Stroll through a country park to a castle overlooking the Kennet Valley.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Ascent/gradient 165ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Paths and tracks through woods,
Landscape Formal country park, golf course and woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 158 Newbury & Hungerford
Start/finish SU 463709
Dog friendliness Under control at Snelsmore Common and by golf course
Parking Car park at Snelsmore Common Country Park
Public toilets Snelsmore Common Country Park
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1 Keep the toilet block on your right and walk ahead to a vehicle barrier and a sign for the country park. Veer right at the fork and pass between sunny glades and picnic tables and benches. Follow the track to a kissing gate. Beyond them the track curves gradually to the left and then runs clear and straight to a left curve. Pass a path on the right here and continue for a few paces to a bridleway.
2 Turn sharp right and keep left at the next fork, avoiding a path on the extreme left. Keep to the right of a wooden seat and descend the bank between bracken. Cut through the trees at the bottom to a galvanised gate and follow the path ahead as it upgrades to a track. Pass Honey Bottom Cottage and go straight ahead when the track bends right. Follow the path along the woodland edge until you reach a wooden kissing gate on the right.
3 Head down the field slope towards Bagnor, with the path clearly defined by a row of waymarks. Make for a gate and follow the grassy path to the road. Turn left, pass the Blackbird inn and follow the track at the end of the car park. Go through the kissing gate and take the tarmac path up over the A34 to a golf course. Keep left at the fork on the far side of the footbridge, heading towards woodland and an intersection. Cross the drive and follow a waymarked path on the right, threading through the trees. Keep the greens and fairways on the right. Emerge from the woodland at a gate and climb the slope to Donnington Castle.
4 Look for a gate behind it, leading to a track, and turn left. Pass between the timber barns of Castle Farm and bear left, down the tarmac bridleway. Re-cross the bypass and sweep right, following the drive as it dwindles to a track. Keep right at the fork and cut between fences. On the left are extensive fairways. Follow the track towards a house set against the trees and keep to the left of it.
5 Pass through a gate on to Snelsmore Common and go straight ahead at the waymarked junction. Pass beneath power lines and continue between bracken and gorse bushes. Keep right at the next fork and follow the waymark pointing towards the car park. A useful directional landmark is the fire control tower, seen on this stretch. Merge with another path at the next waymark and, within sight of the road and just before a stile, look for a galvanised gate on the left. Go through it and return to the car park.
On a hillside to the north of Newbury lie the remains of Donnington Castle, once a major stronghold commanding the key routes passing through the town - now the A4 and the A34. The castle's strategic importance was immense and was borne out by the prolonged fighting for it during the Civil War. Today, what remains of Donnington Castle looks down forlornly on a town that has spread its arms very widely since those days. But it is still an imposing monument.
The manor of Deritone (now Donnington) was held by the Crown in 1086. In 1386 Richard II granted a licence to 'build anew' and crenellate Donnington Castle, to Sir Richard de Abberbury, a member of the royal household and former guardian of the King. Later, the castle passed to Thomas Chaucer, probably the son of the poet. By the time of Elizabeth I it was back in royal possession - there are accounts of the restoration work to the castle in preparation for her visit there in 1568. This included planking the bridge, mending chamber floors, building sheds for the kitchen and making tables, forms and trestles.
At the time of the Civil War, Donnington Castle belonged to John Packer, whose refusal of a loan to the King and opposition in Parliament led to the sequestration of his property by Charles I. Colonel John Boys was sent to take command of the castle for the King in September 1643, with 200 foot soldiers, 25 horses and four pieces of cannon. He strengthened the defences of the castle by constructing the star fort earthworks around it, which can still be seen below the castle today. Boys withstood two Parliamentary assaults on the castle in July and September 1644 and was knighted by the King in October.
The Second Battle of Newbury, on 27 October 1644, was somewhat inconclusive, but the Royalist Army was able to slip away leaving the Crown, Great Seal and artillery in Boys' keeping at Donnington. Boys then withstood another siege by the Parliamentary army until relieved by the King on 9 November. Repeated attempts were made to take the castle, but Boys did not surrender until instructed to do so by the King on 1 April 1646. The outline of the castle can be seen today but the most impressive feature still standing is its magnificent gatehouse. The grounds of Donnington Castle are open every day of the week and on most weekends there are at least a handful of people surveying the ruins and gazing out across Newbury to the hills and downland beyond.
As you cross the A34 Newbury bypass on leaving Bagnor, look across the fairways for a glimpse of Donnington Grove in the distance. Described by Pevsner as a 'little Gothic gem', this was the home of William Brummel, father of Beau the notorious regency dandy. The house was gothicised for him in about 1785. Beau fled to France after incurring heavy gambling debts and died in 1840.
Snelsmore Common Country Park is ideal for a picnic at the end of the walk. There are wooden tables and benches, enabling you to picnic in comfort amid the spacious grassy clearings. If you prefer a pub, the Blackbird at Bagnor offers a wide-ranging menu.
If time allows, explore the heathland and woods of Snelsmore Common Country Park. The Newbury bypass protesters have finally decamped, but between May and September you are likely to see new residents in their place. Dexter cattle, one of the older breeds, have been introduced to the common to help control tree and scrub invasion.