This month (June), Andrew Swift guides us on a stroll through beautiful Corsham
Corsham is one of Wiltshire’s best-kept secrets. That doyen of architectural historians, Nikolaus Pevsner, declared it had ‘no match in Wiltshire for its wealth of good houses’, John Betjeman thought its High Street ‘one of the best left in England’, and in the recent production of Poldark, it stood in – very convincingly – for eighteenth-century Truro. Yet it remains largely unknown. This month, though, there is an ideal opportunity to find out what Corsham has to offer, as it hosts an annual walking festival, with over twenty events. And, to whet your appetite, this month’s walk takes a leisurely stroll around this fascinating historic town.
To get there, head east of Bristol along the A420 for 16 miles. After passing the village of Ford and the Crown Inn, take a turning on the right signposted to Biddestone. Biddestone is another of Wiltshire’s best-kept secrets, a picture-postcard village with duck pond, two pubs, and houses ranged round a village green. Having driven through it, carry on for a mile and a half until you come to traffic lights. Carry straight on, cross two mini-roundabouts, and, when you come to a T junction with another mini-roundabout, turn left along the B3353. Carry straight on across a final mini-roundabout along Lacock Road and, after half a mile, turn right into a free car park for Corsham Park (ST880702).
● Cross the road, go through two gates into Corsham Park and bear right along a path. Just before a stile, bear left to follow a fence as it curves round to the lake. As you head west along the lakeshore, Corsham Court comes into view ahead. When the lake ends, carry on in the same direction, heading to the left of the church spire, and, after passing the churchyard wall, cross a stile and turn right into Church Square, with Corsham Court ahead. The Court and its gardens are open to the public, and well worth visiting, but, to continue the walk, turn left along Church Street past Corsham’s most bizarre building. You would be forgiven for thinking that the ruined wall in front of you is part of some ancient monastery pulled down to build the Court – which is probably what you are meant to think. It is actually an eighteenth-century folly, built so that the Court’s residents did not have to look at the back of the imposing three-storey building on the right.
● The other buildings in Church Street are more modest and typical of the many weavers’ cottages still to be found in the town. At the end of Church Street, you come to the heart of the town, where much of the filming for Poldark was done. The town hall was built as a market hall, with open arches, in 1784. After they were filled in, the upper storey was added in 1882. The ancient pub beside it, which may originally have been the church house, was until recently called the Packhorse, but is now known as the Flemish Weaver.
● Looking to your left, you can understand why John Betjeman was so impressed by the High Street. For now, though, we are heading right, past a row known as the Flemish Cottages after the weavers from the Low Countries who settled here in the seventeenth century. If you look to the left up Priory Street, you will see, opposite eighteenth-century Ivy House, an older building once used as a fire station, and still with its bell for summoning the firemen.
● After passing what is reputed to be Corsham’s oldest building, resplendent in yellow render, on the left, the street curves past the sculpted hedges of Corsham Court. Cross to the left-hand pavement and, at the main road, cross and carry on along Bence’s Lane. Just after crossing the end of Ivy Field, turn left along a footpath. At the end, cross the road and turn right past the old Duke of Cumberland Inn and the Baptist Church of 1828. Towards the end of the road, with a former police station on your right, look for ornamental 1930s datestones on the semi-detacheds on your left.
● At the end, turn left along the A4 through Pickwick, once a separate hamlet, but now absorbed into Corsham. Pickwick Cottage, on the right, is particularly redolent of its rural past. After more old cottages comes a windowless building, its high arches filled with grey stone. This was Pickwick Brewery, closed in 1896. Carry on past the Two Pigs, once the Spread Eagle, which doubled as the local mortuary. At the end, with Pickwick Manor, dating from the fourteenth century, ahead, turn left by the Hare & Hounds along Pickwick Road.
● Modern houses, along with impressive nineteenth-century villas, predominate for a time before older buildings start to reappear. Look for another old police station on the right and the former White Lion, still with its sign bracket, on the corner of Paul Road. Alexander Terrace, on the left, holds a surprise in the form of a first-floor bay, with well-proportioned columns, partway along a row of late Victorian cottages.
● Carry on along Pickwick Road and, at the mini roundabout, cross at the lights and carry on in the same direction. At the Methuen Arms, with the eighteenth-century Grove on your right, turn left along the High Street. A diversion along the road to the left of the Methuen Arms leads to an eighteenth-century gazebo in the far corner of the car park. It lies in the garden of a house called Parkside, once owned by the composer Michael Tippett.
● Return and carry on along the High Street, past the front of Parkside and a glorious array of buildings spanning several centuries, to return to the Town Hall. One final delight awaits, for which you need to retrace your steps partway along the High Street before turning left along a footpath opposite the HSBC bank. This leads to the tree-lined South Avenue, aligned on the Court, along which you turn right. Go through a kissing gate at the end to see, opposite, a row of almshouses, together with a school and master’s house, founded in 1668 to accommodate six elderly people and educate ten scholars. Little changed in three and a half centuries, they are open to the public and provide a unique glimpse into seventeenth-century life. From here, head back along the avenue to where you joined it, and turn right through a gate to follow a path back to the car park.
- Distance: 3.5 miles
- Time: 2 hours, plus optional visits
- Level of challenge: Fairly easy, along paths within town
- Map: OS Explorer 156 n Pit stop: There are several good pubs dotted throughout the walk
- Corsham Walking Festival runs from 12 – 14 June