Combine a peaceful walk beside the Kennet and Avon Canal with a visit to Wiltshire's only working windmill and the beam engines at Crofton.
Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 147ft (45m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field paths, woodland tracks, tow path, roads, 1 stile
Landscape Farmland, woodland, canal and village scenery
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 157 Marlborough & Savernake Forest
Start/finish SU 279645
Dog friendliness Dogs can be off lead along tow path
Parking Great Bedwyn Station
Public toilets Crofton Pumping Station, portaloo at Wilton Windmill
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1 Walk back to the main road in Great Bedwyn and turn right, then left down Church Street. Pass Lloyd's Stone Museum and the church, then take the footpath left between the two graveyards. Climb a stile, cross a field to a kissing gate, then carefully cross the railway line to a further kissing gate. Cross the footbridge, then the bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal and descend to the tow path.
2 Turn right, pass beneath the bridge and continue along the tow path for 1½ miles (2.4km), passing three locks, to reach Lock 60. Cross the canal here, turn left, then follow a wooded path right and pass through the tunnel beneath the railway. Ascend steps to the Crofton Pumping Station.
3 Retrace your steps back to the tow path and Lock 60. Take the footpath right, waymarked to Wilton Windmill, and walk beside Wilton Water along the edge of fields. Eventually, turn right down a short track to a lane by the village pond in Wilton.
4 Turn left, then just past the Swan Inn, follow the lane left, signed 'Great Bedwyn'. Climb out of the village and fork right to pass Wilton Windmill. Continue along the lane and turn left on to a track, opposite the lane to Marten. Just before the wooded track snakes downhill, turn right along a bridle path (unsigned) beside woodland.
5 At a staggered crossing of paths, turn right, then in 50yds (46m), turn left, signed 'Great Bedwyn'. Proceed down a well-surfaced track and go through a gate into Bedwyn Brail. Continue though the woods, following signs to Great Bedwyn. Go straight across a clearing before forking left to re-enter the woods in the left-hand corner of the clearing.
6 On emerging in a field corner, keep left along the field boundary, go through a gap in the hedge and descend along the left-hand side of the next field, with Great Bedwyn visible ahead. Near the bottom of the field, bear half-right, downhill to the canal.
7 Pass through a gate by a bridge and Lock 64 and turn right along the tow path. Go through the car park to the road, then turn left over the canal and rail bridges before turning right back to Great Bedwyn Station.
Situated beside a peaceful stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal, the large village of Great Bedwyn was formerly a market town, with borough status from the 11th century until the Reform Act of 1832, it even returned two Members of Parliament. It still has the appearance of a small town with a wide main street, continuous rows of cottages, a few elegant town houses and the flint Church of St Mary the Virgin, one of the largest and finest churches in the area, set in low lying land close to the canal.
Undeniably, the main reason most visitors come to Great Bedwyn is to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Kennet and Avon Canal and the beautiful scenery it meanders through south west of the village. It was in 1788 that the idea of linking the River Kennet, which flows into the Thames at Reading, with the River Avon at Bath by means of an artificial waterway was first mooted. The navigation between the rivers had to rise to 450ft (137m) and then descend on the other side and needed 104 locks, two aqueducts and, at the summit, a tunnel over 500yds (457m) long. Construction on the ambitious project, designed by John Rennie (1761-1821), started in 1794 and was completed in 1810. The canal was used to carry vast quantities of coal from the Somerset coalfield, iron, stone and slate, local agricultural products and timber, and to bring luxuries like tobacco and spirits from London to Bath, Bristol and the intervening towns.
Transporting goods along the canal proved successful for 40 years then, with the completion of the railways offering faster and more efficient transport, the canal began to fall into decline. Since 1962 the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust and British Waterways have revitalised the navigable waterway by clearing the waters and locks for leisure barges and making the banks and tow paths accessible to anglers, naturalists and walkers.
Also part of the restoration scheme, and the highlight of your walk along the tow path, are the magnificent beam engines at Crofton Pumping Station. The two beam engines, the 1812 Boulton and Watt and the 1845 Harvey of Hale, operate a huge cast-iron beam and were used to raise water from Wilton Water to the summit level of the canal. Beautifully restored and powered by steam from a hand-stoked, coal-fired Lancashire boiler, you may be lucky to see them working if you're visiting on a summer weekend.
The county's only complete surviving working windmill stands proudly on a chalk hilltop overlooking the canal. Built in 1821, after the construction of the canal had diverted the water previously used to power mills, it is a five-storey brick tower mill and was fully operational until the 1890s. It closed and became derelict in the 1920s. Restored in the 1970s and floodlit at night, you can once again see local corn being ground into flour.
In St Mary's Church, Great Bedwyn, look for the tomb of Sir John Seymour in the chancel. His daughter Jane was Henry VIII's third and best loved wife.
Great Bedwyn has two pubs, the Cross Keys and the Three Tuns, and a bakery. Light refreshments are available if visiting the Crofton Beam Engines, while at Wilton, the homely Swan Inn offers decent doorstop sandwiches, home-cooked pub dishes, good Sunday lunches and a selection of real ales.
Visit Lloyd's Stone Museum in Great Bedwyn, a fascinating little open-air museum that demonstrates the art of stonemasonry. Here you can see monuments, gravestones and sculpture dating back to the 18th century. Just north of Great Bedwyn is Chisbury Camp, an ancient hill fort with the ruins of a 13th-century chapel standing within its 50ft (15m) high earth ramparts.