Post image for A walk around Grovely Woods near Wilton, Wiltshire

A walk around Grovely Woods near Wilton, Wiltshire

March 9, 2014 · 15 comments

Date walked: 10th February 2014

Distance: About 8 miles

Map used:OS Explorer 130: Salisbury and Stonehenge

There are no facilities of any kind on the path but there are shops in Wilton.


Avenue of beech near Grovely Wood, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Inserted out of sequence but I thought I’d start off with a nice woodland pic.

In what proved to be the wettest winter on record (and our weather  records go back a very long way), the sensible walker might heed the cry: “Take to the hills!”. The river Avon running through Salisbury had flooded several riverside paths, so I was grateful for  Christopher Somerville’s book “Britain and Ireland’s Best Wild Places”, where he recommends The Grovely Woods Ridgeway.

This ancient woodland about 4 miles from Salisbury rises to no more than 600 feet but I reckoned that this height, combined with the fact that its surface geology is a free draining chalk with flints would be enough to keep me from the worst of the  floods.

I drove to Wilton, leaving my car near the Victorian built but Romanesque styled church of St Mary and St Nicholas (more impressive out than in).

Parish church of St Nicholas and St Mary, Wilton, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

I should have included the 105 feet campanile in the picture.

Just past the tunnel under the railway the nearby river Wylye had flooded the road .

Flooded road near Wilton, photographed by Charles Hawes

It had re-opened by the time I had finished the walk!

I took the somewhat slippery footpath that rises up towards the woods and which quickly gave me a view over the extent to which the river had transgressed its banks.

Flooded river Wylye, near Wilton, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Nice conditions if you are a duck.

My route followed the most majestic double avenue of mature beech past Ugford Red Buildings (called Red, I presumed, due to its construction from brick) and then split off and narrowed as it approached the edge of the wood.

Double beech avenue leading to Grovely Woods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Sorry about the car, but it adds a sense of scale.

I had intended to make for the First Broad Drive which on the map runs a straight course through the middle of the woods for nearly two miles until it reaches Grovely Lodge. Sommerville suggests that it has been used as a thoroughfare for 7,000 years, and the OS map records it being used as a Roman Road. But on the ground the labyrinth of paths combined with map reading laziness on my part took me along a more or less parallel route to the south of the main highway next to, initially, Grims Ditch.

Grim's ditch, grovely Woods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

I think you can just about make out the ditch here.

The woods are clearly being actively managed. In amongst tall oaks are large areas of hazel coppice and some of the more mature trees show evidence of coppicing.

Coppice in Grovely Wods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Classic example of coppiced hazel

In fact records from 1603 declare there to have been 14 distinct coppiced areas in the woods as a whole.

Yews in Grovely Woods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Here, several quite large yews

I was struck by how different some parts of the wood were from another, some parts dominated by mature stands of sun blocking conifers, others more open and coppiced and others still highly populated with Yew.

Grovely Wods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

And here, a dense stand of conifer

The recent storms had taken their toll on some tall trees, their chalky bottoms exposing their shallow roots.

Uprooted tree in Coppice in Grovely Woods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

With such shallow roots its a wonder that they stand up at all.

A crossroads in the broad tracks was marked by a small hut of concrete, its purpose obscure and I was none the wiser for having a look inside. A sentry box might be the obvious guess, but in what context?

Concrete shelter near Grovely Lodge, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Anyone got inside knowledge?

I took the right turn the path passing through an open field (though still lined by trees) to reach a group of buildings near Grovely Lodge.

Snowdrops near grovely Lodge, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Not apparently a British Native.

Over to my left a small trespass into the land attached to a cottage was rewarded by the sight of masses of snowdrops. This was the most minor deviation and I was then back on the Second Broad Drive. This section had certainly been tarmacked at some time, though the surface now is mostly degraded to firm gravel.

Coppice in Grovely Woods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Dark and mossy and today making me feel slightly oppressed

On either side were stands of conifer and these combined with the leaden skies that were beginning to rain were somewhat depressing and led me to turn off left after a mile or so and follow a way marked path through Baverstock Long Coppice heading for more open countryside.

Open field at the edge of Grovely Wood, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Not the most remarkable scenery but a nice open view

I emerged by a field that had been cleared of its crop of maize revealing its flinty soil.

Flinty soil near Grovely Wood, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Flint is beautiful stuff. Smooth, hard, multicoloured, sharp as glass when broken

I was glad to have more light and some views to the gently undulating countryside. The path follows the edge of a narrow strip of woods that were clearly used to shelter and feed a pheasant population.

Pheasant feeder near Grovely Wood, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

They were far too quick to skidaddle for me to get a picture

Birds scattered and took to the air as I passed, squawking noisily in alarm, abandoning temporarily their patrol of the metal drum feeding stations.

At the bottom of the field I turned east and briefly joined the route of the Monarch’s Way……

Waymark sign for The Monarch's Way, photographed near Grovely Woods in Wiltshire by Charles Hawes

…… leaving it as it headed back into Grovely Wood and keeping instead to a wide chalky track shown on the map as Ox Drove.

Ox Drove near Grovely Woods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

The route is thought to be pre-roman but I don’t know about archaeological evidence

This easy path rises and falls as it passes the edge of outlying parts of the larger woodland. Attached to a tree a small faded white sign with “ABA” written on it provided a mystery.

All theories welcome

The path passes under a double line of crackling and buzzing cables, strung between wooden poles.

Electricity pylons near Grovely woods, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Why do these high voltage lines make such an evil noise?

I peered up half expecting to see sparks emanating from these powerful totems.

The path did become muddy in parts and occasional pools of water reflected the passing clouds, but they were easily side-stepped.

Grovely wood walk-24

On one side of the track a silo (Containing what? To provide for what? ).

Silo by Ox Drove, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

And another thing, how do you get stuff out of it?

A little further on a pair of green painted tanks (fuel perhaps)  only re-inforced my agricultural ignorance.

If it was fuel someone would come and nick it wouldn’t they?

The track rose towards the line of beech trees that marked my outward path. The sun, hidden for most of the afternoon, dropped below the clouds and suddenly the day was transformed.

Beech avenue between Wilton and Grovely Woods,Wiltshire photographed by Charles Hawes

Below the tall beech, a hedge of seedlings, still clinging to their autumn foliage flamed copper.

Beech avenue between Wilton and Grovely Woods,Wiltshire photographed by Charles Hawes

Beautiful, isn’t it?

The low sun cast dark lines of shadows onto the ploughed fields and illuminated the leafless trees in the waterlogged fields.

Flooded river Wylye, near Wilton, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Similar to the pic at the beginning, I know, but with much nicer light.

Facing towards the sun, the avenue was brilliantly silhouetted.

Grovely wood walk-38

I began to think of tea and toast. As you do.

My next post will follow a guided walk around Salisbury and will, be published on March 16th.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Ian Thorpe March 9, 2014 at 7:50 am

Lovely photographs again, Charles, with a strong sense of this interesting landscape. I’m afraid I have no sensible suggestions to make about the items that puzzled you.


Charles March 9, 2014 at 9:44 am

Thanks Ian. Hope all is well with you. I shall try and pimp to some locals!


John March 9, 2014 at 9:09 am

I see your luck held and you encountered another dry day for walking. In future, could you please let us know in advance when you plan to walk so we can plan outdoor activities as well?

As usual, you started me “walking” off in all sorts of (digital) directions. I wonder if you are on the mark in suggesting that little hut is some sort of sentry hut. Whilst walking, I came across this obscure little bit of the interweb:

Most links are dead but those in “Petertheeater” posts work and may be of interest. I’m surprised Wikipedia didn’t mention this. I was wondering if they were talking about a different Grovely Wood but the pic links seem to be of the same place as yours (which are of their usual atmospheric quality of course).

And I found this answer to another of your questions: “The audible noise emitted from high-voltage lines is caused by the discharge of energy that occurs when the electrical field strength on the conductor surface is greater than the ‘breakdown strength’ (the field intensity necessary to start a flow of electric current) of the air surrounding the conductor.” Which, of course, makes perfect sense to me (not) but will teach you not to ask questions. 🙂


Charles March 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

Thanks for all this good stuff. Looks like its set fair for next week, so you might dust your boots off. I shall try and explore that link now. As for the electrical discharge, I prefer to think of it as the Devils work, or at least some kind of warning.


Anne Wareham March 9, 2014 at 10:17 am

Bit different from Wales! Great to see where you’d been. Great holiday….. Xxx


Charles March 9, 2014 at 10:42 am

Very different! No barabrith in Salisbury.


Paul Steer March 10, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Charles, the chalky tracks remind me of my past life living near the South Downs. Salisbury was often a stop off point on the way back to Portsmouth. The stand out photo for me is the image of reflected sky in those large puddles.


julia March 11, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Brilliant woodland pics – especially the first. And always enjoyable to ghost the walk alongside. Thanks Charles


Charles March 11, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Thanks Julia. I like our mutual appreciation society. An urban walk for you next week. X


David May 9, 2014 at 9:16 am

Quite right sentry box. Ammo was stored in nissen huts along the roman road during the war.


Charles May 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

Thanks David. Always nice to know I’m right.


Nikki Copleston April 25, 2016 at 4:42 pm

Fascinated to read about this walk. I used to live not far from the row of houses in your last picture, and used to walk and ride horses in Grovely all through my childhood. I always found it a weird, scary place (with lots of odd nylon stockings lying around, which to a child seemed especially sinister…!) It’s somewhere I’d love to revisit. I’ve been writing about the area (crime fiction) and my work in progress includes mention of one of the brick water tanks that were sunk in Grovely during one of the world wars – may even have been the First World War. As kids, in about 1964, my intrepid friend Jennie & I explored the ruined cottages in the middle of Grovely (possibly now demolished – they were pretty dilapidated even then!) and got a good idea of how primitive life must have been if you had a farm or forester’s tied cottage years ago. Thanks for your blog!!


Charles April 25, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Hi Nikki. What a wonderful comment. So pleased you found the blog and got so much from it. We often think about how different and primative life must have been for those that lived in our cottage 150 years or so ago.


Steve Stacey April 1, 2017 at 7:56 pm

Hi Charles,
I grew up in Wilton, very close to the track that leads to the red buildings. I went to Wilton Secondary school, which was at the bottom of the track. As small children, we used to go up into the woods along what we used to call the Roman Road and dig up ammunition. We would spend hours on end in the woods. It was nice to see the photos you took. They bought back some really good memories.


Charles April 2, 2017 at 7:28 pm

Steve, thanks so much for this comment. I love how blogs can reach people who know the places I walk in – especially when they bring their own memories.


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