In theory you might find a prettier and cosier spot than Castle Combe as a starting point for a cold winter day’s walk, but in practice? No chance.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
So I informed myself, anyway, as sloth fought with sense on the doorstep of the warm and cheery Castle Inn. Once out under the blue Wiltshire sky, wandering among the gables and tall chimneys, mullioned windows and Cotswold stone roofs of medieval cottages and woolmasters’ fine houses, everything was just perfect. The sun struck gleams from the creamy oolitic walls, and sparkled in the ripples of the By Brook as it gurgled under miniature bridges along the village street.
I batted my cold hands together and followed the Macmillan Way down the valley, walking between whitethorn hedges where redwings were stripping the berries. The woods were full of dark brown bracket fungi with white frilly edges, like Belgian chocolates scattered prematurely by a careless Father Christmas. A grove of tall old beeches stood in their own crisp litter, their roots gripping the slope like arthritic fingers, the sun painting the smooth trunks in silver verticals.
Two men were burning tree cuttings in a pall of blue smoke. ‘Just waiting for the fire to die down so we can cook a bit of breakfast,’ one said. ‘Yeah, proper smoky bacon,’ added his mate with dreamy relish.
A snarl of speeding cars on the main road at Ford, and then the green rutted lane of the Old Coach Road where express four-in-hand stagecoaches once jolted from Bath to Chippenham at 8 miles an hour. Today? One girl walking her dog, a couple of rabbits, and a millennium of ghostly travellers at my elbow.
The high-perched stone houses of North Wraxall looked down from their ridge as I followed a lane that crossed the Romans’ Fosse Way high road and slipped over into the valley of the Broadmead Brook. A muddy old bridleway led back east toward Castle Combe beside the twisting brook, past a low clapper bridge whose big decking slabs were supported on sturdy, moss-jacketed piers. Yellow-streaked siskins flocked in the alders, chittering as they picked at the seed cones, and the dipping sun sent a few last bars of silver slanting across the water from which an evening steam was already rising.
Start & finish: Castle Inn, Castle Combe, Wilts SN14 7HN (OS ref ST 842772)
Getting there: Bus 35 (www.wiltshire.gov.uk) from Chippenham. Road: M4 (Jct 18); signed from B4039 to village car park.
Walk (7½ miles, moderate grade, OS Explorer 156): From Castle Inn continue down village street. In 300m pass South Cottage; left over footbridge (841768); right, and follow Macmillan Way (MW arrows) along east bank of By Brook for 1 mile to mill at Long Dean. Here bear right on bridleway (851756; MW, ‘Ford’), ascending for 300m to go through gate. In 200m, left over stile (846754; MW) on hillside path to stile into road (845750). Left to A420 (843748). Right through Ford; past church, right (841749) up Old Coach Road. Where tarmac ends (838751), ahead for 1 mile to road (822747). Right through North Wraxall. Pass church; right up road (818750; ‘Castle Combe’). In ⅓ mile, below power lines, left over stile (817757; fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA)’ follow YAs across 2 roads and over fields for ¾ mile to road by house (812770). Bear right here (fingerpost), along bridleway beside wood, to a road (813771). Right; in 150m fork left (fingerpost) along bridleway through Broadmead Brook valley. In ½ mile, at road (823769), left for 100m, then right (bridleway fingerpost). In nearly ½ mile, beside brook, go through gate (829773); pass (but don’t cross) clapper bridge; in 30m, right over stile (YA); on beside brook for ¼ mile to road at Nettleton Mill (833775). Right through tall iron gate; on to reach golf course. Right along concrete roadway; left across bridge (838776); right, and follow ‘public footpath’ signs, then a wall into Castle Combe.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk. Click on Facebook “Like” link to share this walk with Facebook friends.
Lunch: Castle Inn, Castle Combe (rambling old inn of nooks & crannies): 01249-783030; www.castle-inn.info
More info: Chippenham TIC (01249-665970); www.visitwiltshire.co.uk
www.ramblers.org.uk www.satmap.com www.LogMyTrip.co.uk