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Exploring Calstone and Cherhill Downs

Image shows the coombes at Calstone and Cherhill Downs in the late evening sun in autumn, with an almost-bare tree in the foreground and golden countryside beyond
Autumn sunlight at Calstone and Cherhill Downs | © National Trust Images/Emma Weston

Cherhill Down stands out from the surrounding landscape with its 18th-century chalk white horse and 19th-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.

A haven for wildlife

The area's chalk downland is one of the most diverse habitats in the UK with stunning displays of wild flowers, 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.

Flora and fauna to look out for

A female Wart Biter Bush Cricket (Decticus verrucivorus), in August at Calstone Coombes, Wiltshire
A female Wart Biter Bush Cricket | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

Wart biter bush cricket

The wart biter bush cricket is the rarest species found on the downs, being the only place in Wiltshire where it is found and only one of five sites in the country. It has declined due to inappropriate grazing and loss of grassland habitat and is now protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). Careful management with cattle grazing to create the right conditions has helped this species to thrive here.

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Views for miles

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.

Take a moment to sit for a while, the undulating downs are relaxing for your eyes as the light constantly changes and on a clear day you can see for many miles.

Oldbury Castle

On the top of Cherhill Down you'll find the impressive banks and ditches of Oldbury Castle. This is an Iron Age hillfort, with its beginnings firmly in the Bronze Age, as they used some of the earlier earthworks as the basis for the hillfort.

Geophysical survey work carried out in 1996 revealed up to 20 circular features which are thought to be the remains of Iron Age round houses within the hillfort. These features, together with archaeological finds of animal bones, pottery and a weaving comb, all provide evidence that it was inhabited over 2,000 years ago.

It 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 Lansdowne Monument

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

It was built as an ‘eye-catcher’ by the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne when it was at the edge of the Bowood estate. It commemorates one of his ancestors, Sir William Petty (1627-1684) physician and surveyor. Standing at 120 feet (38m), the stone obelisk was designed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament and Highclere Castle.

The monument was acquired by the National Trust in 1988.

Cherhill White Horse

The Cherhill White Horse can be seen for miles around and is one of eight chalk white horses in Wiltshire. It is the second oldest in Wiltshire and was made under the guidance of Dr Christopher Alsop of Calne in 1780, who gave instructions to a team of workers from a distance, using a megaphone.

The Cherhill horse is now looked after by the local Parish Council and underwent restoration in 2002. Over the years the horse had become faded and the outline needed to be re-cut. This meant that 160 tonnes of fresh chalk had to be moved to the top of the hill, packed on to the horse, and held in place by wooden boarding.

The white horse seen near Oldbury Fort at Calstone and Cherhill Downs, Wiltshire
The white horse seen in the setting sun at Calstone and Cherhill Downs, Wiltshire | © National Trust Images/Emma Weston

Now the horse is maintained by weeding and re-chalking every two years which is done by the Cherhill White Horse Restoration Group with the help of the local Scout group.

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Discover more at Calstone and Cherhill Downs

Find out how to get to Calstone and Cherhill Downs, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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