Let's start with the elephant in the room. I know that Bowood isn't strictly "Hidden" Wiltshire. The house and grounds are a well known local attraction, and the Hotel and Golf Course are extremely well known. But to keep in line with the ethos of this site, in this post I'm going to be exploring the hidden parts of it. The bits that need a bit of extra effort to find. And best of all, you won't have to pay a penny to experience any of it, as I'm going to take you on a route that follows public rights of way deep into this private estate.
The Bowood Estate has been home to the Lansdowne family since the 1700's. What is left of the house (the largest part of it was demolished in the 1950's) is open to the public for part of the year and contains a room which was the laboratory of Joseph Priestley who discovered oxygen there in 1774. The gardens were designed by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. The Lansdowne name is also attached to the needle like monument which adorns the hill adjacent to the Cherhill White Horse. This distinctive landmark is now in the car of the National Trust, who have shamefully covered the bottom of it in scaffolding for many years now. It is in dire need of repair, and it is disgraceful that neither the time nor the funds have been found by the Trust to fix it. The monument can be seen from multiple viewpoints on this walking route.
I started the journey in the Wiltshire town of Calne. This picturesque market town sits on the River Marden and used to be served by the Wilts and Berks Canal. Like many of Wiltshire's small towns, its local economy was battered and bruised in the last 100 years but it retains a distinctive character with many old buildings and is a pleasant place to wander through. I started at the library, before following the river down the main street to a roundabout. From here I headed down Station Road, until just opposite the fire station I followed a footpath uphill to Wenhill Lane.
Wenhill Lane leads you out of suburbia into agricultural fields. Eventually you approach a farmhouse and the path is signposted left. Here you will find signs that clearly tell you that you are on the Bowood Estate.
Throughout the estate the signage is very good. Rights of way are clearly marked as are private areas. The paths across the fields pass along the edge of some woodlands bringing you out by Pinhills Bungalow. Here you go left along an avenue lined by trees, with views across to the Cherhill White Horse. Passing through Pinhills Lane Plantation you then turn a sharp right, walking along a main estate road for about a mile.
The views along this road are wonderful. Green fields eventually give rise to the hills in the distance. As the road descends towards a bridge over the end of Bowood Lake, you take a path on the right before the bridge and head along the lake.
From here you get good views of the main Bowood House and gardens. While you can see the full majesty of the estate, the main areas (which you have to pay to enter) are fenced off, so you will have be content with looking from afar.
Eventually the path bears left in front of the house, across the drive, and over towards the manicured golf course.
Here the right of way takes you to the right, where you will head towards a property called The Osprey, until the path takes you deep into woodland. The path bears left, following the edge of the golf course until you reach the road entrance to Bowood in Derry Hill.
This is where the route turns unpleasant, unfortunately. A wander along Old Road is pleasant enough but eventually you hit the busy A4 and turn right, heading back towards Calne via Black Dog Hill. A footbridge over the road at the bottom of the hill is your prompt to get off this hellhole of a road, as it marks the path of the old railway that leads all the way back into Calne. Here you will find what is left of Black Dog Halt railway station. It used to be a private stop for Lord Lansdowne, before becoming a public request stop after the formation of British Rail. Like many of our historic rail sites, it was sadly decommissioned in 1965, but is a pleasant route back into the town.
Eventually the path will cross the old Wilts and Berks Canal before heading back to Station Road through some parkland.
Overall the route is around 7 miles. It is a pleasant meander through the rather manicured Bowood Estate, with some lovely views and vistas, only really let down by the way back along the extremely busy A4. If I could find a different way back that cut this section of the road back it would be perfect.