It may not appeal to everyone, but a 5 mile walk around parts of the Longleat estate is my idea of heaven. To see the trees in a wonderful setting, the bluebells in the woods and having a pub at about halfway makes for a perfect walk.
This means that I was away from my garden, but it’s worth a few hours to visit and see the English landscape in such a natural environment.
Parking on the edge of the estate, my son Harry and I strode out to view Longleat House from what is called Heaven’s Gate. From there we walked through woods, past thatched cottages and round the local village of Horningsham, before arriving at the Bath Arms for a drink at half time. Then following our book ‘Walks of Wiltshire’ we made our way onto the Longleat drive, but more of that later.
In the first few yards we saw these beautiful birch trees, stark white bark against the dark rhododendrons and evergreen trees.
Then through a wooded pathway with some monumental fir trees, but also including this rather pretty cherry tree, that has lost much of its blossom scattered on the grass below.
This is Heaven’s Gate, with our well behaved Labrador, Grace, and in the foreground Harry with Longleat House in the background and the countryside beyond.
We walked down the hill amongst beech trees on either side. It reminds me of the Chinese saying that ‘the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ Although it is past the tree planting season, I make a mental note to order trees as soon as I can for the start of next season in November. These beech trees have been here for hundreds of years.
Following the carefully planned walk, we made our way through the hamlet of Newbury, with its chocolate box perfect thatched cottages and a beautiful Clematis Montana and then onto the village of Horningsham.
Passing by Horningsham Primary school we wend our way into a wooded walk, full of bluebells.
The bluebells are native English, Hyacinthoides non-scripta with delicate stems and leaves, with dark blue flowers, almost always on one side of the stem. I have noticed that in our garden there are hybrid and Spanish varieties, which are non-native and will need to be dug up and disposed of in order to have the purity of the native English variety only. According to the Woodland Trust; there is a ‘fear that as hybridisation becomes even more widespread, the gene pool of our pure, native bluebell will become increasingly diluted, even resulting in their loss completely’. The hybrid and Spanish varieties look different with fatter stems that are stiff and upright, wider leaves with lighter blue flowers. Again, it simply reminds me to plan ahead, pre-order English bluebells in the summer for delivery in early autumn, and then look forward to a beautiful blue carpet next spring.
We make our way around chapel street in Horningsham , site of a 16th century chapel, with pretty houses, one of which is draped in the first flowering of wisteria.
The Bath Arms beckons for a quick drink and then our guide book says to go down the southern Longleat drive and back up to Heaven’s Gate, another hour or so walk, However, we were approached by Longleat security in their 4x4, who were charming and indicated that this was no longer a public footpath, showing them the guide book, they said that it was out-of-date and this quite often happened, but we would have to turn back. Somewhat disappointed and not wanting to retrace our steps, they kindly told us the best way we could get back to our car. So be warned, your guide book of walks may be somewhat dated so check before setting off.
It didn’t spoil the walk, but just meant we missed out on a part of the walk and had to make our way through Newbury again.
Taking a camera with you is an essential part of a gardener’s life, not only keeping a record of the plants in your own garden but also when visiting anywhere, whether a formal garden or a wooded walk.
Look out for a photo competition in the summer.