Fullbrook to Asthall: Windrush Valley Redux

Saturday dawned comparatively bright, perfect for a long ramble in the English countryside. With Alison and Kim, we walked the Windrush Valley from Fullbrook to Widford, Swinbrook to Asthall, then back to Burford. This favorite ramble passes through cultivated fields, a woodland, quiet country lanes, quaint villages, muddy riverside trails and more Mitford/Fettiplace history.

This was a car-free walk, beginning with a stroll down the lane connecting Westfall Barn to Fullbrook and the A361.

After passing through Fullbrook, the footpath angled northeast through fields of wheat towards Widley Copse.

3 Widley Copse.

From the copse, we worked our way downhill to join a lane past Paine’s Farm, which borders the present Mitford family estate. Then we took a jog southwest through a mowed field to reach Dean’s Bottom and St. Oswald’s Church Widford – which seems to be a main access to the church.

4 St. Oswald's.

Wildflowers were stunning along this walk.

Our bovine friends were still munching along the footpath as we made the short trek from St.Oswald’s to Swinbrook and St. Mary’s Church.

Having paid respects to the Mitfords and Fettiplaces just days before, on this visit I focused on some of St. Mary’s additional charms.

Like many English churches, there are tombs underneath with the dead identified through tablets set in the floor. Here is brass memorial to John Croston (died 1470), memorialized with his 3 (identical) wives and four children.

And here lies Antony Fetyplace (sic) circa 1500.

These four medieval misericords were “liberated” from the nearby Burford priory during Henry VII’s dissolution of the monasteries. When services are long, the seats in misericords, (a.k.a. “mercy seats”) have little shelves on which one can perch one’s bum to relieve strain on the legs.

These “benefices” are an interesting read – you can zoom in for detail. My favorite is Sir George Fettiplace (1743) who gave £13 a year “to be distributed in ten sixpenny Loaves every Sunday, immediately after divine Service, among the poor of Swinbrook, Astall, Astally and Widford, in rotation, who must be present to receive it.”

After another fine lunch at the Swan Inn, we climbed stiles and crossed muddy fields to emerge on a bridge across the Windrush, then along the lane to Asthall.  Buttercups and cows adorned the way.

5 Swinbrook.

On our very first visit to the Cotswolds almost 40 years ago, we stumbled on a B&B in Asthall Leigh (just up the road) which was just our style: a household full of dogs, cats, goats and chickens, managed by a delightfully eccentric couple, Mary and Alistair Mackay. We became fast friends and visited with the Mackays for years, including a visit to Inverness after their retirement up north. In those pre-gastro-pub days, the food in British restaurants was generally pretty bad, so we were delighted to find a refurbished pub with outstanding food in the middle of Asthall. The Maytime Inn was named after May and Tim, London chefs who relocated to the Cotswolds long before fancy dining in the Cotswolds was “a thing.”  The pub has stood on this spot since 1726 and is still going strong – although its name has been changed from Maytime back to The Three Horseshoes, the original pub name.

Asthall (population 252) boasts a parish church dating from the 12th century, with a grand manor house (built in 1620) located right next door.

The parish Church of St. Nicholas retains its 15th century tower but it was prettified inside by the Victorians.

Next door is the very grand Asthall Manor, home of the Fettiplaces in the 17th & 18th centuries and the Mitford family in the 1920s. Lord Redesdale, the Mitford paterfamilias, bought and refurbished the manor after it was used as a convelescent home during World War 1. The Mitfords lived here for seven years as their new home near Paines Farm was being built. Today it is privately owned, ocasionally opened for garden viewing.  

Asthall Manor.

Not much is visible from the lane.

From Asthall, the way back to Burford took us past the Swinbrook Cricket Club to a stile accessing another muddy path along the opposite side of the Windrush River.

7 Asthall 2.

Back in Burford, after 9.5 miles of rambling, we were more than ready for a pint in the Royal Oak’s back garden terrace. We returned later in the evening for a dinner of “proper pies.”

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