I’d never heard of Combe Gibbet before but when a friend suggested it as a place to walk, I made the most of a warm summer’s day and headed up there.
Combe Gibbet sits on the border of Hampshire and the Royal County of Berkshire and is perched up high upon a hill. It sits within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which mainly comprises of chalk downland; an internationally important landscape.
The name Combe Gibbet comes from the proximity to the Berkshire parish of Combe and also for some quite gruesome reasons. A gibbet was erected on this hill back in 1676 to gibbet (display) the bodies of George Broomham and Dorothy Newman in a prominent position. Broomham and Newman were having an affair and were hanged for murdering Broomham’s wife Martha, and their son Robert after they discovered them together on the downs. The original gibbet was destroyed but replicas have been made over the years and one can still be seen there now.
We parked up at the small car park and decided to journey westwards along the bridleway that spans the top of the hill, passing by the gibbet. From here, the views are extensive. It’s when you are up here that you realise just how rural our country is in places. This is also a popular spot for hang gliders although as the air was quite still on this occasion, there weren’t any to be seen. That said, there were quite a few people perched up on the top of the hill with their picnics just enjoying the view, we could even see a bright red field of poppies in the distance.
Along the way, we spotted several species of butterfly fluttering past us; common blue and gatekeeper to name a few. Another sign of chalk downland.
There was also an abundance of wildflowers from bright yellow flowers that looked like small snapdragons to a variety of orchid (common spotted orchid and pyramid orchids to name a couple of species we saw).
Continuing on, we came to a fork in the route where if we continued straight on we would have headed into my home county of Wiltshire. We decided to veer left onto another bridleway that took us past a field full of ox-eye daisies; another haven for butterflies.
This route looked less trodden and although there were bridleway signs, the path wasn’t quite as obvious at times as we passed across some agricultural fields so bringing along the local Ordnance Survey map would be useful.
We headed down the valley and soaked up the amazing views along the way. You could see sheep dotted on the hills in the distance, grazing as they had done for many centuries prior. Passing by a large grain store, we saw a couple of hares darting across the fields, of course far too quick for me to have my camera ready for!
The last part of our journey saw us join back onto the country road which had led us to Combe Gibbet in the first place. I was dreading this bit as it did look like quite a hike uphill back to the car park, especially in the summer heat however, a lot of the route here is lined by trees which gave us the shade we needed to do the uphill stretch relatively easily.
Plus, along this stretch is where we saw the majority of the orchids of our walk so stopping to take photos of the pretty flowers was also a good excuse to take a breather!
All in all, I think we probably walked about 3-4 miles on this circular route but there are much longer walks that you can do here, in fact, The Test Way (44-mile long distance path) passes through this area and is a walk that I’d like to try and do in stages.