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Weaving Along the Stroud Valley

Discover the impact of the Industrial Revolution in the steep-sided Cotswold valleys.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 495ft (150m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Fields, lanes, canal path and tracks, 3 stiles

Landscape Canal, road and railway, valley and steep slopes, villages

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 168 Stroud, Tetbury and Malmesbury

Start/finish SO 892025

Dog friendliness Good, with few stiles and little livestock

Parking Lay-by east of Chalford church

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk towards Chalford church. Immediately before it, cross the road and locate a path going right, towards a canal roundhouse. Note the Belvedere Mill across to your left and follow the tow path alongside the Thames and Severn Canal on your right.

2 Cross a road and continue along the tow path as it descends steps. Now follow this path for about 2 miles (3.2km). It will soon disappear under the railway line via a gloomy culvert, so that the railway will now be on your right, beyond the old canal. Old mills and small factories line the route.

3 Shortly before arriving in Brimscombe the path passes beneath the railway again. Soon after, it becomes a road leading into an industrial estate. At a road opposite a large, old mill turn left, to come to a junction. Cross and turn right. Immediately after the Ship Inn turn left along a road among offices and workshops. Continue straight on along a path, with factory walls to your right. The canal reappears on your left. As you walk on into the country you will pass beneath three brick bridges and a metal footbridge.

4 At the next bridge, with a hamlet high on your left, turn right to follow a path to a road. Cross this and turn left. After a few paces turn right up a short path to meet Thrupp Lane. Turn right. At the top, turn left into Claypits Lane, turn right just before Thrupp Farm and climb up steeply.

5 After a long climb, as the road levels out, you will see Nether Lypiatt Manor in front of you. Turn right, beside a tree, over a stile into a field. Go half left to the far corner. Cross a stone stile and follow a narrow path beside trees to a road. Descend a lane opposite. Where it appears to fork, go straight on, to descend past a house. Enter woodland and fork right near the bottom. Keep a pond on your left and cross a road to climb Bussage Hill. After 100yds (91m) pass a lane on the left. At the top fork left. Opposite the Ram Inn (Point B) turn right.

6 After a telephone box and bus shelter turn left to follow a path among houses into woodland. Go ahead until you meet a road. Turn left and immediately right down a path beside a cemetery. Descend to another road. Turn right for 50yds (46m), then turn left down a steep lane among trees, leading back to Chalford. At the bottom turn left to return to the start of the walk.

Wool has been associated with the Cotswolds for many centuries. During the Middle Ages the fleece of the 'Cotswold Lion' breed was the most prized in all of Europe. Merchants from many countries despatched their agents to purchase it from the fairs and markets of the wold towns in the northern part of the region - most famously Northleach, Cirencester and Chipping Campden. Woven cloth eventually became a more important export and so the industry moved to the southern Cotswolds, with its steeper valleys and faster-flowing streams, which were well suited to powering woollen mills.

The concentration of mills in the Stroud area was evident by the early 15th century. Indeed, its importance was such that in a 1557 Act of Parliament that restricted cloth manufacture to towns, the villages of the Stroud area were exempted. By 1700 the lower Stroud Valley was producing 30,000 bolts (about 4.59 million sq m) of cloth every year. At this time the spinning and weaving was done in domestic dwellings or workhouses, the woven cloth then being returned to the mill for fulling, roughening and shearing. The mills were driven by the natural flow of the streams but the Industrial Revolution was to bring rapid change. There was great opposition to the introduction of mechanical spinning and shearing machines. This was heightened in 1795 by the development of the improved broadloom with its flying shuttle. The expectation was that, as well as compelling weavers to work in the mills rather that at home, it would bring mass unemployment. Progress marched on, however, and by the mid-19th century there were over 1,000 looms at work in the Stroud Valley. They came with their share of political unrest too, and in 1825 and 1828 strikes and riots had to be quelled by troops. The industry went into decline through the course of the 19th century, as steam replaced water power and it migrated northwards to the Pennines. By 1901 only 3,000 people were employed in the cloth industry, compared with 24,000 in the mid-17th century. Today, only one mill remains.

This walk begins in Chalford, an attractive village built on the steep sides of the Stroud Valley. Its streets are lined with terraces of 18th- and 19th-century clothiers' houses and weavers' cottages. On the canalside the shells of woollen mills are still plentiful.

The 18th-century church contains fine examples of craftsmanship from the 'Arts and Crafts' period of the late 19th century. Nether Lypiatt Manor is a handsome manor house now owned by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Known locally as 'the haunted house', it was built in 1702 for Judge Charles Cox. Its classical features and estate railings, all unusual in the Cotswolds, inspired wealthy clothiers to spend their money on the addition of graceful elevations to their own houses.

While you're there

High up on the far side of the Stroud Valley, there are a number of places to go. Woodchester has a well-preserved, Roman mosaic and an unfinished, 19th-century gothic mansion. Rodborough Common is the site of an 18th- and 19th-century fort that was originally built as a luxurious palace by a wealthy wool dyer. At Selsley is a little church filled with stained glass designed by members of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

What to look for

As you walk along the Stroudwater Canal look out for the birds that like to creep among the reeds: moorhens and coots, of course, but occasionally a heron will suddenly launch itself up from out of the undergrowth. Voles and stoats can be seen, and even the occasional adder.

Where to eat and drink

There are two easy possibilities en route: the Ship Inn at Brimscombe and the Ram Inn at Bussage. Only a short distance from Brimscombe is Stroud, which has several restaurants and cafes.

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