Cotswolds – Castle Combe and By Brook round
Wiltshire or the County of Wilts is situated in the south west of England and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Along with the rest of South West England, Wiltshire has a temperature climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. Wiltshire, mostly rural, is made up of high chalk downlands, limestone downlands, wide clay valleys and dales providing a beautiful rolling landscape. There are two rivers named Avon that flow through Wiltshire the Bristol Avon and the Hampshire Avon. The largest vale is the Avon Vale with the Bristol Avon cutting diagonally through the north of the county, flowing through Bradford-on-Avon and into Bath and Bristol. The Hampshire Avon rises at Pewsey in Wiltshire flows through the City of Salisbury and the county of Hampshire before entering the English Channel in Dorset. The Vale of Pewsey cuts through the chalk into Greensand and Oxford Clay in the centre of the county. The Vale of Wardour is in the south west of the county and to the south east are the sandy soils of the northern most area of the New Forest. The highest point in the county is the Tan Hill-Milk Hill ridge at 295 m (968ft) in the Pewsey Vale just north of Salisbury Plain. Wiltshire is known for its pre-Roman archaeology and the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age people built settlements on the hills and downland. Stonehenge and Avebury are the most famous Neolithic sites in the UK. The largest area of chalk is Salisbury Plain a semi-wilderness used mainly for arable agriculture and by the British Army as training ranges. The famous Stonehenge, Avebury stone circles and other ancient landmarks can be found on Salisbury Plain. Wiltshire has many country houses open to the public including Longleat near Warminster and the National Trust’s Stourhead near Mere and the City of Salisbury is known for its mediaeval cathedral.
The Cotswolds are a range of hills covering an area of 25 miles across and 90 miles long and lie mainly within the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire but extend into parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The spine of the Cotswolds runs southwest to northeast through the six counties particularly Gloucestershire, west Oxfordshire and south western Warwickshire. The Cotswolds have been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is the largest AONB in England and Wales. The northern and western edges of the Cotswolds are marked by steep escarpments down to the Severn Valley and the Warwickshire Avon and this escarpment is often called the Cotswolds Edge. On the eastern boundary lies the city of Oxford and on the west is Stroud. To the southeast the upper reaches of the Thames Valley and towns such as Lechlade, Tetbury and Fairford mark the limit of this region and to the south the boundary reaches beyond Bath and towns such as Chipping Sodbury and Marshfield. The Cotswolds are characterised by attractive small towns and villages built of the underlying Cotswold stone, a yellow limestone, and drystone walls many built in the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen everywhere in the fields. The most well known towns or villages are Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Chipping Norton, Cirencester, Moreton-in-Marsh, Northleach, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud and Winchcombe. During the 13th – 15th centuries the native Cotswold sheep were famous throughout Europe for their heavy fleeces and high quality of wool. Cotswold wool came at a high price and the wealth generated by the wool trade enabled wealthy traders to leave their mark by building fine houses and beautiful churches, known as “wool churches”. Today the sight of the sheep on the hillside is still one of the most common features of the Cotswolds.
Castle Combe is a small medieval village, about 5 miles north-west of Chippenham, and like Bibury it is said to be one of the prettiest villages in England and sits within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in north-west Wiltshire. Castle Combe with its traditional Cotswold Stone cottages some dating back to 1490 has a Market Cross, two pubs the Castle Inn and the White Hart, a Manor House now a luxury country hotel with a golf club and the 13th century Church of St Andrew which has a faceless clock said to be one of the oldest working clocks in the country. The Castle, which gave the village its name, began as a Roman fort and was used by the Saxons before becoming a Norman Castle in 1138 and the home of the de Dunstanville family. The canopied 14th century Market Cross was erected when a weekly market was granted to be held in Castle Combe. The annual fair, centred around the cross, where wool and sheep were traded continued until 1904. Next to the cross is one of two water pumps in the village and a few yards away are the remains of the Butter Cross which was dismantled during the 19th century. In the 15th century Castle Combe became a weaving town at the heart of the Cotswolds wool trade as the lord of the manor, Sir John Fastolf, erected fulling mills along the By Brook and 50 cottages for his workers and today you can still see the weavers cottages where the local red and white cloth was produced. Cloth manufacture began to decline in the 18th century when the very small By Brook was unable to power the new larger machinery. Over the past decades Castle Combe has become a popular location for film crews. The area at the bridge over the By Brook was used as the fictional Puddleby-on-the-Marsh in the 1966 film Dr Doolittle staring Rex Harrison even though miles from the coast. A jetty was built on the banks in front of the 17th century cottages to create a fishing harbour, complete with seven boats and plastic cobbles. Locals became extras at £2.10 shillings a day with meals, drinks and clothes thrown in. The film put Castle Combe on the tourist map. Other films include “The wolf Man”, “Stardust”, an episode of Agatha Christie’s ”Poirot” and in 2010 as a backdrop to Stephen Spielberg’s adaption of “War Horse”. On the eastern edge of the village lies the Castle Combe Circuit where drivers can test out different vehicles, drive your own car or motorbike around the circuit or tackle the Rally course.
By Brook is a small river and a tributary of the Bristol Avon. It is 12 miles long and its sources are at Tormarton and Cold Ashton and join just north of Castle Combe. The river flows through the village southwards through the village of Ford and on through Slaughterford. It then runs south westerly past Shockerwick House before joining the Bristol Avon at Bathford. A variety of flora and fauna is supported by the river including the endangered white-clawed crayfish. Twenty watermill sites have been discovered on the river but now none remain in use.
Long Dean, situated alongside the By Brook, is a remote unspoilt hamlet housing former fulling mills and weavers’ cottages.
Ford is a lovely hamlet south of Castle Combe, situated on the A420 4 miles west of Chippenham and 11 miles east of Bath. The village houses the White Hart a traditional English pub with accommodation.
We turn right out of the car park and follow the road turning right at the t-junction downhill into the village of Castle Combe. We turn left at the Market Cross and follow the road over the bridge and take the stone footbridge on the left sign posted Long Dean. We cross over a stile bearing right and follow the path (Macmillan Way) with the river on our right. We soon start to go slightly uphill and keep heading forward with the river and valley below on our right. We pass through woodland and two gates with stiles before heading downhill in the hamlet of long Dean. We bear right and right again and follow the track to cross the river bridge. We head forward and keep right at a mill house and follow the sunken bridleway uphill to a gate. We go through the gate out into the open and follow the little path ahead to pass through another gate then follow the path towards the trees, bearing left to a gate and a lane. We turn left downhill on the lane to the main A420 at Ford. We turn right on the pavement and shortly turn right again into Park Lane. (If you wish to visit the White Hart in Ford take the road on your left signposted Colerne). We walk up the gravel path and soon turn left through a squeeze stile then keep right through a field into the trees. In the valley bottom we cross a small bridge over a stream then follow the path steeply uphill. We bear left and then follow the waymarker along the top of the field to a stile and gate then through the woodland to a gate and the road. We turn left and immediate left again along the road signposted North Wraxall and West Kington. We follow the road until we come to a left hand bend we take the bridleway on the right. We follow the track then just before a gate we bear right downhill on a sunken path to a footbridge. After about 20 yards we turn right through the gate and follow the river. We soon come to a Nettle Mill House and bear right through a hidden gate then left and follow the stream on our left through the trees. When we reach the golf course we turn right along the track cross the bridge and turn immediate right. We walk forward for about a 100 yards then turn left slightly uphill following the arrow. As we pass the golf course following the wall we come to a gate on the right, this will take you down into Castle Combe, but we continue ahead through the trees and an open field with a wall on our right back to the car park.
This is an easy walk on grass and gravel footpaths/tracks and some tarmac road. There are some stiles and gates, inclines and declines.
Elevation: approx lowest point 62.20m (205.38ft) approx highest point 126.50m (415.03ft) approx ascent 229.10m (751.64ft).
Distance and Start Point
Approx 5.8 miles allow 2½ – 3 hours using OS Explorer Map 156, Chippenham and Bradford-on-Avon. This walk is done clockwise.
Start point: Castle Combe Car Park (free)
Castle Combe is in the Cotswolds, Wiltshire.
Directions and Parking
From the M4 take junction 17 then the A350 Chippenham. At the fourth roundabout take the third exit onto the A420 then take the B4039 on the right. Continue on this road passing through Yatton Keynell to Upper Castle Combe then take the second left. Car park is on the right. Or take junction 18 then the A46 Bath. At the roundabout take the first exit onto the A420. Continue towards Chippenham and take the B4039 on the left then follow directions as above.
Parking: free car park at the top of the village.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets in Castle Combe and for refreshments there is the Castle Inn and the White Hart. At Ford there is also the White Hart for the perfect halfway stop. There is also a pub at nearby Yatton Keynell and many more facilities at Chippenham.