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Marlborough SN8 2LE
OS map 157 Grid ref: SU237762

  • Not suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs
  • Easier walking at bottom of slope
  • Dogs on leads are welcome
  • 10.07 hectares


High Clear Down reserve map © WWT

This steeply sloping chalk downland close to the village of Aldbourne has no set footpaths so you can wander freely over the grass. Enjoy the uninterrupted views of rolling countryside and, in the summer, the wildflowers. They are abundant because through history the down has escaped being ‘improved’ by fertilisers and pesticides and has been continuously and lightly grazed. May is one of the loveliest times to visit when the blue chalk milkwort is in flower.

We bought the reserve in 1998 partly because it has one of the country’s largest populations of the nationally scarce early gentian - a little annual with a purple trumpet that flowers in May and June and is unique to Britain. Orchids that flower here are fragrant, common spotted and pyramidal. In some years you can find green winged and frog orchids, and at the end of summer a few spikes of autumn ladies-tresses. See if you can spot butterflies such as the nationally scarce Duke of Burgundy, brown argus and a clutch of blues – the Adonis, common, chalkhill and small.

Across the top of the ridge is a dense cluster of hawthorn that provides habitat for birds including corn buntings. Above your head you may hear the ascending notes of the skylark. We graze the slope with cattle between April and October to keep the grass under control. One species that is particularly tough to deal with is tor-grass. If left alone it would invade the down, so we bring experts to apply herbicide directly to each cluster to stop it spreading.

Corn bunting © Amy Lewis Early Gentian © Rob Large Cattle grazing © Steve Day Skylark © Darin Smith

Directions

If driving – the reserve is located south east of Swindon, near Aldbourne. From Aldbourne proceed along B4192 towards Swindon for 0.75 miles from centre of village. On reaching barn on left side of road, turn left and park, taking care not to block access for farm vehicles. Walk along track (byway) and after about 250 metres take left fork, signposted Snap and Ridgeway. Walk for a further 1.25 miles along a rough track, passing derelict farm buildings on the left before reaching reserve entrance (kissing gate) on right.

If using bus - The 46/48 Malborough to Swindon bus service stops in Aldbourne. Walking directions as above. Visit www.wiltshire.gov.uk/parkingtransportandstreets

If cycling – Leave Regional Cycle Route 26 in the village of Aldbourne. Visit www.sustrans.org.uk

Nearby reserves Clouts Wood Complex

What to see locally – Barbury Castle Country Park (5 miles), Uffington Castle and White Horse (6 miles), GWR Steam Museum (7 miles), Avebury (9 miles)

High Clear Down location map © WWT
(Photo: High Clear Down © Steve Day)