Category: village life

English villages: the pub

There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of a genuine English village pub.

Many of them are so steeped in tradition that people actually talk to each other around the bar, instead of tapping away at smartphones.

However, a lot of these wonderful old pubs are finding the going tough, as essential services continue to shrink in the villages around them.

As part of our series on English villages, we thought it was about time we celebrated these traditional pubs by showing some of the best that we’ve been fortunate to visit.

George Inn, Lacock, Wiltshire

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This medieval inn dates to 1361 and is a highlight of a picturesque village brimming with charm. See our review of Lacock.

The King Arthur, Reynoldston, Gower, Wales

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There’s more than a touch of magic to this inn on the beautiful Gower. Good food, great ale and a fabulous atmosphere.  See our review of Gower 

Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

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Situated in one of our favourite villages in the gorgeous Cotswolds, parts of this building are said to date to 947 AD. This is another contender for the label of England’s oldest pub.

Pant-yr-Ochain, Gresford, Wales

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Another Welsh gem, this pub is known for the high quality of its meals – and we can only agree. There has been a structure on the site since the 13th Century. The building as it now stands dates from the 1530’s, but was enlarged in 1785.

The George, Stamford, Lincolnshire

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Situated on the famous Great North Road, this inn is part of one of England’s finest stone towns. The structure is believed to date to 947 AD.  See our review of Stamford.

The Eagle, Cambridge

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While not exactly in a village, this 17th Century coaching inn, in the charming city of Cambridge, is notable for its RAF ceiling.  See the details.

The Bingley Arms, Bardsley, Leeds

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Set in a tranquil position away from busy roads and near a trickling stream, this wonderful old pub, in the picturesque village of Bardsley, is said to date to 953 AD.

Wellington Hotel, Boscastle, North Cornwall.

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One of Cornwall’s oldest former coaching inns, this striking hotel dates to the 16th Century and is situated in the lovely coastal village of Boscastle. See our review of the hotel.

Old Ferry Boat Hotel, Hollywell, St Ives,

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With its thatched roof and white stone walls, this pub looks right at home in the hamlet of Holywell in rural Cambridgeshire. Overlooking the Great Ouse River, a building is thought to have been on this site since 560 AD.

The Green Man, Denham, Buckinghamshire

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With its attractive frontage, great food and fine ales, the Green Man catches the eye in the picture postcard village of Denham. It’s believed that the inn dates to about 1895.

The Fighting Cocks, Horncastle, Lincolnshire

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We visited Horncastle largely for its array of antique shops, but this old pub, which has been operating since 1720, also caught the eye.

The Brocket Arms, Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire

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Another gem in a stunning and historic little village, the Brocket Arms oozes charm. It was built in the 14th Century.

Watch for a detailed review of this hotel later in the year.

 Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham.

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Not far from Sherwood Forest, this pub is another with claims to the title of England’s oldest, possibly dating to 1189 AD.

 

English village series: the stone crosses

We’d never heard of preaching crosses until we came face to face with one in England.

Since then, we’ve kept and eye open for these unusual medieval landmarks – many of which are fast weathering away.

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Cross in the Nadder Valley

Driving on the A30 motorway in Southern Wiltshire, we crossed the River Nadder and entered the picturesque village of Barford St Martin.

Sitting between the provincial centres of Salisbury and Shaftsbury, this dot on the map was known to us only for the 16th Century Barford Inn, which once brewed its own high quality beer.

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After checking out the inn, we set off for Shaftesbury – and then encountered the village’s preaching cross.

It was obviously taller and much different to the market crosses which can be found in many English villages and rural towns.

High crosses

After photographing the structure out of curiosity, we wandered into the adjoining Church of St Martin and were told that the stone cross dated to early medieval times.

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Courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

It was one of many so-called ‘high crosses’ built across England, Scotland and Ireland for travelling priests to preach where there wasn’t a church. At Barford St Martin, for example, we were told that a church wasn’t erected until the 13th Century.

Historians say that Cornwall was probably the first county in England to have stone crosses, as long ago as the 4th century.

Market crosses

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On the other hand, smaller market crosses – like this one at Sturminster Newton in Dorset – designed a market place, although they were also sometimes used as a rallying point for important news.

Political crosses?

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In another twist to the story of the stone crosses, we came across a plaque in the East Sussex town of Rye that marked the site of another cross – this time for the election of the local mayor  between 1289 and 1602.

Perhaps an example of mixing politics and religion?

 

Main photo courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

English village series: Rye’s colourful past

History, some say,  isn’t what it used to be.

Take the case of Rye, in beautiful East Sussex, England, where the town’s rich past included smuggling; gangs; ghosts; secret escape tunnels; a disappearing harbour; and a mass evacuation of sheep.

One of the best preserved medieval towns we’ve visited, Rye draws  big crowds of visitors eager for a taste of its colourful past.

The town’s Mermaid Inn – parts of which date to 1156 – offers a peek into the days when the bloody Hawkhurst smuggling gang met in the bar and often left by a secret passageway.

Today, the inn continues to be well known as the site of repeated ghost sightings.

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Photo courtesy Mermaid Inn

 

Smuggling is known to have existed in the Rye area since the 13th Century, when King Edward I introduced the Customs system.

Taxation on wool exports made the rewards from illegal wool export well worth the risk of capture.

Rye fronted the English channel and locals knew the shifting  and dangerous sands well. Smugglers were able to evade customs officials with relative ease before moving  contraband across the misty Romney Marsh that adjoins Rye and covers over 100 square miles.

Rye’s narrow cobbled streets and closely built houses interconnected by attics and cellars, made it an ideal landing place for smuggled cargoes. As import taxes were later imposed on luxury items, the emphasis switched to bringing in tea, spirits, and tobacco.

The murderous Hawkhurst gang – at one stage about 600 strong – was a force to be reckoned with until it was finally crushed in 1747 and many of its members executed. For a time,  the gang was so bold that it transported goods in broad daylight in convoys of hundreds of heavily armed men, known as ‘Owlers’.

Coastal defences too

With its channel frontage, Rye was also at the forefront of England’s coastal defences against attack from Europe.

Eventually, the coast shifted, leaving Rye with a dry sea port but three local rivers.

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Today, visitors can stand on Ypres Tower – built in 1249 to defend the town – and gaze across the old port area.

The tower has served as a fort, private dwelling, prison, court hall and now finally as a museum. Visit the tower to read a lot about the area’s smuggling past.

Rye’s charm

With enchanting streets, the 900 year old medieval Church of St Mary’s, restaurants, shops and pubs, and well preserved historic houses from medieval, Tudor and Georgian times, Rye is a ‘must-see’ for travellers in southern England.

Again, we soaked up the town’s history by checking out  the Landgate, which built in 1329 and is another remnant of Rye’s earliest fortifications.

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And we rambled  through the original town and smiled at the quaintly named houses such as ‘The House with two front Doors’ or ‘The House Opposite’.

At the Rye Heritage Centre, there is a sound and light show that brings to life seven hundred years of the area’s history.

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World War II

Rye’s dramatic history certainly didn’t end with the smugglers.

In World War II – expecting an invasion by Germany – a radar station was set up near the town, beaches were mined and the Rye area was fortified with wire and concrete pill boxes designed to hold machine guns.

Many of Rye’s residents were evacuated – including tens of thousands of  local sheep.

Medieval gem

Overall, Rye is fascinating with a capital ‘F’.

The town thoroughly deserves its international reputation for architectual treasures, medieval ‘feel’, specialist shops, art and photography galleries, stunning nature reserves and long beaches.

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Getting there

Rye is in East Sussex, about 75 miles or just over one-and-a-half hours by road from London.

The town is situated on the A259 between Hastings to the west and Folkestone to the east – and on the A268 from the north.

By train, the trip takes a little more than one hour. High speed trains run from London’s St Pancras station to Ashford International, where you change into a train for Rye.

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Across Romney Marsh

Accommodation

The visitor can choose from a range of hotels, including the Mermaid Inn and  The George Hotel, which is one of the south coast’s most luxurious accommodation options.

Rye also boasts guests houses, B&B’s and self-catering accommodation.

Main photo courtesy Rye Museum

English villages: mystery and history at Painswick

Sharp-eyed travellers can find an historical gem when visiting the village of Painswick, in the Cotswolds Hills of west-central England.

In 1644, Painswick was occupied by Parliamentarian forces during the English civil war.

It was later recaptured by Royalists, but the fighting was so severe that bullet and cannon shot marks remain to this day on the tower of the parish church of Saint Mary.

The marks are one of the highlights of the historic Gloucestershire village, which is built mainly of mellow, honey-coloured Cotswold stone and features quaint, narrow streets.

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Photo courtesy http://www.geograph.org.uk and Lyn Haigh

We visited Painswick to see friends who live nearby, but couldn’t pass up the chance to first spend time in the beautiful village that is promoted as the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’.

Sitting quietly in the Cotswolds Hills and surrounded by lovely Gloucestershire countryside, Painswick is about two-and-a-quarter hours from London via the M4 motorway or two hours by train from Paddington Station.

Our first stop was the church, which is known world-wide for the yew trees planted in its grounds and an unusual ceremony held each September.

The church yard is famous because it boasts 99 yew trees. According to local folklore, many attempts to grow the 100th tree have never succeeded.

While no one seems willing to swear that the 100th tree story is correct, it certainly gets plenty of publicity and draws large numbers of visitors to the village.

Each September, the church is also the scene of a ‘Clypping’ ceremony that apparently comes from the old Saxon word ‘ycleping’ that means embracing. It involves local children carrying ‘nosegays’ or a small bunch of flowers, joining hands around the church to form an unbroken chain.

The children sing the Clypping Hymn as part of a re-dedication of the church. The custom is apparently thought to date to 1321.

While checking out the yew trees, we were impressed by the collection of chest tombs and monuments standing in the church yard.

Dating from the early 17th century onwards, the tombs were apparently carved in local stone by local craftsmen.

Church officials told us that the oldest tomb is dated 1623.

Behind the church, near the Painswick courthouse, are a set of 17th Century stocks and we wandered to the Falcon Hotel, said to have the oldest bowling green in England.

After a quick look at Painswick’s former post office, which is the only example of exposed timber framing in the village and the striking Georgian frontage of a building known as Beacon House, we took to the road to visit our friends.

Like most of the Cotswolds settlements, Painswick is a picture-postcard example of a traditional English village.

However the area’s historic gems like the civil war reminders, yew trees and the Clypping ceremony make this slice of heaven stand out from the crowd.

We wholeheartedly recommend a visit.

 

English villages: evolution at Lacock?

We used our iPhone to take photos at Lacock.

It was a particularly apt thing to do, because this beautiful village – in the English county of Wiltshire – is said to be the official birthplace of photography.

In 1835, Lacock resident and scientist, William Henry Fox Talbot, created the world’s first photographic negative using a camera. The negative was not much bigger than a postage stamp.

Now, about 180 years later, we were taking photographs in the same place – without even needing a dedicated camera.

How things change!

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Fox Talbot’s discovery is one of the reasons that visitors find their way to Lacock.

His former home, Lacock Abbey, now contains a museum devoted to the history of photography.

The museum tells how Fox Talbot – frustrated that the could neither paint nor draw – became determined to ‘fix’ images on paper. After experiments, he took an image of a window in his home – the first negative.

And, in doing so, he changed the way we would see the world.

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National Trust image/Arnhel de Serra

 

Although it is fascinating and well worth of look, the museum is far from the only reason to visit Lacock, a medieval wool village in the delightful Southern Cotswolds, about 30 minutes drive from the grand English city of Bath.

Lacock is the quintessential English village and dates from the 13th Century.

Visiting is like taking a step back in time, with many lime washed, half-timbered and stone cottages.

Most of Lacock is owned by the National Trust and is beautifully preserved.

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We stopped for a meal and a pint at The George Inn, which dates to about 1361, before taking a look at Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot’s old home and one of the few intact medieval abbeys in England.

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Founded in 1232 and converted into a country house in about 1540, the Abbey features medieval cloisters; a sacristy; chapel; and monastic rooms.

As well as 800 years of history, the Abbey also boasts extensive grounds and gardens that are ideal for a relaxing wander.

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It’s also easy to see why Lacock village is such a favourite with film and TV producers.

Its picturesque streets and historic cottages, largely untouched by modern alterations, have appeared in the likes of ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and the films ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ and ‘Wolfman’.

Main image of Fox Talbot courtesy of The National Trust and Nick Carter.

English village series: Arlington Row and Gold Hill

If you love the traditional villages of England as much as we do, then you’ve undoubtedly heard about Arlington Row and Gold Hill.

These stunning areas are among the most photographed scenery in the United Kingdom – and it’s easy to see why.

The picturesque cottages of Arlington Row are located in the acclaimed Cotswold village of Bibury, Gloucestershire.IMG_1351

Built in 1380 as a monastic wool store and converted into cottages for weavers in the 17th Century, the row attracts big crowds of visitors, especially in Spring and Summer.

The street is a notable architectural conservation  area that is shown on the inside cover of all United Kingdom passports.

When we wandered through the cottages, the beauty of the location was enhanced by the backdrop of the bubbling River Coln and Bibury’s stone bridge.

We were amazed at the low level of some of the cottage floors that were well below the height of the roadway outside. It’s a real case of ‘mind the gap’.

Bibury is about 83.4 miles – or one-hour-and-42 minutes -from London via the M40 and A40. The trip takes about three-and-a-half hours by bus from London’s Victoria Coach Station and about three-hours-and-50 minutes by train.

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Gold Hill is a stunning cobbled street at Shaftesbury, Dorset – often described as “one of the most romantic sights in England.

The view down the Hill over Dorset’s Blackmoor Vale appears on the covers of many books and is a popular film and TV setting.

Shaftesbury is about two-hours by car from London and about two-hours-and-37 minutes by train.

Of course, everyone seems to have their favourite English villages and readers will know of our liking for Denham in Southern Buckinghamshire – and its wonderful 16th Century Falcon Inn – as well as the Gower villages in Wales, Lacock in Wiltshire, Painswick in Gloucestershire, Stamford in Lincolnshire and Port Isaac in Cornwall.FullSizeRender 12

See our report on Denham and its location close to London – yet a world away.

But we will also touch on a few more of our preferred English villages in coming months – so Follow us to see if your favourites are mentioned.

 

 

 

 

 

English villages: what on earth is a pyghtle?

When you spend time in the countryside of England, you come across some amazing sights among the villages and towns.

From ancient burial cairns and standing stones to ruined castles and relics of the Vikings, Romans, Saxons, Normans – and even pirates.

The sights are many, varied – and just keep astonishing.

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But, the ‘Pyghtle’ completely stumped us.

We first heard of the word while visiting one of our favourite ‘picture-postcard’ villages, Denham in Buckinghamshire.

Our curiosity was piqued by a sign on a wall adjoining the village green, so we asked villagers about the ‘pyghtle’.

It was, they told us, an old English term for a small section of land.

And they were correct. Google tells us that the word ‘Pyghtle’ – sometimes spelt ‘Pightle – is actually an Anglo Saxon term for a small ‘croft’ or enclosure of land.

Apparently a ‘Pyghtle’ can be a block of land on which there is a building; a vacant area; or even – as in the case at Denham – a public footpath.

Denham’s ‘Pyghtle’ is a well-used link between the village and the railway station – and is itself enclosed by high brick walls at one end.

Another equally endearing term that you regularly find in the English countryside is ‘bridle path’ or ‘bridleway’.

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This is a path, trail or thoroughfare that can be used by people riding horses.

The way it was explained to us, these often meandering trails, in most cases, were originally created for horses, but have now been opened up to hikers and cyclists – but not motorised vehicles.

Bridleways are often quite narrow, but – as shown here – they often take you into bushland, wetlands, conservation and natural areas that might be missed otherwise.

Of course, they exist in many countries of the world – not only England – and are not only for leisure.

In many areas, they are important transport links.