First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
If you were looking for a clutch of Cotswold villages that typified everything enticing about this part of the world, you could hardly do better than those that look into the Evenlode Valley between Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Norton.
Bledington is the perfect place to start, a collection of fine large houses and thatched cottages in the beautiful local stone that weathers to a rich creamy gold. From here our path ran across the wide fields of the vale, ribboning across the corrugations of medieval ridge-and-furrow.
We passed Gawcombe Farm’s scrubby preserves and followed a muddy green lane up to the neighbouring villages of Nether and Church Westcote. A blackbird sang for nesting time in the hedge at Church Westcote, then gave a chakker of alarm and fell silent as we passed.
Dark slaty blocks of cloud were slashed across great pillows of white on a pure blue field of sky. We passed through a plantation of young oak and silver birch, where stacks of abandoned logs gave off a fruity savour of damp moss and rot. Dogwood twigs glowed a brilliant crimson as the low afternoon sun glanced across them.
The mellow walls and gables of ancient Icomb Place stood ahead on the ridge. Beyond them we came to St Mary’s Church at Icomb, its tower topped with a little pitched roof of stone, as though a tiny house had been plonked on top. Inside, exquisitely worked hassocks lay ready for the knees of worshippers. One was embellished with birds we’d seen or heard today – chaffinch, tree creeper, nuthatch, goldfinch and wren.
Sir John Blaket lay recumbent in effigy, stone sollerets pointed like winklepickers, moustaches overflowing his helm, a martial hero of Agincourt. Less honourable residents of Icomb were the Dunsden brothers, the original Tom, Dick and Harry, highwaymen of the 18th century who ended their careers behind bars and dancing the hangman’s jig.
Out in the open air we descended from the ridge into the vale once more. The first skylark of the year poured out a silvery song high and invisible over a turnip field, and a black horse cantered neighing around its sunlit paddock as though injected with pure essence of the oncoming spring.
How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; field paths
Start: The Green, Bledington, Oxon OX7 6XQ (OS ref SP244227)
Getting there: Bus 802 (Kingham to Bourton)
Road: Bledington is on B4450 between Stow and Chipping Norton
Walk (OS Explorer OL45): Follow Church Street. Right beside church; follow ‘Oxfordshire Way’/OW signs. In 1 mile, left across footbridge (235221, yellow arrow/YA). Follow path (‘Diamond Way/DW on map) across fields. In ½ mile meet green lane (230214); left for ¾ mile to road at Nether Westcote (227203). Right; in 100m fork right down path (226203, fingerpost). In 50m fork left on path to Church Westcote. Right at road (221204) past post-box. At ‘Middlemarch’, right down track (220207); in 100m, left over stile (YA). Follow DW. In 200m into plantation (218209); keep ahead at fork (YA) and on. In ½ mile cross OW (216216); in ½ mile pass reservoir on right; in 50m fork left uphill (215223). In 30m, right (gate, YA) to Icomb Church (214226). Return along path and on. Approaching Middle Farm, left (217226, fingerpost) on path across fields. In ½ mile cross Lower Farm drive (225227) and on; in ½ mile, right down driveway (233229). In ½ mile at right bend, left (234221, kissing gate) on OW/DW to Bledington.
Info: Stow-on-the-Wold TIC (01451-870998)