- See the third oldest chalk white horse in the country
- Get a close up view of the striking Lansdowne Monument
- Enjoy classic British countryside views across Wiltshire
- Blow some cobwebs away with walks ranging from 2 to 6 miles
- Wander around earthworks of the 4,500 year old Oldbury Castle
Calstone and Cherhill Downs are the highest point on the old coaching road between London and Bristol. They have a long history with the earthworks of the 4,500 Oldbury Hillfort Castle at the top, a 225 foot chalk white horse dating back to 1742 and a large stone obelisk that was erected in 1842 all within the boundaries of the site.
You’d think with all this we were drawn here by the history but for today we had other priorities – namely a bouncy, nyctophobic Alsatian named Amber with a worrying addiction to carrots (and eating discarded plastic bottles, hence the muzzle for her own protection!). The Cherhill Downs are just a few minutes drive up the A4 from my in laws’ house in Calne, Wiltshire and they bring Amber up here regularly for some exercise. By the way Becca’s Dad left us behind you can tell they are regulars around the paths that rise up to the Lansdowne Monument.
As you can see the views from the walk around the Calstone and Cherhill Downs reserve are beautiful. We were out here on a chilly, unspoilt Boxing Day morning – the kind where you start out too cold but quickly warm up as you get moving. We parked up in a lay-by on the A4 and made our way up a muddy track that rises up from the road towards the reserve. The views looking back to the A4 and across the site of the former RAF Yatesbury (used during the First and Second World Wars but closed in 1965) are stunning enough but the real beauty is as you crest the hill and get the views south.
This countryside felt almost untouched with only a few cows breaking up the landscape and the occasional farmhouse glinting in the low sun. It was also a geography teacher’s paradise (I come from a long line of them, granddad, mum and now my sister too). Chalk outcrops and deep, rolling valleys produced by the high waters of inland seas many hundreds of thousands of years ago.
The walk around Cherhill Downs can be done in a number of ways with shorter loops of only a few miles and longer routes down into the valleys if you’re feeling energetic enough. Whichever you choose you will not be disappointed.
I love the British countryside at any time of year, but there is something about experiencing it on a cold, crisp morning that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. The chill seems to bring a clarity to the landscape – a light that makes every view feel like it’s there to be contemplated. A walk in the rural landscape on a chilly day brings me a sense of calm in a way almost nothing else does. Time feels like an almost forgotten quantity as focus turns to staying warm, taking in the views and trying not to slide off the side of a muddy hill!
It was a much-needed heartbeat raiser after the standard slovenly behaviour and over-indulgence of Christmas. Having eaten my bodyweight in homemade stuffing and consumed nearly a bottle of Clive’s incredible garage-brewed blueberry vodka over the prior twenty-four hours my body was in need of some shock treatment and this was it!
The Lansdowne Monument
Known simply as ‘The Monument’ locally this – along with the Cherhill White Horse – is the most striking feature of the Calstone and Cherhill Downs reserve. It stands 38 metres high and is visible for many miles along the A4. It was built by the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne in 1845 to commemorate his ancestor Sir William Petty and to be an ‘eye-catcher’ at the edge of the Bowood Estate. Interestingly it was also designed by Sir Charles Barry who was the main architect involved in the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament in London.
Unfortunately the Lansdowne Monument does seem to be falling into a state of disrepair. Since 2009 it has been surrounded by nets and scaffolding designed to protect walkers from falling stone that is chipping away from the obelisk in bad weather. The National Trust estimate it will cost £600,000 to fully repair the monument but due to a “backlog of projects” it has not yet completed the work.
Cherhill White Horse
There are 17 hill figures in the UK of which 8 of them are in the county of Wilshire thanks to its large chalk ridges.
The Cherhill or Oldbury White Horse is the third oldest white horse in the country. Cut in 1780 it may well have been inspired by the nearby Westbury Horse which had been re-designed a few year earlier. The oldest is the prehistoric Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire which pre-dates both of these by nearly 3,000 years! If you’re going to win then win big!
The white horse was designed by Christopher Alsop nicknamed the ‘Mad Doctor’, though I can find very little reference to him outside the cutting of this figure at Cherhill. He is said to have dictated the image from the bottom of the ‘labour-in-vain’ hill that now includes the A4 by shouting instructions through a megaphone. Maybe that’s how he earned his nickname?!
One unusual feature of the Cherhill White Horse is its eye. When first constructed it was made of bottles donated by a farmer which would glint in the sunlight. Unfortunately these were all stolen. A similar project in the 1970s saw local school children put their names in bottles and replace the eye but it seems these suffered a similar fate to the originals and were taken as souvenirs. The present eye is made of a rather less impressive stone and concrete mix.
How To Get Here
- Lansdowne Monument ‘has deteriorated over winter’ – BBC News
- Cherhill White Horse (Dr Alsop’s Dream) – A song by Sister Ursuline exploring the motivations behind the Cherhill White Horse
- Hill Figures of the UK – Wikipedia
- Wiltshire White Horses – A comprehensive guide to the current and lost chalk horses of Wiltshire
- Drone flight over Cherhill White Horse