Confession: I spend a lot more time scrolling Instagram than I should. It’s a time thief and viewing other peoples insta-perfect lives/homes/travels isn’t always good for the soul. Sometimes though, it throws up some inspiration that makes the scrolling worthwhile. Such was the case when I hit upon an image from someone’s walk tagged #blackdoghalt. Being the owner of my very own black dog, it seemed meant to be. Grab the dog, fill the flasks…and off we go a-walking. Well, driving first. To a very nice place by the name of Calne.
Calne is a Wiltshire market town that used to be known for railways, canals and a big old bacon factory. Today it’s a place better known for it’s heritage and as a gateway location for the North Wessex Downs.
The town’s Castle Park is a lovely place to get outdoors, and the starting point for the walk to Black Dog Halt. It’s also home to remnants of the canal and the railways that once made the town so prosperous. The Wilts & Berks Canal formed a link between the Kennet & Avon canal and the River Thames. Completed in 1810 and out of use by 1914, it helped shape the town but it didn’t have a very long working life.
The bustling canal is long gone, but a plaque on a pretty bridge is a clue to the parks former life. As is the big blue ‘Arfur Boat’. Took me a minute to get it. If the history of the canal is of interest, there are a few information boards around the place about how it all worked.
Crossing the bridge and heading out of town, the walking route skirted the edge of the river and picked up the old railway route. Part of Sustrans National Cycle Route 403, the section that links Calne and Chippenham is incredibly family and cycle friendly. Traffic free and pretty much totally flat. It’s also dog friendly but be aware if you have a barker or a chaser, this is a route well used by families and cyclists. Pick your time wisely or keep the four legged friend on the lead.
We found a few spots along the way where the river was accessible enough so that the dog could swim. The water in most places is fairly slow moving and shallow, so on a warmer day I think the kids might have been in there as well. But not on a dull and drizzly day when they’d been forced out to walk by their over enthusiastic mum in search of an old railway station. Parents, eh?
Fortunately for them, it’s not a long walk to find it. Black Dog Halt, the former rail stop that inspired me to seek out this walk, is just a short walk from Calne itself. On a walk that runs along former rail track, there must have been plenty of stations. But this one was just a bit different.
Black Dog Halt railway station was originally created in 1863 as a private stop for Lord Lansdowne and the Bowood Estate. The lord, not content with his own stop, also had his own private compartment on board one of the Calne Line Trains. For many years Black Dog Halt was something of a ghost station; it didn’t appear on timetables and although use by the general public was not forbidden, nor was it encouraged. Eventually, Lord Lansdowne allowed the halt to be listed on the timetables. I don’t think he really wanted to share.
Can you even imagine being fancy enough to have your own rail stop? I’m just happy when I don’t have to move someone out of my reserved seat and grateful if the toilets on the train have toilet paper and hand soap for the whole of my journey.
Not much remains of the station. The former long goods platform is still in place as is a small section of the shorter passenger platform . The old station house was sold in 1950 and converted into a private residence. I’d love a peek inside to see if many of the original features were kept. I like to think I’d preserve them, wouldn’t you?
Not an original feature but a nice touch, the garden gates are a tribute to the sites history. Opposite the gates, on what remains of the passenger platform, a replica nameboard has been mounted. Having our very own black dog, we couldn’t resist the obvious photo opportunity. With the help of Mr THL, several dog treats and some fast snapping, we got the shot.
We walked a bit further before we stopped for a cup of tea. There’s just something about a cup of tea out of a flask on a country walk. It tastes less like tea and more like adventure and contentment. Biscuits optional but always welcome. There aren’t that many places to stop on this stretch of the walk, but we found a bench and the Little Chap found a tree to perch in. As you do. I reckon tea definitely tastes like adventure when you drink it in a tree.
If we’d carried on walking we could have followed the path to Chippenham or to the Bowood estate itself but the weather wasn’t in our favour and we’d found what we’d set out to see so it was just an about- turn and back to the car. With a head full of daydreams about being Lady Something-or-other and having a private carriage and my own rail stop. I’ve already got the black dog so I’m halfway there, right?
For more information about Calne and walks in the area, click here.
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