First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Set in a north Cotswold landscape of iron-rich stone the colour of dark honeycomb, Great Tew is a dream hive of mullioned cottages under thatch. It’s hard to credit this immaculate place as the tumbledown village it became in the 1970s, its houses neglected to the point of collapse, their roofs in holes.
The scandal of Great Tew’s decay had complex roots, and its recovery to picture postcard appearance has been a long process. All seemed right with the world on this brisk afternoon, though. We glanced in the open door of the Falkland Arms where cheerful county couples and horse whisperers crowded the dark bar under a canopy of beer mugs swinging by their handles from the ceiling.
Behind the pub a bridleway ran east away across the open pastures of Great Tew Park. A red kite skimmed the trees and circled the grassland, steadying itself a few inches above the ground before dropping to snatch at some morsel among the tussocks.
The park was dotted with fine old specimen trees – cedars and pines, oaks and chestnuts. Five horses at a gate nodded their long noses and accepted a handful of grass apiece. Away to the north the hills rolled like a breaking wave, more sharply defined than the pale limestone wolds of classic Cotswold country.
At Ledwell we found a dimpling well, the old cast-iron village pump standing alongside. The mossy roofs of Over Worton huddled in the trees near a tall war memorial. In the church lay Edmund Meese, who died ‘pious, chaste and sober’ in the reign of King James I. His effigy was discovered in 1967 under the church floor, minus toes, nose and hands – they had been cut off so that the sculpture could be squeezed into its hiding place. Edmund’s extremities were restored, but in darker stone than the rest of the effigy, giving him the appearance of being severe frostbitten.
On over the fields to Nether Worton, where church, schoolroom and cottage leaned companionably together in the shade of a large apple tree. On with a cold wind slapping our cheeks, to join Groveash Lane where it wound at the feet of the hills.
A broad old trackway led us back to Great Tew through damp woodland of willow and alder. The bare branches scratched at a sky growing ever greyer and more wintry, and the thought of the log fire at the Falkland Arms put springs in our boot heels.
Start: Great Tew village car park, Oxon OX7 4DB (OS ref SP 395293)
Road – Great Tew is signed off B4022 (A361, between Banbury and Chipping Norton)
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 191): Left from car park; left into village. Just past Falkland Arms, left (‘Bridleway, Ledwell 2’), following broad track of bridleway east through fields. In ¾ mile it bends right (408293); ahead here through gates (blue arrows) on fenced bridleway, forking right past Hobbshole Farm to road (413284). Left, then over crossroads (418283, ‘Ledwell’). At Manor Farmhouse bear left; left by well (‘Over Worton’, yellow arrow/YA). Keep left of fence over lawn; right at wall along path. In 150m, through gate (421282); half left (YA) to gateway; half right to footbridge (424284) and up field beyond to road (426285). Right; in 100m, left (‘Over Worton’) up drive. At house, right (arrow) across stile; half right across 2 fields to cross lane at Over Worton by war memorial (430291).
Up church path; past church; through gate at east end of churchyard. Follow fence on left down to gate (430295); cut corner and go through hedge; follow path north-west, then north across fields for ½ mile to road opposite Nether Worton church (426301). Left; at junction, left (‘Ledwell’); in 400m, round sharp left bend; in 50m, right through gate (421300). Fork right on bridleway.
In 250m fork right at gate gap (418300, arrow), across field. Cross footbridge (416302); aim half left for distant track going uphill on left of wood. Before you reach it, left on broad bridleway of Groveash Lane (415305). In 1 mile at T-junction (402302) left for ¾ mile to Great Tew.
Lunch/Accommodation: Falkland Arms, Great Tew OX7 4DB (01608-683653, falklandarms.co.uk) – warm, firelit, thriving village pub