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East Knoyle - Wren's Birthplace

Savour wonderful views across the Blackmore Vale on this undulating rural ramble around East Knoyle, birthplace of architect Sir Christopher Wren.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 590ft (180m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, woodland bridle paths, metalled lanes

Landscape Wooded hillside, undulating farmland, village streets

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 143 Warminster & Trowbridge

Start/finish ST 879305

Dog friendliness Can be off lead through woodland and on Windmill Hill

Parking East Knoyle village hall, adjacent to church

Public toilets None on route

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1 Turn left out of the car park into the village. Turn left up Wise Lane. Bear left and take the drive right. Keep ahead along the grass track where the drive veers left.

2 Keep ahead uphill, soon to bear left along a metalled drive. On reaching the stable buildings of Clouds House, take the unmarked path to the right, downhill, passing a garage to reach the lane in Milton. Cross over and bear left along the lower lane.

3 Pass a thatched cottage on your right then climb the bank to a stile. Turn right behind a cottage to a gate and climb through the edge of woodland. At the top, bear half-left along the woodland path and soon descend to a bridle path. Turn left, then right at the next junction and follow the woodland path downhill to a lane.

4 Turn left, then right at the T-junction. Take the bridle path left beyond Chapel Farm, immediately forking right along a track to a gate. Continue along the field edge, following it left to a gate in the field corner. Gradually descend off Cleeve Hill, passing through two gates and Manor Farm to the lane in West Knoyle.

5 Keep ahead and continue through the village for ½ mile (800m). Pass the village hall, then just beyond the 'The Willows', turn left to a gate beside Puckwell Coppice. Follow the track ahead to an information board. Take the permissive footpath to the right, through a gate.

6 Proceed ahead, cross a footbridge and keep right at the fork of paths. Shortly, bear left with the footpath that exits the wood to your right and descend through trees to a footbridge. Bear left and follow the grassy swathe to a gap in the field corner. Continue ahead, then turn right along the first grassy swathe to a gate.

7 Bear slightly right to a kissing gate, cross a footbridge and keep straight on to a fence stile. Turn right along the track, then left through a gate and bear diagonally right, soon to descend to a fence stile and copse. Cross a footbridge and the wire fence and keep straight ahead, uphill through the trees to enter a field. Continue beside woodland to a gate in the top left-hand corner.

8 Follow the bridleway uphill through woodland. At a junction, turn left, then at the top, bear right into a cul-de-sac to reach the lane. Turn left for the Fox and Hounds. Turn right to reach Windmill Hill, keep ahead at crossroads and descend into East Knoyle. Take the metalled footpath beside Wren's Cottage, cross a lane and descend steps into the churchyard. At the road, turn right to get back to the car park.

Sleepy East Knoyle clings to the slopes of a greensand ridge on the northern flanks of the Nadder Valley. Comprising of four distinct hamlets - Underhill, Milton, Upton and The Green - it is an appealing scattered parish characterised by charming stone-built cottages and a myriad of tiny lanes that meet close to Windmill Hill, which at 650ft (198m) offers unrivalled views across the Blackmore Vale into deepest Dorset. This is fine walking country and your rural ramble explores the peaceful paths that link the hamlets. It loops round to West Knoyle in the Sem Valley, before ascending Windmill Hill from where, if you time it right, you'll see a magical sunset over the Blackmore Vale.

The heart of the village is Underhill where you will find the post office stores, the ancient Church of St Mary the Virigin, and several reminders that East Knoyle was the birthplace of one of Britain's greatest architects, Sir Christopher Wren. His father, Dr Christopher Wren, was appointed rector of East Knoyle in 1623 and married the daughter of a local squire. The rectory in which they lived now forms part of Knoyle Place, an elegant Georgian house built in 1799. Due to a fire at the rectory, their son Christopher was born on 20 October 1632 in a cottage at the bottom of Wise Lane, opposite the present village shop, Wren's Shop. This building was demolished in 1878. Wren's interests lay in mathematics and architecture and his greatest opportunity in the latter came with the rebuilding that followed the London fire of 1666. He re-planned the entire city and supervised the rebuilding of 51 churches, his most famous design being that of St Paul's Cathedral. A stone tablet opposite Wren's Shop records that Wren 'Architect, Mathematician, Patriot' was born in the village.

The most visible reminder of the Wren family can be seen in the church. Pevsner said that every Wiltshire tourist should make a point of seeing this late 13th-century church, notably the chancel which he describes as 'Norman in its bones'. What really makes it interesting are the intricate plaster wall decorations. Designed by Wren's father in 1639, they are unique in an English parish church. Surprisingly, the decorations brought Dr Wren, an ardent Royalist, plenty of trouble during the Civil War. It is said that Roundheads interrupted him working on the plasterwork and thinking he was occupied on idolatrous Papist works of art, they removed him by force and damaged many of the decorations. Although later allowed to continue, he was brought to trial in 1647 accused of 'heretical practices', but doubtless, his real crime was that of being a Royalist. Although the charge of heresy was not sustained, he was fined £40 and his living sequestrated. It is said he returned to East Knoyle and became schoolmaster for five years.

While you're there

Nine miles (14.5km) west along the A303 is Stourhead, one of the National Trust's finest gardens. Designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out between 1741 and 1780, it is an outstanding example of an English landscaped garden, with classical temples set around a lake, and magnificent woodland with exotic trees. Also, view a Palladian mansion and enjoy estate walks.

What to look for

Note the elegant and appropriately named hilltop mansion, Clouds, as you ascend towards Milton. It was built for the Wyndham family by Philip Webb in 1886 at the cost of £80,000, but had to be rebuilt in 1891 at a further cost of £35,000 after a fire.

Where to eat and drink

The creeper-covered Seymour Arms in the village centre offers generous home-cooked food and Wadworth ales. A short diversion at Windmill Hill will bring you to the Fox & Hounds at The Green. Enjoy hearty pub meals, a good range of beers in the rambling bars and great views from the garden.

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