The infant Bristol Avon links attractive stone villages on this pastoral ramble on the south eastern fringes of the Cotswolds.
Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field and parkland paths, tracks, metalled lanes, 11 stiles
Landscape River valley and gently rolling farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 168 Stroud, Tetbury & Malmesbury
Start/finish ST 853858
Dog friendliness Dogs can be off lead along Fosse Way
Parking Sherston High Street; plenty of roadside parking
Public toilets None on route
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1 On Sherton's High Street, walk towards the village stores, pass the Rattlebone Inn and turn right into Noble Street. Pass Grove Road and take the footpath left up a flight of steps. Cross a cul-de-sac and follow the metalled footpath to a gate. Continue to the rear of houses to a further gate.
2 Bear diagonally right across a field to a gate and lane. Turn right, cross the river and turn left, signed 'Foxley'. At the end of woodland on your left, take the footpath left through a gate. Follow the track across Pinkney Park to a gate.
3 Keep ahead, bearing left beside the wall to a gate. Follow the track ahead towards farm buildings and where the drive curves left, turn right into the farmyard. Keep right to join a concrete path to a stile. Turn left around the field edge to a stile and keep to the left-hand field edge to a stile in the corner.
4 Bear half-right across the field to follow the path along the field edge above the River Avon to a stile. Cross a further stile and walk beside the fence, with Easton Grey House left, and head downhill to a gate and lane.
5 Turn left into Easton Grey. Cross the river bridge, turn right uphill to take the footpath ahead on reaching entrance gates on your right. Cross a gravelled area, go through a gate and keep ahead to a stile. Maintain direction across the next field and gently descend to follow a track into the next field.
6 Turn right along the field edge and bear off right downhill through scrub to a footbridge. Keep ahead beside a ruin to a gate. Cross a stile and continue to a further stile and gate. Follow the track downhill to a stile and turn right along a track (Fosse Way). Continue for ½ mile (800m) to a road.
7 Cross straight over and keep to the byway to another road. Bear left and keep ahead where the lane veers sharp left. Follow this rutted track for ½ mile (800m), then cross the arrowed stile on your right. Head straight across the field to a gate and bear diagonally right across a large paddock to a stile.
8 Join a track, cross a racehorse gallop and go through the left-hand gate ahead. Walk through scrub to another gate and keep to the track ahead to a road. Turn left and continue to a crossroads. Proceed straight on to the next junction and keep ahead, following the lane all the way back into Sherston.
The Bristol Avon rises in the foothills of the Cotswolds in the north west corner of Wiltshire and is little more than a wide and shallow stream as it flows through the gently rolling pastoral countryside west of Malmesbury. Despite its size, this peaceful river enhances all the charming little stone villages in this unspoilt and somewhat forgotten area of north Wiltshire, which is typically Cotswold in appearance and character. In fact, 18 villages between Colerne and Malmesbury are officially part of the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Of these, Sherston must rank among the most attractive, with its wide High Street, doubtless once used as a market, lined with some interesting 17th- and 18th-century buildings. Sherston was a borough by the 15th century and prospered as a result of the flourishing wool trade at the time. It still has the feel of a market town, with narrow back streets and alleys, and continues to be a thriving community despite becoming a dormitory village.
It has been suggested that Sherston is Sceorstan, as chronicled by Henry of Huntingdon, where in 1016 Edmund Ironside won a battle against the Danes who were led by King Canute. The early legend of John Rattlebone, a local yeoman promised land by Ironside in return for service against the Danes is deep rooted. Sadly, this brave knight was terribly wounded in battle and although he staunched his bleeding with a stone tile and continued fighting, he reputedly died as Canute's army withdrew. Other traditions say Rattlebone survived to claim his reward. In the 17th century, the antiquary John Aubrey recorded the following local rhyme: 'Fight well, Rattlebone, Thou shalt have Sherston, What shall I with Sherston do, Without I have all belongs thereto? Thou shalt have Wych and Wellesley, Easton Town and Pinkeney'.
Later traditions tell us that the small stone effigy on the south side of the porch outside the parish church is that of Rattlebone, and that an ancient timber chest in the church, marked with the initials R B, is supposed to be where Rattlebone kept his armour. Whatever the truth is, the Rattlebone Inn opposite the church keeps his name alive, its sign showing Rattlebone in action.
Peaceful parkland and riverside paths lead you downstream to picturesque Easton Grey. Set around a 16th-century stone bridge and climbing a short, curving street is an intimate huddle of ancient stone houses, with mullioned windows, steep, lichen-covered roofs and colourful, flower-filled gardens that touch the river bank. Set back on a rise above the river is Easton Grey House, a handsome 18th-century manor house with a classical façade and portico, surrounded by elegant gardens and lovely valley views. It was the summer retreat of Herbert Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford, when he was Prime Minister between 1908 and 1916.
Rest weary limbs and refuel at the Rattlebone Inn in Sherston. A lively inn with a great atmosphere, the rambling bars are the setting for hearty lunchtime snacks and imaginative evening meals with decent wine and Youngs ales. Alternatively, try the Carpenters Arms which is noted for fresh fish.
Nearby Luckington Court Gardens, TV film location for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1995), has a 3 acre (1.2ha) formal garden and a walled flower garden. Head north just across the border into Gloucestershire to visit Westonbirt Arboretum, one of the finest and most important collections of trees and shrubs in the country. Visit in spring for the impressive displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and wild flowers, and later in the year for the magnificent autumn colours.
The wide, hedged and dead-straight track that you follow on your return route to Sherston is the Fosse Way. This an the ancient Roman road that ran from Lincoln to Exeter and is so named because it was bordered on both sides by a 'fosse' or ditch.