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Exploring Bowood Park

Combine a visit to one of Wiltshire's grandest houses with a walk across its landscaped parkland and along a disused railway.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 360ft (110m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field, woodland and parkland paths, metalled drives, pavement beside A4, former railway line, 3 stiles

Landscape Rolling farmland and open parkland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 156 Chippenham & Bradford-on-Avon

Start/finish ST 998710

Dog friendliness Keep dogs under contol; off lead along former railway

Parking Choice of car parks in Calne

Public toilets Calne

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1 Locate the new library on The Strand (A4) and walk south along New Road to the roundabout. Turn right along Station Road and take the metalled footpath left opposite the fire station. Turn right on reaching Wenhill Lane and follow it out of the built-up area.

2 On nearing a cottage, follow the waymarker left and walk along the field edge. Just beyond the cottage, climb the bank and keep left along the field edge to a plank bridge and stile. Keep to the left-hand field edge and soon bear left to a stile. Follow the path right, through rough grass around Pinhills Farm to a stile opposite a bungalow and turn left along the drive.

3 At a junction, turn right along a further metalled drive and continue for a mile (1.6km). Near a bridge, take the footpath right, through a kissing gate and walk through parkland beside a pond. Cross a bridge, go through a gate and turn right alongside Bowood Lake.

4 Follow the path left to reach a gate and cross the causeway between lakes to a gate. Keep straight on up the track, following it left, then right to cross the driveway to Bowood House.

5 Beyond a gate, keep ahead along the field edge, soon to follow the path left straight across Bowood Park. Keep left of trees and the field boundary to a gate. Turn right along the metalled drive beside Bowood Golf Course. Where the drive turns sharp right to a cottage, keep straight on into woodland.

6 Follow the path left, downhill through a clearing (can be boggy) along the line of telegraph poles. Bear right with the path back into the woodland and soon follow it uphill beside the golf course. Turn right through a break in the trees and go through the main gates to Bowood House into Derry Hill.

7 Turn immediately right along Old Lane. At the A4, turn right along the pavement. Shortly, cross to the opposite pavement and continue downhill. Pass beneath a footbridge and take the metalled drive immediately right.

8 Join the former Calne-to-Chippenham railway line at Black Dog Halt. Turn left and follow this back towards Calne. Cross the disused Wilts and Berks Canal and turn right along the tow path. Where the path forks keep right to reach Station Road. Retrace your steps to the town centre.

Like many north Wiltshire towns, Calne rose to fame producing woollen broadcloth and, up until the 18th century, the town had 20 or more mills along the River Marden. Even St Mary's Church owes its splendour to the generous donations of the rich clothiers and wool merchants in the 15th century. When the Industrial Revolution killed its livelihood, Calne turned to bacon-curing and the making of sausages and pies, although meat processing had been a major employer in the town from the early 19th century, thanks to its location. Calne was a resting place on the main droving route from the West Country to Smithfield Market. Cattle, sheep and, more importantly pigs, which had been transported from Ireland via Bristol, passed through the town. Harris, the family butchers, took their pick from the grunting mass, eventually establishing their factory here, and in 1864 patented their bacon-curing process. Calne became the home of Wiltshire bacon and further prospered with the arrival of the railway. Now both the railway and Harris have gone leaving this busy crossroads town with a faded air, although an ambitious plan for reconstructing the town centre is now taking shape. Around the Green are the finest of Calne's Georgian houses, especially Adam House and Bentley House, classic reminders that Calne was once a prosperous market town.

With little to encourage you to linger, leave the town and the busy A4 and head west to the tranquil parkland that surrounds Bowood House, the true focus of your walk. Scenic footpaths take you through the 1,000 acres (405ha) of beautiful parkland, skirting the lake, pleasure gardens and the handsome Georgian house. Originally built in 1624, the house was unfinished when it was bought by the first Earl of Shelburne in 1764. He employed some of the greatest British architects of the day, notably Robert Adam, to design the Diocletion Wing containing the library, galleries, conservatories, a laboratory and a chapel, while 'Capability' Brown laid out the gardens, which are regarded as his best surviving and most satisfactory creations.

In 1955 the original portion of this once magnificent palace had to be demolished, the Lansdownes sacrificing 200 rooms to create a habitable home and preserve the rest of their inheritance. What is left is still impressive, housing a remarkable collection of family heirlooms and works of art. The chief glory of Bowood, however, lies in its pleasure gardens, carpeted with daffodils, narcissi and bluebells in spring. Lawns roll gently down to a long tranquil lake, and there are cascades, caves and grottoes, while terraces, roses, clipped hedges and sculptures are a perfect complement to the house. If you are walking this way between mid-May and mid-June, make sure you explore the spectacular rhododendron walks, over 2 miles (3.2km) long and not to be missed.

What to look for

As you stroll around The Green in Calne, look for the wall plaque on Bentley House, near the church, stating that Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived and wrote here between 1814 and 1816. Note the old water pump beside the A4 in Calne which was used to lay the dust when New Road was built in 1801. Black Dog Halt is one of many names in Wiltshire associated with Black Dog folklore.

Where to eat and drink

There are various pubs and tea rooms in Calne, most notably the White Hart, and the Soho pub on the A4 which is open all day for food and drink. Bowood House has a licensed restaurant and self-service coffee shop. Just outside Calne, try the White Horse in Compton Bassett or the Ivy at Heddington.

While you're there

Off the A4 just south of Calne you will find the Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum. It contains 100 vintage and classic cars from 1924 to 1983, including Cadillacs and a model 'T' Ford, motorbikes and unusual memorabilia.

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