Paths have been used for many hun­dreds of years

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA - By ROBIN BROOKS

THE Cotswold Way opened this week in 1970. Much of its 102mile stretch be­strides Glouces­ter­shire, although it is part of a route way from North East to South West Eng­land in use since stone age times.

Our county has more than 2,500 miles of pub­lic foot­paths and 220 miles of bri­dle­ways.

When next you are out for a stroll ex­plor­ing the net­work in Glouces­ter­shire’s glo­ri­ous coun­try­side, spare a thought that you may be fol­low­ing a path that has been trod­den for a thou­sand years or more.

Take Green­way Lane. This un­metalled track leads from the Shur­d­ing­ton Road about two miles out of Chel­tenham, ad­ja­cent to the Green­way Ho­tel.

If you’ve walked this way, you will know it climbs up the hill to Ul­len­wood, past the Sec­ond World War Amer­i­can Army hospi­tal to emerge at a junc­tion with the Leck­hamp­ton to Birdlip road.

This is a drovers’ way dat­ing from the eighth cen­tury AD when Saxon shep­herds em­ployed by Bene­dic­tine monks in Glouces­ter used to drive sheep along its length.

They were tak­ing the an­i­mals from the monastery’s graz­ing grounds at Pin­swell, near Up­per Cober­ley in the Cotswolds, down to the farm in Badge­worth where they spent the win­ter.

When May came the fol­low­ing year, their route was re­versed.

Parts of the lane are sunken with high field banks on ei­ther side.

This fea­ture was caused by hun­dreds of thou­sands of hooves scour­ing the sur­face for more than a mil­len­nium.

As the low­est bridge point on the Sev­ern, Glouces­ter was on the main drovers’ route from Wales to Lon­don.

For cen­turies Welsh beef cat­tle were driven through the city en route for the cap­i­tal.

Lit­tle Lon­don in the For­est of Dean

was a stop­ping-off point along the route, the place tak­ing its name from the des­ti­na­tion of the an­i­mals pass­ing through.

From 1825 when Mythe Bridge was built over the Sev­ern, Tewkes­bury found it­self on a drovers’ trail of cat­tle herded from the agri­cul­tural coun­ties in the south of Eng­land to the dense­ly­pop­u­lated mar­kets of the Mid­lands.

When toll roads were built in the late 18th and 19th cen­turies, drovers had to pay to use the routes.

On the for­mer toll house in Rod­bor­ough, Stroud, the rate of charges can still be read on a board out­side: “Stage coaches, post chaises or so­cia­ble Ber­lins - 3d, droves of oxen or cows 3d per score and calves or hogs a half­penny less”.

The monks of Tewkes­bury Abbey must have been just a tiny bit jealous they did not have any high-pro­file relics that would have given them a cut of the lu­cra­tive pil­grim trade. Their monas­tic near neigh­bours all did.

St Peter’s in Glouces­ter (now the Cathe­dral) had the tomb of King Ed­ward II, which from about 1330 at­tracted pil­grims in such vast num­bers the monks were able to build a new transept, choir and pres­bytery on the pro­ceeds, as well as gen­er­ally up­grad­ing the build­ing.

They also built the New Inn in North­gate Street to ac­com­mo­date the in­flux.

Glouces­ter had the body of St Oswald in the pri­ory of the same name, which was also a big draw.

To say Glouces­ter had the body isn’t en­tirely ac­cu­rate.

Fol­low­ing his mar­tyr­dom, bits of the dis­mem­bered saint were sent to var­i­ous holy cen­tres.

Glouces­ter did get the lion’s share, though not St O’s head. That’s in Durham.

Winch­combe monastery had the relics of St Kenelm, a Saxon price mur­dered as a child and con­se­quently a pop­u­lar choice for pil­grims who had them­selves lost chil­dren.

Not far away, the monastery at Hailes had a premier league relic – a phial of Christ’s blood – which re­sulted in long queues at the door of the abbey.

Wher­ever there were pil­grims in days gone by there are pil­grims’ ways to­day.

A path called Pil­grims Way that runs be­tween Winch­combe and Hailes may be fa­mil­iar to lo­cal peo­ple, but there are many more.

Hailes Abbey near Winch­combe

Chipping Cam­p­den, start­ing point of the Cotswold Way

The tomb of Ed­ward II at Glouces­ter Cathe­dral. Right, St Oswald’s Pri­ory

Toll House, Rod­bor­ough

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