Explore this unexpected architectural treasure of a town and the adjacent Corsham Park.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 114ft (35m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field paths and country lanes, 10 stiles
Landscape Town streets, gently undulating parkland, farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 156 Chippenham & Bradford on Avon
Start/finish ST 871704
Dog friendliness Can be off lead in Corsham Park
Parking Long stay car park in Newlands Lane
Public toilets Short stay car park by shopping precinct
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1 Turn left out of the car park, then left again along Post Office Lane to reach the High Street. Turn left, pass the tourist information centre and turn right into Church Street. Pass the impressive entrance to Corsham Court and enter St Bartholomew's churchyard.
2 Follow the path left to a gate and walk ahead to join the main path across Corsham Park. Turn left and walk along the south side of the park, passing Corsham Lake, to reach a stile and gate. Keep straight on along a fenced path beside a track to a kissing gate and proceed across a field to a stile and lane.
3 Turn left, pass Park Farm, a splendid stone farmhouse on your left, and shortly take the waymarked footpath right along a drive to pass Rose and Unicorn House. Cross a stile and follow the right-hand field edge to a stile, then bear half-left to a stone stile in the field corner. Ignore the path arrowed right and head straight across the field to a further stile and lane.
4 Take the footpath opposite, bearing half-left to a stone stile to the left of a cottage. Maintain direction and pass through a field entrance to follow the path along the left-hand side of a field to a stile in the corner. Turn left along the road for ½ mile (800m) to the A4.
5 Go through the gate in the wall on your left and follow the worn path right, across the centre of parkland pasture to a metal kissing gate. Proceed ahead to reach a kissing gate on the edge of woodland. Follow the wide path to a further gate and bear half-right to a stile.
6 Keep ahead on a worn path across the field and along the field edge to a gate. Continue to a further gate with fine views right to Corsham Court. Follow the path right along the field edge, then where it curves right, bear left to join the path beside the churchyard wall to a stile.
7 Turn left down the avenue of trees to a gate and the town centre, noting the stone almshouses on your left. Turn right along Pickwick Road and then right again along the pedestrianised High Street. Turn left back along Post Office Lane to the car park.
Warm, cream-coloured Bath stone characterises this handsome little market town situated on the southern edge of the Cotswolds. An air of prosperity pervades the streets where the 15th-century Flemish gabled cottages and baroque-pedimented 17th-century Hungerford Almshouses mix with larger Georgian residences. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner wrote: 'Corsham has no match in Wiltshire for the wealth of good houses'. The town owes its inheritance to the once thriving industries of cloth manufacture and stone quarrying during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Spend some time exploring the heart of the town before setting off across Corsham Park, as many of the fine stone buildings along the High Street, Church Street and Priory Street have been well preserved. Begin your town stroll at the Heritage Centre in the High Street (No 31), where interactive displays and hands-on exhibits present the stories of the weaving industry and quarrying of the golden Bath stone, which was used to create the architectural legacy of the town. In fact, No 31 once belonged to a prosperous 18th-century clothier, and No 70 (now an electrical shop) was the workhouse providing labour for the cloth industry. The Town Hall was formerly the market hall with one storey and open arches before being converted in 1882. North of the post office you will see the unspoilt line of 17th-century weavers' cottages. Known as the Flemish Buildings, this was the centre of the cloth industry where the Flemish weavers settled following religious persecution in their homeland. In Church Street, note the gabled cottages of the 18th-century weavers, with their ornate porches and a door on the first floor for taking in the raw wool.
The finest of the houses is Corsham Court, a splendid Elizabethan mansion built in 1582 on the site of a medieval royal manor. It was bought in 1745 by Paul Methuen, a wealthy clothier and ancestor of the present owner, to house the family's collection of 16th- and 17th-century Italian and Flemish Master paintings and statuary. The house and park you see today are principally the work of 'Capability' Brown, John Nash and Thomas Bellamy. Brown built the gabled wings that house the state rooms and magnificent 72ft (22m) long picture gallery and laid out the park, including the avenues, Gothic bath house and the 13-acre (5ha) lake. Round off your walk with a tour of the house. You will see the outstanding collection of over 140 paintings, including pictures by Rubens, Turner, Reynolds and Van Dyck, fine statuary and bronzes, and the famous collection of English furniture, notably pieces by Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale. You may recognise the house as the backdrop for the film The Remains of the Day (1993) starring Anthony Hopkins.
Corsham is well served by pubs, restaurants and cafés, notably the Methuen Arms Hotel and No. 8 Bar and Bistro, the latter open all day for food and beverages.
Visit Sheldon Manor (3 miles/4.8km north), Wiltshire's oldest inhabited manor house and sole survivor of a deserted medieval village. Dating from 1282, this well-preserved Plantagenet house has been a family home for 700 years and features a 13th-century porch, a 15th-century chapel, authentic furnishings and beautiful informal terraced gardens.
Note the Folly along Church Street, an artificial ruin, set with church windows, built by Nash in 1800 to hide Ethelred House from Corsham Court. Seek out the grave of Sarah Jarvis behind St Bartholomew's Church; she died in 1703 aged 107 having grown a new set of teeth! Look for the plaque at 38 High Street informing you that Sir Michael Tippett, one of Britain's greatest 20th-century composers, lived there between 1960 and 1970.