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Heytesbury Chalk Stream

A gentle stroll alongside the River Wylye and across lush water-meadows.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 49ft (15m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and bridleways,10 stiles

Landscape River valley and lofty chalk downland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 143 Warminster & Trowbridge

Start/finish ST 926425

Dog friendliness Keep dogs on lead on Walk 28; off lead on downland track of Walk 29

Parking Plenty of room along wide village street

Public toilets None on route

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1 Head east along the village street, pass the Angel Inn and turn right down Mantles Lane. Where it curves right to become Mill Lane, take the footpath left along a drive beside the River Wylye. Bear right on to the footpath in front of Mantles Cottage, go through a walk-through stile and walk along the right-hand edge of pasture, soon to bear slightly left on nearing Mill Farm to reach a gate.

2 Beyond a further gate, turn right across the bridge, then follow the yellow arrow left and soon cross a footbridge. Follow the Wessex Ridgeway marker straight ahead at a junction of ways then, just before a further footbridge, turn left through a gap and bear right along the field edge. At a white wooden arrow, bear half left across the field towards thatched cottages to the riverbank and bear right to a stile and junction of paths.

3 Turn left across the footbridge, pass Knook Manor and St Margaret's Church, then turn right by the post-box and soon pass East Farm on a track (which can be very messy after rain). At two gates, go through the left-hand gate and proceed ahead along the right-hand field edge to another gate. Continue on into Upton Lovell.

4 At a crossroads, take the signed footpath right, then just before the drive to Hatch House, follow the path left to a footbridge over the river. Go through a gate and proceed ahead along the field edge to a metal gate. Cross the stile on your left, walk along the hedged path and cross the railway with great care via gates and steps. Continue to a lane in Corton.

5 Turn left through the village, eventually passing the Dove Inn. At the T-junction, take the arrowed path across the stile on your right. Head across the field on a defined path to a stile and keep ahead along the fenced path to a further stile and proceed along the right-hand edge of the field. Shortly, climb a stile and turn left along the field edge to a stile and soon pass beneath the railway.

6 Cross a footbridge and then a stile and walk beside the right-hand fence to a gate. From here, follow the grassy track ahead. Cross another stile and keep to the track until you reach a lane. Turn right and follow it through the complex of buildings at Mill Farm and across the river to rejoin your outward route beside the River Wylye back into Heytesbury.

The River Wylye, one of Wiltshire's lesser-known chalk streams, threads its way through some of the finest downland scenery in the county on its 22 mile (35km) journey from Warminster to Salisbury. Iron-Age hill forts and ancient tumuli and barrows litter the rolling chalk downland, much of it now extensively farmed. In the valley, peacefully situated away from the A36, slumber pretty picture-postcard villages, including the charmingly named Knook, Boyton, Sherrington and Corton, all of which you will visit if you undertake the longer option, Walk 29.

Lying just 3 miles (4.8km) east of Warminster, the large village of Heytesbury is an ancient borough with a wealth of history and well worth allowing a little time for exploration before or after your walk, if you can resist the homely confines of the Angel Inn!

Wealth and prosperity came to the village through the prominence of one influential family in the 14th century - the Hungerfords - who acquired land and purchased manors across the south west, including a complex of manors in the upper Wylye Valley. Sir Walter Hungerford fought at Agincourt in 1415 and became Treasurer of England in 1428. He also founded and endowed a chapel in Salisbury Cathedral and founded the Almshouses, or Hospital of St John, that stand opposite the Angel Inn in the village. Under the Hungerfords, the Wylye estates became noted for sheep farming and Heytesbury became the main wool warehouse of the family, who were granted the right to hold a market and two yearly fairs.

Cloth production began in Heytesbury in the mid-15th century but it was not until the the 18th century that the proximity of the River Wylye attracted cloth mills along its course. Plans to develop the industry to match that of nearby Warminster never materialised and when its borough status was lost in the Great Reform Act of 1832 Heytesbury gradually declined, the population falling from 1,412 to a mere 454 by 1932.

Sadly, the village lacks buildings of any special interest due to the 'Great Fire' of 1765 which destroyed 65 dwellings along the main street. Notable exceptions include Heytesbury Mill, Parsonage Farm to the south of the church, 69 High Street and Heytesbury House, which stands across the A36 bypass on the site of the medieval mansion of East Court, once the home of the Hungerford family. In 1926 Heytesbury House became the home of the respected First World War poet and writer Siegfried Sassoon. He grew to love the dramatic views and wide horizons of Wiltshire's downland when he was stationed in the area during training on Salisbury Plain. This inspired him to buy Heytesbury Manor and following his death in 1967, it was occupied by his son George Sassoon until 1994.

While you're there

Seek out the hamlet of Tytherington across the valley from Heytesbury to view the single-cell chapel that dates from 1083 and was endowed by Empress Matilda, mother of Henry II, in 1140. At Codford St Mary you will find the second largest Anzac War Grave Cemetery in Britain, with the graves of nearly 100 New Zealand and Australian troops who died on the battlefields during the First World War.

Where to eat and drink

Both the Angel Inn in Heytesbury and the Dove Inn at Corton offer excellent food, real ale, accommodation and a convivial atmosphere. Alternatively, after the walk retire to the Red Lion in Heytesbury for more traditional pub food and a riverside garden.

What to look for

In Knook, note the interesting stone tympanum above the south door of St Margaret's Church. The intricate carved motifs are early 11th century. Boyton church is the resting place of the chivalrous crusader Sir Alexander Gifford, whose striking effigy shows him cross-legged with an otter at his feet. Also in Boyton, look out for the old signs with a religious theme on the exterior of the church and Rectory Cottage.

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