Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Faringdon & Great Coxwell

The Old Town Hall

A lovely day for a walk. I started in Faringdon's ancient market place and admired the late 17th century Old Town Hall on its Doric columns. Then up Church St to see All Saints church, of Norman origin. The stump of the tower was the result of damage by a cannonball during the Civil War.

From the back of the church, if you naughtily stand on one of the tombs, you can catch a glimpse of the late 18th century Faringdon House, home of the celebrated eccentric, Lord Berners, of whom more in a moment.

Further along Church Rd are these interesting cottages. They were originally the gate houses of the original Faringdon House which burned down in 1780.

I walked back to the Market Place and followed London St and Stamford St to go to see the famous Folly Tower. As you climb the uphill path and come into a field, you get the first site of the folly in a grove of trees on the top of the hill. The tower was opened in 1935 and is thought to be the last English folly.

It was built by Lord Berners for Robert ('Mad Boy') Heber-Percy, 28 years younger than him, and variously described as his "friend"or "companion". The architect was Lord Gerard Wellesley. Berners felt that Wellesley's design was too plain and insisted on adding the gothic top. Heber-Percy inherited Faringdon House when Berners died in 1950 and later gave the tower and land around it to the town of Faringdon.

A helpful information board gives details of the folly and of Berners's epitaph, which he wrote himself, and which appears on his grave:
"Here lies Lord Berners
One of the learners
His great love of learning
May earn him a burning
But, Praise the Lord!
He seldom was bored".
I went downhill to rejoin Stanford Rd and cross the busy A420 to find a path heading towards Little Coxwell. It passed through flat, agricultural land, but I did like this stand of trees off to my left.

This section was unremarkable, but Wicklesham Farm had an impressive number of areas set aside for nature, including part of a former railway line. Little Coxwell had some pretty cottages and a pub.

Now through the village and across the A420 again to follow a path, initially across a golf course, into Great Coxwell. I made a short detour to see the church, St Giles, dating from about 1200. Thde south wall has an entertaining selection of windows.

I followed the road through the village to reach the wonderful Great Barn. It dates from about 1300 and William Morris, who lived near by, called it "as noble as a cathedral". It is hard not to agree.

Inside there is a complex wooden framework to hold up the roof, with posts arranged like the columns separating the nave and aisles in a cathedral. The view out of the door at the far end was delightful.

Now an amusing thing happened. I was walking back into Great Coxwell to take the path back to Faringdon, when I was overtaken by a man who I had passed coming towards me. He seemed keen to chat and it gradually became clear that he had deliberately doubled back with this in mind. I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or oppressed. But we chatted happily away along the path and then Park Road back into the town. I noticed this building, which had an almshouse look about it, but I can find nothing about it, and it didn't seem to have a name.

Conditions: Bright and sunny.

Distance: about 6 or 6.5 miles.

Rating: four stars. Some great buildings, but not much to be said for the countryside. Faringdon has a small, but lovely, historic core, but lots of modern sprawl all around it. The Tourist Office was very welcoming and has lots of useful information about the town and the area.

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