22 COTSWOLDS GREENLANES AND FORDS – WITH OS MAPS
The Cotswolds. The name – which, according to the font of all online knowledge, comes from a ‘sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides’ and possibly something to do with weald/ wald, the Saxon/german word for wood – instantly conjures up powerful, idyllic images of honey-coloured stone buildings and perfect countryside peppered with drystone walls. In editor Neil’s mind, it also conjures up images of great greenlanes.
That’s why we’re here today, driving towards Alcester – first staging post on a route that also takes in Bidford-on-avon, Honeybourne, Chipping Campden, Broadway, Snowshill, Temple Guiting, Upper and Lower Slaughter and Bourton-on-thewater. We’ll broadly be following Ryknild Street, a Roman road that ran from the Fosse Way at Bourton-on-the-water to Rotherham. Neil’s looked at the maps and proclaimed that this is the only section of Ryknild Street with sufficient greenlanes to make a decent route.
I’m driving my pleasingly reliable Freelander 1 and Neil is in his faithful, patina-laden 300Tdi Defender 110. After a bacon & sausage butty and a coffee we’re in search of the first of many fords on this route. It crosses the River Arrow, next to Coughton Court, a large, Grade-1-listed Tudor building that’s now a National Trust property.
The ford has a concrete base and a narrow footbridge to one side for those who prefer not to get their feet wet. The water isn’t too deep but it’s flowing briskly. The first green road (Lane 1, above) is just after the ford, past a ‘farm access only’ sign on the left.
This first lane really sets the tone for the day – firm, stony base, drystone walls, and wiry hedges and bushes. There are variations, of course; some lanes climb out of the valleys into more open countryside before dropping gently down through trees; others have more muddy surfaces, particularly the low-lying ones that wend their way through the valleys, alongside sparkling streams and rivers.
Some lanes offer a few minor challenges, being a little scratchy in places. The second lane we drive (Lane 2, p46) takes us through overhanging willow trees and undergrowth with hidden ditches bisecting our path, before feeding into a stream off to our right. This all adds to the adventurous feel but there’s nothing that phases the mighty Freelander – that said, even Neil backs out of the deep ford at Great Alne.
We’re surrounded by history and it’s fascinating to speculate what life might have been like when the Romans were stomping about here. For example, Alcester was originally a Roman fort, Alauna, that grew into a small town. And Ryknild Street passes through Bidford-on-avon.
The next notable place is Honeybourne; notable because it was an important town when Evesham, now a huge place, was little more than a hamlet. How things change. A bridge carries our road over the Paddington– Worcester and Oxford mainline. Railways have played as big a part in opening up the Cotswolds as the Romans did in their day.
Neil’s Defender leads the way and I have no real idea of where we are. The satnav gives occasional clues, identifying places and road names, like Baker’s Hill. At the top, we join a road that has apparently been abandoned by the local council to fend for itself. According to Neil, it’s an increasingly common practice: little-used minor roads are simply left. In time, they become greenlanes; for the time being they’re still shown on the map as yellow roads.
Further on, after a couple more lanes, we join the sweeping, sinuous climb up Fish Hill (aka the Broadway bypass). This spectacular, ear-popping climb snakes its way up the huge hill. At the top, we turn right, between a pair of very grand stone pillars, towards Broadway Tower – itself an imposing structure – for a desperately needed coffee and comfort stop.
I’ve been following the red Defender for a little over two hours. The weather is even wetter and greyer, but we’re all enjoying every twist and turn of our greenlane tour.
From Broadway Tower we head towards Stow and Bourton-on-the -Water, on Buckle Street, which seems to go on for ever; no matter how many turns we make, we’re still on Buckle Street. We pick up our next green road at a crossroads which carries signs prohibiting lorries heavier than 7.5-tonnes.
(Lane 6, p46). It’s tree-lined and firm, sunken in places and you wouldn’t expect lorries to even attempt driving it – maybe they have lots of problems with sat navs misdirecting people.
A few minutes later we reach Temple Guiting (pronounced ‘gighting’, as in ‘lighting’, we find out later). In the 12th century, the Knights Templar founded a preceptory nearby, which lead to the creation of the village.
We’re now approaching Kineton and turn right on to Critchford Lane, a single-track road with passing places, then right on to Lane 7
(above left), with a ‘Conservation Area’ sign at the start. It’s a very grassy lane with clear tracks and a firm base as it climbs gently uphill, revealing a half-mile straight section. It looks a more like a gallop used to train racehorses than a simple farm track past fields.
If only the dank, misty cloud would lift, we’d have a great view across the landscape. Even
‘It’s increasingly common – littleused minor roads are simply left. In time, they become greenlanes’
so, the drive is very gentle and easy on my Freelander – and it always feels great to be away from tarmac for a while.
As we leave the lane, we’re joined by another track from our right that becomes an unpaved road as it drops steeply downhill, curving round the gradient. The broken tarmac surface is similar to that of the ‘abandoned’ road we’ve already driven but this one has a layer of wet, greasy mud on it to make it a bit more interesting.
Wrestling the Freelander sharp right then even sharper left, we join the Winchcombe Way National Trail, a 42-mile-long walking route from Cleeve Hill to Broadway. This section takes us through a beautiful, serpentine valley with silver birch trees rising either side of us (see our opening photo, p40-41). Below us, a small stream trickles through this verdant, hidden corner. It’s another yellow road, not a greenlane (and certainly not a footpath at this point) but we agree to call it Lane 8 (p46). We left Studley three-and-a-half hours ago. In that time, we’ve covered a lot of ground.
The deep end
After circling Kineton for a while, we plunge down a steep side road in the village, to the first of two fords across the River Windrush.
Because of its proximity to Countryfile presenter Adam Henson’s farm, large signs warn drivers not to drive the road. This is no mere stream – but fine for my Freelander. Very conscious of precisely where the air intake is located, I commit to the crossing, and splash through without difficulty. The narrow lane continues alongside the river for a few dozen yards before changing its mind and turning right, back across the river. The base is loose pebbles and silt, and a clapper bridge gives walkers and cyclists a means of crossing without getting their feet wet.
So, another great photo opportunity and another deep-ish ford traversed without incident. I make that four fords so far; five if you include the odd little ditch thingy in the wooded section of lane two.
Meet the Romans
We’ve reached a tremendous little hamlet called Condicote, which gives its name to the next three sections of greenlane. However, the routes original name is Ryknild Street. For me, this is the highlight of the day; you can’t beat driving ancient routes like this Roman road, especially on a misty, damp day, when history hangs just as thickly in the air.
‘When you’re driving a Roman road, especially on a damp, misty day, history hangs thickly in the air’
Sometimes spelt Ryknield and even Icknield, the ancient route is sometimes a suspiciously straight country road – as it is here, on the far side of Condicote. It leads down to a crossroads, which then continues as an archetypal greenlane (Lane 12, p46), but remains as straight as a die to the horizon. I bet those Centurions longed for the warmth of their southern European homeland as they marched uphill towards the crest, now marked by an Ordnance Survey trig point.
We stop for a brew and a look at this truncated concrete pyramid as Neil regales me with every geeky detail he knows about these crucial landmarks. What really sets him off is the flush bracket. Who knew? Who knew that each one has an identifying number that you can tick off from a list? Such fun!
Ryknild Street is also a great greenlane. There’s plenty of scratching and scraping past the determined bushes clinging to the exposed hillside, and that’ll only get worse with the fresh growth of spring – worth bearing in mind if your vehicle has gleaming bodywork that you want to preserve. Beyond the crest, the lane descends gently, wriggling past a few larger outcrops of hedgerow and undergrowth. The surface here has a deal of mud and ruts to provide moderate challenges for my Freelander but nothing too daunting.
We drop into Upper Slaughter, a typical, small Cotswolds village nestled around a picturesque ford across the River Windrush. With a splash of sunshine, it would look picture-perfect – but even on a damp day like today, it looks tremendous as a backdrop, which is probably why the Father Brown TV detective series and numerous others use the village as one of its many locations.
There’s a sign warning ‘deep ford’, but although we both make a bit of a splash going through, even the Freelander survives. I wouldn’t want it to be much deeper, mind.
There’s time for one more greenlane near Naunton (Lane 15, p46) before we slip quietly through the back streets of Bourton-on-thewater. Only the hardiest tourists are still strolling about in the damp conditions.
We set ourselves up to cross the River Windrush for the third time – this route is something of a wader’s delight. Neil plunges his Defender in deliberately but steadily. The water explores the tired door sills of his station wagon, seeking somewhere to stagnate. It looks quite deep out in the middle.
I pilot my Freelander down the entry ramp and into the icy water. Halfway across, there is indeed a sudden change in depth as the wheels briefly find a hole to scrabble in. Keeping a calm head and a steady course, Victor the Freelander exits the water like a muddy labrador taking a reluctant bath; briskly. Hats off to it – for a petrol-engined car, it has handled all of its watery excursions today surprisingly well.
Neil promised me a fun day out with some terrific greenlanes and plenty of fords. He has certainly delivered, and I’ll tell him as much this evening when we sit down with the beer that I am now officially looking forward to.
A greenlaner’s best friend. And a saw Pretty woodland lanes are all part of the beguiling Cotswolds mix
Petrol Freelander waded in with the best of them
He’s out standing in his field
Scenery’s still amazing, even when drizzly and overcast
Mark coaches Neil in the noble art of trainspotting
Three hours into Mark’s monologue and Neil’s ready for something a bit stronger than tea Post-rain mud made unchallenging tracks more interesting