Country: Weekend Walk - Fom King John's pond to hang-glider hill
Harriet O'Brien takes the byway to Wiltshire's Win Green
Harriet O’Brien is a travel writer and award-winning author. Her first book Forgotten Land, a rediscovery of Burma was published just before she joined The Independent, her second Queen Emma and Vikings, a few years after she left. She was on staff at The Independent during the 1990s and subsequently worked in Canada and then as managing editor at Conde Nast Traveller before going freelance in order to travel more. She mainly covers the UK, Europe and Asia, where she grew up.
Saturday 21 June 1997
Set in winding chalkland, the village makes a good starting point for a number of walks. One particularly attractive route takes you on a circuit of about five miles, up over hills to Win Green - a lovely vantage point with sweeping views - and back down through the tucks and folds of hidden valleys.
Starting at the village pond (now a venue for ducks and terrapins), follow the footpath, ignoring turnings to the right and left. You keep going steadily uphill on the gravelly path helpfully signposted "By-way to Win Green". To the distant bleat of sheep and teenage lambs, you walk under a bower of cow parsley and ragwort. As the path levels out a little you keep going gently uphill, the gaps in the greenery offering lovely vignettes of rounded hills and steep valleys.
Passing a dreary plantation of mature beech, you come into open country at the top, with a clutch of trees cresting another hill ahead. In this chalk upland, meadow pipits and skylarks are a common sight while kestrels can frequently be seen circling overhead. The quiet is often interrupted by the buzz of old light aircraft from the Ashmore flying school a few miles away.
The path winds along a ridge, taking you to a crossroads. On sunny Sundays, hang-gliders gather here, bounding off the hill and swirling above the patchwork of cropland and pastures spread below. Don't be tempted to turn off, but carry straight on along a path that is well established, although signed "Unsuitable for Motors". The views become increasingly stunning - you can really stretch your eyes here - and after walking roughly another 10 minutes, Win Green, a hillock crowned with trees, emerges to your left. You can see the path snaking up there.
As you approach Win Green, the path forks. Take the left-hand track by a National Trust sign (the right-hand option simply leads around the knoll, offering more views). At the top, there's a helpful chart on a concrete plinth giving details of the outlying area: Melbury Beacon (863ft) to the west, Bulbarrow (902ft) to the south-west, and Tollard Royal back to the south-east.
Follow a track to the car park, visible from the plinth. Here a large notice informs you about a MAFF scheme to preserve the flora and fauna. Another notice at the far east end gives further details about an environmentally- sound grazing scheme recently initiated by the National Trust and MAFF - and indeed further on you can see evidence of the amount of woodland- felling that has taken place to restore the chalkland habitat.
From here take a grassy track downhill and through a new wooden gate. The path seems to disintegrate at this point, but keep to the right and it re-emerges, with encouraging little yellow arrows on fenceposts to assure you that you're on the right track. You pass through a kissing gate, enter woodland running along the bottom of a valley, and join a gravel path. As you scrunch your way along this, the walled garden of a mysterious mansion can be glimpsed. When you reach a fork, take the left track through an iron gate and into pastureland, with a secluded house on your right. The path curves through the valley, past heaps of sleepy sheep. Avoiding all other tracks, you keep going straight on for about half a mile until you reach a sheep pen and a series of stiles to the left.
This is the tricky bit: it's easy to get lost here. Clamber over the very first stile, followed almost immediately by another one. From here, pass through a rusted old iron gate. You then join a grassy little path, overhung with hawthorn, which snuggles into the side of a hill. This will take you back to the duck pond at Tollard Royal.
From the pond, it's a short stroll uphill to the King John Inn on the main road. This no-nonsense Victorian pub serves home-made fare (chicken and leek bake, pounds 4.65; bubble and squeak, pounds 4.75), and a variety of beers, such as Tisbury and Hardy Country. On Sundays, the Victorian pleasure gardens, the Larmer Tree, are open for cream teas, served to the accompaniment of a band. Follow the signs from the main road. Entry: adults pounds 3, children pounds 1.50. (Between April and September the Larmer Tree is also open 11am- 6pm on Thursdays, and additionally on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from mid-July to August.)
w From duck pond take the gravelly path that runs steeply uphill
w When you reach the cross roads keep straight on and follow the path to Win Green
w Proceed to the car park and at the east end take a grassy track downhill
w Pass through a wooden gate, keep to the right and walk down through the valley, joining a gravel path
w Where the track forks, take the left-hand path past a secluded house and continue to a sheep pen and a series of stiles
w Climb over the first stile, followed by another. Pass through an iron gate and follow the grassy path back to the duck pond.
Ordnance Survey Pathfinder maps 1281 and 1261; King John Inn 01725 516207; Larmer Tree 01725 516453
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