Walking route: Bokerley Dyke and Garston Woods
PUBLISHED: 14:29 14 September 2018
Follow in the footsteps of the Romans on this lovely walk that takes in rare habitat, ancient woodland and glorious views
This walk starts at Martin Down Nature Reserve, one of the largest remaining areas of chalk grassland in Britain. This precious grassland is an important habitat for ground-nesting birds such as skylark and grey partridge, as well as hares which thrive in this area.
Bokerley Dyke, built by the Romans between AD367-369, runs four miles from Martin Wood and through Blagdon Gap to Woodyates on the Dorset/Hampshire border. In parts, it still reaches 100ft across with a 15ft bank and 9ft ditch. Excavations in the late 19th century by General Pitt-Rivers revealed that the first construction temporarily blocked the Ackling Dyke Roman road north of Woodyates. Then, around AD405, Ackling Dyke was permanently closed at Bokerley Junction – now a lay-by on the A354. Bokerley Dyke was probably built to protect the Romano-Britons of Woodyates and East Dorset from the Anglo-Saxon settlers around Salisbury.
Garston Wood, with 84 acres (34 hectares) of ancient woodland, has been managed by the RSPB since 1986. Much of the hazel and maple coppice has been worked for over 300 years and is older than the oaks towering over them. This protected woodland is also home to good populations of dormice and bats.
1. Walk to the far end information boards. Take the left barrier onto the track to Martin Down’s chalk grassland. In ½ mile, reach the highest World War Two Firing Range bank on the right. Climb up it and walk to the far end or, in 70 yards, take the right-fork path parallel with it. Either way, you will reach Bokerley Dyke. Join the path, keeping the ditch and bank on your right, and enjoying the fine views to Blagdon Hill where Bokerley Dyke first appears. Pass a green box and, in 210 yards, at a diagonal paths’ crossing, turn right across the ditch and over the bank into a wide bridleway-arrowed field. With fine views to Penbury Knoll hill-fort on Pentridge Hill, walk straight across to the gap left of the one tall tree ahead. Passing three faded bridleway arrows, continue into the bridleway farm track along the left hedge. Reaching a right barn, go through the half-gate at its left end and turn right into a field corner. Go left along the left hedge path down to the bottom corner half-gate with Bokerley Farm’s drive left. Cross the A354 by the bus shelter and ‘Trafalgar Way’ plaque into Woodyates lane.
2. Walk straight through, noticing Chapel Farm, Tudor Cottage and Manor Farm House’s flint/brick wall. Up out of the village, take the left fork footpath before the row of cottages. Follow the fenced path to the half-gate into the high field corner. Follow the grass track along the right hedge and trees, with great views east to west, then swing left at a T-junction. Descend between fields to pass West Woodyates Farm. Meeting the Manor House drive, cross left onto the Tarmac track. With glimpses of the Manor’s park right, follow the meandering track downhill for one mile with Garston Wood ahead. Look out for hares here. Leaving through the barrier and half-gate, join the Sixpenny Handley road. Keep straight on between right Garston Wood and a left field.
3. In 250 yards, take the right gate/stile into RSPB’s Garston Wood Nature Reserve. Immediately fork left inside the coppiced wood’s edge. Keep to this path, not turning off at all. Go through the gated deer-fenced enclosure. Later, ascend the grass path to a T-junction with a bench. Turn right and, in 200 yards, descend to the car park, walk through and turn left up the road. In 50 yards, take the right hedge’s ‘Cobley’ signed footpath half-gate into a wide field. Walk up the grass track against the left trees. Meandering and descending slowly to a fork with two facing ash trees, go left into the wood’s edge. Then follow the left deer-fenced wood down into trees and rising again into a wide field. Follow the track straight on against the right hedge and trees, down towards West Woodyates Farm’s scattered cottages again.
4. Past the first right cottage, take the left rising ‘Cobley ¾’ grass track along the right garden hedge and trees. The flint/brick house ahead left is Cobley. Later, through the facing wide gap into the next field, go through the immediate right gap and follow the grass track against the left hedge to the half-gate onto the road. Cross right to the 2½ footpath-signed gates into a wide field with Penbury Knoll right. Through, take the instant left gap into the next field. Follow the wood’s edge grass track, bending right at the left white house’s manicured lawns. Here, through the left gate, take the arrowed footpath along the undulating tree-lined ‘avenue‘. Emerging into a field gaps complex, take the second left gap into a field corner. Turn right along the right trees path into the far corner. Turn left along the second edge for 40 yards. Take the right hedge’s footpath-posted gap and follow the woodland path to a T-junction.
5. Turn right, inside the wood’s edge, before descending slowly with a left field. In ½ mile, take the fenced bridleway-signed entrance into Martin Down Nature Reserve. Follow the bridleway-path through the wood, with the county boundary bank left, then bending left into more open scrubland. Keep to the clearest grass track, ignoring any side-shoots from now on and meandering around a clearing and over ‘commons’, intermittently with wooded clumps either side. Eventually, reach a T-junction with a facing long grass bank. This is Ackling Dyke Roman road. Turn left and bend right, cutting through the dyke. The left half-gate’s path goes into Wiltshire and follows Ackling Dyke to Old Sarum (Salisbury). Keep following the track to the barrier and half-gate to the A354. Cross back into Martin Down Nature Reserve where you started.