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Picturesque Downton Castle

A long stretch in a landscape designed to please the eye.

Distance 10 miles (16.1km)

Minimum time 4hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 1,200ft (100m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Pastures, leafy paths, grass tracks, dirt tracks, tarmac lanes, 13 stiles

Landscape Rolling country, wooded and farmed, above River Teme

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 203 Ludlow

Start/finish SO 403741

Dog friendliness Mostly on lead, lots of game birds

Parking Community centre and village hall car park, Leintwardine

Public toilets At start (not always open)


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1 Walk through Leintwardine to Watling Street. At the primary school turn right. Go half left at a stile. In an orchard remnant, curve left. Avoid a private drive. At a road turn right, along tarmac. In 300yds (274m) turn left, to the A4113. Cross, turning immediately right up a lane. Ascend for a short mile (1.6km). Soon after a skew junction go forward. Cross three fields, into woodland. At the A4113 turn left but soon right, beside a wire fence. At the end follow the field edge round to the left for 70yds (64m). Go down an earthy bank (on your bottom?) in trees to pass stables on your right, then along a good dirt road, soon dead straight for ½ mile (800m) to Brakes Farm.

2 Go straight ahead (waymarker). Cross a minor road diagonally, then cross fields to a minor lane beside houses Nos 20 and 19. Turn left. Soon turn right, downhill. Turn right, along the river, just before Forge Bridge. Skirt two unnamed houses. Up a bank, join a substantial track. Follow this to Castle Bridge. Ascend but within 110yds (100m) of leaving woodland go half right. Rejoin the track into forest for perhaps 60yds (55m). Scramble up a bank (waymarker). Traverse the steep meadow to a gate in the top, among oaks. Keep this line to go down a wide meadow, locating a stile into trees.

3 Turn left and descend. When you reach open meadow, curve round a dry valley. At a left bend go through a gate on the right. Go left of a specimen oak to a hidden stile in the bottom corner. Cross over a footbridge and turn right. Cross meadow to a gate, and soon reach a minor road. Turn right. Descend easily through Burrington, to its church. Behind the church, cross meadows to Burrington Bridge. Cross the River Teme. After 650yds (594m) take the right turn. When you reach Downton, head towards Old Downton House, but then turn left. Beyond a wall take the rightmost gate (waymarker), along an old lane. Ascend a right-hand field edge, later following a beech-lined avenue to reach a junction with a dirt track.

4 Over a stile, descend, initially steeply. Past a small pond veer left along a right-hand field edge. Turn right. After 120yds (110m) of road go through a difficult gate with a discouraging notice. In the bottom left-hand corner of this field find a stile just beyond power lines. Veer right (but cross a drainage ditch) to another stile. Aim for houses ahead. Pass through two gates. On the residential road turn left, then right. Back in Leintwardine, turn right at the Lion Hotel and return to the start of the walk.

By the end of the 18th century, formal neatness in landscape architecture had fallen out of fashion; the new word on the lips of those who counted was 'picturesque'. This craving for a more 'laissez faire' type of landscape had been of great benefit to Ross-on-Wye, where the Wye Tour had become the must-do trip for everyone who was anyone. Downton on the Rock was to benefit from Richard Payne Knight, under whose direction Downton Castle was built between 1772 and 1778. If you like regimented rows of trees, twee fountains, manicured lawns, symmetrical paths and so on, then Downton Castle is not for you.

Extensive tree planting would have occurred around the time that the castle was built. Richard Payne Knight knew exactly what sort of landscape he wanted, having travelled extensively, particularly in Italy. He sought a rugged, wild view. It is believed that Payne Knight had been influenced by the landscape paintings of Nicolas Poussin (French), Claude Lorrain (French) and Salvator Rosa (Italian), who had produced their best works in the mid-17th century. Poussin had worked at the Louvre in Paris as painter to the king, whereas Lorrain and Rosa had studied in Naples. None came from privileged backgrounds and all had struggled to gain recognition for their work. For some time after they had established themselves as artists, all three lived as near neighbours in a little street in Rome called Trinità dè Monti. It would be interesting to compare their works with those of the little-known English painter, Thomas Hearne, who painted several views of the Downton Estate. Incidentally, the British landscape painter, John Constable, was born in 1776, when Downton Castle was being built. It is said that, when aged about 20, sight of a particular painting sparked Constable's smouldering ambition to be an artist - the French masterpiece he saw was Hagar and the Angel, by Claude Lorrain.

As for the privately owned Downton Castle's interior, it is wholly classical in style. Some alterations and additions were made in the 1860s. The best view of the castle is to be seen from Castle Bridge.

The Romans built a fort beside the River Teme here, and stayed at Leintwardine until the late 4th century ad. Where an early church is found within a Roman earthwork, the inference is that usage of the site continued when the Romans left, as is the case with Leintwardine. The High Street lies on the line of the Roman Watling Street. Today Leintwardine's population is well below half its late 19th-century figure of nearly 2,000.

While you're there

At 24 Watling Street is Peter Faulkner, a coracle maker. A coracle is a rudimentary, lightweight oval boat, made from interwoven branches of willow and usually hazel, with an animal skin or cotton cloth, coated with pitch, stretched over its base. Coracle, as river craft, are believed to pre-date the Romans.

Where to eat and drink

There are no refreshments on the way, but you could finish with this convenient sequence - moisten your lips in the Sun Inn, a simple parlour bar, satiate your appetite and replenish your salt levels at the fish and chip shop, close to the village green, and finally wash it down with another drink in the riverside beer garden of the Lion Hotel.

What to look for

At St George's Church, Burrington, are several iron slab tombstones, among which is that of 'Richard Knight, MDCCXLV' (1745). He was the grandfather of Richard Payne Knight, who had purchased the Downton Estate with money earned from his life as one of the Shropshire ironmasters.


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