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A Ghostly Trail Around Prestbury

A gentle ramble around this unassuming old village which claims to be one of Britain's most haunted.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 100ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Fields (could be muddy in places) and pavement, 10 stiles

Landscape Woodland, hills and villages

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 179 Gloucester, Cheltenham & Stroud

Start/finish SO 972238

Dog friendliness Lead necessary as some fields stocked with farm animals; some stiles have dog slots

Parking Free car park near war memorial

Public toilets None on route

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1 Leave the car park, turn right into The Bank and right again into Mill Street. At the main road turn left. After 100yds (91m) cross the road to a stile. Go into a field and go diagonally left to another stile.

2 Cross this and follow the track that is ahead of you and slightly to your left. Where it goes right, cross a stile in front of you. Cross a field heading slightly to the right, to another stile. Go over this into a field and head for Queen's Wood in front of you.

3 Stay to the left of the woods. Eventually cross a track and enter another field. Where the woods sweep uphill, continue straight on through bushes to a bridle gate. Go through on to a woodland path and turn left, downhill, to reach the main road.

4 Ahead of you are the medieval buildings of the De La Bere Hotel. Cross the road and turn right. Follow the pavement as it bears left into Southam Lane. After 200yds (183m) turn left along a track to a gate. Go through this and a kissing gate to a field.

5 Head across, bearing slightly right, with the De La Bere on your left. Follow an obvious path across a series of paddocks and fields via stiles and gates. Finally, at a stile amid bushes in a corner, cross on to a track and follow this as it leads to a bridge stile.

6 Cross and continue straight ahead into a field with a hedge on your right. Go over the brow of the slope and down to a gate in the hedge to your right. Go through to a track and follow this to a road.

7 Turn left along Shaw Green Lane. After about 400yds (366m) turn right along a footpath passing between houses. Eventually this will bring you out on to Mill Street, opposite the church. Turn right, to walk past the Priory and the brick wall that marks the site of the haunted Grotto, until you come to The Burgage. Turn left here, passing the Royal Oak, Prestbury House and Sundial Cottage.

8 At the junction with Tatchley Lane turn left and then left again into Deep Street, passing the Three Queens and the trio of stone cottages. Just before the Kings Arms turn left on a footpath leading to the church. Turn right just before the church and pass through the churchyard to return to Mill Street, opposite the Plough Inn. Turn right and return to the car park at the start.

The village of Prestbury, on the north east fringe of Cheltenham, is reputedly the second most haunted village in England, with The Burgage its oldest and most haunted street. The largest building along it is Prestbury House, now a hotel. During the Civil War it was occupied by Parliamentary troops. Expecting Royalists camped on Cleeve Hill to send a messenger to Gloucester, they laid a trap. A rope was stretched across The Burgage. When the galloping Cavalier rode through the village, he snagged on the rope and was catapulted from his mount. No doubt relieved of his despatches and interrogated, the unfortunate rider was then executed. A skeleton discovered near by in the 19th century is thought to be his. It is said that the sound of galloping hooves can often be heard here, as well as a horse's snorting and stamping.

More paranormal activity has been experienced in the hotel grounds, where they meet Mill Street. Here there have been sightings of rowdy parties of people in Regency dress. On this site, it turns out, there was once a fashionable meeting place, called the Grotto. It was where the local gentry would take their ease. By the time of its closure, in 1859, it had become known as a place of ill-repute.

Spectral abbots are regularly seen in Prestbury. The Black Abbot used to walk the aisle of St Mary's Church but, since his exorcism, he prefers the churchyard - a vicar came across him here, seated on a tombstone. The Abbot has also been spotted in the early morning near the Plough Inn on Mill Street. In fact, there have been sightings of the Black Abbot almost everywhere in the village. Perhaps this may be explained by the fact that the Bishops of Hereford owned a palace here from the 12th century, whilst the Prior of Llanthony lived in the priory close to the church. There are severals other haunted places you will come across in the village. At Sundial Cottage, in The Burgage, a lovelorn girl plays the spinet; the Three Queens house in Deep Street had to be exorcised; there are three stone cottages next to Three Queens, the middle one of which is haunted by soldiers from the Civil War, and the third of which is haunted by the Black Abbot. And another abbot (or perhaps the same one) with 'an unpleasant leer', is said to haunt Morningside House, next to the car park.

There is more to the village than ghosts, however. The manor of Prestbury, belonging to the Bishop of Hereford, was established by ad 899. Remains of the moated hall can still be found on Spring Lane, close to Cheltenham racecourse. By the 13th century Prestbury had gained a charter to hold a weekly market in The Burgage. This was also the site of the annual fair. The village is closely associated with the jockey Fred Archer, as a plaque on the King's Arms testifies, whilst the cricketer Charlie Parker, who played for England, was also born here. Another great English cricketer, Tom Graveney, was once landlord of the Royal Oak on The Burgage.

Where to eat and drink

There are several pubs to choose from. The Kings Arms welcomes children, the Royal Oak also serves lunches and the Plough Inn, on Mill Street, is a very fine old pub with a flagstone floor and a gorgeous garden. Prestbury House offers an excellent light lunch or dinner in a more formal setting.

While you're there

Cheltenham, of which Prestbury is really a suburb, is a very handsome town and definitely worth a visit. It has many streets of fine Regency and Georgian architecture, as well as two excellent small museums, one in the birthplace of the composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934), the other with features devoted to the arctic explorer Edward Wilson, a native of the town, and to the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was very strong in this area.

What to look for

Don't forget that you are very close to one of Europe's greatest racecourses. As you walk across the fields towards Queen's Wood, you will have some wonderful views across the racecourse to Cheltenham. The De la Bere Hotel is a striking Elizabethan mansion that was once the home of Lord Ellenborough, a former Governor-General of India.

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