Imagine the delight of an Australian abroad to experience the charm, history and great beauty of the North Wiltshire Cotswolds on foot! My five times great-grandparents were banished in disgrace from this region to become pioneers in South Australia in 1840. This was my first walk with the Ramblers and I sincerely hope it won’t be my last. Having travelled so far and not being sure of trains and buses, I arrived in Calne one day early and stayed an extra day after the other walkers, all English, had departed. What luck! Calne was enthralling. The Calne Civic Society has documented “The Calne Trail’, a comprehensive and well-illustrated guide around this ancient wool town. The derelict but picturesque Wilts and Berks Canal (under some restoration), fascinating links to a castle of which no record remains, except in tantalising clues in the form of names (Castle Walk, Castlefields, an elegant manor house, and Castle House) plus the pure water of Chavey Well, alluding to its ghostly presence, plus the idyllic countryside and the emotive feel of the town, all combined to make me feel a part of a rich heritage. And a bonus- while following a walking trail leading to Berhills House, delicious blackberries in the hedgerows were ripe for the picking!
Ancient Wall of Chavey Well, Calne
The four walks were varied and meaningful. Under the experienced and knowledgeable guidance of Elizabeth Savage, and in good weather, our group of twelve, mainly women, walked to Lacock Village and Lacock Abbey on the first day. After climbing innumerable stiles (a novelty, stiles are rare in Australia), attesting to the fact that we were on private land, including the Bowood Estate, seat of the Lansdowne family, we had time to explore the village, visit the abbey with its impressive grounds and museum, and have a coffee before returning to Calne by bus. The second day we again left the Lansdowne Hotel, but set off in a different direction towards Chippenham, firstly following a disused railway line and then Maud Heath’s Causeway, created from her bequest of 1474, which enabled everyone to reach the market even when the Avon was in flood. So impressive. Brilliant rowan trees, innumerable treacherous cowpats underfoot, juicy blackberries and a hilly terrain characterised this route.
The Bath Skyline walk (Day 3) was superb! In splendid weather, we were bussed to Bath, where we walked through the town to access part of the Skyline Walk. Breathtaking Wiltshire views gave way to a delightful walk in the woods, in descent to the Kennet and Avon Canal with its ornate Victorian bridges. The square in front of the marvellous abbey had a distinctive European atmosphere with elegant Georgian buildings, buskers and lively outdoor cafés- a great place to relax! Our final day had a more sombre feel; the grey, showery weather in harmony with the brooding prehistoric sites of Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and the amazing stone circle at picture perfect Avebury. The day concluded with dinner, a big “Thank you!” to Elizabeth and, I think, a group well-satisfied with the walks in ‘The North Wiltshire Cotswolds’.
Despite the walking, one gained a few pounds as a result of the hearty and delicious Lansdowne meals, but what small price to pay for the pleasure! This region, so rich in history and natural beauty, was presented in a manner that far exceeded my expectations and I shall treasure the memories.