Friday, 31 October 2014


St John the Baptist church

I have been in the Cirencester area many times, but never really explored the town itself. It is time to change this. I started my walk from the Market Square having acquired a walk leaflet from the town centre from the Tourist Information Office. The oddly shaped "square" is dominated by the imposing St John the Baptist church which was rebuilt in the 13th century (and the nave was again rebuilt in the 16th). The tower was started in about 1400. In 1490 the great South Porch was added, apparently by Cirencester Abbey. After the Abbey was dissolved, it was known as the Town Hall.

Inside the church is spacious and airy and the porch has lovely fan vaulting.

From here I immediately departed from the route of the town centre walk and set off along Cricklade St in search of some almshouses that I had researched. On the way I spotted these delicate art nouveau tiles in a shop which is now an employment agency.

The almshouses in Lewis Lane and Querns Lane were not very exciting, but this group in Watermoor Road were very picturesque. They are Bowly's Almshouses of 1924 and are opposite a similar, but less attractive group, dating from a hundred years earlier. 

I walked to the end of Querns Rd and turned left into Querns Hill to head towards the Roman amphitheatre. Just before it you pass this obelisk. It appears that it is 19th century but nobody knows for certain why it was erected. It is apparently located on the one-time edge of the Bathurst Estate (of which more later) and the local Council apparently have plans to refurbish it, according to the Wilts and Gloucester Standard.

The amphitheatre is now just a series of grassy mounds around what can readily be believed to have once been an arena. It was apparently one of the largest in the country.

I retraced my steps to rejoin the town walk at the top of Castle St and soon reached Cecily Hill on the left, a fascinating street of stone-built 18th and 19th century houses. At the top on the right, just before the entrance to the park is The Barracks, often called the Castle, which seems fair enough. It was built in 1857 for the Royal North Gloucestershire Militia and is now used by Cirencester College.

Cirencester Park is the name of the stately home of the Earls of Bathhurst and park surrounding the house is generously open to the public until 5pm each day. The house itself, known as The Mansion, is screened from public view by a massive yew hedge.

A tarmac avenue stretches uphill away from the gates and I felt that I just had to walk along it at least to the brow of the hill. On the way there is a nice little garden building on the right - not as grand as though recently seen at Stourhead!

As the path begins to level out, the tarmac path is replaced by a broad grass one and at this point I decided to turn round and return to the town. I had walked about three quarters of a mile and discovered later that the Broad Avenue, as it is very reasonably known, runs for 5 miles to Sapperton. This is the view looking back towards the town and the tower of John the Baptist.

I now resumed the town walk and turned left into Thomas St and then right into Coxwell St, where immediately in the right was the 17th house called Woolgatherers. It was once a wool merchant's house. The warehouse was on the right of the house and the counting house is the small building on the left with its own entrance.

This is an attractive area of the town with many old houses. I was running out of time however and simplified the rout to reach St John's Hospital in Spitalgate gate lane. It was founded in Henry II's time and the Transitional-Norman arcade of the hall survives. The almshouse on the right were rebuilt for Richard Wood in 1826.

It remained only to enter the Abbey Grounds and see the Norman Arch which is all that remains of what was a large and important Benedictine abbey refounded by Henry I about 1120. The arch was part of the gatehouse.

Conditions: bright and not too cold.

Distance: about 5 miles.

Rating: four stars.

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