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Lacock - the Birthplace of Photography

Combine a stroll around England's finest medieval village with a riverside walk and a visit to Lacock Abbey, home of photographic pioneer Fox Talbot.

Distance 2 miles (3.2km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 16ft (5m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and tracks; some road walking, 6 stiles

Landscape River valley

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

Start/finish ST 918681

Dog friendliness Dogs can be off lead on riverside pastures if free of cattle

Parking Free car park on edge of Lacock

Public toilets Adjacent to Stables Tea Room in Lacock village

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1 From the car park entrance, cross the road and follow the gravel path into the village, passing the entrance to Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum. Turn right into East Street opposite the Red Lion and walk down to Church Street. Turn left, pass the Sign of the Angel with its magnificent 16th-century doorway and bear left into West Street opposite the George Inn. Shortly, follow the road left into the High Street.

2 Pass the National Trust shop and turn left to walk back down East Street. Turn right along the Church Street and bear left in front of St Cyriac's Church to reach an ancient packhorse bridge beside a ford across the Bide Brook. Follow the path beside the stream then up the lane beside cottages to the end of the road.

3 Go through the kissing gate on your right and follow the tarmac path across the field to a gate and pass the stone cottages at Reybridge to a lane. Turn right along the lane, then right again to cross the bridge over the River Avon.

4 Immediately cross the stile on your right and bear diagonally left to the far corner where you rejoin the riverbank to reach a stile. Walk beside the river for 300yds (274m) to a further stile and cross the field following the line of telegraph poles to a stile. Keep straight on to a stile beside a gate, then head towards the stone bridge over the Avon.

5 Climb the stile and turn right across the bridge. Join the raised pavement and follow it back into the village and car park.

Timeless Lacock could stand as the pattern of the perfect English village with its twisting streets, packed with attractive buildings from the 15th to 18th centuries, possessing all the character and atmosphere of medieval England. Half-timbering, lichen grey stone, red brick and whitewashed façades crowd together and above eye-level, uneven upper storeys, gabled ends and stone roofs blend with charming ease.

With the founding of an abbey in the 13th century, the village grew rich on the medieval wool industry and continued to prosper as an important coaching stop between Marlborough and Bristol until the mid-18th century when, as an estate-owned village, time seemed to stand still for nearly 100 years. Entirely owned and preserved by the National Trust since 1944, Lacock is amongst England's most beautiful villages and is, certainly, one of Wiltshire's most visited. If you're interested in architecture and plan to visit Lacock Abbey, allow the whole day and undertake the short stroll.

Of all the outstanding buildings in the village Lacock Abbey, on the outskirts, is the most beautiful. It began as an Augustinian nunnery in 1232, but after the Reformation Sir William Sharrington used the remains to build a Tudor mansion, preserving the fine cloister court, sacristy and chapter house, and adding a romantic octagonal tower, a large courtyard and twisting chimney stacks.

The abbey passed to the Talbot family through marriage and they Gothicised the south elevation and added the famous oriel windows. Surrounded by peaceful water-meadows bordering the meandering River Avon, this was the setting for the experiments of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77), which in 1835 led to the creation of the world's first photographic negative. You can see some of Fox Talbot's work and equipment, alongside lively and interesting photographic exhibitions, in the beautifully restored 16th-century barn at the gates to the abbey.

Architectural gems to note as you wander around Lacock's ancient streets include the timber-framed Sign of the Angel Inn, on Church Street, which retains its medieval layout, a 16th-century doorway and the passage through which horses would pass. Near by, Cruck House, with one its cruck beams exposed, is a rare example of this 14th-century building method. Further along, you will pass King John's Hunting Lodge, reputed to be even older than the abbey, and St Cyriac's Church which contains the grandiose Renaissance tomb of Sir William Sharrington. In West Street, the George Inn dates back to 1361 and features a huge open fire with a dogwheel which was connected to the spit on the fire and turned by a dog called a Turnspit. Next door to the pub take a quick look at the bus shelter; it was formerly the village smithy.

On the corner of East Street is the magnificent 14th-century tithe barn with fine curved timbers. This was once used to store the rents which were paid to the Abbey in kind, such as corn, hides and fleeces. The building later became the market hall as Lacock flourished into a thriving wool trading centre. Finally, don't miss the 18th-century domed lock-up next door. This is known as a 'blind house', since many of its overnight prisoners were drunks. You may recognise Lacock's medieval streets as the backdrop to several televison costume dramas, notably Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Emma (1996), and Daniel Defoe's rather bawdy Moll Flanders (1996).

Where to eat and drink

You are spoilt for choice in Lacock. For coffee, teas and light lunches head for the National Trust's Stable Tea Rooms (opposite the abbey) or King John's Hunting Lodge; for satisfying pub lunches try the Red Lion, the George or the Carpenters Arms. For something a little special visit the historic Sign of the Angel restaurant.

While you're there

Just north of Lacock you will find Lackham Country Attractions, where historic barns and granaries house an intriguing range of displays depicting Wiltshire agriculture and rural life. There are also attractive walled gardens, pleasant riverside and woodland walks, and a farm park.

What to look for

Look for the print of Fox Talbot's first recognisable photographic negative, showing a detail of the abbey and its oriel window, hanging beside the window in the abbey's south gallery. Explore the cloister court and adjoining rooms and see where many of the scenes from the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) were filmed.

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