Walbury Hill, as they will tell you proudly in nearby Inkpen, is the highest natural point in southeast England. And it’s well worth the calf-burning ascent: this far above Berkshire’s patchwork, there’s nothing between you and the sky but wheeling red kites. A shadow lies across the summit, however: Combe Gibbet, erected in 1676 to hang a pair of murdering lovers.
1. AT THE SIGN OF THE SWAN
Start at The Swan, a 17th-century inn in Inkpen village, turning left to pass thatched cottages. Follow the road round, then left over a stile. The footpath leads to Inkpen Church; at the road, turn right then bear left before taking a track through fields.
2. OVER THE HILLS
Keep straight to climb through woodland. A gate marks the beginning of your ascent of Inkpen Hill, although midway up a diagonal track to the left makes for easier going. At the summit turn left, joining the track to Combe Gibbet. This grim structure is a replica of the one erected in 1676 to hang the bodies of George Broomham and his lover, Dorothy Newman, after they murdered Broomham’s wife. Today, though, the spectacle that draws people to the summit is the lovely view.
3. STRIDING OUT
Continue down to the road, then take the bridleway to the right of the car park. At another car park, cross the road, then on through a gate. Skirt woodland to cross a field that drops away dramatically to the left, then out onto the road. Take the second bridleway on the left along a hedge. Where the path splits, continue straight to a concrete track. Turn left, then left at the road. Keep left to pass St Laurence’s Church.
4. HOME TO THE FIRESIDE
Pass grand West Woodhay House and follow the road round a bend. Turn right along a byway to Prosser’s Farm. Cross the road to follow the track, taking a right at the first fork and left at the second. Follow the trail through woodland to a stone by a holly bush and swing left.
Emerging from the trees, pass houses and turn right at the first kissing gate. Cross the field to another kissing gate, then over the road to a lane. A gate on your left leads down to a field – cross it to Manor Farm then head over the road and onwards. Follow the wide grass path and boardwalk. Emerging on to the road, turn right then left to return to the welcoming fire at The Swan.