Today’s walk is about a pre-Christmas stroll around a tiny Wiltshire village that I’d not previously heard of. Even now, I have trouble remembering its name and frequently have to remind myself with a psychological prompt of the word ‘murder’… That’s possibly because I walked through another area called Murder Combe last summer because today I’m going to take you on a tour of Slaughterford. I hope you bought a waterproof coat and wellies!
This walk begins in Ford, along the A420; just north of Slaughterford and west of Chippenham. This was, I believe, my very first solo walk in Wiltshire (although, there’s a chance that I may’ve crossed the border during other walks around and near Bath). As I’ve said before; I’m intending to head out a bit further from home now, having pretty much exhausted the Mendips (that 30-miler in June isn’t far away…).
View from the lay-by/start point.
Following the directions from the Walk West guide book, I parked in a lay-by opposite the local church. I ended up driving through Ford before realising I had passed the start point. There didn’t appear to be any ‘welcome’ signs entering from the west but, from a bit of planning on Google StreetView, I knew there were signs coming in from the west (I recognised them from my rear-view mirror).
It begins by heading downhill via an indiscreet footpath from the lay-by, before you climb up the lane to reach a stile that leads you across fields with a river as your guide.
With only one handrail and slippery-wet wood to walk on, I was relieved this footbridge was private!
I think we’d had rain in the previous days (to be fair, we’ve had a pretty wet winter so far) and although the skies above were dark throughout this walk, I don’t remember much water falling.
In preparation however, I’d set off dressed in waterproofs but without wellies. In December, I contemplated buying an expensive pair that might be comfortable but I fear it’s a lot to ask without spending a lot of money on boots I’d wear for only one season each year… I am due for a new pair of walking boots. On my last pair, the waterproofing failed after four months. At the moment, it’s about finding that balance between expenditure, the time of year and time required for wearing-in before the big walk in June… By the time I’ve answered that equation, I should have a new pair of boots. But the temptation to spend during the sales this month is growing!
I passed a small family of people before reaching this stretch of fields. Beyond the church, I was in to the village of Slaughterford.
It was remote and silent in every direction. I don’t recall seeing any lights on in one of those houses and no moving cars passed until a little bit further on.
The site of Slaughterford’s former paper mill.
In his guide, Geoff Mullett indicates a minor diversion from here that leads you to the site of an old Rag Mill which, you might say, is in the process of ‘returning to nature‘.
In spite of the name you can see clearly on the sign, I believe this was previously a paper mill. I’d love to know where the name ‘Rag Mill’ comes from. In fact, I wish I had spotted these mysterious shoes on my walk as well!
There are more photos in my Flickr album.
Getting back on track and this road bridge seems to be regarded as another major focal point of this rural location.
…Before you turn around and you’re greeted by the following creepy, unclean sign:
If you were to remove the ‘S’, would this scene look so disturbing?
An abandoned farm?
What I found most strange about this farm (aside from the distinct lack of activity) was that there was a narrow road running right through it.
Then, I continued up an increasingly muddy bridleway for a good mile or so, with cows watching me from every neighbouring field…
Have the cows already taken over Slaughterford?
That is most definitely a bull, without question!
Rubbing its eye on BARBED WIRE… I’d heard that bulls will try to intimate you but this is insane!!
It was clear to me that few people ever traverse along this route.
After much climbing and barely staying on top of my own two feet, I reached a much sturdier path that would then lead downhill through the woods, past private lands and a private entrance to the Hartham Park Estate, before a brief ascent out in to the open where I was supposed to be able to look out across the Cotswolds…
That church on the horizon lies in Colerne, south-west of Slaughterford.
If on a clearer day…
I always think of the Cotswolds as being solely further north in Gloucestershire; perhaps that’s just where they’re best known. Because they also spread south through Wiltshire – a fact I could’ve realised, having previously considered entering the Cotswold Way Challenge.
Rudloe Manor – formerly owned by the RAF; currently under reconstruction.
Little did I know that I’d be revisiting a small section of this walk one fortnight later, on a different walk… You’ll have to wait to read about that one but I probably should study my maps more closely!
On this walk, my path takes a downhill diversion right and a little further along the wall you can see above, in to the depths of a shallow valley.
It’s not long before I reach a country lane that would again become familiar in two weeks time, passing between farm buildings.
More cows; further staring!
I then passed through a kissing gate that would create a definite sense of déja-va two-weeks later. Wherever there’s water at this time of year, you can expect the surrounding land to be pretty well saturated.
If not for an electric fence, I could’ve continued beyond.
Following another lane, you come to a point where you can carry straight on across the contours of a hill or turn left up a sharp, steep bridleway that’s very, very muddy at this time of year…
I put my faith in Geoff’s words and went the wet way. At the top of the hill, I reached I road that I realised did in fact meet up with another route I’d spotted a 50 metres earlier… Had I trusted my instincts and made a slight U-turn, I could’ve avoided much of this mud.
There were some nice views at the top, even on such a grey day.
Crossing fields and hilltops along my return route, I noticed that Wiltshire has some rather ‘upmarket’ methods of opening field gates… You don’t get these in Weston-super-Mare!
I presume these are mostly to benefit horse riders.
Then, I came across this armoured chap:
At first glance, I saw the wings of an angel. As I got closer, I realised he was some kind of ‘solider’, perhaps even a hero; looking over the county.
But according to Google, there are many statutes within Wiltshire and I’m not entering the correct search terms to identify this one. It’s strange that there was no plaque and no markings when I visited. I’d really like to know what that ‘creature’ is, surrounding his feet.
On with the walk and I’m not far from the end at this point.
These cows looked ready to ward me off of their land but the only bother they caused was running to assemble the herd and then mimicking my motions at a running pace… Very much like I had experienced on the previous walk!
When a man pulled over in his truck and tried to get my attention, I was afraid he was warning me of my impending doom in this field… But all he wanted to know was whether or not I’d lost a dog. These cows didn’t even bother the crazy running man who came bursting in from the path ahead.
Leaving the last field and while following another lane towards a farm, I came upon the site of a timber framing company.
As it was a Sunday, there was no-one to be seen or heard so I couldn’t help but to have a brief snoop around, without going too far, of course.
Aaargh!! …Who’s there?
Somewhere further along, I was looking for a break in the hegde to my right when I spotted the figure above, dead ahead of me. It gave me quite a fright; to look up and see someone staring right at me!
But it turned out to be a scarecrow (not The Creeper, I might add). Albeit, one who was perhaps dressed like a fellow rambler.
I remember having to cross this water via a footbridge before returning to the original route that led me out from the start point. But I’m also concious of not wishing to increase the length of this post any further.
There’s a nice-looking pub at the lower end of the footpath that returns you to the start. It certainly looked very warm inside but I’m not one to venture in to such places alone. Especially with waterlogged footwear!
I don’t remember this walk being much more than 7 miles long and, before sitting down to write about this, I couldn’t recall much of anything beyond the weather, mud, those cows and the statue. But there was a lot to take in from what seemed like a very short walk and it was an easy drive there and back as well (excluding the return journey, where I left the A420 too soon and ended up driving to Bath!
My complete Slaughterford Flickr Photo Set.
Thanks for reading.