Alfred’s Castle

Field near Ashbury

Alfred's Castle 1

Where:

On and around the Ridgeway near Ashbury.

Season:

Summer.

Weather:

Overcast but warm and reasonably bright.

Route:

Pages 62-63 in this book (“A Circular Walk via Ashbury”)

Length

6.5 miles

Walking Buddy:

My lovely James.

Musings:

I’ve clearly brainwashed poor old James with all this hiking stuff – he asked for some walking books for his birthday! In honour of this, we thought we’d better take one of them out for its maiden voyage.

This walk starts on the Ridgeway near Ashbury. We’d noticed on the map that Ashbury Folly is marked quite close to where we parked the car so we spent some time trying to find it without success – we have since discovered that this is because it no longer exists (just in case anybody else has the same idea!).

Once we’d given up folly hunting and started the walk, we turned off the Ridgeway and headed downhill through fields with various ripening cereal crops before arriving at Alfred’s Castle.
Alfred's Castle 2
Alfred’s Castle is a small bank and ditch enclosure and so called due to a legend that this is where King Alfred gathered his troops prior to fighting the Danes in AD 871. Whether that’s true or not, the castle is actually an Iron Age settlement and therefore much older. It’s recently been excavated by Oxford University, but there is no sign of this now as the meadow grass has well and truly reclaimed the enclosure. It’s really pleasant to walk round as it has lovely views on all sides and we sat on its southern bank for a bit with a flask of tea.

Just beyond the castle, you pass by Ashdown House which was built by Earl William Craven for his beloved, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, in 1662 but sadly she died before construction began. I can’t help wondering what she would have thought of it as, although it is very pretty – sort of like a life-sized dolls house, it seems all wrong. It’s the wrong size, it’s the wrong shape, it’s in the wrong place, and it’s facing the wrong way. Unfortunately it was closed when we were there but I’m so curious to see what it’s like inside!

When we reached the other side of Ashdown House and crossed over the B4000, the landscape seemed to change somewhat. We were at our furthest point from the Ridgeway and found ourselves climbing up a small, but steep hill whilst surrounded by slightly scraggy looking sheep. The fields the other side of this hill were mostly full of oilseed rape (which was mostly around the same height as me!) and it wasn’t long before we came to a track heading back up towards the ridgeway. We took a slight detour here and found a nice spot to sit and eat our sandwiches.

We crossed over the Ridgeway and the landscape changed again, this time to a wide path heading for some trees. Before we reached them, however, we took a fork to the left down a sunken track, through a gate (well, under it actually, but who’s counting?), and the landscape suddenly opened out into a properly stunning valley. We walked down through this towards Ashbury itself, admiring the view as we went. When we reached the bottom, we ambled the village, past the lovely old church, and started the climb back up to where we’d started. With the familiar views of the Ridgeway opening out behind us, we finished the last of our water and made our way back to the car.

Valley near Ashbury

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