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This Week's Walks - Archive

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This is an archive of walks done by the Saturday Walker's Club. You should only need to use this page if the SWC website is down.

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Sunday, 4 March 2018

Sunday Walk - Pewsey Vale and Marlborough Downs: Pewsey Circular

Length: 26.1 km (16.2 mi) [shortcuts possible, see below]
Ascent/Descent:  370 m
Net Walking Time: ca. 6 hours
Toughness:  7 out of 10 

Take the 09.57 Plymouth train from Paddington (10.32 Reading), arriving Pewsey at 11.03.
Return trains: 16.11 (77 mins), 18.13 (77 mins) or 22.00 (88 mins) 
Buy a Pewsey return (the full undiscounted off-peak price is £39.20, but it’s of course cheaper with Railcards, and in any case cheaper if you buy separate return tickets London-Reading and Reading-Pewsey). !! For example, if you are using a Network Railcard, you buy a discounted London-Reading return and a separate off-peak Reading-Pewsey return for a total cost of £29.30 !! The costs are lower for other railcards. 
Advance Tickets shave off a few quid for all of these combinations, but they tie you to a fixed return train, of course. Your choice…

Exhilarating excursion through the solitude of the Vale of Pewsey, which separates the chalk upland of the North Wessex Downs to the north from that of Salisbury Plain to the south, including an ascent up the southerly hill chain of the Marlborough Downs, from where there are stunning far views in all directions over this land of wave-like hills, with its scarps, ridges and valleys. It is a mysterious landscape, full of pre-historic earthworks and hillforts as well as barrows – burial mounds of kings and warriors. 
After a scenic descent back into the Vale of Pewsey, a tea option exists in the hamlet of Honeystreet. Finally, an undemanding stretch along the Kennet & Avon Canal leads back to Pewsey. 

Two Shortcuts on the downs are possible: they reduce the walk by 3.5 km (2.1 mi) or 3.4 km (2.1 mi) and the rating to 6/10; or to 5/10 when walking both Shortcuts (19.2 km/305m height gain). See route map and pdf for details. 

Note 1:  this is not  Pewsey Circular (via Avebury), there are no standing stones on this walk.
Note 2: there is no lunch pub en route, so prepare for picnic on the Downs, then tea in Honeystreet and/or Pewsey.

For summary, walk directions, map, height profile, photos and gpx/kml files click here
The  en route café in Honeystreet is now shut due to being too successful (!!!), read here. 2 minutes away is The Barge Inn  (19.8 km/12.3 mi, food to 17.00), which used to market itself as ‘Crop Circle Central’ but seems to be a more serious enterprise these days. For the tea and dinner options en route to and in Pewsey check page 2 of the walk directions pdf. T=swc.127

3 comments:

Thomas G said...

What a day! You wait for years for a snowy walk, and here we finally got one.
From the train window (only slightly delayed), the hills didn't look to have that much snow cover at all, but then we encountered some knee-deep snow drifts on the first farm track beyond the Kennet & Avon Canal. Energy-sapping fun.
Up onto the ridge (half went left for the short walk, the other half right for the full walk) with the sun now out and - together with a cold but not uncomfortable breeze - giving us the best winter walk scenario. As we turned west along the ridge (after passing through some lovely woods) there was another snow drift-heavy farm track, this time more than knee-deep, so much so that the wellie-equipped walker suffered some snow ingress. The weather stayed dry until about 13.30, when we stopped for our picnic lunch (we had seen the short walkers disappear from the spot as we arrived). From then on it was more typical winter weather: passing clouds with showers coming down left and right, and often also where we were. The showers being rain and/or hail, often followed by some stunning rainbows (one of them the longest lasting and most complete and vivid I have ever seen).
We eventually caught the shortcutters just where the afternoon shortcut branched off from the main walk, and all of them took that shortcut. On up to the Wansdyke and around back into Pewsey Downs Nature Reserve and to Milk Hill, a truely stunning Down. Alton Barnes White Horse was completely covered in snow, so we just had to imagine it's shape based on the fence surrounding it.
A holloway on the descent to Alton Priors was then full of snow to man-height, so we circumvented it along a field boundary, before checking out the Saxon Church. With the cafe in Honeystreet shut, we had planned on popping in to the pub there for refreshments, alas it is now shut as well (and as the short walkers found out from the taxi driver they had ordered to pick them up there: it is shut for good, to be developed into housing).
We then embarked on the 'easy' finish along the canal back to Pewsey, only to be surprised to find [A] the canal largely frozen (frozen enough to have swans standing on the ice w/o breaking through) and [B] lots of snow drifts along the northerly embankment, at one point about a metre deep and necessitating a diversion over barbed wire into a field...
We got to Pewsey with enough time before the 18.13 train (the shortcutters had taken the [delayed] 16.11) to have a drink at The Waterfront Inn, and then - as the train was delayed by 45 minutes as well - another one at The Royal Oak.
Buffet Car on the train, lots of seats and a working heating system. A well deserved finish to an extraordinary day in Wiltshire. n=8 w=sunny-initially-then-overcast-with-rain-and-hail-showers.

Thomas G said...

Further online research regarding The Barge Inn reveals that the lease had been sold in 2016 and the new owners had embarked on a refurbisment and repositioning of the pub (more serious food offerings, less hippy-esk focus on crop circles). But a subsequent planning permission to turn a neighbouring barn into housing and the pub into a wine bar/restaurant was turned down in Dec 2017, so they have now shut the (still loss-making) pub and put if up for sale. There is a local initiative to find the funds to buy it for the community and preserve it as a pub.

Anonymous said...

Magnificent, inspiring report. Well done all who walked.