Friday, 20 February 2015

Linkenholt and Vernham Dean

Out walking with my friend Merv today in a quiet area of Hampshire South West of Newbury and North of Andover. We start in the hamlet of Linkenholt and walk along the road past the church and school, both of 1871.

We pass the large, but restrained (i.e not very striking) Edwardian Manor House and head north, soon following the line of a shallow curving valley. It is attractive, but the light is so grey that it was not worth a photo. The path then leads through Combe Wood and at the end crosses the Test Way where we take the left hand of two further dry valley paths. This is the right hand one, which was a little more photogenic.

At the end we turn left along a track which offers wide open views of the hills towards the west.

This brings us down into Vernham Dean, where we enjoyed a thatched cottage on the right with its topiary hedges and chimney-tower.

This small village is very attractive and we had a nice lunch in the 17th century George pub, second from the left in the picture.

We headed south from Vernham Dean and then east towards Upton, with more rolling hills ahead.

This is the view towards Upton across the fields.

Having established for research purposes that Upton's pub, The Crown, was still open, we headed north along a muddy track where our route was enlivened by a wonderful drift of Snowdrops off to the left.

After a while we joined the Test Way, which now seemed rather like a classic drove road, and followed it to the outskirts of Linkenholt where we regained the car.

As this was our second encounter with the Test Way I thought I should check it out.  It turns out to be a 44 mile walk from Inkpen Beacon, also the start of the Wayfarer's Walk, to Eling via Stockbridge and Romsey. Could be a future project?

Conditions: Cool, dry, rather grey.

Distance: 8.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 131 (Romsey, Andover & Test Valley)

Rating: four stars. Wonderful wide open country.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


The bridge over the Severn

Our original plans for today had fallen through and I decided to revisit Worcester, a town where I used to run training courses in the Giffard Hotel opposite the cathedral with my friend Morris in the 1990s. My goal was to properly see the town and its several almshouses, but I was also interested to see how accurate my memory was.

I started my walk, based on one from the AA website, at Foregate Street station and turned left (south) into The Foregate. Immediately on the right was my first almshouse, Berkeley's Hospital founded in 1702.

Continuing in the same direction I reached the High Street, where the imposing Guildhall of 1721-2 stood on the right at the end.

The route now required doubling back so I turned right into City Arcade, where I spotted this superb late Victorian facade ...

... and left into the Shambles, which was less interesting than the name suggested. Right and right again led into one of Worcester's oldest streets: known, in that very English way, as New Street. The highlight was King Charles House (now a pub), dating from 1577. Charles I escaped from here after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

New Street gives way to the very ancient-looking Friar Street - this is the view looking back.

The more distant building on the right is Greyfriars, a merchant's house dating from 1485, now owned by the National Trust, with a wonderful frontage.

The nearer building on the right is Lazlett's almshouses, whose main frontage is in Union St. They are Edwardian (1910-11) and were built on the site of the former City Gaol.

I continued along Friar Street, staggered to find a modern multi-storey car park in this historic street, and turned right into College Street to reach the front of the Cathedral and the Giffard Hotel, now a Travelodge. The relationship between hotel and cathedral was as I remembered, but the hotel has certainly lost its swagger.

The sun was in the wrong place for a photo of the magnificent, predominantly gothic, Cathedral. I had to settle for this view from the 14th century cloister.

The inside was remarkably harmonious. I will just pick put one detail: the tomb of King John, who died in 1216. The Chapter House was another highlight.

Leaving the Cathedral by the door I entered, I turned right to find my way to Edgar Tower, once the gateway to the monastic precincts of the Cathedral.

I now headed off to see the Commandery, for some reason not included in the AA itinerary. From the outside it looks over-restored, but it is well-worth a visit.

It was originally founded as St Wulfstan's Hospital perhaps as early as 1080, but certainly by 1240: medieval hospitals had various functions, caring variously for travellers (especially pilgrims), the sick and the elderly and are seen as the earliest almshouses. Inside the highlights were the Great Hall and the Painted Room, which has wonderful frescoes dating from about 1490.

The building was later a private house, a school and a printing works. It is now a museum.

From here I walked down to the River Severn, following its banks under the shadow of the Cathedral, past the bridge of 1781 to see the extraordinary and rather wonderful Hive over on the right. It is a joint initiative between the City Council and the University of Worcester and was conceived as a joint city and university library. The architects were Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and the building opened in 2012.

Next left into Infirmary Road and I stumbled on this picturesque group which I felt sure must be more
almshouses which I had not identified in my research. Sure enough I was looking at Lea's Almshouses of 1869. It just brings home one of the most interesting characteristics of almshouses: the way they (almost always) stand out from other buildings in the same street.

Soon after this, still heading north, I reached Upper Tything, where immediately on the right was St Oswald's Hospital. The Hospital was founded in, or perhaps before, the 13th century, but rebuilt in 1873.

A little further on are some impressive buildings which form part of the Royal Grammar School ...

... and just beyond them, my final set of Almshouses. I am unclear about them. Pevsner refers to Queen Elizabeth Almhouses of 1876-6 by a local architect  named Gibbons while Images of England credits them to Sir Aston Webb (architect of the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth among other grand works) - a Wikipedia links this to the RGS next door. The plaque over the entrance says that they were "erected by the Sir Governors and Supervisors of the Free School and Almshouses".

On this note of mystery I end my account: all that remianed was to walk back down the road to the station.

Conditions: a wonderful sunny day.

Distance: 5 miles.

Rating: 5 stars. A wonderful city, whose charms I have only briefly sketched in. Much more could be said about the Cathedral.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Dedham to Flatford Mill

High Street, Dedham

Pevsner describes Dedham as "easily the most attractive small town in Essex" and as we arrive here with our friends Dave and Chris we are inclined to agree. We parked near Dedham Mill and walked up to the High Street to see the church of St Mary the Virgin.

This is a typical wool church, started in 1492 in the Perpendicular gothic style.

A little further up the High Street is the former Grammar School in pair of early Georgian houses. John Constable apparently went to school here.

We walked further along, and continued into Brook Street then Crown St to see two sets of almshouses. Barfield's Almshouses date from 1834.

Dunton's Almshouses, further up the road, date from the 16th century but were rebuilt in 1806 and modernised in 1966. They are less visually interesting.

We retraced our steps and headed across the fields towards the River Stour.

This was slightly confusing as we have only recently completed the Stour Valley Path in Dorset. After walking across the water meadows we reached a bridge across the river with the National Trust tea shop known as Bridge Cottage on the far bank. A family of swans enlivened the foreground.

After crossing the river into Suffolk, we turned right passing the exquisite Valley Farm on our left ...

... to reach Flatford Mill, where Constable painted the celebrated Haywain.

Nearby is Willy Lott's House, the subject of another of Constable's pictures.

We now retraced our steps and walked up the hill away from the river and along a path by the road to reach East Bergholt. Pevsner describes St Mary's church as "eminently picturesque" with its incomplete tower and brick west end.

The church was begun in the 15th century and the tower in 1525. It seems that construction soon stopped, never to be resumed. The church bells were placed in an unusual structure in the churchyard called a Bell Cage and are still rung from there.

From here, we walked back a little way along the road and turned right to walk down a track towards the river and return to Dedham across the water meadows, finally reaching the bridge and mill.

Conditions: cold with a threat of rain.

Distance: just over 4 miles.

Map: Explorer 196 (Sudbury, Hadleigh and Dedham Vale).

Rating: four stars. Full of interest.

Thursday, 12 February 2015


West Street, Coggeshall

We are in Essex on a visit to our friends Dave and Chris and they have taken us to see Coggeshall, near to where they live. We park in the centre and head off along West Street.

West Street has a nice mixture of Georgian houses with older half-timbered ones. After a short while we come to Paycockes House, a simply fabulous half-timbered house built for merchant Thomas Paycocke in about 1500. Pevsner describes it as "one of the most attractive half-timbered houses in England". It is owned by the National Trust, but was not open today.

The detailed wood carving is especially impressive.

We retraced our steps to Market Hill and walked up Stoneham St to be immediately confronted by wonderful wooden Clock Tower. It dates from 1887, i.e. Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

Further along the street on the right is this whitewashed half-timbered house' It struck us as rather unusual - typically the wooden frame is brown or black. On the right hand side, near the ground, can be seen a plaster sheep. This is a reminder that wool was the original source of the town's prosperity.

We turned right into Queen street, passing another plaster sheep and then this vivid depiction of  a gun-dog.

At the end, just before the church and much to my delight was a set of almshouses. The blue plaque revealed that they were founded with money given by Josiah Greenwood in 1795. They were built (or rebuilt) in 1864 and renovated in 1981.

The fine church of St Peter-ad-Vincula (St Peter in Chains - apparently there are other churches with this dedication) lies just beyond the almshouses. It was built to a single plan in the 15th century and is 125 feet long. The tower was rebuilt after being damaged in the second world war, and we all felt was too low for the rest of the building. It was still in ruins, along with the nave, when Pevsner visited in 1953.

When we visited a wake was in progress, but we were still welcomed to have a look at the inside - and indeed offered cake - which was very generous.

We walked down Church Green, where I failed to spot four almshouse bungalows of 1900. This led into Church St, where we admired the unconventional, but very successful, colour scheme of this Georgian house. We also wondered about the little glass room which can just be seen at the top. Is there a name for such a room?

Conditions: Cold and pretty grey.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: four stars. A little gem.


On the way home, we stopped to admire Coggeshall's other National Trust property: Grange Barn. This vast monastic barn dates from the 13th century and is "one of Europe's oldest timber-framed buildings" according to the National Trust.