20090806_Preamble to a Walk from Castle Combe
When : 6th August 2009
Who : Just Me (after I’d left my family to do their own thing)
Where : Castle Combe, Biddestone, Wiltshire, England
Maps : 1:25,000 OS. Explorer Map No.156, Chippenham & Bradford-On-Avon
Start Point : 846,777
Summary : A visit to Castle Combe village before doing a linear walk starting in from the village, pretty much all on The Macmillan Way, heading south in the By Brook Valley, passing through/past Long Dean Mill, Ford, Slaughterford and ending in Biddestone at The Biddestone Arms.
Whilst on a family holiday, I generally like to get a walk done, which generally ends up being just me, with my lovely wife and kids normally (but not always) opting to do something else. Today’s walk followed the norm, and after pouring over my map the night before, I decided on what looked to be a half decent mornings walk to do a section of the Macmillan Way.
My decision making was aided by a number of factors
a) The weather forecast was a much better than the days gone before and better than the forecast for the rest of the week. Today’s morning was forecast to be bright and dry.
b) Castle Combe Village is a lovely place to visit.
c) I’d never walked any of The Macmillan Way before.
d) Being a named “Way”, I figured the paths would probably be reasonably “on the ground” and therefore not too difficult for route finding. I’d been caught out a few years ago trying to walk out of Chippenham to Lacock only to find the paths difficult to negotiate for much of the way.
e) We’d already booked a table at a pub in Biddestone Village.
Once we’d escaped from being trapped by the ford in Lacock (our base for our week long holiday), we set off for the short drive to Castle Combe and rather than take main roads, we decided to drive via country lanes, passing through Biddestone to familiarise ourselves where the pub was situated. After leaving Biddestone, crossing the A420 at Giddeahall and going through West Yatton we had to pass the western edge of Castle Combe Circuit.
We became aware that there was some activity on the track, so we found an entrance and spent a good half an hour (maybe nearer an hour) watching an eclectic mix of racing cars zipping around the circuit on practice laps. This was a good way to spend some family time together, and I enjoyed taking some photo’s, but later on I could have done with some of this time (I was a few minutes late for our table booking at the pub! as my family were at pains to tell me!).
Well after dragging ourselves away from the racing circuit, we drove the final distance to the Car Park just outside Upper Castle Combe, just off the B4039 and at the top of the hill into Castle Combe Village itself. Exiting the car park on foot, we all set off down the lane (quite a steep descent) and soon reached the outskirts of this delightfully pretty Cotswolds village.
It doesn’t take long to reach the first stone cottages on the outskirts of the village and they quickly increase in numbers as you enter the village, passing a small museum and a couple of pubs on the way to the village centre. The main focal point in the village is The Market Cross with its huge carved stone central pillar and stone “shingles” roof.
I guess now would be a good time to give a potted history of Castle Combe … and the following passage is “lifted” directly from a North Wiltshire District Council notice board …. I took a photo of the info’ but it’s not of good quality, so rather than just show it, I’m sure the council won’t mind me recreating their prose as below (the photo’s are mine).
Often referred to as “The prettiest Village in England”, Castle Combe is a typical example of a Saxon street village, although there is evidence to show its earlier occupation by Neolithic Man, Celtic Tribes and later the Romans with the ancient Fosseway route passing nearby.
Combe is an old Saxon word meaning a valley, overlooking where a castle was built in 1140 AD by Reginald de Dunstanville, a Norman Knight who came to Britain with the invasion of 1066 AD. Over the centuries the castle fell into disrepair and today none of the structure remains.
In the 14th Century the village became a centre of great importance in the woollen industry, many fulling mills being built on the banks of the fast running waters of the River By Brook. Red and White “Castlecombe” cloth was produced and exported to the continent. It was also worn as a uniform at the battle of Agincourt by the men-at-arms of John Fastolf, Baron of Castle Combe who was reputedly the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff in Henry IV. The imposing church dedicated to St. Andrew, reflects the affluence of this period, the cost of its constitution being met by the fortunes of wealthy clothiers and a bequest from Fastolf.
From 1454 AD until 1867 the Barony of Castle Combe was held by the Scrope dynasty, whose heraldic shield, argent a bend – on a blue field a gold stripe – may be seen both in the church and on other buildings in the village.
In the centre of the village dating from the 14th Century, is the Market Cross where the weekly market granted by Henry VI in 1440 AD was held for the sale of produce and cloth. When the level of water in the river became too low to drive the mill wheels in the 18th Century, the woollen trade ended, agriculture taking its place.
Visitors are very welcome to enjoy the pleasures of this beautiful place, whilst respecting the antiquity of the buildings and residents’ homes. For further information, visit the Tourist Information Point situated within the Post Office in the centre of the village.
The village (like Lacock just a few miles away) has been used in various films notably Dr. Doolittle in 1966 (when I was pre-school in age) and others including, Stardust, The Wolfman, and (if you trust Wikipedia) The Avengers and The Saint were also filmed here. I’ve also read that the village has been used in Poirot : The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the mid-80s Robin of Sherwood TV series. If you want a quaint, archetypal, olde worlde, English village for your film set, then Castle Combe must surely fit the bill, just like Lacock just up the road.
Anyway, that’s probably enough of Castle Combe’s history …. It’s time I got on with my diary of my mornings walk to Biddestone …. I’ll do that as a separate post.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings ….
A few links that I have found … might be of interest/use …. (please note these are external sites which I have no control over and as such I do not accept any responsibility for anything in them) :