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Castle Combe and the Wiltshire Cotswolds Day Walk - Saturday 16th March.

Castle Combe and the Wiltshire Cotswolds Day Walk - Saturday 16th March.

Sunday 24th March 2024
David Heathcote

Our first day walk of the year was in Wiltshire on the edge of the Cotswolds. A lovely sunny start to the day had turned cloudy as ten people and two dogs set off from the village of Yatton Keynell. The chosen route had taken the time of year into account, but as we turned off the road onto the first field path it became clear that prolonged periods of rain had resulted in some muddy ground. Surface conditions improved as we picked up what seemed an ancient trackway following the parish boundary. Our proximity to the Castle Combe Race Circuit was evident as the sounds of nature struggled to make themselves heard over roaring engines.

A stretch of road walking brought us down into Castle Combe, which was voted "prettiest village in England" back in 1962. Time seems to have stood still for 500 years. Built during the 15th century Cotswold cloth boom, little has changed in this medieval setting of manor house, market cross, church, old courthouse, pubs and cottages. Some of the group decided to eat their lunch sitting on the market cross, from where they could take in the view down Main Street; others preferred the peace and quiet of seats in the churchyard. After lunch, there was time to explore the village, including St Andrew's church dating back to the 12th century and containing one of the oldest clocks in England built by a local blacksmith around 1380 and still working over 600 years later. We left the village, crossing the packhorse bridge to look over the river Bybrook with its waterside weavers' cottages. This area was transformed into the "seaport" of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh for the filming of Dr Dolittle in 1966.

Fortified by lunch, we tackled a gently rising path along the side of the valley where previous walkers had created diversions around the most muddy sections. Carpets of green in the woodland would soon be turning into a profusion of white wild garlic blossom. A fallen tree had been converted into The Hollow House - a "fairy house" complete with brass handled door. The path descended into Long Dean, a small settlement originally centred around two water mills, before climbing up to Yatton Down - kia Site of Special Scientific Interest. This area of unimproved limestone grassland has some notable plant species and provides a habitat for many invertebrates with 25 recorded butterfly species.

A final climb brought us out to Yatton Keynell Manor House at the edge of the village and then on into the churchyard of St Margaret's where we had a farewell blessing before heading back to the cars. Our timing was impeccable as the threatened rain began to fall as the walk ended. Some of us took the opportunity to pop into the Bell Inn for refreshment and further conversation before heading our separate ways.

So, the 2024 Journeying season is underway! Many of us are looking forward to renewing old friendships and making new ones on day walks or longer holidays. May we all be blessed on our physical and spiritual pilgrimages together.