Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Northleach and Hampnett

St Peter and Paul, Northleach

In Gloucester for the day, I decided to do a walk on the way back home and a slight diversion brought me to the delightful town of Northleach. The town was on the main road from Oxford to Cheltenham (although now bypassed by the modern A40) and was an important stop-over for stage coaches - several former coaching inns remain as evidence.

The walk starts in the Market Place, but before setting out I visited the imposing church of St Peter and Paul. It has 12th century origins, but took its present form in the 15th century. It is a very light church with large clerestory windows and a very unusual window above the entrance to the apse. The splendour of the church - it is apparently known as the Cathedral of the Cotswolds - reflects the prosperity of the wool trade at the time. The two story porch with its pinnacles and bell-cote was constructed in 1480.

The walk proper begins by heading west along the former main road past some splendid houses - I particularly liked this one with its half-timbered upper story over a stone ground floor.

Once across a road junction, you leave the pavement and head across fields to the nearby hamlet of Hampnett. This has the small, mainly Norman, St George's church. Pleasant enough, but nothing special.

Inside however there is some extraordinary 19th century decorative stenciling, which was the idea of the vicar, Rev William Wiggin, in 1868. His aim was to recreate medieval wall painting.

The first impact is made by the Norman chancel arch ...

... but the walls and ceiling of the chancel itself are even more dramatic.

The residents at the time did not like what the vicar had done and went so far as to set up a fund for the removal of the decorations, but evidently they did not succeed - happily for the modern visitor.

A track through a farm yard, up a hill and then, after crossing another road, besides two large fields heads south from Hampnett. Reaching a road you head south east, cross a road and then follow a very pleasant green lane until you are due south of Northleach. From here, a field path returns to the centre.

From: Cotswold Walks (Jarrold).

Map: Explorer OL 45 (The Cotswolds).

Rating: Three and half stars.

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