Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Donnington Castle

A nice local walk today starting at Snelsgrove Country Park, just north of Newbury. You follow a tarmac path away from the car-park and soon head across heathland where there are large swathes of bright heather.

Leaving the Country Park, you follow a track with fields behind a hedge on one side and woodland on the other to eventually emerge in Bagnor. I detoured towards the Watermill Theatre, crossing the Winterbourne Stream and then walking through the nature reserve. This was a little disappointing as I failed to spot anything of great interest.

I returned to the route by the Blackbird pub and followed a tarmac path to cross over the A34 and approach the nearby golf course. I was greatly cheered to immediately see this fine dragonfly. It is a Common Darter. It is described as being abundant, but it was a new one to me.

A path through a woodland strip leads you out of the golf course to emerge at the back of Donnington Castle. Sir Richard de Abberley was granted "licence to crenellate" in 1386. I learn from Wikipedia that this is a 19th century term and that there is some debate about they were a serious mechanism to control fortifications which could be used the king or simply a mark of royal approval, i.e. a status symbol.

The main remaining element of the castle is the majestic gatehouse shown in the photo at teh head of this post, but the rear view gives a better idea of its scale.

The castle was held by Sir John Boys for the king during the Civil War and withstood two sieges. Parliament voted to demolish the badly damaged castle in 1646 after the final defeat of Charles II and only the gatehouse was left standing.

I now made a planned diversion from the walk route to go into to Donnington village to see the celebrated almshouses: Donnington Hospital.

The hospital was built as a square around a courtyard in 1602 and restored and re-opened in 1822. The enormous chimneys are a dramatic feature.

As I was walking down to the village I spotted to my right another building that looked like it might be an almshouse. Further investigation revealed that it was Abberbury Close (1938), which is also owned by the Donnington Hospital Trust.

Interestingly, the Trust was founded in 1393 by the same Sir Richard de Abberbury who built the castle. It is the tenth oldest almshouse foundation in the country. The Trust also now looks after Jesus Hospital in Bray, which we saw on a walk in March.

I returned to the castle and followed a track past the golf course and across the heath to return to the car park, passing this impressive barn conversion on the way.

Conditions: cloudy with brief sunny periods.

From: 50 walks in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire (AA).

Distance: five miles (officially 4).

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford).

Rating: four stars, thanks to the almshouses. 3.5 otherwise.

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