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Westbury White Horse

An exhilarating downland walk to a famous white horse.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 557ft (170m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths and downland tracks, 1 stile

Landscape Downland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 143 Warminster & Trowbridge

Start/finish ST 914523

Dog friendliness Let dogs off lead on top of Westbury Hill

Parking Jubilee Hall in Tynings Lane, Bratton, just off B3098

Public toilets None on route

1 Turn right out of the car park to the B3098. Turn left, then almost immediately left again up Butts Lane. Fork right into Upper Garston Lane by the Oratory of St Giles then, just before the lane dips, take the path left, waymarked to the church. Descend steps, cross a brook, then climb steps to the church gates. Take the narrow path right and ascend through trees. Ignore the stile on your left and climb the stile ahead into pasture at the base of downland.

2 Follow the permissive path half-right up the field, passing through a belt of trees, then climb diagonally up the scarp slope to the fence at the top. Keep right alongside the fence, go through a gate, then turn right through a metal gate to follow a sunken track around the top of Combe Bottom. At the lane, turn left uphill and soon take the track, right, on to the outer rampart of Bratton Camp. Bear right to follow the outer rampart path to reach the Westbury White Horse hill figure.

3 Shortly, leave the rampart and pass through a gate on to Westbury Hill. Keep to the path, passing benches and a viewpoint pillar, and soon reach a track. Turn left, pass the car park entrance and turn right at the T-junction. Pass White Horse Farm and turn left along the track to join the Imber Range Perimeter Path.

4 Keep to the track for ¾ mile (1.2km) to a barn and take the bridle path left through a gate. Follow the track past a copse into a field and keep to the left-hand edge to a gate. Bear right steeply down a sunken track towards Bratton. Go through a gate and descend through trees and keep ahead on reaching a metalled lane. Turn left at the T-junction, then bear left up a cobbled path (The Ball) between cottages. At the road, keep left back to the hall and car park.

Westbury Hill rises to the commanding height of 750ft (229m) above sea level and forms the dramatic western edge of Salisbury Plain. The views are tremendous, with the scarp slope dropping into the Vale of Pewsey, and on the horizon, on a clear day, you can see across Somerset to the Mendips and the Cotswolds. Dominating the hilltop is Bratton Castle, an Iron-Age hill fort covering 25 acres (10ha) of the plateau and defended by double banks and ditches rising to 35ft (11m). The long barrow inside the fort is a burial mound probably built before 3000 bc.

Cut into the side of the hill, just below the castle ramparts, is Wiltshire's oldest and best known white horse measuring 180ft (55m) long and 108ft (33m) high. This graceful hill figure is believed to have replaced a much earlier and cruder creature which local tradition states was cut in celebration of King Alfred's victory over the Danes at the Battle of Ethundun in ad 878.

The present, well-proportioned animal, which is featured on the bottles of a brand of whisky of the same name, was cut by a Mr Gee, steward to Lord Abingdon, in 1778, apparently because he objected to the primitive dog-like creature which had previously existed on Westbury Hill. The White Horse was remodelled in 1853 and restored 20 years later, with its most recent makeover in concrete, courtesy of Westbury Cement Works. This is the unmistakable industrial complex you can see in the valley below.

The most notable feature of Bratton, a large modern village in the shadow of a huge downland escarpment, is the Church of St James the Great, arguably one of the most charming churches in the county. Reached by a series of steep steps, and nestling at the base of the chalk downland, it dates from the 13th century and is worth the climb to view the traces of Norman architecture and the wildly grinning gargoyles.

The Imber Range Perimeter Path is a 30 mile (48km) trail circumnavigating the Army's largest live firing range in the south of England. For over 50 years an area of Salisbury Plain 10 miles (16.1km) long and 5 miles (8km) wide has been occupied by the Army and public access has been very limited. Your view south is across the great central plateau, a wild and lonely landscape, full of mystery and a sense of space.

Where to eat and drink

Refresh yourselves after this taxing downland walk at the Duke in Bratton, noted for its generous home-cooked food, including excellent Sunday roasts, and Moles ales.

What to look for

Make sure you pause at the viewpoint pillar on Westbury Hill, especially on a clear day, as you will be surprised just how far reaching the view is. Walk this way in spring and early summer to see the grassy downland summit and slopes alive with chalk loving plants, such as bird's foot trefoil, and butterflies like the chalkhill blue.

While you're there

Make the short trip east along the B3098 to Edington to see the impressive, cathedral-like Church of St Mary, St Katherine and All Saints. It is an architectural treasure, built in 1351 as part of a priory founded by William of Edington, Bishop of Winchester, for Augustinian monks. There is much to marvel at including a rare wooden screen of 1500 and one of the oldest clocks in England, so pick up a church guide.

Wilts

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