What's special about Calstone and Cherhill Downs?

Keith Steggall, National Trust Wiltshire Landscape Ranger Keith Steggall National Trust Wiltshire Landscape Ranger
Evening view over rolling hills

Look to the south as you head along the A4 from Marlborough to Bath and you can’t miss Cherhill Down, standing out from the surrounding landscape with its eighteenth century chalk white horse and nineteenth century Lansdowne Monument - both of which can be seen from miles around. Tucked behind and out of view lies the tranquil Calstone Down, a perfect habitat for birds, insects and flowers.

Find out about the nature, beauty and history of Calstone and Cherhill Downs.

 

Nature

The area's chalk downland is one of the most diverse habitats in the UK with stunning displays of wildflowers, providing nectar sources for caterpillars and is home to some special butterflies. In June, the area has an excellent display of wild common spotted, fragrant and pyramidal orchids.

Calstone and Cherhill Downs are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and form part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Why not take a wander down into Calstone Down coombes?  You'll most likely find yourself alone in this haven for some of the rarest butterfly and insect species, and you will be in one of only five places in the UK that is home to the endangered Wart-biter bush cricket.

Calstone and Cherhill Downs are a haven for wildlife

 

Beauty

The steep walk to the top is well worth it as you're rewarded with panoramic views in all directions. In the spring and summer you'll see carpets of chalk grassland flowers and from above you'll hear the sound of skylarks, kites and buzzards.

If you sit and watch awhile, the undulating downs are relaxing for your eyes as the light constantly changes as you watch and on a clear day you can see for many miles.

Spring flower and rolling downs

Exploring the downs on foot

There's only one way to appreciate these downs and that's by foot. You can explore by finding your own way, or if you prefer you can follow a set route taking you through some of the loveliest parts of the downs.

History

On the top of Cherhill Down you'll find the impressive banks and ditches of Oldbury Castle.  This is an Iron Age hill fort, with its beginnings firmly in the Bronze Age, as they used some of the earlier earthworks as the basis for the hillfort.  Oldbury Castle was once a living village, with round houses for homes and pits for storing food and it would have once been busy, noisy and smelly with many people living together here.

The hill cut figure of the white horse was created in the eighteenth century and is thought to be the third oldest in the UK.  

You can't miss the impressive Lansdowne Monument at the top of Cherhill Down, built in 1845 as a memorial to Sir William Petty.

The history of Calstone and Cherhill Downs