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.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Silton to Stourton and Stourhead (Stour Valley Path 8)

Today, after  quite a gap we are on the final leg of the Stour Valley Path. We set out from Manor Farm at Silton, pausing only to photograph the ancient oak tree and the kitch, but quite amusing, sheep.

We headed along the road, past the much restored church to turn left by the village hall and then make the dangerous crossing of the very busy A303. The path leads on across fields into the village of Bourton and then follows the line of the Stour due north.

Now the terrain changes, becoming much more hilly and interesting as we approached Pen Mill Farm.

After passing the farm you cross two small valleys, and in the second of these you get your last view of the mighty Stour.

The path then climbs across some very attractive country. Our Guidebook to the Stour Valley Way is very detailed and a bit quirky. At one point it says, having entered a field by a gate, "a used path goes straight up the hill ... Ignore it!". It continues with stern instructions to navigate to a point 82 degrees left of a telegraph pole. I dutifully did all this and reached the hedge at the top to find that the promised stile was no longer there. The solution of course was to go back some way and joint the "used path". Hmm.

This is the delightful view back from the top of the hill.

A lane and then a long field-edge path led to Bonham, where an interesting Manor House was studiously hidden behind a wall and a hedge. I learn from Pevsner that the churchy-looking part to the right was once a Roman Catholic chapel, and that the house has an Elizabethan plaster ceiling.

From here, it was short walk downhill through woodland to reach the edge of Stourhead's parkland. After walking along a track, the path veers right across fields and soon there is a first sight of the lake and one of the many garden buildings, the Temple of Flora.

The route now skirted the western edge of Stourhead and I gaily followed further instructions to turn right through an unmarked gate and follow a path uphill through woodland. There was in truth no detectable path and veering first left and then right in an effort to correct my line I ended up completely lost. I did eventually find my way into the main woodland and navigating with my OS map and glimpses of the lake I managed to stumble down to the end of the lake, with the Lily Pond and Six Wells Bottom on my left. It is here that the Stour gradually emerges from underground springs.

I headed on reach the Spread Eagle pub in Stourton where we met up with friends Judith and Tony for lunch, before having a very informative walk around the gardens, which were begun by Henry Hoare in about 1744.

This is the classic view of the gardens from the entrance near the pub. The Palladian Bridge is in the foreground and the Pantheon at the other end of the lake. The beautiful tree on the right is a Tulip Tree, named for the way their large flowers are thought to resemble tulips.

We also saw the house, a rather plain Palladian-style building of 1721-4 by Colen Campbell.

This is the truly wonderful view from the Pantheon back towards the Palladian Bridge.

Conditions: mild, cloudy.

Distance: about five miles on the SVP.

Guide: The new Stour Valley Path by Edward R Griffiths, Greenfield Books, 1998, but sadly out of print.

Maps: Explorer  129 (Yeovil & Sherborne) and 142 (Shepton Mallet & Mendip Hills West)

Rating: SVP section three stars; Stourhead five stars. Equalled only by Stowe.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Higher Bockhampton

Hardy's Cottage

Our friends Dave and Chris, who are currently visiting, are Thomas Hardy fans and so this Hardy walk seemed to be the ideal entertainment. We started from the National Trust car park near Hardy's Cottage and walked through some pleasant woodland to find the cottage itself. Hardy was born in 1840 in the cottage, which was built by his grandfather. 

Just behind the cottage is a memorial to Hardy erected by a group of American admirers in 1931.

 We then walked along a track to reach Rushey Pond, the subject of Hardy's poem At Rushey Pond.

The route then takes us uphill to suddenly emerge onto Duddle Heath, with a lovely view ahead. This was Egdon Heath in Hardy's Wessex.

We continue through woodland and fields to cross a road at Norris Mill Farm and then across more fields to reach Bridge Cottage. This was a pretty cottage, with a lightly false looking quasi-Georgian porch. We crossed the delightful bridge over Dorset's other river, the Frome (we have been walking the valley of the Stour).

Now we walked along a really lovely riverside path for over half a mile before forking right to reach Stinsford and the 13th century St Michael's church.

The churchyard is the site of the Hardy graves: Thomas Hardy's heart is buried here (his body is in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey) alongside those of parents and two wives. Nearby is the grave of another Poet Lauriate, Cecil Day Lewis.

Inside, there is some nice stained glass and a beautiful Saxon relief of St Michael, a bit decayed, which once was on the exterior of the church.

It remained only to walk through the Kingston Maurwood Agricultural College and along the road to find a path across open country back to Higher Bockhampton.

Conditions: dull, cool, some rain.

Distance: said to be 5 miles, but seemed less.

Map: Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis).

From: 50 walks in Dorset (AA books).

Rating: four stars.

Sunday, 5 October 2014


The last outing of our holiday to Puglia is a trip to Gallipoli on the west side of the Salento peninsular. Gallipoli is an ancient settlement and its old town is located on an island which was joined to the mainland by a bridge in the 16th century. The town is protected by an imposing castle built in 1622 by Charles of Anjou. The structure which sticks out into sea is apparently called a ravelin.

The new town side has a lovely renaissance style church also of the 16th century ...

... and a rather ravaged, but pleasing, fountain, described in guide books as the Greek Fountain and said to be the oldest in Italy. A helpful information panel reveals it too in fact dates only from the 16th century.

The scale of the castle becomes clear once we cross the bridge.

Gallipoli is a walled city, one of our great enthusiasms, so we naturally set out to walk round the walls. We quickly noticed a charming miniature castle on one of the sides of the harbour.

There are bastions at various points - we discovered later that they and the walls were reduced in size in the 19th century. Rather surprisingly to us, the curve between two of these bastions contains a pleasant sandy beach. The bastions tend to house restaurants and the one on the far side has palm frond sun umbrellas which we found a touch surreal.

Several churches face out to sea and were especially impressed with the Franciscan church with a facade of a style we have never previously seen.

Soon after this there was an interesting sight, a lighthouse some way out to see on the rocky islnad of San Andrea. It dates from 1867 and has a very different appearance to the English lighthouses we see on our walks along the South West Coast Path.

At this point we paused for an excellent lunch at Il Belvedere, a fish restaurant specialising in raw fish! I had the sea bream carpaccio for my starter and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once we completed the circuit, we headed up a typical tourist street into the centre of the old town. The narrow streets were pleasant enough, but not especially distinguished compared to others we have seen recently. The Baroque cathedral was at the over-the-top end of the Baroque scale and hard to photograph in its very cramped location. The adjoining bell tower was however a real delight.

I can't resist including one last picture. Our locally-bought guide to Puglia mentioned that Gallipoli's new town is so modern that it "even has a sky-scraper". Here it is, just on the new town side of the bridge, insensitively dwarfing the pleasant old buildings of the harbour side. The middle section overhangs the base in a tiresomely clever way and the top section looks like a large portakabin has been left over from the construction work.

Conditions: mild, but with a constant threat of rain.

Distance: 2 miles.

Rating: three and a half stars. Charming and interesting.

Saturday, 4 October 2014



 Today we went to an ancient sea-port city, once the seat of a Byzantine archbishop. We entered the borgo antico, the old town, through the absolutely massive gate.The castle of which it is part was built by the city's Aragonese overlords after they took over from the Turks (see below).

We turned left to reach the wide harbourside promenade. It hadn't long stopped raining and the calm sea and clear light made for an entrancing view.

On the promenade is a memorial to the 800 Christians beheaded by the Turks under Ahmed Pasha when they invaded in 1480 when they refused to renounce their faith. They were all proclaimed martyrs.

We headed along the main street past the inevitable tourist shops to reach the Piazza del Popolo with its delicate pink bell tower.

The winding road led us up to the cathedral, with its beautiful Baroque rose window and portal. These embellishments date from the 17th century, but the core of the cathedral dates from the 12th century, when the city was under Norman rule.

There was a wedding on, hence the pink balloon with legend sposi oggi, married today.  As a result, we were able to get in to see the wonderful mosaics which cover the entire floor - it would otherwise have been shut for lunch.

The whole floor of the nave is covered by a stylised Tree of Life said to have been created by a single monk, Pantaleone, in 1163. There all sorts of creatures, like this stag with an arrow in its mouth, in the branches, and depictions of the life of Man.

Outside we admired the massive bell tower, apparently used more as an alarm in times of danger than to summon the faithful for prayer.

After this we returned to the harbourside having frustratingly failed to find the other great site of the city, the tiny 9th century chapel of San Pietro with its frescoes. We comforted ourselves with a nice fish lunch and afterwards notice how different the view across the harbour looked now the light had changed.

To conclude our visit, we drove round to the other side and took the view back at the head of this post.

Conditions: warm, some cloud.

Distance: 2 miles.

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 3 October 2014


Piazza del Duomo

Lecce is famous as a city of Baroque architecture and indeed for its own style: Barocco Lecchese. It must be admitted that we are not generally fans of the Baroque, finding churches that we have seen in Austria for example to be completely over the top, especially the interiors. So we approached our walk around the centre, starting from our hotel near the railway station, with a little trepidation.

Our first experience of Baroque Lecce was Palazzo Tresca, whose lower windows immediately reminded us of a church we saw in Monopoli. It seemed both refined and restrained.

We headed towards the Piazza del Duomo to find a proper map (the one provided by the hotel was useless) and were staggered to find the whole of the square to be empty of fellow tourists, apart from two people who were inconveniently sitting on the steps. In the picture at the head of this post the nave of the cathedral is on the left, with the exquisite bishop's palace on the right. This is the impressive campanile.

We walked along via Palmieri to reach the Porta Napoli.

Then we headed back into the town to find the Greek Church (unfortunately closed, so we could not see the beautiful icons featured in the map).

And then on to the church of Santa Croce. This is regarded as a Baroque masterpiece, but seemed to us to be too much. It is being restored, so I will restrict myself to one of the more appealing details: this set of figures holding up an architectural feature, possibly an entablature. The figures in the frieze seemed reminiscent of an Indian temple and I wondered for a moment what they were up to.

Passing through the adjacent Palazzo brought us to a pleasant small park and it was not far from here to the Castle. Although unimpressive from the outside and rather shambolic inside too, there were some pleasing details like this angel drinking fountain.

There was also an interesting temporary exhibition about the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, which left me thinking it was time revisit his films. I remember being very impressed by Theorem when I saw it in 1968.

Now we headed to the Piazza San Oronzo to see the roman amphitheatre. Only one quadrant remains but it is very impressive.

In the background on the left is the Sedile Palace. It looks like some mad recent addition, but dates in fact from 1592. On the right is the column holding the statue of Saint Oronzo (Lecce's patron) was given to Lecce by the city of Brindisi because Saint Oronzo was reputed to have cured the plague in Brindisi. The column was one of a pair that marked the end of the Appian Way.

Next to the Sedile is the exquisite tiny church of San Marco, with his lion over the doorway, just as you see in Venice.

We headed now towards a second of the city's gates, Porta Rudiae. The gate itself was very impressive, even though I had to wait some while for more inconvenient people to get out of the way.

This marked the end of our walk. We had missed some of the Baroque churches, but later walks around the city confirmed our initial prejudices.

Conditions: drizzle and rain, reasonably warm.

Distance: 2.5 miles.

Rating: four and half stars - five if you go for Barocco Lecchese.