Next morning we found the American family already at the breakfast table. Jean was an English Literature lecturer and loved the association of places with writers. Mark studied law and wanted to understand why the public had rights of way through other people’s land.
That was interesting to hear. We don’t tend to think of that. The network of routes through the landscape is our birthright. Though most of us probably take public footpaths and bridleways for granted.
Nothing like it in America …or any other country as far as I know. Today our feet would tread a line determined by some remote fellow countryman as far back as…. prehistory or at least local prehistory? Who can say? Each pathway has been a unique evolution. The linear expression of the human need to go from one place to another…. and so many of those ancient destinations are probably archaeology now.
Top tip: use proper walking socks. Kate lent me a pair. She had stocked up on these vital items following the advice of her father who had ignored his advice.
Jean, Mark and Bob set off before us. We would see them again at Cleeve Hill. We stuffed things back in the rucksacks and went to see our host.
As Emma is an artist, she asked about the collection of drawings and paintings and we were kindly shown around the house, which dates back to the 16th century.
Reused timber timber from Hailes Abbey
In the living room, the owner showed us the principal cross beam and said it was salvaged from from Hailes Abbey when the buildings were demolished almost 500 years ago. I said that I worked for the National Trust and that we were going to Hailes today. She smiled and said ‘You can’t have it back’. Seemed a reasonable comment.
So we set off.. in the quiet cool of the morning, walking down the main street of Stanton.
Alone, apart from the House Martins who flitted in front of us swooping up into the eaves of the creamy stone cottages. We passed the steepled medieval church we visited last evening. We had taken the peaceful timber stairs to the Jacobean gallery and contemplated the fading light filtering through the Norman columns across the aisles.
Through hamlets and villages and down through woodland. We approached Hailes at lunch time and stopped at the fruit farm for food. Another good, clear, warm day. Kate was pleased. She is a summer person.
Then to Hailes Abbey itself. Long managed by English Heritage and its predecessors but owned by the National Trust since 1937.
A grassy medieval ruin, excavated 1899-1900 by Welbore, St Clair Baddeley, also significant because he led the fight to acquire Chedworth Roman Villa for the NT in 1924.
The Cistercian abbey was founded in 1246 by Richard Duke of Cornwall and brother of Henry III, in gratitude for his survival during a storm at sea. Hailes was a wild place when the monks sent from Beaulieu Abbey first came here, they helped create an architectural masterpiece which became a centre for pilgrimage. It was closed by order of Henry VIII in 1539. Fragments of architecture, excavated by Baddeley, have recently been displayed in a new exhibition in the visitor centre.
We entered the ruins and watched a youth theatre rehearsing ‘Loves Labours Lost’ within the cloisters for a performance that evening.
Loves Labours Lost in Hailes Abbey Cloisters
We looked inside the small parish church which is still in use and older than the Abbey. The walls are covered in medieval wall paintings.
Hailes Parish Church:medieval wall paintings
We bought an ice cream from the the Hailes Abbey custodian “where are you going tonight?”
“You’ll like that, it’s the highest point on the Cotswold Way”
We thanked him and said farewell and cut across the fields to Winchcombe. One of the chief towns of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia and once home to an abbey wealthier and far older than Hailes.
In the heat of mid-afternoon we began the ascent to Belas Knap. A long slow climb across pasture fields. Water was running low and we broke into the chocolate supply again.
Worth the effort. Belas Knap is one of the glories of Gloucestershire’s prehistory. This is a part reconstructed megalithic long barrow, built to be seen on the hill top. It was made of soil over megalithic passages and chambers and revetted with coursed narrow slates of stone. Such barrows are one of the earliest surviving monuments in the British landscape 3800-3600 BC.
It was excavated in the 19th century. Remains of at least 20 burials were found in shafts cut into the sides of the mound. The widest and highest end is the main entrance blocked by large slabs of stone. Two arms project either side of these slabs creating a forecourt where it is thought ceremonies took place.
A good place to rest and shelter from the sun.
Evening, and the other walkers had gone home. We had tarried too long.
So amidst birdsong we plodded down through woodland and up and up through downland. Eventually we reached a golf course and spotted the hotel just below us… and beyond, vast views out to the Malvern hills and the mountains of Wales.
Sunset over the Malverns