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Ratty thrives at Bibury from Ablington round

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Gloucestershire is a county in South West England split into three areas, the major part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn and the entire Forest of Dean. It borders with the counties of Gwent in Wales to the west, Herefordshire to the northwest, Worcestershire to the north Warwickshire to the northeast, Oxfordshire to the east, Wiltshire to the south and Bristol and Somerset to the southwest. Gloucestershire’s county town and only city is Gloucester and has 32 towns. The charming Cotswolds villages and towns and quaint cottages and buildings gained much of their character from the yellow limestone that was quarried locally. The area was once entirely dependent on sheep farming and many of the fine churches and manor houses owe their existence to the generosity of the wealthy medieval yeoman farmers and wool merchants. The valley of Britain’s longest river, the River Severn, is flat with lush meadows along its banks and is famous for its tidal bore. The views across the River Severn are outstanding and its estuary is a haven for wildfowl and wading birds. The Royal Forest of Dean sits between the Wye Valley, the Vale of Leadon and the Severn Valley and is one of England’s few remaining ancient forests. Covering 27,000 acres it was designated as a National Park in 1938. Full of magic and mystery the forest has been the inspiration for many great artists and writers including JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling.

The Cotswolds are a range of hills covering an area of 25 miles across and 90 miles long and lie mainly within the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire but extend into parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The spine of the Cotswolds runs southwest to northeast through the six counties particularly Gloucestershire, west Oxfordshire and south western Warwickshire. The Cotswolds have been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is the largest AONB in England and Wales. The northern and western edges of the Cotswolds are marked by steep escarpments down to the Severn Valley and the Warwickshire Avon and this escarpment is often called the Cotswolds Edge. On the eastern boundary lies the city of Oxford and on the west is Stroud. To the southeast the upper reaches of the Thames Valley and towns such as Lechlade, Tetbury and Fairford mark the limit of this region and to the south the boundary reaches beyond Bath and towns such as Chipping Sodbury and Marshfield. The Cotswolds are characterised by attractive small towns and villages built of the underlying Cotswold stone, a yellow limestone, and drystone walls many built in the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen everywhere in the fields. The most well known towns or villages are Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Chipping Norton, Cirencester, Moreton-in-Marsh, Northleach, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud and Winchcombe. During the 13th – 15th centuries the native Cotswold sheep were famous throughout Europe for their heavy fleeces and high quality of wool. Cotswold wool came at a high price and the wealth generated by the wool trade enabled wealthy traders to leave their mark by building fine houses and beautiful churches, known as “wool churches”. Today the sight of the sheep on the hillside is still one of the most common features of the Cotswolds.

Bibury is claimed to be one of the most beautiful villages in England near “The Capital of the Cotswolds” Cirencester. The village known for its honey-coloured 17th century stone cottages with steeply pitched roofs stands on both banks of the River Coln. The cottages once housed the weavers who supplied cloth for degreasing at nearby Arlington Mill which is now a private dwelling but previously used to house a museum with a collection of period clothing, documents and working machinery illustrating milling and the Victorian way of life. The River Coln flowing through Bibury is sandwiched between the main village street and an expanse of boggy water meadow known as Rack Isle. With Arlington Row as a back drop it makes it one of the most picturesque and photographed scenes in the whole of the Cotswolds. Arlington Row cottages were built in 1380 as a monastic wool store and were converted into a row of cottages for weavers in the 17th century. Arlington Row is a nationally notable architectural conservation area and is now pictured on the inside cover of all United Kingdom passports. Rack Isle was where the wool was hung to dry on wooden timber frames after being degreased at Arlington Mill. Today this water meadow and marshy area, which is seasonally flooded and surrounded by water from three sides, is an important habitat for water-loving plants and birds and is also a National Trust Wildfowl Reserve. Bibury Trout Farm founded in 1902 is one of the oldest and the most attractive trout farm in the country. Once a working farm breeding and rearing high quality Rainbow and Brown Trout for restocking angling waters it has welcomed visitors since 1965 who can see the water come alive as the fish are fed and learn about the life of a trout. In the beautiful surroundings many ducks, swans, kingfishers, geese and other wildlife including the rare water vole can be seen and fed. The Heron and Otter are also regular visitors but not quite so welcome. The farm has a gift shop which also sells milk, free range eggs, cheese, fresh local baked bread, wines, Westons cider and Hook Norton beers. There is also a fresh fish counter, frozen and fresh seafood, delicatessen, plant sales, play area, picnic and barbeque areas and free car park. During the warmer months refreshments are available. Bibury is particularly visited by Japanese tourists due largely to Emperor Hirohito having stayed in the village on his European tour. The north Chancel wall of the Saxon Church of St Mary is home to a stained glass window which was designed in 1927 by Karl Parsons and was featured in the 1992 Christmas stamp set issued by the Royal Mail.  Bibury has also been used as a film and television location, most notably for the film’s “Stardust” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary”.

Ablington is a very small village set in the Coln Valley about a mile north west of Bibury and is part of the Bibury civil parish. The 16th century Ablington Manor is a Grade 1 listed country house and J. Arthur Gibbs the renowned author of “A Cotswolds Village” once lived here.

The River Coln rises at Brockhampton to the east of Cheltenham and flows in a south/south-easterly direction through the Cotswold Hills via Andoversford, Withington, Fossbridge, Bibury, Coln St. Aldwyns, Quenington and Fairford. It joins the River Thames to the south west of Lechlade where it shares a confluence with the Thames and Severn Canal, by The Round House Footbridge. The redundant gravel pits between Fairford and Lechlade form the eastern part of the Cotswold Water Park which is fed and drained by the River Coln. The river contains many species of freshwater fish including brown trout and grayling.

The Walk

With the memorial in Ablington on our right we walk forward to the triangle in the road and bear right up the no-through road which becomes a gravel track. We follow the track past the dog kennels until we drop down to a pond. The track continues ahead but we turn right and follow the narrow path along the valley bottom going through the gates. We pass an old farm on the left go through the gate and follow the track round to the right then slightly uphill to the top of the valley and turn left through a metal gate then head forward. At the road we turn right and when the road bears sharp right we head straight forward onto the gravel track. We continue to follow the track until we come to a farm. As we go through the gate the track splits, we bear left following the arrow on the gate post. The track bears right and we continue with the high hedge on the right. Soon after passing a plantation on our right, we turn right towards the house (High Barn) in the distance. At the house we go through the gate turning left to pass by a large pond then go through the gate at the other side. We follow the track go through a gate and turn right and keep heading forward past a reservoir and as we start to drop down we can see the roof tops of Bibury. At the first house we head forward on the track to the road then turn right. We follow the road into Bibury, cross over the first footbridge to view Arlington Row cottages. We go back to the road and continue through the village to turn left over the road bridge with the Trout Farm on our right. We continue along the road passing the Catherine Wheel pub in Arlington and just opposite the red telephone box we turn right. We soon come to the footpath sign for Ablington we turn left through the small gate. We head forward close to the cottages on our right, go through a gate. At the end of the cottages we keep heading forward to the trees ahead. We cross over a stile and a track then go through the gate opposite and continue straight forward following the arrow. We soon go through a gate cross another track and through gate opposite. We follow the track and when we meet the road we turn right then right again at the t-junction. We head downhill to the river, cross over the bridge and turn right back to our car.

Terrain

This is an easy mainly level walk on grass and gravel paths/tracks with gates and stiles. There is also some minor tarmac road.

Elevation: approx lowest point 103.30m (338.91ft) approx highest point 157.70m (517.39ft) approx ascent 124.30m (407.81ft).

Distance and Start Point

Approx 6.25 miles allow 2½ – 3 hours using OS Explorer Map OL45, The Cotswolds. This walk is done clockwise.

Start point: the memorial opposite the Manor House in Ablington.

Location

Bibury and Ablington are in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire.

Directions and Parking

On the M40 at junction 9 take the A34 towards Oxford then take the A40 towards Witney and Burford. At Burford stay on the A40 then take the B4425 on the left into Bibury. When the road turns sharp left continue ahead on the road past the Swan Hotel to Ablington.

Parking: free road side parking.

Toilets and Refreshments

There are public toilets in Bibury and for refreshments there is a post office and village shop, The Swan Hotel, and Bibury Trout Farm shop. In Arlington just past the Trout Farm there is The Catherine Wheel pub.

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