A walk from Alfred’s Tower, through relaxing woodland, past Stourhead Gardens and back via a picturesque valley.
“What is this life if, full of care,We have no time to stand and stare. No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep or cows.” – W.H. Davies
The reason for this route
During a midsummer heatwave, in which temperatures were passing 30 Celsius; we were thinking of local shaded places to walk our labradoodle named Bonnie. Remembering long ago walks in woods near the famous Stourhead and Alfred’s Tower; we set off on our indispensable Sunday walk with plenty of water.
Driving towards Stourhead from Frome; we turned off the main road after Maiden Bradley and followed signs for Alfred’s Tower. After taking care on a narrow section of road; we soon arrived at a large free car park, shaded by big beautiful beech trees.
We started our walk from here because there are few off road parking places in the area. Blocking farm gates or narrow roads is not fair on the local residents, nor is it prudent to queue to pay £4 to park at Stourhead itself.
After putting our boots on and filling our water bottles to the brim; we crossed over the lane from which we had driven. Rounding a line of trees we were met with the impressive sight of Alfred’s Tower.
This folly tower was built in the 1760’s by the local landowner: Henry Hoare; to celebrate the end of a long war with France and the accession of King George III. It commemorates the nearby spot called: Egbert’s Stone, where King Alfred rallied his troops; before the decisive Battle of Edington in 878AD. In which he defeated the Vikings and gave birth to England as a united country. To find out more; check out this wonderful website: http://www.alfredstower.info/
In the past, we have climbed the steep spiralled staircase of this tower. With the views across: Wiltshire, Dorest and Somerset; well worth the effort. Yet today, after pausing for a moment to admire the tower; we dived into the woods, to escape the midday sun.
Stourhead estate woods
From here; there are number of paths through woodland owned by the Stourhead estate. You can follow the gravelled forestry roads or one of the smoother earth paths through the trees.
The owners welcome you to walk anywhere you like through these woods. Yet horse riders and cyclists must gain permission beforehand. So if you don’t feel like following my route to relax; just follow your own path until you are truly relaxed in yourself. To find out more about the benefits of ‘forest bathing’; check out my blog: Forest bathing to relax
Our route took us through the woods; yet you could bring the children or just your lover to play hide and seek, or you could look for blackberries and other tasty treats, or just lookup and marvel at the lush green canopy above.
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“For everyone, for ever” – National Trust
When we reached the bottom of the wood; we past through a gate and out into a meadow. The grass had turned almost ochre in the sun with sheep grazing in the shade of ancient oak trees. Following the farm track; we passed through more gates and a lone quaint cottage with enviable views over the meadows and woods.
Rounding a clump of trees; our dog could smell or hear water and strained on her lead. Sure enough, she made a beeline for what seemed like a small lake and jumped in still on the lead! After letting her off the lead to swim freely; we marvelled at the neon blue and yellow dragonflies, darting over the water.
Looking east, we could see this body of water continue under a Monet like bridge and out into a wider lake. It is here that you will find the famous Stourhead Gardens. Again, designed by Henry Hoare and laid out between 1740 and 1780. It is inspired by Greek mythology and classical paintings of Italy; as well as scenes that the great and good would see on a Grand Tour of the time.
Now run by the National Trust; it costs £16 per adult and £8 per child to walk around the gardens, as well as the £4 car park fee. However, if you can afford £120 a year membership; you can enter as many time as you like.
Now, I do not want to get too political; yet for some poorer families this sort of money is not readily available. I understand there are huge running costs to maintain such magnificent gardens; yet deterring the most needy in our society from being able to relax or be inspired by such vistas is a detriment to us all.
So after Bonnie had cooled off in the water and got tired of trying to catch her own splashes; we returned to the car via a route that enabled us some views of the garden for free. If you look carefully on the map above; there is a small dog-leg on the route which brings you close to the gardens and lake. You will pass no keep out signs and will not pass over the rope denoting the edge of the gardens; yet you will catch glimpse of the Palladian Bridge from behind a Gothic style cottage.
Return via Six Wells Bottom
Whilst glimpsing into the gardens from our viewpoint; a man silently appeared behind but then walked off when I said: “good day”! Was this an innocent interloper like ourselves or a secret agent to the National Trust?
Thinking what the Famous Five would do in such a situation; we beat a hasty retreat back into the woods. To add to the adrenaline; we imagined we were escaping from behind enemy lines, with nasty soldiers hot on our heels! Regaining the safety of the hill and wood; we stopped and had our lunch on a fallen tree. Tasting good food and Adams ale; whilst listening to the birds and the wind in the trees and seeing this natural garden; was a real paradise on this earth!
After our rest, we followed an overgrown path northwards; whilst not encountering another sole. In a short while; we reached a marked path called the Stour Valley Way and descended into a valley. To find out more about this fantastic long distance footpath; check out this detailed website: https://www.stourvalleyway.co.uk/index.php
Although someone had made the effort to cut steps; the descent was still steep. I think in wet or cold conditions; great care should be taken on this part of the route.
Reaching the valley floor; we passed through a gate and out into a field. Here the marked path carried straight on and into more woodland. However, if you look to you left; you will be rewarded with a view up a ethereal valley; worthy of any painted renaissance scene.
For here is Six Wells Bottom, a lush pastoral valley; and the site of six greeensand springs that are the source of the River Stour. After escaping Stourhead; the River Stour flows for 61 miles until it reaches the sea at Christchurch in Dorset.
There are warnings that cattle, including bulls; maybe in the field. Yet we saw no dangers but only relaxed natural beauty. With the only other people present being a couple picking blackberries on the far side of the valley.
Gently climbing up the valley over the smooth green grassy carpet; we passed St Peters Pump. The largest spring; that is marked by a Grade I listed grotto and pumping house that dates from the 14th Century.
Reaching the top of the valley; we looked back at the amazing view. It was a hot summers day; yet we were truly relaxed. Come in your own good time and relax.
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