A quiet and off the beaten track section of the canal
A few weeks can make such a difference to a walk in the great outdoors. I last walked from Sells Green to Rowde maybe three years ago. It was April and the vegetation had not had that growth spurt that comes later in the year.
The paths were easy to follow and not overgrown. Last weekend I retrieved the walk directions from my 'unused walk' file and gave the route another run.
This was mid-June and the 'sunshine after rain' period when everything seems to just grow – especially wild grasses and plants. I say all of this because one or two sections of this walk need to carry a nettle warning. Do not follow the Chronicle walking correspondent's example and wear shorts on this particular walk!
Sells Green is a pretty unremarkable place. It lies on the A365 midway between Melksham and Devizes and, other than the attractive Three Magpies Inn – 'Welcome to Wadworthshire' – there is little to catch the eye of the passing motorist.
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There are a few cottages, a collection of bland business premises and little else. What of the name 'sells'? I found this unusual reference. "When of English origin, the name Zell is a variation of the place name Sell, derived from Old English (ge)sell, which described the man who lived in a rough hut generally occupied by animals – many times the man living there was the herdsman. Selle, Sells, and Zelle are other variants".
Behind the main road lies a section of the Kennet & Avon Canal and the starting point for this week's walk.
This is a quiet and off-the-beaten track section of the waterway, with just the occasional dog walker or cyclist disturbing the peace.
The K&A is soon left behind, however, as that sporadically overgrown path that heads out towards Rowde is picked up. Despite the nettles and undergrowth, this is a most pleasant pastoral landscape watered by the little known Summerham Brook, a tributary of the River Avon.
Grazing meadows border the water's edge, the whole set against a backdrop of the Wiltshire Downs that rise above Devizes, with Roundway Hill and Oliver's Castle being especially prominent.
The name 'Rowde' comes from a Saxon word meaning a 'reedy place' and there was certainly a village here in late Saxon times. In fact there was a settlement to the north-east of the village near Rowde Farm in Iron Age and Romano-British times and, although it is pure speculation to suggest it, there could have been continuous occupation from then through to the recorded settlement in the early 11th century. Brian Woodruffe in Wiltshire Villages was not much taken with the place.
He described it as 'a village of undistinguished character' and went onto say that it is 'one of the few villages in this area without a conservation area designation though it would not be difficult to argue that some conserving action is sorely needed here'.
St Matthew's Church will catch the eye, however. For the architectural purists, Nikolaus Pevsner wrote "Slender Perp w tower. The rest rebuilt by Goodridge in 1831-3. All embattled and with many pinnacles, those at the E end detached on the buttresses in front of the E wall. Font. 1850 by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt. Perp, octagonal, with alternating quatrefoils and lozenges, ie entirely conventional imitation Perp."
If that sounds like a foreign language, then maybe look up the George & Dragon Inn where the award winning seafood restaurant specialises in seafood delivered daily from St Mawes in Cornwall. With nearly every review on tripadvisor awarding the place five stars, for once the reality matches the hype.
The fieldpaths from Rowde back to the K&A Canal pass through traditional meadowland that at this time of year is awash with flora – but fortunately not with nettles!
You might stumble across fritillary or ragged robin, knapweed or scabious; almost certainly there will be buttercups, bugle and red campion, and maybe even the occasional wild orchid.
It is a picturesque setting, as is the final mile of the walk along the canal towpath.
Here is the latest sign of the economic benefit a thriving waterway brings to a region in the shape of the Caen Hill Marina, a newly created facility with moorings for 250 boats.
And with quarterly mooring fees of close on £700 for larger boats, that is a tidy little injection of cash into the local economy.