Ramsbury Walk: I❤ Ohio
4 miles / 1½-2 hours OS Explorer 157 (Marlborough/Savernake)
During World War 2, Ramsbury and surrounding villages were home to the Screaming Eagles, the US 101st Airborne Division whose Easy Company in particular have become immortalised as the “Band of Brothers”.
Littlecote House was requisitioned in 1943 to house the officers and men as they trained, first for D-day and subsequently for Arnhem, operating out of RAF Ramsbury on Spring Hill. Now a hotel, Littlecote continues to honour their memory with a memorial stone (just outside the main entrance to the old house) and a fascinating little museum (inside, next to the Haunted Bedroom). There is also an original “Aldbourne stable” reconstructed in the grounds, in which enlisted men were billeted in that village (accommodation at Littlecote itself consisted of Nissen huts for the ranks, while officers were allocated rooms in the House!).
There are further traces of the area’s military past in the grounds between Littlecote and the old airfield: from Ramsbury, head out on the Froxfield road, over the Kennet and past the ducks. At the Ambrose Farm crossroads, turn east onto Ramsbury #18B (“King’s Ditch” – the track to Littlecote) and then immediately south-east up the hill (Ramsbury #18 – “White Hill”). This is an old bridleway to Froxfield, and evidence of its age can be seen at the top of the hill where centuries of use have worn the path several feet below ground level. Follow it round and note where it becomes a
concrete track – this is part of the old access road to RAF Ramsbury and actually lies to one side of the bridleway, now only just discernible in the trees to the left. Down in the valley, take the left fork (Ramsbury #18A “Echo”) towards Littlecote. On your left you will see a line of tall beeches, one of the first of which bears the carving “I❤ Ohio”, with the initials WW and NV (perhaps NY?), left by a homesick GI 70 years ago. These trees are getting old and several have had to be felled in recent years so who knows for how much longer there will be a corner of an English field that is forever the Midwest?
It’s a mile further on to Littlecote itself, and then an easy stroll back to Ramsbury on #18B alongside the river. Alternatively, starting from the Hotel carpark, it’s only a mile out (15-20 minutes each way) with a bit of a gradient – coming this way, the tree will of course now be one of the last on your right. This walk can also be extended to take in RAF Ramsbury itself – Ramsbury #57 (“Airfield”) runs along one of the old runways across Darrell’s Farm to the top of Spring Hill.
Footpath numbers are taken from the Definitive Map for Wiltshire. A colour map of public rights of way in Ramsbury and Axford is available here. More information on the area’s WW2 history can be found in any of Roger Day’s excellent books.