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Ramsbury and a Murder

A gentle walk through the tranquil Kennet Valley to Littlecote House.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 229ft (70m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and established tracks

Landscape Farmland, woodland, parkland, village streets

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 157 Marlborough & Savernake; 158 Newbury & Hungerford

Start/finish SU 274715 (on Explorer 157)

Dog friendliness Keep dogs under control at all times

Parking Ample roadside parking in Ramsbury

Public toilets None on route

1 From the Square and the Bell Inn, take Scholards Lane signed to Hungerford. At The Knap turn right, signed 'Froxfield', cross the River Kennet and, just before a cottage, take the metalled track left, waymarked to Littlecote House. As the drive bears right, continue straight on along a track through the valley. In ½ mile (800m), pass a cottage called West Lodge, and enter a field. Keep left along the field edge, eventually passing the remains of a Roman villa.

2 Continue through the grounds of Littlecote House. The right of way soon passes in front of the house and down the avenue of trees to the gatehouse and road.

3 Turn right, ascend the narrow lane then, where it turns sharp left, keep straight on through gates, signed 'Ramsbury'. As the metalled track swings right, proceed straight ahead along the gravelled track. At a junction of tracks, fork right along a concrete track, following the bridle path uphill. Where the concrete track swings right into woodland near the top of the hill, take the path ahead just within the woodland fringe. The path soon veers right and descends into the valley, soon to follow the left-hand edge of a field to reach the track and cottage encountered on the outward route. Retrace your steps back into Ramsbury.

The large old village of Ramsbury nestles on a wide stretch of the River Kennet close to the Berkshire border. Between ad 908 and 1058 Ramsbury was the centre of a flourishing diocese, complete with cathedral and bishop, before it was transferred to preferred Sherborne and later to Old Sarum. Although a mere parish for over nine centuries, the village has an impressive church built on Anglo-Saxon foundations and many fine Jacobean and Georgian buildings, notably Ramsbury Manor, a handsome brick building of nine bays, built in 1680 by John Webb, son-in-law of Inigo Jones, that takes advantage of its fine riverside setting. It was in this house that Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) laid his plans for the subjugation of Ireland.

Built between 1490 and 1520, Littlecote is an exquisite manor house standing amidst spacious lawns and gardens, with the River Kennet running through the surrounding parkland. Behind the building's long, gabled façade are some fine architectural treasures, notably the 110ft (33.5m) Long Gallery, the oak-panelled Great Hall, and the magnificent Cromwellian chapel, probably the only complete example of its kind in England.

Tales of mystery, intrigue and royal visits abound at Littlecote, now an adults-only hotel. Jane Seymour is said to have entertained Henry VIII here before their marriage. Later, Charles II dined here with Colonel Alexander Popham. In 1688 William of Orange met with the commissioners of King James II at the house.

Among the regular sightings of ghosts at the house have been that of a mother and her baby, a midwife and that of Will Darrell who owned the estate in the mid-16th century. Known as 'Wild' Darrell for his unruly lifestyle, it is said that he had many mistresses, including his own sister whom he made pregnant. One night he called for Mother Barnes, a midwife, to deliver the child. She was brought blindfolded into a secret chamber off the Long Gallery, delivered the child and gave it to Darrell who immediately threw it on the fire. Although rewarded with gold, the midwife's conscience troubled her and she finally told the local magistrate. Darrell was brought to trial, accused of murder, before Judge Popham but was aquitted after bribing Popham with the offer of Littlecote House. A year later Darrell was killed falling from his horse.

In the early 18th century, William George, the steward of Littlecote Park, unearthed the remains of a Roman villa, including a large mosaic floor. Edward Popham, the owner of Littlecote, allowed George to make detailed drawings of the mosaic before ordering it to be buried again to avoid publicity. George died shortly afterwards and it was thought that the mosaic had subsequently been destroyed until it was rediscovered by archaeologists in 1978.

Excavations have continued over the 3 acre (1.2ha) site but you will find the showpiece of the villa, the superb Orpheus mosaic, beautifully restored and relaid in its original position. Constructed in around ad 360, it plays an important role in our understanding of early Christian architecture.

While you're there

Follow the walk with a leisurely drive to the attractive market town of Marlborough. A borough since 1204, it has a very wide main street lined with some fine 18th-century houses. The famous Polly Tea Rooms is the perfect post-walk refreshment destination as it offers irresistable set afternoon teas.

Where to eat and drink

The best of the three pubs in Ramsbury is the Bell, which overlooks the Square. Well refurbished, it provides a stylish and innovative menu and simpler, yet equally appetising lunchtime bar meals. Good changing ales, decent wines and a sheltered rear garden.


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