First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Moreton-in-Marsh is a lovely place on the northern edge of the Cotswolds, an old wool town with a very wide sheep-straggle of a high street. On a hot afternoon we started under muggy grey clouds, passing allotments full of hollyhocks, cabbages and potatoes. Sunflowers stood tall, their face all turned towards a muted gleam in the southern sky.
Outside Moreton we crossed long fields of harvested barley and wheat. Cotton-reel bales of straw lay regularly spaced, as though giants had temporarily suspended some esoteric game and left all the pieces on the board.
The path led on through a superb wildflower meadow where the nodding dark heads of great burnet contrasted with white cushions of yarrow and the rusty iron aspect of docks in late summer. In the hedgerows stood huge old oaks, their ripe acorns sprouting galls like the tentacles of sea anemones. Rusty barns crowned low ridges from which far views opened across a rolling landscape of green and brown, with church towers and country house gables of that remarkable golden stone peeping out from their trees.
Near the wooded grounds of Batsford Arboretum a big red kite was manoeuvring over the trees, responsive to the whistling calls of an invisible handler at the neighbouring Cotswold Falconry Centre. Everything far and near seemed soaked in the heavy warmth and peace of classic English countryside at the turn of the season. We were jerked rudely from this mood on arrival in Bourton-on-the-Hill, a beautiful little sloping village of honey-coloured houses, as a bunch of inexcusably fast and noisy motorbikes went pelting down its narrow roadway.
South of Bourton-on-the-Hill we came on a slice of the Mughal empire set down in the Cotswolds. The extraordinary house of Sezincote was built in 1805 for Sir Charles Cockerell to the designs of his brother Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who incorporated Georgian, Muslim and Hindu architectural styles in a glorious, jolting mishmash of a building. We walked slowly along the fence at the foot of the slope leading up to the house, marvelling at the minarets, enormous curving orangery, cupolas and great green onion dome capping the whole thing off. George, Prince Regent, visited in 1807, and it’s pretty clear where the inspiration for tarting up his Marine Pavilion in Brighton came from.
A final delight to cap the walk – a hedge full of large plump bullace, fat as damsons and bitter as sloes. We picked them into a bag for a later date with gin and sugar, a heavenly marriage to be consummated in a Kilner jar just in time for next Christmas.
How hard is it? 7 miles; well-marked field and estate paths.
Start: High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0AX (SP 204322)
Getting there: Rail to Moreton-in-Marsh; Bus 817 (Stow-on-the-Wold)
Road – A44 (Evesham), A429 (Cirencester).
Walk (OS Explorer OL45): Down Corder’s Lane opposite Black Bear; on across fields, following waymarked Monarch’s Way and Heart of England Way/HEW for 2¼ miles to road (174337). Left; in ½ mile, left (169331, ‘Bridleway’). In 600m at driveway, left (173327) to A44 (174326). Left through Bourton-on-the-Hill. 100m past church, right; in 100m, right (HEW); in 50m, left (175324, HEW). In 1 mile at a road and cattle grid, left off HEW (175307), following driveway (yellow arrows/YA). Pass Upper Rye Farm; at Dutch barn, ahead (185310, YA) across field to gate (YA). On outside Thickleather Coppice to reach post with 2 YAs (189311). Half left here (not right!) to gate in far fence (YA); follow Monarch’s Way to Moreton.
Lunch/Accommodation: Bell Inn, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0AF (01608-651887, thebellinnmoreton.co.uk)