Discover Downton's architectural heritage and an 18th-century estate associated with Lord Nelson.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 229ft (70m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Riverside paths, downland tracks, metalled lanes, 6 stiles
Landscape River valley, woodland, downland pasture, village streets
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 130 Salisbury & Stonehenge; 131 Romsey, Andover & Test Valley
Start/finish SU 180214 (on Explorer 130)
Dog friendliness Keep dogs under control across pasture
Parking Plenty of roadside parking in High Street
Public toilets None on route
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1 Head west along the High Street, cross the river bridge and take the gravel footpath right, signed 'Charlton All Saints'. Walk alongside the river, go through a kissing gate and keep to the footpath as it swings away from the river along a causeway through water-meadows. The path widens to a track and as this bears left towards a bridge, fork right along a path to a stile and footbridge.
2 Turn right along a concrete track then, as this bears to the left towards farm buildings, fork right across a stile and keep to the right-hand field edge to a small brick bridge and stile. Head straight across the field to a stile and cross the next field to a stile by a house. Cross the gravel drive and stile opposite. Walk beside the hedge on your right, following it left, then continue straight ahead to a public footbridge.
3 Cross a stile and a further footbridge to join a footpath through reedy marshland. Pass through a gate and then cross a series of footbridges across weirs and streams to reach a mill. Turn left in front of the mill and follow the concrete driveway. In 100yds (91m), take the waymarked footpath sharp left (bear right to the chapel), uphill through woodland, eventually reaching a fork of paths.
4 Take the main path right to a stile on the woodland edge. Bear half-right across a field to a gate, Trafalgar House is on your right, and follow the woodland path for ¼ mile (400m) to a metalled lane. Turn right uphill and shortly turn left at the junction opposite a lodge.
5 Cross the bridge over the disused railway line and take the arrowed bridle path right. Do not follow the course of the old railway at this point, instead keep to the right-hand edge of two fields to reach a road.
6 Turn right under the bridge and then left to follow the old embankment. When this peters out, maintain direction over the hill and descend to cross a path.
7 Descend into the valley and as you start to ascend, take the path to the left of the embankment. Eventually, go through a gap in the hedge at the rear of houses and bear right along a fenced path. Cross a road and continue down the path to a gate. Walk down the drive and turn left back to the High Street.
Close to the Hampshire border and straddling the channels of the River Avon south of Salisbury, Downton has the air of a small town about it. Despite this, the central area, known as The Borough, with its wide and pretty green and thatched timber-framed cottages, has not lost its village feel. This is the medieval Downton built as a 'new town' by the Bishop of Winchester around 1205, close to The Moot an earthwork that was once the site of a palace built in 1138 by Henry de Blois for the Bishops of Winchester. Gracing this historic plot is Moot House, an 18th-century mansion set in landscaped grounds that include an amphitheatre, lily pond and viewpoint. Near by stands the Manor House, formerly the parsonage, an Elizabethan house once owned by the Raleigh family.
Downton was made a borough in the 13th century, entitling the town to hold markets and fairs, it supported a mayor and sent two MPs to Parliament between 1395 and 1832. It was a profitable borough as burgesses paid their rents in cash rather than holding land against feudal labour and produce. Downton continued to prosper as industry and commerce flourished. Lace was produced as a cottage industry here, and the village has long been associated with flour- and paper-milling. From 1885 Wiggins, Teape, Carter and Barlow produced handmade paper until the end of the First World War. For centuries the village has supported thriving trout fisheries and today Downton is renowned as an angling centre for the Wiltshire Avon.
Having crossed the River Avon east of Charlton All Saints, note the large mansion set in parkland as you traverse a field between woodlands. Dating back to the 18th century, and once known as Standlynch House, it was acquired by the Treasury in 1814 and renamed Trafalgar House after being given to the heirs of Admiral Viscount Nelson, in recognition of the services of Britain's greatest seafaring hero. The Nelson family continued to live here until 1948. Make sure you take the short detour to visit the redundant chapel, once the Nelson family's private chapel, and look for the Nelson name on some of the gravestones.
Note the intricate form of irrigation, a floating water-meadow system, that controlled river flooding by turning it to its advantage, as you head north beside the River Avon from Downton.
Retire to the Bull Hotel at the western end of the village for traditional pub food and locally-brewed Hopback ales. Alternatively, try the 15th-century White Horse along The Borough.
Venture 2 miles (3.2km) south across the border into Hampshire to visit Breamore House, a handsome Elizabethan manor house containing a fine collection of paintings, china and tapestries, acquired by ten generations of the Hulse family.