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Burford - a Classic Cotswold Town

Discover the delights of an ancient settlement with a long history on this attractive walk through the Windrush Valley.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 250ft (76m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field and riverside paths, tracks, country roads, 7 stiles

Landscape Undulating Windrush Valley to east of Burford

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL45 The Cotswolds

Start/finish SP 252123

Dog friendliness Under control across farmland; on lead where requested

Parking Large car park to east of Windrush, near parish church

Public toilets Burford High Street

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1 Head north along the High Street to the Windrush. Cross the river and turn right at the mini-roundabout towards Fulbrook. Pass the Carpenters Arms and continue along the road. Avoid a turning for Swinbrook and pass the Masons Arms. Keep ahead, passing Upper End on the left, and look for a footpath on the right by the Masons Arms sign.

2 Follow the steps cut into the side of the slope up to the field edge and then swing right. Follow the boundary to a waymark just before a slope and curve left to cross the field. Go through a gap in the hedge on the far side and cross the field to an opening in the hedgerow. Cross the next field towards a curtain of woodland and make for a track.

3 Keep right and follow the track through the woodland. Break cover from the trees and pass a row of cottages. Continue down the track to Paynes Farm and, just beyond it, turn right to join a signposted right of way. Head for a gate and follow the unfenced track towards trees. Descend the slope to a gate and continue ahead between hedges up the hill to the road.

4 Turn right and follow the road down into a dip. Swing left at the stone stile and sign for Widford and follow the grassy ride through verdant Dean Bottom. Make for a stile, turn right when you reach the T-junction and visit Widford's St Oswald's Church.

5 On leaving the church, veer right and follow the grassy track, passing a lake on the left. Turn left at the road, recross the Windrush and turn right at the junction. Keep to the road until you reach a footpath sign and stile on the right. Follow the riverside path across a series of stiles, eventually to reach the road. Turn right towards Burford, pass the Great House and the Royal Oak and return to the High Street.

Often described as the gateway to the Cotswolds, the picturesque town of Burford - the oldest of the Oxfordshire medieval towns - has changed little over the years. The High Street runs down between lime trees and mellow stone houses to a narrow three-arched bridge over the River Windrush. Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwynn, whose child was named the Earl of Burford, attended Burford races and stayed at the George Hotel. When she retired to Windsor, Gwynn called her home there Burford House.

Situated at several major east-west and north-south crossing routes, Burford has always been regarded as an important trading centre. People would pay their tolls at the twin-gabled 15th-century Tolsey, now a museum, for the right to trade in the town and it was here that the prosperous Guild of Merchants conducted their meetings. Such was their power and influence that, by the Middle Ages, the merchants were running Burford as if it boasted a mayor and corporation.

Take a leisurely stroll through the streets of the town and you'll stumble across a host of treasures - especially in the little side-roads leading off the High Street. For example, the Great House in Witney Street was the largest residence in Burford when it was built about 1690. With its Georgian façade, it certainly dwarfs the other buildings in the street. The Dolls' House, dating back to 1939 and on view in the Tolsey Museum, is modelled on the Great House.

Burford's parish church, with its slender spire, is one of the largest in Oxfordshire. Begun about 1170, it was enlarged over subsequent centuries and one of its last additions was the south porch, noted for its elaborate stonework. The west doorway is pure Norman, as is the central part of the tower, to which another stage was added in the 15th century to provide a base for the spire. Inside, the ceiling is fan-vaulted and there are five medieval screens dividing various chapels. In the late 1800s the church was remodelled, sparking a protest from William Morris and a response from the vicar that the church was his, and if he chose to he would stand on his head in it!

The church is also associated with the Civil War Levellers - 800 Parliamentarian troopers who mutinied at Salisbury over pay, then marched north to join forces with other groups. On 14 May 1649 they reached Burford, hoping to negotiate a settlement with Fairfax, the Commander-in-Chief. However, at midnight Fairfax and Cromwell entered the town with 2,000 horsemen. Following a skirmish, they captured 340 protesters. The prisoners were held in the church, where one of them carved his name on the font. Two days later, three ringleaders were shot in the churchyard and a fourth was forced to preach a sermon.

The Priory in Priory Lane is another of Burford's historic buildings. This Elizabethan house, rebuilt in the early 1800s, still has its Tudor gables and the heraldic arms over the doorway recall William Lenthall (1591-1662) who lived here and was elected Speaker to the Long Parliament in 1640.

Where to eat and drink

Burford has plenty of places to eat and drink - from hotel restaurants to pub food and tea shops. Just at the end of the walk is the Royal Oak which serves coffee and tea, as well as toasted teacakes. Various specials, snacks and ploughman's lunches are also available.

What to look for

The little medieval Church of St Oswald, built on the site of a Roman villa, includes a mosaic floor near the altar, discovered in 1904. Near by is the abandoned site of a medieval village; imagine the slopes of the valley crowded at one time with houses.

While you're there

Visit the nearby village of Filkins, home to the Swinford Museum which illustrates west Oxfordshire's rural heritage. The village boasts a Victorian church built in the French Gothic style and was once the home of Sir Stafford Cripps, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1947-50) in the post-war Labour cabinet.

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