This walks begins and ends in Bourton-on-the-Hill, a pretty village that would be exceptional were it not for traffic streaming through it on the A44. Nevertheless, there is quite a lot to see here.
Measuring up in Bourton-on-the-Hill
The village church owes its impressive features to the fact that the village was formerly owned by Westminster Abbey, whose income was handsomely supplemented by sales of wool from their vast flocks on the surrounding hills. There is a fine 15th-century clerestory, lighting an interior notable for its substantial nave columns and a rare bell-metal Winchester Bushel and Peck (8 gallons/35.2 litres and 2 gallons/8.8 litres respectively). These particular standard English measures date from 1816, but their origins go back to the 10th century when King Edgar (reigned ad 959–75) decreed that standard weights be kept at Winchester and London. They were used to settle disputes, especially when they involved tithes. Winchester measures finally became redundant in 1824 when the Imperial system was introduced, though many Winchester equivalents remain in the US.
Indian influence at Sezincote
For anyone with a fixed idea of the English country house, Sezincote will come as a surprise. It is, as the poet John Betjeman said, 'a good joke, but a good house, too.' Built on the plan of a typical large country house of the era, in every other respect it is thoroughly unconventional. A large copper onion dome crowns the house, while at each corner of the roof are finials in the form of miniature minarets. The walls are of Cotswold stone, but the Regency windows and decoration, owe a lot to Eastern influence.
Sezincote is a reflection of the fashions of the early 19th century. Just as engravings brought back from Athens had been the inspiration for 18th-century Classicism, so the colourful aqua-tints brought to England from India by returning artists, such as William and Thomas Daniell, were a profound influence on architects and designers. Sezincote was one of the first results of this fashion. Sir Charles Cockerell was a 'nabob', the Hindi-derived word for a European who had made their wealth in the East. On his retirement from the East India Company he had the house built by his brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, an architect. The eminent landscape gardener Humphry Repton helped Cockerell to choose the most picturesque elements of Hindu architecture from the Daniells' drawings.
Some modern materials, like cast iron, were thought to complement the intricacies of traditional Mogul design. The garden buildings took on elements from Hindu temples, with a lotus-shaped temple pool, Hindu columns supporting a bridge and the widespread presence of snakes, sacred bulls and lotus buds. The Prince of Wales was an early visitor. The experience obviously made some impression as the intensely Mogul-influenced Brighton Pavilion arose not long after. Betjeman was a regular guest at Sezincote during his undergraduate days. 'Stately and strange it stood, the nabob's house, Indian without and coolest Greek within, looking from Gloucestershire to Oxfordshire.'
Walk up the road from the telephone box with the church to your right. Turn left down a track between walls, signed for the Heart of England Way. Go through a gate into a field and then continue ahead to pass through two more field gates.
Continue to two stiles, followed by two kissing gates amid a tree belt. This is the Sezincote Estate – go straight ahead, following markers and crossing a drive. Dip down, following the path through a gate and between fencing and woodland to the next gates, with ponds on either side. Go ahead into a field, from where Sezincote House is visible to the right.
Keeping the fence on your right, go right to the end, aiming for the top, right-hand corner. Pass through a kissing gate to a narrow road and turn left. Walk down this road, passing the keepers' cottages to your left. The road bottoms out, curves left then right and brings you to Upper Rye Farm. Avoid a left turning to the farm, but pass well to the right of the farmhouse. Immediately before a barn, turn left along a track and a road.
After a second cattle grid, go left over a stile. Follow the left edge of the field across three stiles to a footbridge between step-through stiles. Go over it and turn right. Now follow the right-hand margin of the field across two stiles, to a stile in the far corner. Cross this to follow a path through woodland until you come to step-through stiles on each side of a footbridge and a field and continue on the same line to another stile.
Cross a track to another stile into Sezincote's Millennium Oak Plantation and walk on. After a few paces, with Bourton-on-the-Hill plainly visible before you, bear right to a stile and follow the path to the next corner. Turn left and cross four stiles. After the fourth one, walk on for 60 paces and turn right through a gate to return to the start.
Tracks, fields and lanes, 20 stiles
Hedges, field and spinney on lower part of escarpment
Under close control – likely to be a lot of livestock
AA Walker's Map 8 The Cotswolds
Street below Bourton-on-the-Hill Church, parallel with main road
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Gloucestershire is home to a variety of landscapes. The Cotswolds, a region of gentle hills, valleys and gem-like villages, roll through the county. To their west is the Severn Plain, watered by Britain’s longest river, and characterised by orchards and farms marked out by hedgerows that blaze with mayflower in the spring, and beyond the Severn are the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley.
Throughout the county you are never far away from the past. Neolithic burial chambers are widespread, and so too are the remains of Roman villas, many of which retain the fine mosaic work produced by Cirencester workshops. There are several examples of Saxon building, while in the Stroud valleys abandoned mills and canals are the mark left by the Industrial Revolution. Gloucestershire has always been known for its abbeys, but most of them have disappeared or lie in ruins. However, few counties can equal the churches that remain here. These are many and diverse, from the ‘wool’ churches in Chipping Campden and Northleach, to the cathedral at Gloucester, the abbey church at Tewkesbury or remote St Mary’s, standing alone near Dymock.