Ramsbury Walks – School Drove / Sound Bottom (Ramsbury Bridleway #8A/Byway #35)
Until well into the 18th century, Sound Bottom provided the main coaching route west from London – presumably a better bet than the marshy Kennet Valley to the south. Even today, it’s a Byway Open to All Traffic, with its fair share of vehicular use. As a result, it can be muddy, with deep puddles after rain. Despite its technical status as a “dry valley” (i.e. no permanent stream flows down it), be warned and bring wellies!
To get here, take School Drove – or East Lane – straight as a die from Axford Village Hall (the old School). There are often partridge and quail towards the top of the hill, from where the steep scarp drops into Sound Bottom – it shouldn’t take long to get down!
At the bottom (in the Bottom?), by the crossroads, there’s the plinth of a timber hut, burnt down a few years ago: for a while, the fireplace and chimney stayed standing, lending a melancholy air to this pretty spot, but even these have now gone. The metalled track to the east leads out of the valley to the pumping station at White’s Hill.
Heading west, the unmade road is thickly lined with Travellers’ Joy. At Sound Copse, look for the parish boundary stone – this one installed in 2007 and blessed by Bishop Stephen. From here, a sunken track (Minal #31) veers off south across the slope – an ancient shortcut for coaches to Mildenhall. It’s a pleasant walk in itself, but stick with the main track for a further half-mile, to where it becomes “Dean Lane” on older maps. You’re at Blackrabbit Barn – not much to look at now, but once the site of the notorious “Black Rabbit” coaching inn.
On to Woodlands Farm, where a dense network of tracks offers any number of onward options. For a further taste of history, take Greenway Road: it now leads only to the phone box at Minal, but was once the highway to Roman Cunetio. Just round the corner is the welcome of the Horseshoe Inn – bet the Romans didn’t have that!