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Fairford and the River Coln

Take this easy route from one of Gloucestershire's medieval wool towns to return by the river's edge.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 15ft (5m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Fields, tracks, riverside, can be muddy after rain, 6 stiles

Landscape Water-meadows, river and village

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 45 The Cotswolds

Start/finish SP 152011

Dog friendliness Good but lots of swans and ducks along riverside

Parking On High Street near church

Public toilets Near parking

1 This walk takes you out of town to the old gravel pits and back along the river. Walk up the High Street, with the church to your left (have a look at it at the end of the walk), and turn left into Mill Lane.

2 Follow Mill Lane to the old mill and bridge. Then you come to a little garden flanked on two sides by an ancient shelter consisting of a stone slate roof supported by withered wooden pillars. About 150yds (137m) beyond this turn left over a stile into a meadow. Go straight across to the other side, pass through a gate and nip over a stile to a road. Cross the road and enter Waterloo Lane, staying on this as it becomes a footpath. Where the football pitches come to an end, bear left along a footpath behind some houses. Stay on the path and then continue along the side of a meadow. Follow a track to the right of a cottage to a junction.

3 Turn left to enter a farmyard and then turn right, aiming for a point to the right of another cottage. Pass the cottage and cross a stile into a field. Bear left to stay right of the river, to meet a stile at the edge of woodland. Cross on to a wide grassy track and walk along here to the left of woodland, the river on your left. Where the woods come to an end and the field opens up, bear half left to pass beneath the electricity cables and find a stile and bridge in the far corner, amongst bushes and trees.

4 Cross these, enter woodland and follow the footpath to a bridge across the river. On the other side, enter an area of lakes - former gravel pits. Walk anti-clockwise around the first lake and on the other side, 150yds (137m) after passing two protruding hedges, look for a path on the right between trees. Where this comes to an end turn left along a track. Keep going until you come to a bridge on your right. Cross the bridge and then join the bank of the river, continuing until reaching the next bridge. Turn right here.

5 Follow the path you are on and it will lead you back into Fairford, to visit the church prior to returning to your car. The idea of the windows in St Mary's is to explain the Christian faith as if the onlooker were turning the pages of a picture book. They are arranged symmetrically. For example, on one wall are windows depicting twelve prophets, opposite which are depicted the twelve apostles. The journey around the church, bathed in the magical light thrown down by the windows, is a memorable one. There are other things to admire here: John Tame's tomb, the amusing misericord seats in the chancel and the gravestone of Tiddles the cat in the churchyard.

Fairford, like so many other small towns in the Cotswolds, owes its original importance to the medieval wool trade, and to one family in particular, the Tames. They were wool merchants and it was their money that embellished St Mary's Church, one of the great Cotswold wool churches. It was a family affair. The 16th-century writer and antiquary, John Leland, wrote, 'John Tame began the fair new chirche of Fairforde, and Edmund Tame finished it'. John Tame bought the manor and in fact rebuilt the church on the foundations of its predecessor, which had been built in Early English style.

St Mary's Church was built in late Perpendicular style. It is a striking building but its most famous feature is the near-complete set of medieval stained windows, perhaps unique in the country. They were made in the late 15th century (a few years before John Tame's death in 1500), probably by the Flemish craftsman, Barnard Flower, with the help of English and French artisans. Flower was also employed by Henry VIII to carry out work at Westminster Abbey and at King's College in Cambridge.

Whilst Fairford lies on the banks of the River Coln, where it meanders peacefully across a flat landscape of meadows and woodland, the town has an association with noise. Concorde was tested at the nearby airbase and, over the last few decades, it has served as a base for various military campaigns around the world. Every year there is a huge air tattoo here, in aid of the RAF's Benevolent Fund.

What to look for

As you pass the mill at the beginning of the walk look to the right and you will be looking into what is left of the estate of Park House, which was demolished in 1955. The most obvious reminder is the elegant bridge just beyond the mill pool. Keble House, on London Road, was the birthplace of the poet and theologian, John Keble.

While you're there

It's difficult to avoid the presence of the military, particularly NATO's air forces in the Cotswolds. So why not make the most of it and take in the RAF Benevolent Fund's annual international air tattoo, usually in July at RAF Fairford, to the south of the town.

Where to eat and drink

There is a choice of several pubs and cafes in Fairford. The Bull, on the High Street near the church, is a nice old pub and convenient for this walk.


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