Walk Of The Month: Wander back 5,000 years in four hours

Ian McCurrach finds a route linking two outstanding historical sites - magnificent Salisbury Cathedral and mysterious Stonehenge
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The Independent Travel

There's a magical and mythical quality to the rolling landscape of south Wiltshire which just begs you to stride out across the open countryside under vast skies. So I was delighted to stumble across a walk linking two ancient sites of ritual and worship: Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge - both major feats of civil engineering in their day.

The route is not waymarked, so take great care to follow the instructions in conjunction with an Ordnance Survey map. But if you do stray from the path, which I did several times, it is easy to find your way back to the track and more or less impossible to get lost.

Start the walk beneath the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Turn immediately right as you leave the cathedral looking out for the ancient buildings dotted around the picturesque Cathedral Close. Pass Choristers Green on your left and head for the medieval High Street Gate. Follow the High Street, turning left at the Polly Tea Rooms, and walk about 50 yards until you come to the River Avon. Cross the bridge and turn sharp right following signs for the Riverside Walk, which leads you out of town.

After about 20 minutes you will be in beautiful open countryside. The route takes you along a raised boardwalk with the Avon Valley Local Nature Reserve on your left.

Stick closely to the river all the time, frequently passing under the canopies of weeping willow and hawthorn. Don't follow the raised boardwalk as it branches to the left, but carry straight on along the river.

Look out for a village on the right, and in the distance, a large flat-topped hillock. Eventually you will reach a footbridge, which you cross, carrying straight on to the village of Stratford sub Castle. Turn right at the T-junction and after about five minutes turn left on the uphill track, signed "Old Sarum".

The track turns into a bridleway and into a field. Keeping the rosehip and blackberry hedge to your left, carry straight on up the hill. Leave the field following the path, which takes you to Old Sarum or Old Salisbury. This huge Iron Age hillfort contains the ruins of a castle, cathedral and bishop's palace. It's a great place to stop off for an ice-cream and to take in the commanding views of the surrounding countryside.

On leaving Old Sarum turn left. Turn left again before the farm ahead of you, following the bridleway sign. On your right you will see a small airfield. Carry straight on across the road and make for Shepherd's Corner, a cluster of houses and a small barn. Walk up the small slope passing a bank of trees on your left. After a further 10 minutes carry straight on through a small copse and down past Keeper's Cottage. Carry on up the track through an open field and into a dense copse. As you leave, walk straight ahead keeping the fence and Salterton Farm to your left.

At the end of the field turn left on the gravel track. Look back towards the right and you will catch another glimpse of the tip of Salisbury Cathedral spire. When you reach a road, turn and walk up the slight slope. Take the first road on the left down to the village of Great Durnford, where you will find The Black Horse pub, which serves excellent food. Turn left at the T-junction and then right following the sign for Durnford Mill. Pass the mill, following the footbridges across the streams and into a wooded copse with the stream now on your left. Re-cross the stream and walk up to the right through the trees.

At the end of the uphill track cross the road and follow signs to Stonehenge, which takes you across the top of a field. On the right look out for the substantial Tudor house, which belongs to the musician, Sting. Cross the style and follow the downhill track into the woods, which eventually open out to a field. The track becomes a gravel road with further signs for Stonehenge.

You will pass Springbottom Farm on your right. Follow the farm driveway to your left and carry straight on along the grassy track past fields of horses. The track widens, rising steadily to the brow of a hill. Get ready for your first view of Stonehenge. The ground here seems incredibly high and the sky incredibly low.

A winter sun casts long, eerie shadows stretching ahead. Stonehenge suddenly appears as you approach the top of the hill. The stones rise up in the distance as if they were miraculously lifting off into space. Pause for a moment and take in the vista. It is one of the best viewpoints from which to see the stones with no sign of modern life whatsoever.

Carry straight on and look out for Normanton Down Barrows on your left. To avoid walking along the A303 turn left at the sign, which reads "Stonehenge 1 mile permissive path" following the edge of the field.

Cross the A303, following the gravel path ahead of you. Carry on until you reach the A233, turning right in the direction of the standing stones. As the sun begins to set, Stonehenge is tinged in golden light before you.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Distance: 11.5 miles

Time: four hours

OS Map: Explorer 130 Salisbury & Stonehenge.

Further information: Salisbury Tourist Information Centre (01722 334956; www.visitsalisbury.com). Salisbury Cathedral (01722 555120; www.salisburycathedral.org.uk). Stonehenge (01980 624715; www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge). Old Sarum (01722 335398; www.english-heritage.org.uk/oldsarum).

Travel information: Wilts and Dorset buses (01722 336855; www.wdbus.co.uk), single fare £4.80. Value Taxi Cars (01722 505050), single journey costs approx £15.

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