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The National Trust at Killerton

A gentle parkland and woodland walk around the National Trust's beautiful Killerton Estate.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Good footpaths, bridleways and farm tracks, 3 stiles

Landscape Gently undulating woodland and parkland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 114 Exeter & the Exe Valley

Start/finish SX 977001

Dog friendliness Keep on lead in park

Parking National Trust car park plus overflow car park

Public toilets Between car park and stable courtyard

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1 From the car park return to the road and turn right to reach the gate and cattle grid at the entrance drive to Killerton House. Follow the public footpath sign towards the house, passing the stables and courtyard on the right from where ticket holders approach the house.

2 You have to leave this main approach drive as it gets closer to Killerton House itself. You will pass the house on your right-hand side. Continue straight on, past the estate's walled gardens and ornamental lawns. Shortly after, cross a stile on the right and continue through the small gate in the hedge ahead. This takes you into a large sloping field.

3 Turn right uphill, keeping by the hedge and then metal fence on your right. At the top of the field ignore the public footpath sign 'Bluebell Gate', and turn left down across the field to go enter Columbjohn Wood through a small gate marked 'Beware of walkers'.

4 Take the bridle path left, and immediately branch left again on the higher path, which leads gradually downhill. Leave the wood by another gate, and keep straight on to meet and follow a farm track. After 250yds (229m) cross the stile on the right to enter a field. Keeping the wood on your right pass a cottage to arrive at the peaceful 16th-century Columbjohn Chapel.

5 Cross another stile to gain the grassy drive opposite the chapel, and take a look at the old gatehouse archway. Retrace your steps through the field back to the farm track.

6 Turn left and follow this delightful level track through woods and fields around the edge of the estate. The River Culm can be seen on your left, but you will be more aware of the main Penzance-to-Paddington railway. The track reaches the road by Ellerhayes Bridge.

7 Do not go onto the road; turn right to follow the edge of the undulating parkland and woods, keeping the road on your left. You will pass through several gates marked 'National Trust bridlepath' to eventually join a gravel track which passes the entrance to the Chapel of the Holy Evangelists, built in the Norman style in 1842 for the Aclands, their tenants and employees, and to replace the one at Columbjohn.

8 Continue on to meet the road. Turn right through a cutting, and again branch right, following signs to Killerton House, to reach the car park.

This gentle exploration of the countryside around the National Trust estate at Killerton, just north of Exeter and given to the Trust by Sir Richard Acland in 1944, uses a variety of well-maintained public footpaths and bridleways, but doesn't actually enter the grounds (for which a fee is charged). Killerton estate was formed by the Acland family. Their original house (of which only the gatehouse and chapel remain) was at Columbjohn, and was used by the King's troops during the siege of Exeter in the Civil War. Killerton is well worth a visit: quite apart from the house, rebuilt in 1778 to the design of John Johnson, and delightful gardens (with colour-coded waymarked walks) there is a National Trust shop, tea room and plant centre in the old stable block and courtyard. The whole estate comprises 6,400 acres (2,591ha) and includes Ashclyst Forest, 2 miles (3.2km) to the east (with waymarked walks), the Red Lion pub in the village of Broadclyst, to the south, and the paper mill by Ellerhayes Bridge.

The park and gardens at Killerton were created in the late 18th century, making full use of the contours of the natural landscape, and are characterised by a wide variety of exotic tree species, including tall Wellingtonias (named after the Duke of Wellington). The storms of January 1990 caused considerable damage, and have been followed by a programme of intensive replanting. The gardens feature magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons on the wooded slopes above the house, and superb herbaceous borders on the lower levels. As you enter the parkland at Point b you pass some splendid examples of cedar of Lebanon and holm oak, and a beautiful weeping willow on an island in a pond (left). Just past the house the walk leads uphill near the memorial to Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, and you can enjoy good views west towards the Exe Valley and beyond to Cosdon Hill on Dartmoor. Gilbert Davis, the longest serving gardener at any National Trust property in Devon, finally retired from his duties here in November 2000, after a staggering 50 years.

In Columbjohn Wood badger tracks abound, and in spring the air is heavy with the scent of wild garlic. You may glimpse roe deer, or even a fox; you will certainly hear the deep croak of ravens, and the mewing cry of a buzzard soaring overhead. But look out for the dragon which travels by undergound tunnel between the twin Iron Age hillforts of Dolbury Hill, which lies just north of the house in the centre of the estate (not visited) and Cadbury Castle, 6 miles (9.7km) to the north west!

Where to eat and drink

There is a licensed restaurant and tea room at Killerton House, and a good pub - the Red Lion - attractively situated by the church in Broadclyst, 2½ miles (4km) south on the B3181.

What to look for

Columbjohn Chapel burial ground is dominated by the graves of the Acland family; look out for the tombstone of the Silverton stationmaster. Unfortunately the chapel is used as a storeroom and kept locked, but the stone doorway and simple bell tower are quite charming. It's an ideal spot to pause for a while and enjoy a quiet moment of reflection.

While you're there

Go and have a look at Killerton itself, which is open from mid-March to late October (National Trust members free). The house contains the Paulise de Bush costume collection and a Victorian laundry, and in the gardens you can find an ice house and the Bear's Hut, an early 19th-century summerhouse.

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