For walkers, ramblers or those who simply enjoy the opportunity for a short walk and some fresh air, Box offers some wonderful walking options. We are in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on the Macmillan Way and have both our own Box Heritage Trail and a wealth of public rights of way, bridle paths and footpaths to explore.
We have maps for guests covering the 5 mile Box Heritage Trail as well as guides for shorter walks which we are always pleased to pass on. Box has a wealth of interesting history and sights, including England’s only tennis ball factory, Peter Gabriel’s Real World Music Studios, the famous Box Tunnel and its slightly lesser known sibling, Middlehill Tunnel, old mills and farms recorded in the Domesday Book, quarries and woodland as well as the stunning scenery of the Bybrook valley.
Quarry Woods still bear the entrances to the quarries where the stone was mined for building Box Tunnel and for the construction industry. On hot summer days the cool air coming from the shafts below ground creates very welcome natural air conditioning.-
Hazelbury Manor dates back to the 14th Century and opens its gardens once a year as part of the National Gardens Scheme. The main phases of its development took place in the late C15, late C16, and mid C17. This last period of building was carried out by the Speke family who owned the estate from 1613 to 1682.
Having been used as a farm for around two centuries, the estate was bought in 1919 by George J Kidston. From 1920 to 1925 he extensively restored and extended the estate, including the garden, using Harold Brakspear as architect. From 1943 to 1971 Hazelbury Manor served as a girls’ school, and then in 1973 returned to private ownership. In the late C20 various new features were introduced in the garden, which was further extended to the north and south-west. Hazelbury Manor remains in private ownership.
Box’s “Blind House” – or village lock up. The Blind House gets its name from the fact that it has no windows, and is sited, perhaps deliberately, alongside the village pub, The Queens Head. Such lock ups were once a key part of maintaining authority in rural communities, being temporary homes to suspected offenders until they could be moved on elsewhere, or simply somewhere for drunks to ‘dry out’ overnight. There are several such lock ups locally, including one in Lacock and one on the bridge in Bradford on Avon.
Across the road from Lorne House is Box Tunnel, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Originally proposed in the Great Western Railway Act of 1835, building a tunnel through Box Hill was an impossible and dangerous engineering project according to its critics. The tunnel was by far the most difficult single engineering work on the entire London to Bristol route as it contained the unusually steep gradient, by Brunel’s standards, of 1 in 100 over its length.
Digging the tunnel through the solid Bath stone was a formidable task. Using only candles to see by, 1500 men (rising to 4000 as the tunnel neared completion) toiled day and night. Each week a ton of gunpowder and a ton of candles were used up. Work continued twenty-four hours a day.
Construction began in 1836, and the tunnel opened in 1841. In those five years, the lives of more than 100 navvies were lost. Working from both directions, the calculations Brunel made were so accurate that when the two ends of the tunnel were joined underground there was found to be less than 5 cm (2 in) error in their alignment. It was, when completed, the longest railway tunnel in the world.
Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios were established in the 1980’s. In the search for a location for Real World Studios, chief among Peter’s requirements was that it had to be close to water. He looked at several sites – most of them old mills – in the Bath area, before finding an office complex with a river running under it in the Wiltshire village of Box.
A mill until the late 1950s, this remarkable set of buildings had the scale and internal space Peter wanted, and was situated in a beautiful part of the world, easily accessible from London and with the city of Bath less than eight miles away. The search was over – Real World was born. Today, artists such as Robbie Williams, Elbow, Harry Styles and Jorja Smith visit Box to record at the studios. Peter’s own famous song, Solsbury Hill, was inspired by a local landmark which also offers a lovely walk – Little Solsbury Hill in nearby Batheaston, the site of an Iron Age hill fort, now owned by the National Trust.
The Quarryman’s Arms was originally a watering hole for the quarrymen working on Box Tunnel before being rebuilt as a beer house in 1865. Climb the so-called “Stairway to Heaven” to earn a well deserved drink at the pub whilst admiring the fabulous views of the valley.