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The Nabob of Sezincote and Bourton-on-the-Hill

Discovering the influences of India through the Cotswold home of Sir Charles Cockerell.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 85ft (25m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tracks, fields and lanes, 7 stiles

Landscape Hedges, field and spinney on lower part of escarpment

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 45 The Cotswolds

Start/finish SP 175324

Dog friendliness Under close control - likely to be a lot of livestock

Parking Street below Bourton-on-the-Hill church, parallel with main road

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk up the road from the telephone box with the church to your right. Turn left down a signposted track between walls. Go through a gate into a field and then continue forward to pass through two more gates.

2 Cross a stile, followed by two kissing gates among the trees. This is the Sezincote Estate - go straight ahead, following markers and crossing a drive. Dip down to a gate among trees, with ponds on either side. Go ahead into a field, from where Sezincote House is visible to the right.

3 Walk into the next field and go right to the end, aiming for the top, right-hand corner. Pass through a gate to a narrow road and turn left. Walk down this road, passing the keepers' cottages to your left, and through a series of gates. The road will bottom out, curve left and right and then bring you to Upper Rye Farm. Pass to the right of the farmhouse, go through a gate and, immediately before a barn, turn left along a track and a road.

4 After a second cattle grid, go left over a stile. Follow the edge of the field to a footbridge. Go over it and turn right. Now follow the right-hand margin of the field to a stile in the far corner. Cross this to follow a path through woodland until you come to a stile and a field and continue on the same line to another stile.

5 Cross a track to another stile and walk on. After a few paces, with Bourton-on-the-Hill plainly visible before you, turn right and follow the path to the next corner. Turn left and pass through three gates. After the third one, walk on for a few paces and turn right through a gate to return to the start.

For anyone with a fixed idea of the English country house, Sezincote will come as something of a surprise. It is, as the poet John Betjeman said, 'a good joke, but a good house, too'. Built on the plan of a typical large country house of the era, in every other respect it is thoroughly unconventional. A large copper onion dome crowns the house, whilst at each corner of the roof are finials in the form of miniature minarets. The walls are of Cotswold stone, but the Regency windows, and much of the decoration, owe a lot to Eastern influence.

Sezincote is a reflection of the fashions of the early 19th century. Just as engravings brought back from Athens had been the inspiration for 18th-century Classicism, so the colourful aqua-tints brought to England from India by returning artists, such as William and Thomas Daniell, were a profound influence on architects and designers. Sezincote was one of the first results of this fashion and the first example of Hindu architecture in England that was actually lived in. Sir Charles Cockerell was a 'nabob', the Hindi-derived word for a European who had made their wealth in the East. On his retirement from the East India Company he had the house built by his brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, an architect. The eminent landscape gardener Humphry Repton helped Cockerell to choose the most picturesque elements of Hindu architecture from the Daniells' drawings.

Some modern materials, like cast iron, were thought to complement the intricacies of traditional Mogul design. The garden buildings took on elements from Hindu temples, with a lotus shaped temple pool, Hindu columns supporting a bridge and the widespread presence of snakes, sacred bulls and lotus buds. The Prince of Wales was an early visitor. The experience obviously made some impression as the extemely Mogul Brighton Pavilion arose not long after. Betjeman was a regular guest at Sezincote during his undergraduate days. 'Stately and strange it stood, the nabob's house, Indian without and coolest Greek within, looking from Gloucestershire to Oxfordshire'.

This walks begins and ends in Bourton-on-the-Hill, a pretty village that would be exceptional were it not for traffic streaming through it on the A44. Nevertheless, there is quite a lot to see here. The church owes its impressive features to the fact that the village was formerly owned by Westminster Abbey, whose income was handsomely supplemented by sales of wool from their vast flocks on the surrounding hills. There is a fine 15th-century clerestory, lighting an interior notable for its substantial nave columns and a rare bell-metal Winchester Bushel and Peck (8 gallons/35.2 litres and 2 gallons/8.8 litres respectively). These particular standard English measures date from 1816, but their origins go back to the 10th century when King Edgar (reigned ad 959-975) decreed that standard weights be kept at Winchester and London. They were used to settle disputes, especially when they involved tithes. Winchester measures finally became redundant in 1824 when the Imperial system was introduced, though many Winchester equivalents remain in the United States. Further down the village, the 18th-century Bourton House has a 16th-century barn in its grounds.

While you're there

Both Sezincote and Bourton House are open to the public but have a limited season, so check their opening hours in advance. Batsford Arboretum and Falconry is only a mile (1.6km) away, just off the road to Moreton-in-Marsh.

What to look for

As you start the walk look for a 'hole in the wall' just after the first gate. It consists of a tap located behind wooden doors just above ground, with the words 'Deo Gratias ad 1919', inscribed in the wall above. I presume this is in gratitude for the end of the Great War. After Sezincote, as you walk down the road towards the farm, look for the buildings of the Fire Service Technical College, the main training centre for firefighters in the country.

Where to eat and drink

The Horse and Groom is a handsome old pub at the top of the village. Recently refurbished, it serves good lunches. In Moreton-in-Marsh seek out the Marsh Goose, a restaurant specialising in good quality local produce.

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