridge over the River Avon. At a crossing of tracks, take the track signed 'Durnford' and pass to the right of cottages. Head uphill to a junction and proceed straight on, downhill to a gate. Turn right along the field edge and bear left in the corner to join a path through the valley bottom beside a stream.

2 Shortly, cross a footbridge on your right and follow the path through marshy ground to cross a bridge over the Avon. Bear right over a small bridge and keep left through a paddock beside the thatched cob wall of Normanton Down House to a stile. Bear right along the drive to the road. Turn left then, in ¼ mile (400m), turn right up the farm road towards Springbottom Farm.

3 Either walk up the tarmac road or join the path through the spinney on your right, the latter affording cameo views across Normanton Down to Stonehenge. Pass barns and descend to the farm complex. Just beyond the barns, bear left with a red byway arrow on to a track beside paddocks.

4 Keep to this track through the downland valley (Lake Bottom) for ¾ mile (1.2km). Where it becomes metalled at Lake, take the arrowed path right, up the left-hand edge of a field into woodland and bear left uphill to a stile. Keep right along the field edge, with views left to Lake House, to a further stile.

5 Cross the lane and take the bridle path right in front of a thatched house. Head downhill, cross a drive and bear left to cross two footbridges over the Avon. Pass beside Durnford Mill and follow the drive out to the lane.

6 Turn left and walk through Great Durnford, passing the church and drive to Great Durnford Manor, following the lane right, uphill through woodland. Descend and take the waymarked bridle path left beside a house.

7 Steeply ascend through the edge of Ham Wood. On leaving the wood, bear off right along a narrow path through scrub to a gate. Keep right along the edge of two large fields to a gate.

8 Maintain your direction through the pastureland, soon to bear off right across the field towards a waymarker post at the field boundary. Ignore the public footpath to the right, signed to Stockport, and walk down the field edge to a gate to rejoin your outward route. Retrace your steps back into Amesbury.

Amesbury is a pleasant market town set in a bend of the River Avon, which is crossed by a five-arched bridge built in Palladian style. Its proximity to the eastern edge of Salisbury Plain means that the neighbourhood is dominated by large military camps and their personnel, including the experimental flying base of Boscombe Down. Despite this intrusion, the lesser-known chalk downland and the beautiful Woodford Valley to the south of the town remain delightfully unspoilt. Criss-crossed by breezy byways and tranquil riverside paths, this is perfect walking country, rich in archaeological treasures, such as Bronze Age barrows and Stonehenge, Wiltshire's most famous prehistoric monument, with the valleys dotted with chocolate-box villages filled with idyllic thatched cottages.

According to legend, Amesbury was founded by an uncle of King Arthur, a Roman Briton named Ambrosius Aurelianus, hence the name Amesbury. After Arthur's death in the 6th century, it is said that Queen Guinevere sought refuge in the Wessex region, probably retreating to Amesbury Abbey. The abbey was succeeded in ad 979 by a nunnery which eventually became the richest in England. It achieved fame as the refuge of Mary, daughter of Edward I, and her grandmother Queen Eleanor, Henry III's widow. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the convent was demolished and a house was built on the site. This was replaced in 1661 by a new mansion, designed by John Webb in the style of Inigo Jones, his father-in-law. Here, the handsome and hospitable Duchess of Queensberry inspired John Gay to write The Beggar's Opera (1728).

The present Amesbury Abbey was rebuilt in 1840 by Thomas Hopper for Sir Edward Antrobus, owner of the Stonehenge Estate. Although now a nursing home, you can see the colonnaded front from the impressive neoclassical entrance in Church Street. Amesbury's ancient and atmospheric church is all that remains of the original abbey. Built by the Saxons and remodelled by the Normans, it has a fine example of an early 14th-century window in the chancel, striking tracery and carved bosses.

The meandering River Avon threads its way south from Amesbury for 7 miles (11.3km), flowing through the Woodford Valley to Salisbury in the Avon Valley. Peaceful and protected, it is the unspoilt setting for some of Wiltshire's finest villages, notably the three Woodfords and Great Durnford, the quintessential English village. With its converted mill, where weeping willows dip into the crystal clear waters of the Avon, picture-postcard thatched cottages with flower-filled gardens, an impressive Norman church and its handsome manor house, you will find Great Durnford a delight to stroll through. Take time to visit the church and, if the pub is open, relax with a pint in the garden which overlooks the lush water-meadows.

What to look for

As you climb up the downs away from Wilsford you will be rewarded with a distant view of Stonehenge and the extensive prehistoric landscape of Normanton Down, littered with earthworks and burial mounds. Lake House, a 16th-century mansion built by a wealthy clothier, and now home to Sting, the rock musician.

While you're there

Two miles (3.2km) west of Amesbury (off the A303) stands Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric monument in Europe, a World Heritage Site of major importance surrounded by remains of ceremonial and domestic structures. Enjoy an audio tour and discover the history and legends which surround this unique stone circle. Sadly, in the interests of conservation, you'll have to view it from a distance, which will really disappoint enthusiasts. Less busy and pre-dating Stonehenge is Woodhenge (off the A345 north of Amesbury), once a ritual temple aligned with sunrise on Midsummer Day.

Where to eat and drink

The Black Horse in Great Durnford is a traditional free house offering a range of ales and a varied bar menu. Amesbury has several cafés and pubs, including the Friar Tuck café, the Kings Arms, the New Inn and the Antrobus Arms.

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