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.
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).
Just past the tunnel under the railway the nearby river Wylye had flooded the road .
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.
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.
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.
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.
In fact records from 1603 declare there to have been 14 distinct coppiced areas in the woods as a whole.
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.
The recent storms had taken their toll on some tall trees, their chalky bottoms exposing their shallow roots.
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?
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.
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.
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.
I emerged by a field that had been cleared of its crop of maize revealing its flinty soil.
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.
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……
…… leaving it as it headed back into Grovely Wood and keeping instead to a wide chalky track shown on the map as Ox Drove.
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.
The path passes under a double line of crackling and buzzing cables, strung between wooden poles.
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.
On one side of the track a silo (Containing what? To provide for what? ).
A little further on a pair of green painted tanks (fuel perhaps) only re-inforced my agricultural ignorance.
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.
Below the tall beech, a hedge of seedlings, still clinging to their autumn foliage flamed copper.
The low sun cast dark lines of shadows onto the ploughed fields and illuminated the leafless trees in the waterlogged fields.
Facing towards the sun, the avenue was brilliantly silhouetted.
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.