Berkshire Walk – October 2016

Haunting views and a murderous affair

Head to West Berkshire and the North Wessex Downs for a hilly 6 mile walk with some great views, passing a grisly reminder of a bygone era.

Heading down West Woodhay Down
Heading down West Woodhay Down

From the lofty heights of West Woodhay Down the route heads down through fields and along tracks to arrive at Inkpen Common, home to the Crown and Garter pub and cafe.

The Crown and Garter pub at Inkpen Common
The Crown and Garter pub at Inkpen Common

We then head through the hamlet of Lower Green before heading towards Gallows Down. The walk up to the top of the downs is rather steep, so take your time and enjoy the great views to the north across the Kennet Valley on the way.

Looking towards Gallows Down with Combe Gibbet on the skyline
Looking towards Gallows Down with Combe Gibbet on the skyline

The final leg of the walk follows a track eastwards along the crest of the downs, passing Combe Gibbet – a grisly reminder of a bygone era. The original double gibbet was erected in 1676 to hang in ‘chaynes’, the bodies of local man, George Bromham, and his mistress, Dorothy Newman, who were found guilty of the brutal murder of Bromham’s wife, Martha, and son, Robert, close to this very spot.

Combe Gibbet – a grisly reminder of a murderous affair
Combe Gibbet – a grisly reminder of a murderous affair

Fast forward 270 years and the story of the murders was used as the basis of the 1948 film: Black Legend, which was produced by Oxford undergraduates, Alan Cooke and John Schlesinger; the latter became a well known Oscar-winning film director. Many of the film’s characters were played by local people, although fellow undergraduate, Robert Hardy, played the village idiot who is said to have identified the murderers.

The Memorial Stone on Walbury Hill
The Memorial Stone on Walbury Hill

Whilst passing the small car park stop-off at the well-placed seat to admire the views and visit the small memorial on the north side of the road. This recalls that the area was used in 1944 by the 9th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, in preparation for the successful assault on the German coastal artillery battery at Merville, France, before the invasion of Normandy. From here it’s a short walk over Walbury Hill, which, at 297m, is the highest chalk hill in England, passing through the earthworks of the Berkshire’s largest Iron Age hill fort before arriving back at the start; published in the October 2016 issue of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Life.

Views from the top of the downs stretches northwards across the Kennet Valley
Views from the top of the downs stretches northwards across the Kennet Valley