Mingling with the ghosts of highwaymen

It’s amazing to walk in the footsteps of the famous highwayman, Dick Turpin; Roman legions; fearsome Vikings; and Crusaders in flowing robes.

But, that’s exactly what happens when you journey down the ancient Great North Road, the legendary route that once connected northern and southern England.

Through the centuries, this famous highway – linking London and Edinburgh, Scotland – has been used by daring highwaymen, armies of many colours; mail coaches; and everyday travellers simply going about their business.

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Each of these has left its marks, woven into the complex tapestry of English history, folklore and legend.

For example, there’s the well known story of Ben Turpin’s dash from London to York – a distance of 200 miles – in less than 15 hours on his faithful mares Black Bess

Various inns that still stand along the original route  claim that Turpin ate his lunch there that night, or stopped off to briefly rest his horse.

One particular part of that ancient road – as it passes  through the East Midlands –  especially grabbed our attention.

In Lincolnshire, about 14 miles from the cathedral city of Peterborough, the Great North Road crosses the River Welland.

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The site is marked by the delightful centre of Stamford, which claims the title of ‘England’s finest Stone Town’.

And Stamford boasts The George, one of England’s great historic coaching inns, well known for a much-photographed gallows erected across the road outside – partially to warn off highwaymen.

A rest house has stood on the site of The George for about 1,000 years. We were told that the actual age of the building is unclear, but it could have been built about 947AD.

At one stage, the site housed a hospital, where pilgrims and Knights were entertained on their way to Jerusalum.

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Today, The George has a garden and a plaque where young Crusaders once mingled.

The George has also seen its share of royalty, hosting visits by Charles II in 1641 and William III in 1696.

In 1597, The George was rebuilt by Elizabethan statesman, William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley. This descendants, the Marquis of Exeter still live in stately Burghley House, near Stamford.

Of course, with such an old building, there are also many colourful stories surrounding The George of Stamford.

During our visit, we were told about a man called Milton who once rode from London Piccadilly to The George – a distance of more than 90 miles – within five hours using a team of 13 horses.

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In the grand entrance hall of The George of Stamford there is a portrait of local, Daniel Lambert, undoubtedly the inn’s biggest customer.

Lambert was apparently a strong man in his youth, but by the time of his death, he weighed 52 stone 11 pounds.

Today, The George has both hotel and restaurant facilities and entering the splendid building is like taking a step back in history – fittingly along one of the world’s great ancient highways, unfortunately now largely bypassed by a motorway.

East Midlands

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibury Shaftesbury UK village life

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.

Denham UK village life

English villages: surprises in the garden

Travelling through the orchards and lush countryside of Kent, it’s easy to see why the county has long been known as the ‘Garden of England’.

And few towns epitomise this as well as Maidstone.

Although London is only one-and-a-half hours away, Maidstone is a springboard for superb countryside and the picture-postcard villages of the Kent North Downs, an official area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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Maidstone sits on the bank of the River Medway that historically served as a route for the area’s agricultural trade with the Thames Estuary.

There is evidence that some settlement existed in the Maidstone area before the Stone Age.

We came to see a gem

We visited the town partially to see the remarkable medieval church of All Saints, an historical marvel by the riverside.

When it was built in 1395, All Saints was one of the biggest and widest parish churches in England.

It was part of a complex that also included an Archbishop’s Palace and Tithe Barn.

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In 1648, Maidstone was the site of a battle in the Second English Civil War and defeated Royalist troops were held in the church.

We were able to see sword slashes in the stones, along with musket shot in the doors.

Despite this turbulent past, All Saints is now a peaceful building constructed of a hard, blue-grey limestone locally called ‘rag stone’

The distinctive church tower is 78 feet high and boasted a spire until it was hit by lightning in 1730.

How to get there

All Saints church is located at Maidstone, Kent – about 39 miles from London, via the M25 and M26/M20 motorways.

There are also direct train and bus links to and from the capital.

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While at Maidstone, we stayed at the Grange Moor hotel, a charming facility that provides centrally-located, modern and cosy accommodation.

Villages in the area that we recommend visiting include Lenham, Marden, Headcorn and Yalding.

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A village experience tinged with history

Travellers to Denham for an English village experience follow a well worn path.

Although Denham Village remains a largely unspoiled and tranquil collection of historic English buildings, the area has roots back to Saxon times – and even earlier Roman ruins have also been found nearby.

The first written record of Denham was in the 11th century. It’s understood that land was given to the Abbot and convent of Westminster in 1299.

Later, King Henry III granted the village a weekly market and an annual three-day fair.

Denham fair continued until the 1870s.

The stately buildings that are part of Denham’s appeal as a perfect getaway location for travellers from around the globe, began to be noticed  near the end of the 17th century.

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A fine brick mansion known as Denham Place, for example, was built around that time and is said to be noted for its friezes, ceilings and chapel.

Another outstanding old building, Denham Court, stands at the end of an avenue of lime trees.

Part of a 14th-century hall still survives at another house, Savay Farm.

Located in southern Buckinghamshire, Denham is ideal for an English village experience.

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A stunning area of red brick buildings draped in wisteria, Denham is only about 15 to 20 minutes journey by hire car and driver from Heathrow Airport – a ‘traditional’ English village without the need for exhausting travel.

 

Denham

English villages: Denham ticks the boxes

How can that cherished dream of experiencing English village life ever come true when you only have two weeks or less – and you’re currently on the other side of the world.

The prospect of getting off a plane tired and jetlagged only to drive a car or drag bags onto a coach, can seem all too hard to consider for a short stay.

The long trip to the UK from all corners of the globe can leave the traveller exhausted and reluctant to seek out that village experience.

Relax … an answer is at hand.

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There’s a tranquil Village Green, running streams and Saint Mary’s Church of England has a flint stone Norman tower built in the early 12th Century, a Chancel dating from the 13th Century and a Nave that was built in the 15th Century.

But, the real secret is that Denham is only about 15 to 20 minutes drive from Heathrow Airport – a ‘traditional’ English village without the need for exhausting travel.

The Falcon Inn, Denham UK

In fact, Denham shares a boundary with the London Borough of Hillingdon (formerly Middlesex) – and it is possible to get a car and driver from the Heathrow Airport to the village for about 20 Great British pounds.

And once at Denham, there’s no shortage of quaint yet high quality accommodation.

How about the Falcon Inn, a former 16th century Inn converted into a lovely old bed and breakfast, with attic rooms featuring exposed beams and a view over the Denham Village Green.

The amenities at the Falcon Inn are first class, with superb food and every opportunity to mingle with the locals and feel part of the village atmosphere.

At Denham, you can meander along the local ‘Bridleways’ – and an ‘easy access route – to the Colne, Misborne and Fray’s rivers and take a short stroll to the Grand Union Canal that passes close to the village.

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Part of the extensive network of canals constructed across England and Wales in the late 18th Century, the waterway allows visitors to soak up a gentler pace of life and watch sleek and colourful narrow boats as they negotiate the Denham Deep Lock.

With a fall of almost 3.5 metres, the Denham lock is said to be the deepest on the Grand Union Canal and is fascinating to watch in action.

You can get ringside seats at Fran’s Tea Garden, which is located in part of the eye-catching Lock Keeper’s House. Here, it’s possible to sit back with a cuppa and marvel at the boats passing almost within reach.

The teahouse, which is literally surrounded by water and wildlife, is clearly marked with a novelty weather vane that features a teapot and a cup.

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Denham  Deep Lock is a highlight of the Colne Valley Regional Park, a magnet for wildlife lovers, walkers and others exploring one of England’s environmental jewells.

In our next post, we’ll ramble down the many paths, bridges and walkways that make up this wonderful park and discover the swans, waterbirds and the impressive community effort that keeps the area open for our enjoyment.

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Just along from the lock there is an aquaduct, used to create an artificial river loop. Locals say the loop once supplied water to six flourmills.

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Back in Denham village, you can explore the grounds of Saint Mary’s church, which includes the graves of well known British actor, Sir John Mills CBE and his wife , the writer Mary Hayley Bell.

In the heart of the village is a walkway called The Pyghtle, a quaint Anglo Saxon word meaning a small enclosure of land.

The tarmac footpath on The Pyghtle links the village with nearby Denham railway station which, in turn, has direct services to London Marylebone station – another example of the village’s convenient location.

If you are so inclined, a stay at Denham can coincide with another  phenomenon, the ‘roundabout’ carboot market.

Each Saturday between March and November (weather permitting) buyers and sellers from a wide area of southern England gather at a nearby roundabout on the A40.  Although far from a traditional village experience, this unorthodox market is certainly an experience just the same.

And, when your time at Denham comes to a close, you can farewell the locals satisfied that the English village dream has come true within a relatively tight schedule and without driving you to exhaustion.

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Although Denham has largely stood still since the early 20th century, its location on the edge of London and close to Heathrow Airport opens the door to an English village experience, with the minimum of stress and the maximum of enjoyment.

Denham is truly a memorable destination.

Denham Features UK village life