This rolling chalk downland stretches west from the River Thames in a broad arc to the south of Swindon, including the Berkshire and Marlborough Downs, with a steep scarp slope looking out over the Vale of White Horse, and then sweeps south and east to include the Vale of Pewsey and the North Hampshire Downs before circling round Newbury back to the Thames.
Although the downs are termed ‘hilly’, they don’t rise to any great height, which makes the walks here suitable for a wide range of abilities. Nevertheless, the walks in this guide take in not only the highest chalk hill in England (and highest point in Berkshire), Walbury Hill (297m; Walk 26), but also the highest points in three other counties - Milk Hill in Wiltshire (295m; Walk 21), Pilot Hill in Hampshire (286m; Walk 27) and Whitehorse Hill in Oxfordshire (262m; Walk 11).
This classic chalk landscape has been shaped by human activity for thousands of years, and some of the walks follow ancient trackways past some stunning historic sites, such as Avebury (one of the largest henge monuments in Britain; Walk 18), the 3000-year-old stylised galloping figure of the Uffington White Horse (Walk 11), impressive Neolithic long barrows, Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hill forts. Take time to admire the views and ponder why and how our ancestors created these iconic features.
But that’s not all. The walks allow you to explore parts of the Ridgeway National Trail, the Kennet and Avon Canal, peaceful riverside locations and picture-postcard villages with thatched cottages, historic churches and cosy pubs.
The North Wessex Downs offer an abundance of peace and tranquillity - here you can listen to skylarks singing over the open chalk grassland and the wind gently rustling through the trees; be dazzled by the myriad of flowers and butterflies; in late autumn see flocks of fieldfares and redwings feed along the hedgerows; and enjoy the views across the gently rolling chalk landscape that has inspired many a writer, poet and artist over the years.