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  • Glyn Coy

The Fonthill Estate

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Over the years I have driven past the delightful Fonthill Lake but never stopped to take a closer look, so I resolved recently to rectify this and take a walk around the whole Fonthill Estate.

The Fonthill Estate is some 9,000 acres in size and has been owned by the Morrison family since 1830. They have cultivated deep links with the county of Wiltshire in that time. Over the years a few Morrisons were Members of Parliament, and John Morrison, former MP for Salisbury was the last commoner to be given a hereditary peerage in 1983 as the first Baron Margadale. The estate is owned by the current Baron Margadale, Alastair Morrison.

In my first encounter with this place, I was deeply impressed with how well the land appears to be managed. The rights of way across it are maintained to a high standard, with signs and gates in excellent condition. Where tributary paths veer off, they are clearly marked as private so you know exactly where you stand. And there are enough rights of way to get you into and around the estate comfortably.

When I looked at the map I noticed a structure called Fonthill Abbey, and this proved to be an interesting story in itself. A previous landowner called William Beckford commissioned it to be built in woodland in 1796. It took many years to complete and instead of housing monks it housed his collection of furniture and antiquities - a true folly ! It was an imposing sight with an enormous tower but sadly it was not built well and eventually collapsed and was abandoned in 1825.

In trying to find a route to take I stumbled upon this excellent 6 mile circuit on the Visit Wiltshire website. You can download and print a pdf file at this link with a map to take you around: Fonthill Estate Walk. This blog merely describes my own journey around the route, punctuated with photographs.

A glimpse of Holy Trinity Church, Fonthill Gifford

To begin I parked near the south end of the lake, close to the Beckford Arms on Hindon Lane. Just after the pub is a public footpath that takes you close to the Holy Trinity Church, before pushing on towards the edge of Fonthill Abbey Wood.

The path to Fonthill Abbey Wood

This route skirts around the wood and eventually offers some delightful views of the village of Fonthill Gifford. Situated at the end of a road to nowhere, it was joyfully free of traffic. Standing at the top of the village and looking beyond, I could see the busy A303 in the distance, with lorries and cars making their way further West. They could be seen but not heard thankfully.

Fonthill Gifford with the A303 in the far distance

As I walked through the village I passed the Village Hut. Most villages have halls, but this one appears to have repurposed an Armstrong hut from World War One. While it looks rickety, it is perfectly functional and available for hire.

The Village Hut

At the end of the village I passed a red telephone box and stood facing what was called Stop Farm. Curiously, it looked like the main building had been chopped in half.

The chopped in half house

Turning left at the farm onto the main road and I made my way up to a lane leading to the hamlet of Greenwich. I then headed north into some trees called The Terraces, along a very steep path which got the lungs working hard.

Up to The Terraces from Greenwich

Once out of the wooded area I was on a flat plateau, where I could see the A303 getting closer - but still couldn't hear it.

Spot the A303?

Heading down the field I could see the small village of Berwick St Leonard.

Berwick St Leonard

Crossing the road I headed into the hamlet to take a look at the 12th Century St Leonard's Church. There were many signs welcoming me in so I duly obliged. Now maintained by the Church Conservation Trust it was a lovely little church.

St Leonards Church in Berwick - walkers welcome

Leaving Berwick, I followed a right of way to Fonthill Bishop and ended up in the churchyard of All Saints Church. A sign by the front door demanded that walkers do not clean their boots on the mat. Signs like this do not provide a warm welcome to travellers. I wonder what Jesus would make of it?