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  • Glyn Coy

Castle Combe and a Hint of Ancient History

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

By Paul Timlett

This walk is a little different. Instead of the classic downland and big skies that are characteristic of the Wiltshire landscape we travel to the borders of Gloucestershire and Somerset with its dense woodland, maze of deep combes, and dry stone walls that feature heavily in the Cotswolds. Starting from Castle Combe we go in search of ancient history, with mixed success, but always finding delightful little scenes in this beautiful part of the world.

The walk turned into a bit of an epic. When I planned it the OS Maps app suggested it was 8.5 miles. When the day was over I had clocked up nearly 13.5 miles! I’m not going to suggest you follow my walk step by step. At times it was strenuous and even downright treacherous as we will see. The route involves some steep rocky climbs and the paths through woodland can be boggy in places even on this summer’s day as I followed several brooks along valley bottoms. However, the varied terrain meant it was always full of interest and best of all was finding an open pub just over half way round.

Unless you’re fond of crowds I would suggest avoiding Castle Combe on hot summer weekends. A lady I met dragging her dustbin down a lonely track back to her perfectly situated cottage in the woods told me the track was like the M4 for pedestrians at weekends. I visited on a grey Tuesday in term time and saw no more than a handful of people.

I arrived at Castle Combe at about 08:30 and parked in the free car park at the top end of the village. I could have parked nearer to the village at the side of the road but more out of respect for the locals than anything else I decided to use the empty car park.

After leaving the car I headed down the road towards the village. Shortly I came to a driveway up to the right signposted School Lane – Private Road. Don’t be deterred as this is a public right of way and the sign is marked as such. I’d already decided not to go into the village itself. I’ve been there many times before and to be honest I find it a little dispiriting. It’s real tourist honey trap and the streets are often lined with parked cars which are so out of place in such a beautiful location.

School Lane takes us past a row of cottages through a pair of splendid stone gate posts towards Castle Combe School which I believe is now closed. Soon after the gate posts there are three options at a rusty gate. The road that continues to the right through another entrance to the school, a path to the right of the gate and the path that we want to follow which is to the left of the gate and continues in a south-westerly direction. This leads to the golf course through which the route weaves for a little while.

Soon I emerged onto the 11th tee of the golf course, with the hole 150 yards away down to my left. Behind the tee were several pillow mounds which have been incorporated into the golf course. The Norman motte and bailey castle sits out of sight beyond this. Mesolithic tools have been found here, along with Neolithic scrapers and axe heads. With a long way to go I decided to leave this for another day.

The path continues alongside a wall to the left. I soon came to a stony track dropping away to my left which led downhill between high dry stone walls and beneath a stone bridge towards the village centre. If you want a quick visit to the village this is the time to do it, at the beginning of the day. I did. It was still blissfully quiet, with only the murmuring of people talking inside their houses and the church bells striking nine.

Lane into Castle Combe

Castle Combe Cross

Retracing my steps back underneath the bridge up to the route it continues along the edge of woodland and fields following the Macmillan Way with the golf course always to the right, and signs warning walkers of low flying golf balls. I soon came to a little stone bridge that crosses the stream that runs through the immaculately coiffured fairways of the golf course. I stopped to take a photograph and heard the crashing of something flying through the trees behind, the result of a mishit ball from the only two people I saw on the course.

The well surfaced and well sign posted path continues for a short distance through the golf course into woodland towards Nettleton Mill House via an elaborate kissing gate. Having passed through this gate I nearly missed the sign for the path. It’s on the left between two stone houses. The woodland continues, with the overwhelming smell of wild garlic lingering in the air. The babbling brook to my left through Deverell’s Plantation reminded me that I was getting on a bit and did not have the strongest of bladders! Soon I came to a ford and an ancient packhorse bridge across the brook. A delightfully peaceful little spot.

Deverell’s Plantation Ford

Once across the brook the way continues upwards along a deep rocky path bordered by dry stone walls, on what was possibly one the many drove ways that criss-cross this part of the county. Part way up a gate on my right revealed the view across the valley to Fosse Farm, the name being a hint of the presence of the Romans in this area.

Fosse Farm

Eventually I reached a lane. I turned left to follow it for around 15 minutes beside woods falling away down the hill to the right called The Pinetum (which means a plantation of conifers for ornamental or scientific purposes). It’s worth stopping along this stretch of road for a moment to gaze down the long avenue of trees on your left to Shrub Farm. All you can see is the front door of the farm house in the distance but you could so easily be in rural France looking towards a chateau and an imagined vineyard beyond.

Shrub Farm

Just after the driveway you’ll find a wooden stile on your right signposted The Palladian Way (more hints of Rome). This path zig zags its way down to the right and up through the woods, another beautifully peaceful place. This is where my plans first went awry.

If you do a bit of research and look at the OS 1:25,000 map you’ll see the legend “ROMAN VILLA (site of)” just to the north of Truckle Hill Barn and to the south of the bridleway you are following. As I first started to climb through wood, having descended from the aforementioned road and the wooden stile, I noticed through the trees to my left that a small trench had been dug. Having worked for an archaeologist during my school holidays many years ago this looked like an excavation, albeit it seemed to have been abandoned. But I was filled with hope that I might see some evidence of the villa and the bath-house I’d read about. It was only recently through reading a book about the Fens of East Anglia that I realised there were very few Latin Romans in England. Most of the “Romans” were Romano-British people who having been conquered knew where their best interests lay. Many did very well out of the arrangement and this site was more than likely occupied by some of them.

Sadly my hopes were to be dashed. Playing to one of my pet gripes this whole area marked as a Roman Villa on the map was on private land hidden behind hawthorn hedge, a screen of trees and a substantial barbed wire fence. There was literally nothing to be seen. Just after the trench that I’d passed, and at the point where the bridleway takes another zig zag to the right, there was a padlocked gate beyond which is the site of the villa. I toyed with the idea of hopping over for a look but the gate was topped with more barbed wire. The owner of this land really doesn’t want anyone to see what he’s got. Later in the day I met a local couple out for a walk. They made me feel slightly better about this by telling me there is very little to see (a theme that was to be repeated later on). However, if you look at the Wessex Archaeology website and the entry for Truckle Hill Bathhouse it suggests otherwise. It refers to an imposing Roman villa and a richly appointed and immaculately preserved detached bath-house, the latter built in the early second century AD. The villa itself was excavated in the mid 19th century but the bath-house was only discovered in 2004 and is of significant importance.

Dejectedly I continued along the bridleway until I reached Truckle Hill Barn, an idyllically situated house sitting alone at the top of the hill with sweeping views across the valley and woods to the south. Sadly for the owner the bridleway crosses his garden, passing through a five bar gate either side before emerging onto the long driveway that heads west where it reaches a country lane that continues to North Wraxall.

Truckle Hill Barn

The route requir