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Severnside at Ashleworth and Hasfield

A fine walk along the banks of the River Severn, visiting a huge, and beautifully-preserved, tithe barn.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 65ft (20m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Tracks, fields, lanes and riverbank, 16 stiles

Landscape Flat: river, meadows, woods, farms, villages and distant hills

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 179 Gloucester, Cheltenham & Stroud

Start/finish SO 818251

Dog friendliness Not much livestock but many stiles

Parking Grass verges in vicinity of tithe barn

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the tithe barn walk along the road towards the River Severn, passing the Boat Inn on your left-hand side.

2 Turn left over a stile to walk along the riverbank. Follow it for a little over 3 miles (4.8km). In general the path is obvious, but where it sometimes appears to pass through gates, you may find that they are locked and that you should instead be using a stile closer to the river. Sandhurst Hill will come and go across the river, followed by the Red Lion pub (sadly also out of reach across the river).

3 Eventually you will pass a house. Immediately after it follow a track that leads left, away from the river, and then passes to the left of a number of houses and cottages. The track becomes a lane and the Haw Bridge will appear before you.

4 Just before the lane goes left turn left over a stile into a field. Walk straight on and then, as the field opens up at a corner, bear half left to arrive at a stile. In the the next field, after a few paces, turn right to cross a bridge. Continue straight on across two fields.

5 This will bring you to a lane. Cross it to walk down the road opposite and then, after about 150yds (46m), look for a bridge and stile concealed in the hedge on the left. Cross to a field and aim half right to a gateway in a hedge. Continue on the same line in the next field and pass through a gateway in the corner to a road.

6 Turn right and pass the Great House. Stay on the lane as it bears left. Then, after passing two houses, cross left into a field. Head downhill, half right, to a corner and rejoin the lane.

7 Turn left and continue into Hasfield, keeping left for Ashleworth. Turn left to visit the church and return to carry on through the village, still heading towards Ashleworth.

8 Before a row of cottages on the right, turn right at a footpath sign. Where the path divides, take the far left one across several fields on the same line, passing left of Colways Farm. This will bring you to a lane opposite the turning for Ashleworth Quay. Just left of the road opposite is a stile leading into a field. Go over and head across to another stile. Now follow the path on the right side of fields all the way back to a point just before the tithe barn.

Medieval tithe barns, such as the impressive example at Ashleworth, still survive around the country in surprisingly large numbers. In many cases they are still in use, even if the original purpose for which they were built has long been an irrelevance. They date back to the period before the 16th century, when the great monasteries owned much of the land that was not held by the Crown. Around Ashleworth the land belonged to Bristol Abbey. The local people who worked the land were their tenants. There were different categories of tenant who, in return for working the land of their landlord, were allowed access to common land and also to work a certain amount of land for themselves.

Whatever category they belonged to, they all shared one special obligation and that was the payment of tithes, or taxes, to the abbey. This was most often in the form of produce, stored in the tithe barn, which usually stood close to the church and the abbot's residence. If the abbot was not in permanent residence then he would make regular visits with his entourage to ensure that the tithes were paid correctly and on time. The presence of a huge tithe barn here, in what today is a comparatively remote village, has a geographical explanation. Ashleworth is situated at an easily fordable part of the river - an important consideration before the era of easy transportation. There had been a church at Ashleworth since before the compilation of the Domesday Book. A manor house certainly existed during the Norman period, and no doubt before. The barn, and Ashleworth Court next to it (which was used as an administrative centre), date from the late 15th century.

The limestone barn is 125ft (38m) long, consisting of ten bays - this is an enormous building by any standards. If you look up to the stone slate roof you can only marvel at the deceptively simple timber braces that support it. In this barn 'queen post trusses' are used, that is, a trellis of posts standing vertically from the horizontal tie beams, as opposed to a 'king post truss', consisting of a single vertical post. The bays would have been used to store both tithes and also the normal produce of the farm. Had you wandered through the barn 500 years ago you would have seen different types of grain, honey, dairy produce and, of course, Cotswold wool, all of which would have been subsequently shipped downriver. Ashleworth Court, next door, is a fine example of a medieval stone building barely changed since the time of its construction. The black and white, timbered Manor House, built as the abbot's residence, stands a short distance along the road.

While you're there

Visit Gloucester, a city whose beauty it is still possible to discern, notwithstanding years of unsympathetic development. Gloucester Cathedral is of enormous historical and architectural interest, whilst the old docks, though no longer commercially operational, have been rescued from oblivion - the former warehouses have been turned into museums and shops.

What to look for

The River Severn can flood quite badly and you will notice a number of damage limitation devices built in the vicinity of Ashleworth and elsewhere. In the past floods have reached as far as the church every two or three years. The worst flood, however, was in 1947. The level the water reached is recorded on the wall of the south aisle.

Where to eat and drink

Early on the route, beside the river at Ashleworth Quay, is the Boat Inn, an exceptionally unpretentious and comfortable pub. There is also a pub just off the route on the other side of the B4213 at Haw Bridge (unsurprisingly the Haw Bridge Inn).

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