The Coombes walk
Hidden in the small village of Hinton Parva (only a stone's throw from Swindon) is the stunning dry valley of The Coombes.
An unspoilt stretch of countryside teeming with wildlife
A walk with steep slopes either side of you and beautiful wildflowers in the summer, with lots of farmland birds all year round. Grade of walk: Trainer (all rounder); Type of walk: 'Flora & Fauna', 'Beautiful Views'.
Hinton Parva car park, grid ref: SU228832
From the car park go through the bridle gate into the Coombes.
How the land became The Coombes
The Coombes is a steep-sided dry valley running north to south. The land was formed from chalk deposited from the ocean. Over 30 million years, continental movements caused folding of the once horizontal landscape, creating the rolling chalk downland of which The Coombes are so typical. As you walk from the car park you'll experience the high sides of The Coombes on either side of the valley bottom. The walk takes you up onto the west slope for a grand view of this fabulous site.
As you walk through the first narrow section, you'll see some willow pollards to your right. This is an area which is good for bird life as there are a lot of bushes with good winter berries. Red wing and fieldfare love the haw berries when the winter sets in.
The rich habitat of the slopes
Once you've passed the willows lining the brook to your right, you'll see areas of species-rich grassland on the steep slopes. This steepness has spared the ground from modern farming practices, allowing wildflower species to thrive. The slopes have only a thin covering of soil - unlike the valley floor - and particular plants rely on these conditions. These include the fragrant orchid, devils-bit scabious, green-winged orchid, and the clustered bellflower. At different times during the spring and summer you'll be rewarded with displays of a myriad of flowers and the numerous butterfly species these plants attract.
Follow the bottom of the valley, as it opens up with steep slopes on either side. The slopes are rich with chalk grassland flora in the summer. Kidney vetch, birds foot trefoil, small scabious and pyramidal orchid are commonly seen. Watch out for buzzards and the occasional red kite with its distinctive forked tail.
Farming for pasture and hay
The flatter ground within the valley has deeper and more fertile soils than the steep slopes. Whilst most ground is managed for pasture, maximising the species diversity, we also have a hay meadow, between points 6 and 7. Hay meadows were traditionally not grazed. This allows grasses and flowers to set seed before being cut in the late summer to produce hay for feeding animals through the winter months. Many such habitats have been lost recently, and so the meadow is of high conservation value. The yellow carpet of cowslips usually present in early May is particularly charming.
Continue to the end of the valley where there's a waymarker. At this point turn right and follow the track back up the slope. This is the only climb on the walk but takes you right through the chalk grassland.
Once you've reached the top of the climb, follow the route back downhill to the valley bottom. There's an alternative route through the gate into the lovely old fashioned hay meadow which will be full of cowslips in early May.
Follow the valley back towards the car park and your start point. If you walked through the hay meadow, go through the gate in the north-east corner of the field and cross the sleeper bridge and back to the car park.
Turn left onto the path on which you started the walk. This will take you back to the start point.
We hope that you really enjoyed this one-mile walk. We look after some of the most spectacular areas of countryside for the enjoyment of all. We need your support to help us continue our work to cherish the countryside and provide access to our beautiful and refreshing landscapes. To find out more about how you too can help our work as a volunteer, member or donor please visit our homepage.
Hinton Parva car park, grid ref: SU228832
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