The National Trust's Wessex Walking Weekend

PUBLISHED: 14:38 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013

Part of the Sherbourne Estate

Part of the Sherbourne Estate

The National Trust's first Wessex Walking Weekend takes place at the end of June - and there has never been a better opportunity to get to know our beautiful county's secrets

The National Trust's first Wessex Walking Weekend takes place at the end of June - and there has never been a better opportunity to get to know our beautiful county's secrets

Gloucestershire offers a feast of rural beauty for the keen walker, but to make the most of your shoe-leather you need inside knowledge. You'll get plenty of help over the weekend of June 28 and 29, thanks to the National Trust's first Wessex Walking Weekend.

The weekend will be a celebration of the Wessex region's finest outdoor spaces, from sculpted parklands to rugged clifftops and from wildlife havens to rolling downland scenery. Now's the ideal opportunity to discover the secret lives of the smugglers who used to operate below Corfe Castle, walk Dorset's Jurassic Coast or take a closer look at the wildlife-rich ancient landscape around Stonehenge.

In Gloucestershire, guided walks are being arranged to give visitors (you don't have to be a Trust member) a chance to see some of the county's rural highlights up close. There will be a wide range of walking opportunities, designed to suit families and the young and not-so-young as well as more experienced walkers.

The programme offers valuable opportunities to meet the National Trust men and women who care for the highlights of our countryside and can share their expert knowledge about them with you. You could join a Trust archaeologist to explore a hill fort, or look at rare butterflies or birds with one of its wildlife experts. Trust wardens and volunteers will be out in force over the weekend to dispense advice and help to visitors.

"We're aware that many people do not realise how much there is to see away from the great houses and parks we manage" explains Katharine Davies of the National Trust Wessex Region. "The Wessex Walking Weekend will be an opportunity for people to explore somewhere they haven't seen before - with a little bit of help from us to set them on their way and explain what they will be seeing."

The adjoining commons of Minchinhampton and Rodborough offer almost infinite possibilities for the adventurous walker. A network of narrow tracks and lanes criss-crosses these commons, taking you among ancient stone walls, the remains of ancient mines and quarries and even Jurassic fossil beds. Skylarks sing above the short turf which is home to orchids and other flowers of limestone grassland, and the many insects include the Chalkhill Blue butterfly and even the rare Adonis Blue - which made an unexplained reappearance here in 2006, long years after it was thought to have been lost to the county for good.

Newcomers to the commons often do a double-take when they see the striking black-and-white Belted Galloway cattle that are regularly grazed here. The Galloways and the glossy Welsh Blacks are rare breeds chosen for their suitability for conservation grazing - keeping the scrub down so that the delicate wild flowers and associated fauna can continue to thrive. The animals are docile towards people and dogs, but should still be treated with respect. They are making a vital contribution to the management of these sensitive areas of species-rich limestone grassland, listed as SSSIs.

Let the National Trust be your guide

Exploring a walk on your own or with the family is great fun, but you can easily waste time by taking a wrong turning and missing the best features. You can avoid that problem by joining one of several guided or planned walks over Wessex Walking Weekend.

Most people who visit Dyrham Park focus on the house and gardens, but there is much more to see in the surrounding parkland and in the village and countryside beyond - if you know where to look. At the edge of the estate is the site of the Battle of Deorham (the old name for Dyrham) of 577 AD, when two great armies of warring Celts clashed. The British side were routed by those from Wales and the West Country, and three of their chieftains slain.

On June 28 at 11 am you can explore the 14 centuries-old battlefield and other less famous attractions by joining garden volunteer Gill Sheppard for a 3-mile guided walk entitled 'Dyrham, the Park, the Village and the Battlefield', lasting about 2 hours. Booking is not necessary and there is no charge (though donations are welcomed). Meet at visitor reception and wear sensible clothing and footwear (not suitable for pushchairs).

Newark Park near Wotton-under-Edge is one of the Trust's oldest houses, dating back to the 1540s, when it was built for a leading member of the court of Henry VIII.

The surrounding estate's 700 acres offer one of the finest - and least known - panoramas in Gloucestershire. There is much to be seen on the estate including deer, wild flowers, butterflies, deer and other mammals.

For Wessex Walking Weekend the property has prepared a printed guide to walking routes through the estate. A team of volunteers will be on hand between 11 am and 5 pm on June 28 and 29 to engage with visitors and help them find their way around and appreciate the features of the landscape, such as the chestnuts, lime and beech trees planted in the 18th century.

Children welcome, and dogs on leads - and there's no charge unless you want to visit the house and garden as well.

In the north of the county, there's a chance over the weekend to get a different slant on the beautiful Hidcote Manor Garden near Stow-on-the-Wold. For Wessex Walking Weekend, staff at Hidcote are laying out a short waymarked walk which will give good views of the garden as well as a spectacular vista over the Vale of Evesham. You can even stop off at the end to pick your own strawberries and raspberries, grown by a National Trust tenant. The routes will operate between 10 am and 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday June 28 and 29 - and there is no charge unless you visit the garden itself.

Download your route before you go

You can now save trouble and time-wasting by downloading the details of some 'ready made' National Trust walks before you go - over Wessex Walking Weekend or at any other time. All you have to do is visit the Walking Weekend page at and follow the links to download the walk of your choice.

The rolling parkland, woods and villages of the Sherborne Park Estate are well worth exploring, and athough this walk is off the beaten track there is plenty of interest. The 4000-acre estate, three miles east of Northleach on the A40, is set in unspoilt rolling countryside bordering the River Windrush. This signposted route takes you along a woodland sculpture trail, through farmland and trees down to the village of Sherborne. The varied wildlife includes buzzards, foxes, hares, stoats, weasels and deer.

Sherborne is within easy each of several other Trust properties. It's a short drive to the Roman Villa at Chedworth, the high Cotswold landscape of the Ebworth Estate or the fascinating house and beautiful gardens at Snowshill Manor.

Set in a deep, wooded valley on the western edge of the Cotswolds, Woodchester Park conceals the remains of a landscape designed in the 18th and 19th century with a chain of five lakes. The 3-mile Boathouse Walk gives a good introduction to this tranquil, historic place. In addition to the remains of a coach house and stables, there is a temple site showing the remains of terraced gardens. If the walk leaves you more time for exploring in this part of the county, you can drive over to nearby Newark Park, or the Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons.

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