I’d done the research, it seemed promising. Arguably the finest of all the Cotswolds’ villages yet without the tourist hordes such as you might see at Stratford Upon Avon or Bourton on the Water. Still, it seemed like they were getting some tourist traffic. So I went there, probably 15 years ago now, and it came up trumps. It was, indeed, the finest I’d seen and yet there was still plenty for me to cause a return journey.
So it was that Lorraine and I arrived at Snugborough Cottage at Blockley, just 5 kms away, and booked into our accommodation in this unlikeliest of settings.
I’d tried to tone things down by not giving Chipping Campden a big rap and then having it fall short. I need not have concerned myself, we’d spent barely a couple of minutes in the town before she was won over, and that was only going in for dinner.
We’d eaten at Lygon Arms, the nearest pub to where we parked, and the food was simply so far in front of any other meal we’d eaten this trip that we decided we’d return another night. The all-female staff were so friendly and the vegetable serving (“We only use local produce here”) was so fresh and properly cooked that we would have been happy with that but couldn’t resist a recommended sticky date pudding that was consumed with gusto.
The next morning we returned to Chipping Campden, only to almost immediately leave; for we were on a loop walk to Broad Campden via the country lanes that link it and then return through the fields to the end of the town where the church is.
We Aussies call it bushwalking, Americans hiking but here, it’s so aptly described as rambling, wandering seemingly aimlessly along lush country lands, across fields where animals may graze or be used for grain harvesting and you’re right in the thick of it. It’s such an English thing to do and we love it, but, after we clear the back ways of Chipping Campden, we’re following the sealed, but narrow, road to Broad Campden, dodging cars by leaping onto narrow verges as they trundle past.
We’re aiming for a few thatched homes we’ve noticed driving past but, before that, we come across the old Church on Angel Lane named, conveniently is seems to me, St. Michaels and all Angels. That way, everyone will come out a winner!
We’ve also passed the Bakers Arms, the only hotel, and soon we’re into the interesting thatched houses and topiary, cameras clicking madly over the top of the attractive dry stone walls. The first one has a hedge that’s too high and we have to scale an embankment to get any sort of overall view. After well over 100 shots each we’re winding our way on a marked route down the most improbable back alley about 2 metres wide right past someone’s house. One false step and you’d fall through their window or door.
Then it’s past the 17th century Quakers Hall, one of the oldest in Great Britain, dating back to 1663. Worship there ceased in 1874 and the building was sold in 1931 but, thirty years later it was bought back for the same amount, 100 pounds, and restored to use for a small but active membership. We’re heading through the Heart of England; at least, that’s what is says on the way markers – Heart Of England Way.
As we leave an expansive building called Maidenwell Cottage behind, the rolling fields stretch out before us to the square tower of the historic sandstone church of St. James peppered with tombstones all around and set beneath a classic Constable sky of rolling clouds.
It conjures up scenes of carefree couples holding hands dancing down a path or hikers prodding their sticks as they move forward accompanied by sniffing spaniels, forever aware of a hundred scents, while the wildflowers flicker in the soft airs. Time is not of the essence today, this is something to be savoured.
We meander our way, past the colourful berries and petals, beside hedgerows and through kissing gates, Chipping Campden edging closer, until we’re at the rear of what was once a country mansion that was mysteriously destroyed during the Civil War in 1645.
Obviously they backed the wrong side because it was trashed to the point where only the ends of the building remain today, one having been converted to a B&B recently apparently while the other end, that you could walk around freely when I last visited, is now fenced off……still, it’s only a fence I thought as I clambered over to get the shots I desired. By this time Lorraine was over towards the gravestones in the church and the caretaker there wasn’t overly pleased at what I’d just done, but continued on with his maintenance.
I joined Lorraine as we toured the cemetery, reading inscriptions here and there though, after about 150 years, the stone seems to become noticeably less readable.
The church is part 12th century but mainly 15th century and one of the main attractions is the tomb of Sir Baptist Hicks and his wife Elizabeth who built that previously mentioned mansion next door in 1613.
Another notable item is the stained glass window not quite a hundred years old that was dedicated to peace after WWI and contains 10,000 pieces of glass and weighs over 2 tonnes. We go inside the church but Lorraine’s more keen to get back to our digs called Snugborough at Blockley and recuperate so we make for the town centre and seek out an eating place, beyond the Alms Houses and adjacent to the old market place, all built by Baptist Hicks nearly 400 years ago, that survive still, despite being damaged in 2017 by a digger erecting the town’s Christmas tree.