• Claire

On the hunt for the Handsel Sisters Trees - Grovely Wood, Barford St Martin.

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

What shall we do this weekend we thought? I wanted a reasonable walk that took us out for a couple of hours with our girls Delta and Kona and our daughter but one that would be relaxing...as in no sheep.... but also had a story of interest or a place to aim for. My husband had been out mountain biking in the summer and found the trees associated with the legend of the Handsel Sisters in Grovely Wood and we'd been meaning to go there for ages!! Today was the day. It was cold and muddy but nothing hats, coats and wellies wouldn't make light work of.

We parked in Barford St Martin and set off up the hill towards the forest. The sunshine was amazing and really warm on our backs as we went. Once at the top of the gentle climb we came across the Roman road that runs east to west through the centre of the wood. You follow this road to get to the Handsel sister trees but they are off the beaten track so it takes some exploring through the woods to find them!

The Roman Road as far as you could see both left and right!

The story of the four Handsel sisters goes that they were of Danish origin but they had moved to the Wilton area. Unfortunately for the sisters a strong outbreak of smallpox erupted in Wilton, claiming 136 lives. The local people became convinced that the Handsel sisters were responsible for these deaths and accused them of witchcraft and an alliance with the devil. Without an official hearing the sisters were taken to Grovely Wood and murdered by being cruelly bludgeoned over the head. The sisters were then buried in the woods a little way apart from each other so they could not conspire against their murderers. There are four incredibly ancient and gnarled beech trees in the vicinity that are totally different to the other (mostly pine) trees and the beech trees which line the Roman Road. There are two theories to explain them, one of which being that the trees were planted to mark the Handsel sisters' graves as a reminder to others who might practice witchcraft. The other theory is that the trees mysteriously grew on top of the unmarked graves to remind the locals of their dreadful deed. Since the atrocity, sightings of the sisters have been reported over the years and ghost hunters go there to see if they can spot them....creepy!! There is a hollow at the back of the largest tree where people leave offerings for the Handsel sisters. The tree itself is quite spectacular;very old, knarley and mysterious.... offerings like ribbons or little trinkets have been left hanging from branches.

Having found the trees and left our offering (a piece of ribbon tied to a twig) we moved on through the forest, there was forestation going on so a lot of the floor was covered with tree cuttings and logs as well as gigantic tyre tracks which made great pathways. We stopped and sat on some logs while the sun was still shining and had some chocolate (yum) before heading to the path that led us back down the hill. The walk took about 2 hours at an amble. So really easy for family members big and small, old and young as long as you're steady on your feet.

Once back at the car we decided we didn't want the trip to end so stopped in at the local pub, the Barford Inn, for some refreshments and a small bite to eat. It had a lovely atmosphere and an open fire... double lovely! The dogs were greeted enthusiastically with doggy treats and water, always much appreciated by pet owners and they must have been starving after all that running around! We had bar snacks which were fantastic and generous portions. I must admit when I saw the food coming out of the kitchen I had food envy and wished we were staying for a meal not just a snack!

As the sun was setting we set off for home. All in all a fabulous day out and just what we needed! Even though it was cold it was sunny and perfect weather for exploring the forest and the perfect venue for the dogs to have a really really good run around. They were exhausted and having seen what secrets the kitchen revealed at the Barford Inn, a really good excuse to go back and do the walk again with friends!!

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