Not that we have spent a great deal of time in and around Swindon, but we were unaware of all the places to visit nearby. There’s a great deal of ancient heritage that can be found along the National trail ridgeway overlooking the North Wessex Downs.
There are at least 4 Castles or more accurately Iron Age Forts, Historic sites of interest including Long Barrow burial grounds, stunning landscape features and national reserves. I almost forgot to mention, there are at least 4 museums and some of the most spectacular vistas across the downs.
This Sunday, was the ladies choice and the lady wanted Oxfordshire
This week we decided to pick a walk from our Oxfordshire walking book, again within roughly an hour’s drive, that included a mix of terrain and plenty of sights to see.
Well, OK it was my wife Sherrie who picked this book and this Sunday’s expedition (Walk No 10) called Wayland’s Smithy and Ashbury. Being a big fan of Archaeology, she was immediately drawn to all the treasures along this historic ridgeway, running through several counties. Neither of us was really aware that there are so many places to visit near Swindon with so much ancient Heritage.
Heading North Easterly, first stop along the ridgeway was Wayland’s Smithy
After only three quarters of a mile you begin your approach to Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow, it is surrounded by a thin line of Beech tree’s, that’s clearly visible from the track.
It’s an impressive Stone Age burial mound, dating back to the Neolithic period, some 5500 years ago. According to the English Heritage information sign, it is built in same style as the older West Kennet Long Barrow built some 200 years earlier.
The impressive bit for me personally was the Wayland Smithy monument façade around the tombs entrance, it resembles a series of 5 upturned giant sarsens, each around three metres high.
Did you know
According to legend, the mythical black smith Wayland whom was of Germanic descent, was the son of a sailor hero and a Mermaid, who married a Valkyrie and became the resident smithy, making armour for the gods.
It was said that if a travellers horse would lose a shoe, that it should be brought and left overnight at this place, alongside a silver coin upon the stone. Upon the owners return the following morning, the horse would be re-shod and silver gone.
Odstone Coombes are very distinctive landforms
As you walk away from Wayland’s Smithy, downhill towards Odstone and Kingstone you approach a short dry and chalky valley, called Odstone Coombes. It has impressive layered effect, staggered Terracettes through the rock from top to bottom, each step or terrace pushing further out.
We took some photos and pondered what had caused this geological feature, it was only later we googled it to find out why. There several theories to the causes of these dry valleys, four of which are mentioned here
Next stop: the beautiful little village of Ashbury
After leaving the coombes, you walk down this delightful row of old beech trees, each step crunching underfoot, as you crush old beech nut shells by the thousand. Before passing a series of allotments, around Kingstone farm and then entering Ashbury up a small lane.
We passed plenty of lovely thatched properties, before contemplating a quick pint at the Rose & Crown (16th Century Coaching) Inn on our way up to the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. Originally Norman (1090-1150 AD), it was rebuilt and expanded in the 13th Century, then renovations to the chancel in 14th. Over the centuries this old church has seen many changes, but still captivates the imagination of ramblers like us.
Looking for a birdie in a golfers paradise
Not that we passed it, but we learned later, that the Ashbury Hotel has the UK’s largest Golf resort, apparently with a staggering 99 holes. For any keen golfers or wife’s that want a break, this Hotel sounds like the perfect place to dump your husband and ‘tee off’, with over 400 buggies over 7 courses.
Walk review: Wayland’s Smithy and Ashbury
After leaving the church, it’s a short distance up towards the ridgeway and back to the start, where we sat in the car, enjoyed the views and reviewed our walk. We never realised there was so many things to do near Swindon.
If you’re looking to cast your eyes over vast spectacular views of the North Wessex Downs, take in varying flavours of ancient British history across the centuries, and love exploring then we can’t recommend this walk enough.
It had its challenges, there were plenty of steep ascents and descents but it was fairly easy underfoot given the conditions. It turns out there are plenty of things to do near Swindon and we left feeling quite excited about planning return visits, with so many more footpaths along the ridgeway to explore and see what else could learn.
Whilst still feeling energetic, we decided to head off and explore Uffington White Horse and Castle, being that it was only a couple of miles away.
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Wayland Smith, Odstone Coombes & Ashbury village walk details
Here are the walk specifics collated from several different written sources, which include the readings from our pedometers on a typical ramble. For more detailed information please purchase one of these fantastic walking guides or source the information on-line.
I have included a link to the traditional walking guide map from our walking book.
You can find detailed instructions of the walk on-line via:
Though as you know by now, we are a big fans of the walking guide books and checking off the walks we have completed in each region.
Check out our recorded route around Ashbury on Map My Walk:
On the right is appropriate quick link Google map for Ashbury Hill car park, which is the starting point for this walk, as suggested by Jarrolds Short Walk (No 15) guide book.
There is plenty of parking available on either side of the road, to what is effectively two car parks. (zoom in, you will see)