First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
When the National Trust do something really well, it’s an absolute treat to be there. The Wimpole Estate in western Cambridgeshire is a good example. On this soft autumn morning the beautifully kept lime avenues stretched away in gold and green and the formal gardens of Wimpole Hall lay immaculately groomed. Cyclists cycled, runners ran, and families sauntered along the parkland walks or conveyed children to sessions of pumpkin lantern carving.
We passed the handsome square-faced bulk of Wimpole Hall, all red brick and pale stone facings, with its fierce statue of Samson slaying his foe with the jawbone of an ass. Up on the hill beyond, the views down broad avenues to south and east caused us to stop and stare – exactly as Capability Brown (whose bicentenary occurs this year) intended when he ‘naturalised’ the low-lying landscape more than two centuries ago.
Subtly sloped ridges rose, cunningly fashioned valleys fell away, artfully leading the eye past spinneys and hillsides to the castellated towers of a ruined castle on a tump. Sanderson Miller, supremo of 18th-century folly architects, perched it there to add a pinch of Gothic melancholy to the scene.
We found a path threading the belt of woodland that girdles the northern half of the estate. It was a classic autumn walk, a soft shoe shuffle through fallen leaves under oak, ash, beech, lime and chestnut, the hedgerow blackthorn sprays heavy with ripe black sloes.
Estate walks map in hand, we puzzled our way out of the trees and down to where the mock castle stood with round towers, arched windows and artistically crumbling walls. A path led down across the wooden lattice of the Chinese Bridge that spans a long artificial lake. Beyond the bridge, fat white sheep with kohl-black eyes cropped the parkland grass, even-tempered enough to allow passing little girls to pat their dewy fleeces.
We climbed the ridge once more for a final stretch inside the woodland belt, then came down to Cobb’s Wood Farm along a grassy track hedged with bright gold hazels. In the farmyard a row of amateur wood turners was hard at work at their primitive, treadle-operated pole lathes under the eye of a National Trust expert. ‘It was supposed to be a Christmas tree,’ murmured one of the turners, ruefully contemplating his wonky creation, ‘but now – I don’t know… maybe a leg for a very short chair?’
Start: Wimpole Hall car park, Arrington, Royston, Cambs, SG8 0BW (OS ref TL 337509). £2 – NT members free
Getting there: Wimpole Estate is signposted from A603, 10 miles south-west of Cambridge.
Walk (5¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 209. Estate walks map available at Wimpole ticket office): Leaving stable block (ticket office, shop, café), aim ahead on path past front of Wimpole Hall. Through gate beyond; follow fence round to right; opposite wrestling nymphs statue, left (west) up broad grassy avenue (‘Woodland Walk’/WW on Estate map). At top of rise, right (330510) towards folly. In 300m, where trees on your left bend left, turn left over stile (331513, ‘Wimpole Way’). Turn right past info board and follow WW through woodland belt for 1¼ miles to top of rise where woodland ends (331526).
Turn right here and continue on WW through belt of trees. In ¼ mile, turn right on Folly Walk (FW), past info board and over footbridge (335525), following path out of trees and along field edge with hedge on right. Through gate, and follow path to folly (334520). Head downhill between 2 lakes, to cross Chinese Bridge (334517). Left along lakeside; in 300m, left across east end of lake (337516). Aim half right to meet track descending eastwards from folly (337519). Right; just before road, left up grassy field headland. At top of rise, right onto road (338524).
Left for 50m; right along WW in woodland belt. In 400m pass info board on right (‘viewpoint’ symbol on OS map); in another 200m, at well-defined crossroads of tracks (344523), turn right on track out of woods. Follow track to Cobb’s Wood Farm (345517). Right along driveway, over bridge, past lodge to road at Home Farm (341514). Left, then right up Wimpole Estate driveway to car park.
Lunch: Old Rectory Restaurant, Wimpole Estate
Accommodation: Sheene Mill, Melbourn, Royston, Cambs SG8 6DX (01763-261393, sheenemill.com)
*’The Times Britain’s Best Walks’ by Christopher Somerville (Harper Collins) – 200 walks from the ‘A Good Walk’ column – is published 6 October.