Monday, 29 February 2016

Dogmersfield Park

Odiham High Street

A late afternoon walk from Odiham. You walk down the High St and follow a path off to the right across a series of damp and muddy fields, emerging on the A287 Farnham Road. I confess I went slightly wrong somewhere and ended up at the wrong point on the A287, but my eye was drawn to this lovely clump of Snowdrops, which had still not opened.

Adjusting for my error, I entered between the gatehouses of Dogmersfield Park and followed a road through woodland.

After a while I reached Dogmersfield Lake, with a beautiful red brick house near the shoreline. Judging by a sign at the park gates, this was Aragon Hall, but I can't find out any more about it.

At this point the walk continued along a narrow track, emerging onto a wider path with stables and other buildings making a picturesque group to the left.  To the right, my eye was drawn to these long-horned cattle.

A bit further on, past the long entrance drive to the stables etc, there was a large field containing a great mass of Canada and Greylag geese.

I suddenly noticed however that the two geese in the foreground were separate from the others, which seemed to be trying to avoid their encroachment, and different from them. Swiftly reaching for my telephoto lens, I took this picture and I have since established that they were Chinese Geese, a new species for me.

Now it became possible to see something of Dogmersfield Park (i.e. the house), away over to the right. It is now a hotel, but was once a fine early Georgian house, until badly damaged by fire in 1981 - now presumably rebuilt.  I have excluded the ugly modern hotel buildings from this shot - Pevsner describes them as "scandalously bad, barely neo-Georgian".

Soon after this the route turns left, still through parkland, towards the Basingstoke Canal. This is the next bridge, Sandy Hill bridge, dating from about 1792.

The final section of the walk was about 1.5 miles along the bank of this peaceful, but disconcertingly still, canal. It begins to flow from around Odiham.

Conditions: grey, but pleasant enough.

Distance: 5.5 miles.

From: AA - 50 walks in Hampshire.

Map: Explorer 144 (Basingstoke, Alton & Whitchurch).

Rating: three and half stars. A very nice afternoon stroll.

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.

Sunday, 21 February 2016


The Jubilee Clock

Today offered an opportunity to complete my set of walks around Berkshire towns: I guess I am going to leave out Slough and Bracknell, but I have done some sort of walk around Windsor, Reading, Newbury and Hungerford.

We started at the station with the Jubilee Clock constructed in 1899-90 to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. According to Pevsner, the south face has a black diamond over the figure VI to mark the time of the Queen's death in 1901.

We headed now along Queen St, a bit run down at first, giving way to a dense concentration of estate agents. One of the houses on the left had some nice decoration of about 1900.

At the end we turned right into the High St and right into St Ives Road, with the large, but dreary, Town Hall (1962) on the right. Opposite is the dramatic, modern-looking Library, built 1970-3. What a difference 10 years made!

Further along High St is the Bear hotel, which has the look of an old coaching inn.

Now up to the  busy with Bridge Road Smyths Almshouses on the opposite side, founded in 1659.

The crest and inscription (correctly described by Pevsner as a "cartouche of arms") under the small central pediment are impressive.

A short way further along the road are the picturesque the Haven of Rest almshouses of 1895. The photo shows the central range; there are two smaller ranges at right angles to it.

At this point we retraced our steps and walked along the High St to the west end where we found this sculpture of a boy with a boat. I was trying to get the figure nicely silhouetted against the sky, but foolishly failed to take account of the lamp-post in the background.

We wandered through some residential streets to the right of Castle Hill, admiring the lovely terracotta of this building (a former school?) in Marlow Rd.

At length we reached All Saints church in Boyn Hill Road, a wonderful High Victorian work by George Edmund Street, who had been a pupil of William Butterfield. It dates from 1854. I loved the stair tourelle rising up the bell tower. The bell tower was originally free standing.

At the side of the church is a pretty close containing a school and houses for the schoolmaster and clergy.

And round the back is a nice red brick almshouse of 1858 (photographed on another day obviously).

We walked back into town along Bath Road and Castle Hill and reached the station via King St. The Rose pub of 1880 had more pleasing terracotta decorations.

Conditions: Grey, with the threat of rain.

Distance; about three miles.

Rating: three and a half stars. The town lacks any real focus or really distinguished buildings, but it was nonetheless an interesting and enjoyable walk.

Saturday, 20 February 2016


 Browne's Hospital

On a visit to friends, we were taken to see Stamford, somewhere I have always wanted to visit. We broadly followed this walk on the AA website. Starting at the now defunct Museum in Broad St, we quickly reached one of the town's most famous buildings: Browne's Hospital. This fine almshouse was founded in 1480 by William Browne, a wealthy wool merchant. Behind the chapel there is a cloister garden which was rebuilt in 1870 and modernised in 1964.

We walked down Ironmonger St and along High St to reach Red Lion Square where we wandered into the, sadly redundant, church of St John the Baptist. The wooden roof is an absolute marvel with its rows of carved wooden angels.

To the right is the church of All Saints, which has the look of an East Anglian wool church. It is essentially 13th century in origin, and it is from this period that the wonderful blind arcading dates. The tower and much of the rest of the church are the result of a 15th century rebuilding funded by the same William Browne as founded the Hospital.

The route now took us past the east end of the church at up Barn Hill, an attractive street with a nice mixture of houses, including this imposing Georgian mansion.

You have to turn left at the top and this brings you down to Scotgate, directly opposite Truesdale's Hospital. This was founded in 1700 by Thomas Truesdale, a successful attorney and rebuilt in 1833. The architect of the present building was George Basevi, a pupil of Sir John Soane, who went on to design the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and Belgrave Square in London. To the right is the (former) Snowden's Hospital of 1604.

At the town end of Scotgate, passing All Saints Church again, we turned right into All Saints St. At the end of the street is St Peter's Callis (a local word for an almshouse), founded in the 15th century, but rebuilt in 1863. And recently cleaned it would appear.

At this point we departed the AA route and continued into St Peter's Street, passing another former almshouse, Williamson's Callis  on the left, and then reaching the lovely Hopkins's Hospital. This was built on the line of the demolished town walls in 1770, by John Hopkins, then mayor of Stamford. It was extended in the 19th century.

Just beyond the Hospital, we enjoyed two lovely terraces of 1829-31: suddenly we could have been in Cheltenham.

The nearest house had this wonderful front garden feature which set us all chuckling.

We walked back into town and along St Mary's St and then right towards The Bridge. There were a delightfully ornate pair of shopfronts on the corner of St John's Street.

And on the approach to The Bridge, another imposing Georgian building.

Immediately on the opposite side of the river were Lord Burghley's Hospital, a pretty enough group, but not as grand as the name would suggest. It was founded in the 12th century as the hospital of St John and St Thomas and administered by Peterborough Abbey. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it was bought by William Cecil, later  the first Lord Burghley, one of Elizabeth I's principal advisers. He formally endowed the Hospital in 1597.

It was raining quite hard by now and so a short way along High Street St Martins, we adjourned to the George, a famous old coaching inn for lunch. The scaffold sign which crosses the street was used occasionally as a gallows for highwaymen.

Finally, with it still raining when headed further along the road and right into Kettering Road to find our (OK, my) final set of almshouses, Fryer's Almshouse of 1832. This was  built by Henry Fryer, a surgeon, and like Truesdale's, which we saw near the start of the walk it was designed by the architect George Basevi. There is a considerable stylistic similarity.

Conditions: cool, grey and damp.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four and a half stars. A lovely, characterful town with a great selection of almshouses as well as many other fine buildings.