Sunday, 3 January 2016


Here we are, about to head back to work in the rain. I hope you've all had a relaxing break - mine features much mud and rain (but then the latter seemed fairly unavoidable for all!).

I started with a quick walk on Christmas Eve afternoon - the sun was out, and a rainbow - but the mud was also making its presence felt. I decided on a quick yomp around Stratford Sub-Castle (below Old Sarum), ending up on an area of wetland given to the local people by a developer, and now being managed by the friends of Stratford Nature Reserve (volunteers). They're after a grazier, so if anyone out there knows of one locally, they would be grateful, otherwise it will have to be cut, which is expensive and time-consuming. In the summer, it will be alive with insects and beautiful wetland flowers.

Despite the copious amounts of food and celebrations, I did manage a surprising number of walks, including Broken Bridges and across the Town Path. On the 29th, we opted for a family outing from Fovant across to Broadchalke for lunch and back. This started (in the sun!) with a steep and slippery climb on the chalk escarpment of Fovant Down (including the beautifully-maintained Fovant Badges - military emblems carved into the chalk), up to Chiselbury hill fort. We then hit the Ox Drove (the one that runs from Salisbury, that we often walk parts of), before turning off to walk in some chalk valleys.

We came across some signs indicating that the farm was in a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement, being paid to manage the land in an environmentally-friendly way, and including permissive access routes connecting the Public Rights of Way to areas of Open Access chalk downland. Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, many areas of chalk downland were designated in such a way, but without connecting paths to them. This particular area of downland was part of Knapp and Barnett's Downs SSSI, being nationally-important and legally protected. It was a beautiful valley, with ancient stunted hawthorns and earthworks providing evidence of habitation and cultivation of the area for thousands of years.

In the distance we could hear a shoot underway, which was getting closer as we continued to walk down the valley. Eventually, the SSSI became a narrow bank, with a track and arable fields on the other side, which contained the shooters. We were told by a man with the shoot to stop and wait a few minutes to pass, and then walk along the track rather than the SSSI. Doing this, we were accosted by the shoot, saying it wasn't a footpath - I then showed them the map with the Open Access land clearly marked on it, which all appeared to be news to them! In any case, they were very pleasant and allowed us on our way, where we joined up the the main footpath and continued a short way on to Broadchalke for our lunch.

Afterwards, due to slow service in the pub (it was rammed) we route-marched back a slightly different way to avoid the initial slippery steep slope, and ended up through a short but very muddy stretch of path in woodland, before emerging out onto the other end of Fovant Down and returning to the car. A beautiful walk, even in the mud!

And finally, I've just come back from a few days on the North Cornwall coast, where the wind and rain made for some of the worst walking conditions I've ever experienced - saying that, the waves and coastal scenery were still amazing, even if my waterproofs couldn't cope with the blasting!

Now to work, and a week full of meetings :(

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