Highclere Park, Hampshire


Marshland bordering Duns Mere
Heather near the Temple

The grounds of Highclere Castle - woodland, pasture, grassland and two lakes, lined by marsh and fen. The most botanically-diverse section, around the lakes, is also a site of special scientific interest. Accessed by public footpaths
Free, for the public paths through the parkland
Five miles south of Newbury along White Hill Road; RG20 9RN
Photo Tour (29 images)
The five thousand acre Highclere Park surrounds Highclere Castle, a grand manor house built in 1679 then greatly modified in the 1840s, residence of the Earls of Carnarvon and famous amongst other reasons for being the location of the filming of the TV series Downton Abbey. Tours of the castle are available to paying visitors while the park is crossed by several public footpaths, accessible all year, plus other routes open during the summer, and so can be explored free of charge; parking outside the estate and walking in, since the park roads are only for vehicles of paying guests.

The park is a mix of woodland, grassland and wood pasture (pollarded trees standing in managed grazing land), and also contains two lakes, lined by patches of marsh and fen, and these lie at the centre of the Highclere Park Site of Special Scientific Interest (167 acres), the most interesting section of the parkland, both scenically because of the varied landscapes, and also botanically due to the range of species that grow here. These include such rare plants as green-flowered helleborine, marsh violet and field gentian (the only site in Hampshire), this latter on the east side of Duns Mere in one of the grassy areas, which has a mixture of neutral and acid soils and so supports both calcareous and heath-type species.

The park falls within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and its southern portion is underlain by chalk with some greensand (sandstone), while the northern reaches including all of the SSSI have clayish soils, and is slightly lower in elevation. The manor house was built on the site of a medieval castle, and the land has a much longer history of management, being the earliest known estate in the county, established in 749 when the area was granted by the King to the Bishops of Winchester.


The main approach to the castle and the grounds is from the east, along White Hill Road, which parallels the A34, five miles south of Newbury. The entrance road is one-way, the exit being via another road to the north, meeting Foxs Lane. For walk-in visitors there is a small parking area at this junction but the best place to start from is the White Hill entrance, where verges on a narrow lane opposite have space for several vehicles. These two locations are recommended if visiting the SSSI, to the northwest; other entrances and parking places are used for paths into the southern portion of the parkland.


The main public walking route, open all year, follows the White Hill entrance road across grassland to a crossroads, then turns right (left is for the castle) and later left again, now through more wooded land, and exits through a gate along the A343; along here is the Cemetery Chapel, a small building constructed in 1855, housing memoials to servants and relatives of the Carnarvon family. Two other public routes, open in July and August, branch off to the north, meeting in front of the Temple of Diana, one of six follies in the estate; a circular building constructed in the late 18th century on Tent Hill overlooking Duns Mere, one of the two lakes, originally a fishing pond for the bishops. From here the walking route continues northwards along a road to the Foxs Lane entrance, guarded by a gatehouse, London Lodge, and meets another route - a one-mile loop path through beech, oak and alder woodland (Duns Wood) to the other lake, Milford. The temple was installed as part of a grand landscaping project led by Capability Brown, also involving enlargement of the lakes, and extensive tree planting, though much of the woodland is natural, its ancient origins shown by a range of indicator species of mosses, lichens and wildflowers, and best seen along the Milford Lake loop. Both lakes are lined by marsh and fen vegetation, not easy to explore due to lack of footpaths. For grassland wildflowers the most fruitful area is across the slopes below the Temple.

Leafless conifer trunks, in Duns Wood
Leafless conifer trunks, in Duns Wood