Andrew Swift takes us on a gentle stroll through the beautiful town of Marshfield.
This month we head east of Bristol, to where the breezy Cotswold plateau tumbles southwards, for a short but scenic country walk, followed by a stroll through one of Gloucestershire’s most historic villages.
Marshfield lies just off the A420, 11 miles east of Bristol. As you approach the village along the A420, turn right, immediately after the 50mph signs, into a parking area (ST770737). Leaving the car, carry on to the end of the parking area and continue along a road for a few metres, before turning right by an old tollhouse along Green Lane (ST772737). The lane soon degenerates to a rough track winding downhill. At the bottom, follow it as it bears right, with views down St Catherine’s Valley. This section is likely to be muddy, although a stone causeway has been laid alongside the worst section.
● Carry on as the green lane climbs up to a tarmaced lane (ST769727) along which you turn left. After a few metres you will see a pillar on the right. It dates from the 18th century and bears an inscription – now very worn – reading ‘TO BEEKS HOUSE/Turn on the right track/Over the down/Drivers of carriages are desired to keep the road made/Over the down’.
● Continue along the tarmaced lane for 1000m, turning left at the end and then right along Sheepfair Lane (ST776734). After 200m, turn right along Weir Lane. The weed-choked pond you pass on the left was used for washing carts and carriages and for soaking their wooden wheels in water. The buildings behind it once formed part of the Marshfield Brewery, which closed in the 1880s. The fascinating range of old buildings on the right includes a former malthouse. Malt, made from barley grown in fields around the village, was once Marshfield’s staple industry, with as many as 80 malthouses supplying breweries in Bristol and Bath.
● At the top, turn right by the old school and right again into the Market Place, passing an old sundial on the left. The building with a large sign bracket in the far corner of the square was the Codrington Arms, also known as the King’s Arms, which closed in 1931. The magnificent Georgian mansion facing it is the old vicarage.
● Carry on along the lane curving out of the Market Place, with views southward towards Wiltshire. After passing 17th-century Pitt Farm, bear left at the fork and then double back along a path on the left to walk through the churchyard. Carry on along Church Lane, passing the entrance to the manor house on your right. At the Market Place turn right and head along a narrow street. After 50m, look to your right across a yard to see a 16th-century dovecote in the grounds of the manor house.
● At the end, you can turn right to see the range of barns and other outbuildings – all now converted – which once belonged to the manor house, along with the village pond and an old milestone. From here, retrace your steps and carry on past the Lord Nelson Inn, following the road as it curves right along the High Street.
● Until the bypass opened in 1967 this was part of the main road from London to Bristol, as it had been since coaching days – hence the number of inns. The two most important were the Crown, open by 1650 but currently closed, and the Catherine Wheel, built as a private house around 1690 and converted to an inn about 50 years later. The Lord Nelson came along somewhat later, probably opening soon after Nelson’s victory and death at Trafalgar.
● Next to the Catherine Wheel is the Tolzey Hall, built in 1690 for the people of Marshfield, and now housing not only the village hall but also its public conveniences.
● Marshfield High Street is a delight, lined with a superb array of buildings. Weavers’ cottages rub shoulders with elegant town houses, butchers’ shops with old garages and chapels.
● Several houses were originally farms, as their names still indicate. The elaborate shell porches above many of the doorways are a sure sign of former wealth, much of it generated from malthouses extending behind the properties. The Malting House at No 78 has another claim to fame, as the home of Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin from July to November 1940.
● Largely unspoilt and in many cases painstakingly restored, the High Street is worth taking time to explore. It ends at the 17th century Crispe Almshouses, beyond which the parking area where you started is just a short walk away.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Time: Two hours
Level of challenge: Easy; pavements and metalled footpaths
If you’re peckish: Sweetapples Teashop, High Street, open daily to 5pm, Lord Nelson and Catherine Wheel pubs.
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