An easy walk by the river to discover a rare, complete Saxon chapel on the banks of the Severn.
Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 115ft (35m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Fields, pavement and riverbank, 11 stiles
Landscape Hills, villages and river
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 179 Gloucester, Cheltenham & Stroud
Start/finish SO 868298
Dog friendliness Off leads except near occasional livestock
Parking Car park (small fee) outside Odda's Chapel
Public toilets None on route
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 With Odda's Chapel behind you, turn left and then right through a gate to walk along a track as far as the riverbank. Here, turn left to follow the Severn Way. Continue through a number of gates and over stiles, following an obvious path (sometimes a little overgrown), with the river always close by on the right. Eventually you reach the Coalhouse Inn, set back a little to the left.
2 Turn left after the pub to follow a road. Once behind the pub turn right through a kissing gate on to an area of rough grass. Go half right to a stile and cross into a field. Continue to another stile. In the following field go uphill to find another stile at the top, beside a gate. Go over and follow the right-hand margin of the field to another gate. Go through, and continue to the road in Apperley.
3 Turn left to walk through the village. Opposite the post office (which will be on your left) turn right down a road with houses on your left.
4 Just before the village hall turn left and walk across the playing fields to a stile. Cross and stay on the same line to arrive at another stile. Now follow the right-hand margin of a field as it eventually curves right and brings you to a stile at a lane.
5 Go over to the lane and turn sharp right to a gate. Once in the field turn left to come swiftly to another stile. Cross this to enter another field and then walk down, crossing another stile and passing to the right of a house. Cross another stile (if there is one - it may be a temporary measure) and go half left to a stile in the hedge, well before a farm in front of you. Go over to a road and turn right.
6 Continue until you come to a concrete block on your left. Go up this and walk along a ridge alongside a private garden. Cross a stile into a meadow and continue diagonally right heading for a stile and gate beside Odda's Chapel and the timbered building next to it. This will bring you to a gate by your starting point.
Deerhurst, a small, pretty village on the banks of Britain's longest river, the Severn, is endowed with a chapel and a church of particular, if not unique, significance. Both buildings hark back to that poignant period of English history immediately before the Norman Conquest. At the time of their arrival, in the 5th and 6th centuries ad, after the withdrawal of the Romans, the Saxons were a pagan people. But they were gradually converted through the influence of St Augustine and the preaching of the British or Celtic church. Deerhurst was in the Saxon kingdom of Hwicce, an area that was converted to Celtic Christianity by Welsh missionaries.
In ad 800 Aethelric, ruler of Hwicce, was inspired by a visit to Rome - on his return he set aside a large acreage of land at Deerhurst for the construction of a monastery. The monastery became the most important in Hwicce and indeed one of its monks, Alphege, was to become Archbishop of Canterbury in the early 11th century. The monastery, however, was partially destroyed by the Danes in the 9th century. Although a small monastic community stayed on, it was finally levelled at the time of the Dissolution. Nonetheless, the monastery church at Deerhurst, once as important as Gloucester and Tewkesbury, has survived as the finest Saxon church in England. It contains some 30 Anglo-Saxon doors and windows as well as a 9th-century font. The Deerhurst Angel, located outside on the east wall, dates from the 10th century.
A short distance from the church is Odda's Chapel, one of only a handful of wholly Saxon buildings left in England. It takes its name from Earl Odda, a kinsman of Edward the Confessor. When his brother, Aelfric, died at Deerhurst in ad 1053, Odda had this chapel built, to be used as an oratory and to be served by the monastery monks. It owes its survival entirely to chance. The monastery, and the chapel, eventually became the property of Westminster Abbey. The chapel was later deconsecrated and subsumed into the adjoining abbot's house. After the monastery's Dissolution in January 1540 the abbot's house became a farmhouse and the existence of the disused chapel was quite forgotten. It was only in 1885, during restoration work on the house, that the chapel was rediscovered and its significance understood. The building you see today is one of great simplicity - a stone room with high walls and only two windows - but its antiquity, location, and its almost pristine state seem somehow awe-inspiring.
Near by, and also visited on this walk, is the scattered village of Apperley. Here you'll see some very fine, timbered houses, one of which is the post office. The Coalhouse Inn, on the riverbank, was built in the 18th century to cater for the bargees who were transporting coal from the Forest of Dean up-river to Gloucester and Tewkesbury.
During the walk you will pass the Coalhouse Inn, prettily situated on the riverbank near Apperley. The post office in the village also sells snacks, ice creams and drinks. Otherwise, there is the Swan at Coombe Hill, towards Cheltenham. Here you'll find a bar and restaurant menu and several real ales.
Tewkesbury, the neighbouring town just north of Deerhurst, is certainly worth a visit. The Abbey church is one of the most magnificent in the country, its massive Norman tower the largest in Europe. The town has many literary and historical associations.
This part of the River Severn is much used by river craft of all sorts (although commercial traffic has completely disappeared). Look out for sailing craft from the sailing club on the far bank, rowing boats and, sometimes, beautifully painted longboats that have been rented by holiday makers.