A golden afternoon after rain, with the sun spread like a layer of butter across the rich Cotswold stone of Chedworth’s houses.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Old and new together, they huddled along the lane, sending columns of sweet-smelling applewood smoke vertically into the still air in the hollow. Up in Chedworth Woods above the village we turned down through ancient hazel coppice and came by Chedworth Roman Villa.
What a moment that must have been on a workaday afternoon in 1864 when a gamekeeper, digging out his hideaway ferret from a rabbit burrow, unearthed fragments of ancient pottery and faded mosaic tiles. He told his employers, they passed on news of the find, and piece by piece the remains of one of the largest and finest Roman villas in Britain were excavated from the skirts of the wood – hot sauna, cold plunge pool, sacred spring, servants’ quarters, latrines, corridors. Also a dining room with a glorious mosaic floor celebrating the Four Seasons – Winter cloaked, hooded and clutching a bare tree, Spring plump and comely with a bird in the hand.
Jane’s sharp eyes noticed a big edible snail inching through the leaves, its canary-yellow foot wrinkled like an old man’s lips. These snails have been living here for 2,000 years, ever since the conquerors introduced them as delicacies for the pot. What a fabulous quality of life those Roman law-givers and road-builders enjoyed. Were they insecure in their luxury houses, aware of being envied and hated by the locals? Or were they like popular uncles, jolly and sybaritic, givers of great parties? Did they give a damn either way? Musing on that, we followed the wood edge down to the lovely cluster of buildings at Yanworth Mill, then swung up again through the trees.
Out onto the roof of the Cotswolds, tramping enormous fields of winter wheat; a steep descent by hedges hung with withered bryony berries into the roadless valley of Listercombe Bottom; up again by a wonderful old stone barn at Greenhill Farm, filled with the winter’s firewood. On across a field where a rangy wire-haired lurcher crouched, furtively eating a young rabbit.
‘A lovely afternoon you’ve picked for it,’ smiled the rider of a skittish glossy black hunter in the paddock at New Barn. ‘Go across, he won’t hurt you.’ Nor did he. Huge wild weather clouds were building on the southern skyline, but we beat them back to Chedworth by a short head. Old Winter from the mosaic in his cloak and stout leggings would have outfaced the blast, for sure.
Start & finish: Seven Tuns PH, Chedworth GL54 4AE (OS ref SP 052121)
Getting there: Bus – 864 (Cotswold Green: 01453-835153) Tue, Wed, Fri.
Road: signed from A429 (Northleach-Cirencester).
(7 miles, easy/moderate, OS Explorer OL45): From Seven Tuns, right
along road. In 100m, left by Corner Cottage. At top of slope, right
(‘Roman Villa, footpath only’), over stile. Bear left to cross
stile; through plantation (053125, yellow arrow/YA, Macmillan
Way/MW). Ahead through gate at top; on into Chedworth Woods. In ¼
mile, right at post (051132, MW, ‘Roman Villa’). Pass Roman Villa
(053134); continue to ‘Give Way’ at crossroads (056135). Right
through green gates; continue for just over a mile. Through gates at
Yanworth Mill; in 30m, right up footpath (072130, fingerpost) through
woods (YAs, fingerposts). At edge of trees (066127), aim half left
for pole; on to 3-finger post; don’t turn right, but keep ahead to
pole by gate. Cross road (065123, fingerpost); ahead into Listercombe
Bottom. Through hedge on descending path to bottom of dip (064120).
Over crossroads of paths, and look for YA; make for fingerpost on
skyline. Diagonally left across field; over stile (YA); cross next
wall; right (066117) along broad walled ride to join Monarch’s Way
(MoW) at crossroads (065115). Ahead downhill, following lane down and
then up to cross road at Bleakmoor (063110). Right up lane by Emma’s
Cottage; in 50m, ahead; then swing left across disused railway. Track
bends right to cross Fields Road (058109, fingerpost). On across
paddocks (MoW), round New Barn (MoW) to cross road (049108). Aim half
left (fingerpost, MoW); follow blue arrows/MoW across 4 fields. At
end of 4th field (037103), right on Macmillan Way; follow it for 1
mile past Setts Farm to cross road (050117). Follow track opposite
Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Seven Tuns PH, Chedworth (01285-720242;
http://www.youngs.co.uk/pubs-more.asp) – wonderful gem of a characterful country pub
Chedworth Roman Villa (NT): 01242-890256;
More info: Cirencester TIC (01285-654180); www.visitcotswolds.co.uk