Roundway Down may have one the most dramatic geographical features of any battleground, bar the cliffs at Pont du Hoc on the Normandy coast. The escarpment that falls away from the back of Roundway Hill is a sheer drop off and was the scene of a desperate retreat in the English Civil War that ended with many cavalrymen and their horses going over the cliff.
After the stalemate at Lansdowne Hill a few days earlier, Waller wanted a decisive engagement with the Royalists that were working the area, so he set siege on Devizes in Wiltshire. Royalist Hopton, who had been injured in an accidental gunpowder explosion after the Lansdown Hill battle, knew he needed help, so he sent Prince Maurice on a end run to Oxford to get more forces to come to his aid. Those forces, under Lord Wilmot and Sir John Byron, approached from Oxford and Waller met them on the sweeping expanse of Roundway Down with a numerically superior force. Waller had what he wanted.
The Bloody Ditch
The battle opened with a cavalry charge by Sir Arthur Haselrige’s cuirassiers or “lobster” cavalry that was beaten back on the Parliamentary right flank after two tries. Haselrige was lucky to have his beating early when several escape routes were still available to him and he took one from the field. The other flank was just as decisively engaged with charges and counter-charges swirling around the flanks of Waller’s lines. Waller’s infantry could only watch as their cavalry flanks were decimated by determined Royalist charges. Finally, to the horror of everyone watching, Parliamentary forces were cornered and fled over the cliff to their deaths in “Bloody Ditch,” the steep escarpment off the back of Roundway Down. Some Royalists were in such hot pursuit that they followed the Roundhead cavalry over. After such a fight, Waller’s infantry was left stunned and almost defenseless to the Royalist cavalry and a large detachment from Devizes that had marched to the sound of the guns, but arrived late.
What had begun as an overwhelmingly favourable position for Waller, ended up with one the most decisive Royalist victories of the war. Roundway Down would affect Waller for years to come and made him overly cautious in future battles, especially those with his old friend, Hopton.
Good ride here. Take the A361 Northeast out of Devizes to Beckhampton, where you turn left onto the A4 and go to Calne. Take a left onto the A3102 to Chittoe. Near Chittoe, take a left on the A342 and go to Rowde. Just after Rowde take the lane to Roundway. At Roundway, take the farm lane north to a “Y” and take the left fork. This fork will give away to a very good, solid gravel road where you can view the whole of the battlefield on the down. You can also park up and walk about 500 yards to Oliver’s castle and look over the edge into “Bloody Ditch.” If you have the time, try the A360 from Devizes to Salisbury across the Salisbury Plain (additional 27 miles).