Country: Weekend Walk - Fom King John's pond to hang-glider hill

Harriet O'Brien takes the byway to Wiltshire's Win Green

Tollard Royal is an intriguing Wiltshire village. The name itself might sound absurdly grand for a straggle of thatched cottages and flint and brick houses. Yet the regal association is ancient, dating back to King John, whose 13th-century hunting grounds were in the Cranborne Chase nearby. Quite apart from this colourful connection, Tollard Royal has an eccentric mix of notable features: a 13th-century church (suffering from a facelift by the Victorians) which houses a rare and splendid effigy of a knight reclining cross-legged; a Victorian pleasure garden with Roman- style temple, Nepalese-type hillhouse and other follies; and a charming village pond restored from a muddy trench in 1990 by the enterprising parish council, who rounded off the work with an Arcadian pond-blessing service appropriately conducted by the retired Bishop of Bath and Wells.

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.)

Directions

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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