20090806_Castle Combe – Biddestone Walk – Macmillan Way
When : 6th August 2009
Who : Just Me
Start Point : 846,777
End Point : 866,734
Approx Distance : 7 miles or there abouts (11km)
Heights : Not much in the way of long climbs but there are a few smallish rises, with a slightly longer one at the end (as noted below) by very roughly counting contours on my map.
- Castle Combe, up to Grains Quarry Plantation – approx 65ft [20m]
- Long Dean Mill, up towards Danks Down Wood – approx 100ft [30m]
- Weir south of Ford, up towards Slaughterford – approx 80ft [25m]
- Rise from bridge + factory south of Slaughterford – 65ft [20m]
- Weavern Wood out of valley towards Biddestone – 230ft [70m]
Parking : There is a large car park outside the village with information boards etc. Street parking in the village is really a no-no because of the popularity of the place.
Summary : A linear walk, mostly on The Macmillan Way, starting in Castle Combe Village, heading south in The By Brook Valley, including 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 little 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 … maybe with a little sunshine.
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.
f) The ford in Lacock had dropped to a level where we could just about get our car through (the previous day it was so high we were effectively trapped the wrong side of the stream).
I set off generally southwards on the road, passing old terraced cottages (their hanging baskets and window boxes enhancing the mellow stone buildings) to reach and cross a stone bridge over the “By Brook” river. Across the stream and set back at an angle is another lovely terrace of cottages. It was then onwards again, still on the road and alongside the stream and still in a generally southerly direction.
The promised bright weather was quickly disappearing; with clouds rapidly obliterating the last of the blue sky … I began to fear the worst … especially as I’d set out travelling very light with minimal equipment; just my camera bag to carry my stuff (a couple of bottles of water and some fruit, etc.). Still the forecast seen just a couple of hours before was favourable, so maybe my fears were totally unfounded … I pressed on southwards on the road alongside the By Brook river, leaving the village behind, until shortly after passing Brook House the route crossed a low 3-arched stone footbridge. I wasn’t sorry to be leaving the road behind (I don’t like walking on tarmac !) and the path ahead rising gently up ahead was quite inviting.
Soon after crossing the bridge, I came across an extremely tall signpost, which made me smile, the bottom two signs were very rough and ready, one in particular was snapped in half but the gist was obvious … This is farmland with livestock including sheep and calves – so keep your dogs on leads. However, the most modern signage was so high that even at 6’ 4” tall I had to strain my neck to make out it was erected by The By Brook Trust, but beyond this it was virtually indecipherable as not only was it reaching for the skies but the writings were pretty much obliterated by the branches and leaves of a tree. I’d love to know what was going through the mind of whoever erected this, perhaps they thought they were being clever ? … well they weren’t, they were pretty stupid … coz what’s the use of a sign if you can hardly see it let alone read it!
Anyway, with the path rising gently, (pretty much contouring across the steep valley hillside) and the river dropping away, it gave a reasonable height difference, very quickly affording views across the valley. The scrubby vegetation gave way to a small wood of mature trees (beech perhaps?) the roots exposed as they anchored themselves to the steep hillside.
Not long after, the path emerged into a clearing with some wild scabious flowers scattered across the rough meadow, adding a hint of soft purple-blue against the predominant greens.
Route finding was a doddle and after passing through some more trees, the path then enlarged to become a track, dropping down (passing a sewage-works) to a reach a large converted mill house and a grouping of smaller stone cottages at Long Dean. The rural aspect of the hamlet belied the fact that the race track and it’s zooming cars was literally just up the hill. Ignoring the minor road and a couple of footpaths heading off to the left, I followed the track around in a big loop, crossing the river to then rise up a dark sunken bridle track by the side of a wall, the banks covered in birds nest ferns, they obviously liked the damp gloomy conditions under the trees …
It was here that I felt the first of some drops of water, but I couldn’t be sure if they were from the current crop of clouds or remnants of earlier rain dripping from the vegetation above. In comparison to before, it was quite a little pull up the hill and I had to raise my efforts to keep a descent pace.
After a couple of hundred yards the path opened up, the track now rising into open pasture land with an ugly barbed wire fence alongside. I knew I had to branch off the track to the left at some point along here which was afforded nicely by a wooden stile, with the faint line of the path sweeping around ahead and an open view down into the valley on my left.
After again reaching another area of woodland, (Danks Downs Wood) the path emerged onto a minor road, to drop quite quickly to the village of Ford on the A420 (Chippenham to Wick) road. There was no alternative but to use the road but it was quite pretty with the woods on both sides.
There were many bright red seed heads sticking up from the undergrowth, I’m guessing from some kind of orchid? or similar such plant [if anyone can tell me what they are, please let me know]. I can’t help thinking they looked quite surreal, rather alien-esque, almost too garish in amongst the soft greens of an English wood.
Upon reaching Ford, a short walk was required alongside the main road before braving the traffic to cross over to pick up another minor road.
I was very good, and resisted the temptation of the very inviting looking pub by the side of the road here, “The White Hart”. A bit more road walking on a minor road (heading towards Colerne) took me out of the village and having crossed the small stream of Doncombe Brook I turned left away from the road, walking alongside the little river. It was here I felt some more of those all too familiar wet droplets … and I couldn’t blame it on trees above this time … Yep, it was indeed starting to rain! the weather not following what the forecasters has faithfully promised for the morning! [“surprise-surprise”, said in a sarcastic voice] … Yuk!
Very soon I reached a footbridge to cross The By Brook once again (for the fourth and last time) at a small weir. Downstream of this attractive little corner the river dropped quite quickly in a series of bends. I dallied here for a short while, sheltering from the rain under a couple of trees whilst enjoying a couple of small oranges as a snack. After a while I decided the rain wasn’t going to ease, so I set off again being careful with my map reading to ensure I picked the route heading uphill towards Slaughterford, rather than staying low by the river bank.
The walk across the last field before Slaughterford certainly made my heart beat a bit faster and not for a good reason … I had to negotiate a route through a group of cattle who were particularly boisterous and overly inquisitive. I tried to quicken my pace, but this was hampered by the extremely churned up, yukky muddy ground underfoot and I felt quite relieved when I’d exited the field in the corner onto a minor road, phew!.
Directly opposite, the path climbed a small number of steps up a bank to cross through a hedge into another rather scruffy field with bags of silage stacked roughly, rubbish and rubble on the ground and worst of all a series of electric ribbon fences enclosing another herd of cattle. There was no evidence of where the path should go and no attempt to mask the “electrified defences“ where the right of way should have been. I decided to retreat to the road not wishing to brave the cattle after the field before, and not knowing if the way would be blocked even worse out of view down the side of the church ahead. Following the road around in a loop wasn’t unpleasant though; the raised pathway dropping past a terrace of stone cottages being very attractive. At the bottom of the hill, I ignored the road off to the right (the bridge would have taken me over The By Brook again), instead I carried on a little further to follow the road around a right hand bend to rise steadily alongside Backpath Wood and after passing a largish modern mill building I soon reached a road junction. Ham lane set off very steeply in an easterly direction towards Biddestone just over a mile away. This would have got me to the pub early and I didn’t fancy sitting around in wet clothing should my family not be there yet with my change of dry clothes.
Instead, I chose the longer route (maybe 2.5/3 miles) to follow the Macmillan way on a track known as Weavern Lane as it passes into Weavern Wood sat above and parallel with the By Brook. Because it looked like a major track on the map, I figured I’d be able to step it out and so still have enough time for this route so set off at quite a lick …. Well, whilst the theory was good, the practice soon became not so good! Weavern Lane soon deteriorated into a slip-slidey muddy mess, much of it churned up by tractors or off-road 4×4’s and the like, the ruts filled with horrible mucky puddles … a legacy from the days of rain we’d suffered before and I was still suffering now. In fact it was really quite persistently falling now – AGAIN – What a summer! I pressed on, but progress was rather slow, my boots spending as much time sliding side-wards as stepping forwards – Double-Yuk.
Eventually, I exited the woods (hurray) as the track took a left turn and started to climb quite steadily in a now more easterly direction. After a few hundred yards I ignored the path off to the right and started to look for a path off to the left. This was to take me up to a minor road into Biddestone. And there it was, well signposted and heading uphill through crops including a stand of Sunflowers.
The views to the south had opened up considerably and there was a degree of brightness not encountered since leaving Castle Combe. Something wasn’t right though! I was heading round to a set of woods … The woods shouldn’t have been there, as there were no more woods on my intended route …. A closer look on my rain covered map (protected in a plastic food bag) showed another lesser path hidden under the line of a hedge/fence. Urggh, I absolutely hate making map reading mistakes, and I’d wasted more valuable time as well! I backtracked to Weavern Lane, turned left, headed up hill for just another hundred yards or so and there was the path I really wanted, plain as day off on the left!
I headed off uphill once again, re-ascending across the contours just climbed in error a few moments earlier <fool!> …. Whether I was just plain unfit, or maybe it was the weather or maybe the exertions of the slippy mud through the woods but my legs felt rather heavy and my pace slowed considerably; the opposite of what was needed! I really needed to be speeding up, not slowing down. However, as the hill levelled out my pace quickened again … so maybe it was just the steepness of the hill that had slowed me down. The way ahead through the crops was as perfect example as I’ve seen anywhere, of how farmers can make access through their land easy … the wide green ribbon of path cutting a swathe though the cereal crops. Mr Farmer-man well done that was great; I just wish all farmers were as helpful.
The path/farm-track evolved into a surfaced road leaving a trudge in the now heavy rain for the last mile into Biddestone. I’m sure this is a lovely picturesque place, with its village green and pond, two pubs and Cotswolds stone buildings, but today in the rain everything felt grey and uninviting and all I wanted was to get into my dry clothes, waiting for me in the boot of our car. However, lunch at The Biddestone Arms was excellent, the meal was made even better by the fact that we only paid half-price, the result of organising vouchers on the Walkers Crisps “Brit Trips” promotion…. Just hope they run it again this year.
Well, in summary, I enjoyed doing the walk, but I think that was more a case of just doing a walk rather than enjoying the walk for what it was … I wouldn’t put this down as a favourite route and I wouldn’t want to do it again at least not in a hurry …. Perhaps, it was the poor weather and the mud, and therefore the resulting time pressures that took the edge off the walk …. perhaps it’d be better in the spring when the woods etc would be so much more vibrant, or maybe in the autumn when the I’m guessing the colours in the trees could be stunning, but most of all it’d be so much better if there hadn’t been so much rain over the days before and during the walk.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings ….
Next walk = 20090808_A Lacock Circular Walk
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) :