We’re coming home, we’re coming home…
A group hug as we left the hotel, the last leg of our walk along the Cotswold Way.
Kate, Emma and I needed to be at Bath Abbey by 5pm.
When asked, the receptionist said that there was a shop at Cold Ashton …so we would lunch there.
We walked through the village of Tormarton, over the M4 bridge and across farmland. There were freshly repaired drystone walls all around us. We met the wallers with their timber templates … building as we passed by.
The dry stone wallers near Tormarton
Dodging the cars on the A46 crossing, we walked through the pasture fields down to Dyrham Park. Through the village… where I picked up and handed Emma the third find. A fragment of Tudor earthenware churned up in the verge. A side track took us to Dyrham House where I met Tim coming out of the property office.
Walking towards Badmington Doors: The NW corner of Dyrham Park
I thanked him for showing me the cellars the last time we met.
I had often wondered what survived of the earlier Dyrhams. Tim had shown me that down a flight of stairs, under the present house are flagstone floors and the quoin stones of the Tudor house, once occupied by the family of William Blathwayt’s wife Mary.
The view from the Cotswold Way into the West Garden of Dyrham. Newly restored c.1700 garden bed as shown on Kips view of 1700.
William was Secretary at War to William III and had sufficient funds, in the 1690s, to organise a complete rebuild of Dyrham.. in the fashionable Baroque style. He also had the park laid out as a Dutch-style water garden. It had a long canal fed by a high cascade plunging down from a pool on the escarpment edge.
We opened the door and walked into the large orangery which lies beside Dyrham House. There was a large print of Johannes Kip’s perspective view of the finished intricate garden. Drawn in 1712, it shows the newly finished gardens with their patterned beds, fountains and ornamental garden buildings.
Looking back from the orangery towards the Cotswold escarpment, Kip’s drawing is hard to believe (though where we have excavated…. the drawing has proved true). A green amphitheatre now, reworked in the late 18th century, but the pool and the Neptune statue survive to mark where the cascade once fell 50 feet into the canal.
The dry weather is gradually revealing the hidden walls in the east park. The ground dries out more quickly where there is buried stone.. with less depth to conserve moisture. Parched lines of dry grass show what lies beneath.
Dyrham Park is covered with earthworks and the National Trust has just commissioned a LiDAR survey for whole property. This fine laser scan of the property’s ground surface has revealed the time depth of the place, which dates back to the Roman period and beyond. Such a good place to live and build a house. The medieval parish church stands beside Blathwayt’s rebuild to demonstrate that a medieval manor house once stood here. Just like at Horton Court which we had walked past the previous day.
Paul, Dyrham’s archaeologist, has been working in the east hall of the house, below the Cedar staircase. Under Colonel Blathwayt’s marble flagstones of the 1840s, were timber floorboards and below these a void. Down in the cellars was a breeze block wall, placed there when the heating went in about 60 years ago. A few blocks were removed and we peered through to find a well-dressed limestone wall and a stone corbel of later medieval style.
The blocked cellar below the Cedar stairs
We walked further into the cellars across a gushing stream conduit to find a structure with a spiral staircase leading nowhere and a window looking out into the dark.
There have been manor houses at Dyrham at least since the Saxon period and our new discoveries, in the cellars, demonstrate that there are remains from at least the 15th-17th century to be teased out by mapping the house at this low level…..
Kate, Emma and I could only afford a brief rest before moving on…. as it was already mid morning. We walked back into the countryside and were soon within woodland. A little way in, we came across a bench and beside the path a wooden box..and in the box a plastic tub and in the tub a note book and pen….left by the Cotswold Way association
The bench and box in the woods.
Our chance to record for posterity (or at least until the book was full) that we had reached this far…to leave a message for our Australian and American compatriots who started the walk with us at Chipping Campden. We signed the book and wished them well. The wild garlic in the wood was fading and we remembered the garlic’s rich aroma and sea of white flowers near Snowshill. How quickly things change.
We were heading for Pennsylvania, a hamlet with an unlikely name on the A46. Most importantly, it had a garage with a coffee machine and snacks. We sheltered behind a sign as the refueling cars pulled in. A surprisingly cool wind and my hayfever seemed to be developing into something more significant.
A mile beyond the road was Cold Ashton. A ghost hamlet, not a person in sight and certainly not the shop promised by the Tormarton receptionist. A bench with a view and time to search for whatever remained for lunch in the rucksacks. This amounted to an emergency bag of dry roasted peanuts and two crushed Wispa bars which had been carried for 95 miles ……for a time such as this.
We feasted and moved on.
Our next destination Lansdown Hill. A long climb. Then the text noise on the phone went off. Jan said ‘when will you get there?’
One of the information boards on Lansdown Hill.
We were confident.. 4.30pm. Time for Jan to catch the train from Warminster and meet us at the Abbey.
On Lansdown Hill we reached a battlefield… Pennants and boards marking the positions of troops. 5th July 1643. Old peace-time friends Lord Hopton (for the King) and Sir William Waller (for Parliament) fought it out above the downlands of Bath. Waller held the City and Hopton led an army which was marching through the West Country seizing any outposts of Parliamentary strength that remained.
A pitched battle between thousands of cavalry, musketmen and pikemen. Significant losses on both sides but in the end Waller continued to hold Bath and Hopton retreated to Devizes. The information boards tell of the ebb and flow of the battle… amongst the sound of skylarks.
The path over Lansdown took ages and we got lost in a golf course again. The time ticked by and there was no way we would be there by 4.30pm. Finally the City was below us and we were descending into the outskirts of this Georgian World Heritage Site…. overlying Roman Aquae Sulis, centred around a bathing and religious complex because of its magical hot water spring.
We started at the National Trust Chipping Campden market hall and we would finish close to the Bath Assembly Rooms, owned by the National Trust since 1931. It is now leased as a fashion museum by Bath & NE Somerset Council. This was a place mentioned in the Jane Austen novels ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’. Designed in 1769 as place for fashionable Georgian society to meet, dance and play. Austen describes one of the main functions of the place… for mothers to bring their unmarried daughters in the hope of finding an eligible husband (with loads of money).
The place declined in the 19th century but following work by the Society of the Protection of Ancient Buildings and NT….it was fully restored by 1938… but not for long. One of the bombs from the Luftwaffe raids on Bath 25-26th April 1942, hit the building and it became a burnt out shell. Nothing was done for years but it was finally restored and opened again in 1963.
Inspired by the discoveries at Dyrham…. it would be good to find time to look in the cellars and see whether there are remains of medieval and Roman Bath hidden down there. A visit to the Roman Bath complex near the Pump Room and Abbey demonstrates what lies hidden under the City.
The Royal Crescent Bath
Jan texted again ‘Where are you ?
‘We had walked all day…beginning at 8am on the wrong side of the M4. Kate told us 5pm was the deadline to complete the walk. She needed the train to London.
Now, weaving through the smart, city-busy shoppers and tourists, our goal seemed unlikely to achieve. Then, the Royal Crescent and Circus were behind us. We headed for the Pump Room and Baths …it might be possible. As we approached the Abbey Tower the mechanism was whirring. ‘Come on Kate!’ I touched the stone as it struck one, Emma at two. Kate pulled a face.. paused… and touched on the stroke of 5.’
Jan was there waiting for us and we went straight to the station. Kate slipped into something more civilised, got her train and left for London. A couple of days later Emma took the plane for Milan from Bristol Airport.
Had I become a lean hardened walker? One of my aims was to become fit again…after so much time at a desk writing emails. Too many large breakfasts and relaxed evening meals had counteracted the 100 mile benefits of the walk ….and now my hayfever had shifted into a cold, turning into a hacking cough….then my back seised up in protest.. but after a couple of days of rest….
What would be my final Top tip be for you.
Block out two weeks next May and/or June and just do it. Life is short and the cycle of English flowers will not wait for you.
Hand-pick a good companion… or just go on your own… you will meet people out there.
Now…. I must pack the car full of tools and drawing boards, measuring tapes and files …and tomorrow head for Chedworth Roman Villa.