The Cotswold Way with fringe benefits
Mention of the Cotswolds usually has the majority of guidebook writers eulogising about Gloucestershire, and places such as Stow-on-the-Wold and Burford, Chipping Campden and Broadway.
Whilst the heart of the Wolds may lie to the north of the region, the belt of yellow oolitic limestone that defines the region stretches well away from the Cotswold heartlands. The building styles and materials – such as those tilestone roofing slabs – can be found as far afield as distant parts of Wiltshire, giving the area between Malmesbury and Chippenham the less than imaginative title of the 'Cotswold Fringe'.
Sherston's main wide street gives every appearance of having been built that way for market days. Indeed, back in medieval days the settlement had borough status and was a market centre. All around was wealth and prosperity based upon the woollen trade, with the River Avon and its various tributaries providing a source of waterpower to power the local mills.
The High Street itself is lined by rather handsome properties, with Pevsner detailing the architectural detail of new fewer than half a dozen of these fine buildings. Of number six, for example, he noted 'early 18th-century, of three bays, with a weeny pediment and a doorway with a shell-hood on corbels'.
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Beyond Sherston, a series of fieldpaths head out across Pinkney Park towards neighbouring Easton Grey. There are tantalising glimpses of the infant River Avon along the way, hereabouts a wide and shallow stream, wending its course across an undulating pastoral landscape.
For architectural purists, the very much private house was described by Pevsner as 'Late C17. One front of five bays with three-two-two-three-light mullioned windows. Hipped roof.' Were you to be interested in more than the tantalising glimpse of the property to be seen from the nearby footpath, then the house is available for conferences, corporate entertainment, training days and product launches.
Easton Grey is undeniably part of the Cotswold region. Each of the grand houses and more humble cottages in the village is carved from the local golden limestone, with the whole grouped around an ancient bridge of five old stone arches that spans the River Avon (Sherston Branch).
On the northern edge of the village is the church, once again crafted from that most handsome of bedrock, with a sturdy tower that dates back well over 600 years. To quote from Arthur Mee 'the old tower is filled with pews looking along the quaint white nave through lines of box pews past the canopied pulpit to a tiny sanctuary with painted angels and flowers on its walls'.
An unavoidable – but brief – encounter with fast moving traffic on the B4040 leads on to a network of quiet lanes and bridlepaths that lead to Willesley. Little more than a hamlet, just about every property here will have you breaking the 10th Commandment – the one to do with not coveting they neighbour's house.
The early 18th-century Byam's Farmhouse is especially impressive with its perfectly symmetrical frontage and a fine shell hood over the door.
And there is Anne Brayne's Cottage, formerly a foundation. Anne Brayne was a widow who died at the end of the 18th-century. Her wealth funded Sunday Schools in the area, as well as a day school where the girls were taught to knit and sew.
Beyond Willesley, another series of bridlepaths mark the return to Sherston – and with so many of these bridlepaths, it is little wonder that this is very much horsey country.
A downside is that, following heavy rain, the paths can become pretty muddy. Make sure, therefore, that you remove any filthy footwear before that inevitable visit to the Rattlebone Inn. Rattlebone was a local yeoman, promised land by Edmund Ironside as a reward for taking to the battlefield against the Danes led by King Canute.
Sadly, Rattlebone was badly injured in the conflict and died as the Danes retreated. The lines penned by the antiquary John Aubrey – 'Fight well Rattlebone and thou shall have Sherston' – never came to pass.