This country walk, set in the chalk downlands where Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire meet, has flashes of unexpected wildness. Wayland’s Smithy, lying beside the ancient Ridgeway track, is a striking Neolithic burial chamber within a ring of beech trees.
Legend says that it is the forge of Wayland, lame blacksmith of the Viking gods, and anyone who leaves a horse and a silver coin there overnight will find the horse magically shod by morning.
Down in the valley below, Compton House was once the home of Ann Richards, a strong-willed Georgian beauty who spurned both suitors and learning in favour of wild company and hare coursing on the downs.
Leaving the White Horse pub in Woolstone, turn left along the road for 200m; then, as it bends sharp right, keep ahead along a waymarked path through two fields to cross the old track way of Hardwell Lane. Two more fields and you cross a minor road at Knighton, then continue to the road in Compton Beauchamp. Keep forward to pass Compton House, set back on your left. The elegant Palladian facade hides a modest Tudor manor house.
Keep boldly forward up a tarmac drive to pass the lovely old chalk-built Church of St Swithun, then bear off to your right along field paths for ½ mile to Odstone Farm.
Here you turn left to follow another of this region’s fine old drove tracks across the B4507 and on more steeply up Odstone Hill, among knapweed, scabious and splendid thistles, to meet the Ridgeway National Trail at the top. Turn left along it for 300m to find Wayland’s Smithy in its grove of trees on your left. It is a most atmospheric old monument, especially in a thunderstorm.
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Continue along the Ridgeway for ¼ mile, looking out for a footpath fingerpost on the right which points to the left across the trail. If you keep ahead along the Ridgeway for another mile at this point you will pass a footpath on the left that leads to the Bronze Age chalk figure of the White Horse of Uffington, which is splendid when viewed from the Vale of White Horse below, but is not easily appreciated when you are standing right on top of it!
Turn left off the Ridgeway at the fingerpost and follow this path across the fields, with a tremendous view opening ahead across 20 or 30 miles of the Vale of White Horse, until you reach a tunnel of trees into which the path plunges. Follow it downhill for 700m to reach the B4507 again.
Cross the road (take care as it’s a blind bend) and turn right along the verge for 300m; then bear left down Hardwell Lane. In 250m turn right out of the lane and across three fields to the road; turn left here for the White Horse.
Field paths and trackways, rising 100m from a level valley to a chalk ridge.
How to get there
by car: Take the M4 to J15 and the A346 towards Marlborough; in ½ mile turn right on minor road via Bishopstone to Ashbury, then take the B4507 and turn left to Woolstone.
By public transport: Take the 47A bus (from Swindon to Uffington) or the X47 on Saturdays (from Swindon to Wantage).
White Horse Inn
% 01367 820726
Ordnance Survey Explorer map 170.
Grid ref: SU 293 878
37 Regent Street, Swindon SN1 1JL
% 01793 466454
Wantage Tourist Information Centre
Vale and Downland Museum, 19 Church Street, Wantage OX12 8BL
% 01235 760176