Enjoy the unspoilt rural landscape of the upper Ebble Valley.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 377ft (115m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Byways, field paths, bridle paths, metalled lanes, 8 stiles
Landscape Chalk downland and river valley
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase
Start/finish ST 964250
Dog friendliness Let dogs off lead along downland track
Parking On top of Swallowcliffe Down
Public toilets None on route
1 Head west along the arrowed byway. Emerge from the copse and take the bridleway left. Descend into the Ebble Valley, keeping to the narrow path beside the fence to a gate. Continue ahead down the field edge, following the track through two gates to Norrington Manor. Cross the track and walk between farm buildings.
2 Where the track veers right, cross the stile on your left and keep to the left-hand field edge to a stile in the corner. Cross the track and take the path ahead through the valley bottom to a gate. Keep left-handed through the field to a stile and lane in Alvediston. Turn right, then left along the drive to St Mary's Church. Continue along the lane to visit the Crown Inn.
3 Go through the gate on your right and keep to the path ahead across two fields to a gate and enter West End. At the road, turn right across the bridge, then immediately left and follow the lane to a fork. Bear left along Duck Street, then as it begins to dip left, fork right along a footpath to the church in Ebbesbourne Wake.
4 By the lychgate, bear left to the lane and turn right to visit the Horseshoe. Otherwise, turn left down Duck Street, take the path right, cross the bridge over the Ebble and climb the stile on your left. Follow the path diagonally right up to a stile. Cross the stile opposite and bear left along the field edge. Climb steadily, go through the gate on the left and continue ascending along a track to a gate. Follow the field edge, cross two stiles, then bear right along a bridleway. At a crossing of tracks, turn left and follow it back to the car parking area.
Of all the valleys that radiate out from Salisbury, the Ebble must be the most peaceful and unspoilt. Time seems to have passed by the valley and its string of tranquil villages, for it's free from busy main roads and their associated developments. This is particularly true in the upper Ebble Valley close to Cranborne Chase and the Dorset border where the 13 mile (21km) long chalk stream rises. Here, tortuous narrow lanes link isolated farmsteads, hamlets and villages, hidden and protected in the folds of the steeply rising chalk hills.
Ebbesbourne Wake nestles beside the intermittently flowing Ebble stream at the base of the downs, oblivious to 21st-century hustle and bustle. A collection of neat thatched cottages congregate around the 15th-century church, which stands on a hill, and close to the gem of a simple and unspoilt village inn - the Horseshoe.
Norrington Manor and the nearby village of Alvediston date back to medieval times when they were associated with one of the oldest families in England, the Gawens, said to be descended from the legendary knight Sir Gawain of King Arthur's Round Table. The original manor house was built in the time of Richard II and the Gawens completed the building after 1377. Much of the striking 14th-century stone building still stands with some 17th-century additions.
Memorials to the Gawen family, and the Wyndham family who succeeded them at Norrington after 450 years, can be seen in St Mary's Church, which was rebuilt in 1866 and overlooks peaceful water-meadows. Pride of place at the front of the churchyard is the tomb of Sir Anthony Eden (1897-1977), Earl of Avon and Prime Minister between 1955 and 1957. He lived in the brick-built 18th-century manor house close to the church.
For hundreds, even thousands of years, this hilltop track, known as the Herepath or the Salisbury Way, was one of main highways linking Salisbury to the west, especially for pilgrims travelling to the abbeys at Wilton and Shaftesbury. In later years the route was used by horse-drawn coaches en route from London to Exeter, until improved road-making techniques in the 19th century made it possible for a new road to be built in the Nadder Valley. Its importance in the earliest of days can be traced through the presence of earthworks, barrows, tumuli and a little way east, the Iron-Age settlement of Chiselbury Camp. It is now a deserted grassy track providing a fine panorama to the north across the broad, undulating and wooded Nadder Valley, and south down steep dry valleys into the narrow Ebble Valley to lofty chalk downland beyond.
Take a leisurely drive through the delightful Ebble Valley. Begin at Berwick St James and head east through Ebbesbourne Wake to Fifield Bavant and visit St Martin's Church, one of England's smallest churches measuring 35ft (10.6m) long and 15ft (4.5m) wide. In Broad Chalke, the largest village in the valley, you will see some fine manor houses, notably Reddish House where the photographer and designer Sir Cecil Beaton lived until his death in 1980. He is buried in the churchyard.
Time your walk to coincide with opening times at the Horseshoe in Ebbesbourne Wake. This unspoilt village inn offers ale from the cask and home-cooked food, notably pies, stews, local game and ploughman's lunches, and a garden. If you can't wait, divert to the Crown Inn, a free house in Alvediston.