Text and images by Stephanie Cross
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Walbury Hill, as they’ll tell you proudly in nearby Inkpen, is the highest natural point in southeast England. And it’s well worth the calf-burning ascent: this far above Berkshire’s patchwork, there’s nothing between you and the sky but wheeling red kites. However, a shadow lies across the summit: Combe Gibbet, the original of which was erected in 1676 for the purpose of hanging a pair of double-murdering lovers.
Start at The Swan, a 17th-century inn (1), turning left to pass thatched cottages. Follow the road round, then left over a stile. The field footpath leads up to Inkpen Church; at the road, turn right then bear left before taking a track left through fields.
Keep straight to climb through woodland. A gate marks the beginning of your ascent of Inken Hill (2), although midway way up a diagonal track to the left makes for easier going. At the summit turn left, joining the track to Combe Gibbet (3). Continue down to the road, then take the bridleway to the right of the car park.
At another car park, cross the road, then on through a gate. Skirt woodland to cross a field that drops away dramatically to the left, then out onto the road. Take the second bridleway on the left along a hedge. Where the path splits, continue straight to a concrete track. Turn left, then left at the road. Keep left to pass St Laurence’s Church, built in 1886, with its peaceful little memorial garden.
Pass grand West Woodhay House and follow the road round a bend. Just beyond the stables, turn right along a byway to Prosser’s Farm. Cross the road to follow the track, taking a right at the first fork and left at the second. Follow the trail through woodland to a stone by a holly bush and swing left.
Emerging from the trees, pass houses and turn right at the first kissing gate. Cross the field to another kissing gate, then over the road to a lane. A gate on your left leads down to a kissing gate. Cross the field to Manor Farm (4) then over the road and on. Follow the wide grass path with a fence to your left and a hedge to your right. A section of boardwalk takes you past an impressive tree-house. Emerging on to the road, turn right then left to return to The Swan with its welcoming fire and well-stocked organic farm shop.