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Windrush Stone Secrets

An insight into Cotswold stone, the building blocks of the region's beauty.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hs 30min

Ascent/gradient 120ft (37m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Fields, tracks and pavement, 11 stiles

Landscape Streams, fields, open country and villages

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 45 The Cotswolds

Start/finish SP 192130

Dog friendliness Some care required but long stretches without livestock

Parking Windrush village

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk out of the village, keeping to the left of the church and, after about 100yds (91m), go right, through a gate into a field. Go across this field to the other side, keeping to the left.

2 Go through the right-hand gate and continue across a series of stiles until you emerge in a large field at a wide grass strip (careful here, as it is used for 'galloping' horses) with the houses of Little Barrington opposite. Cross two thirds of the field, then turn left and head for the hedge at the bottom.

3 Go through a gap to a road. Ahead is the Fox Inn. Turn right, enter Little Barrington and turn left along a 'No Through Road' which narrows to a path. Where the path becomes a lane, go left across a bridge and continue, eventually emerging in Great Barrington at a cross. Take the road in front of you.

4 Where the wall on your left ends, go left on to a track and immediately right. Stay on this track for a little over 1 mile (1.6km) until you come to a junction of tracks with large hedges before you.

5 Turn left and follow this track until you enter scrubby woodland. Cross the river and follow a grassy track until, just before Century Woods, you turn left into a field. Follow the margin of the woods. Cross another bridge into a field and turn half right to the far corner. Go over the bridge, cross a stile and go half left to another stile.

6 Take the track before you and then turn left over another stile. Cross this field to go through a gate and walk along the right-hand margin on the same line for several fields.

7 Come to a stile at a corner. Go over into the next field and cross it on a right diagonal, in the general direction of a distant village. On the far side go through a gap into another field, with a stone wall on your right. Continue for several fields and pass a stone barn to the right, at which point the River Windrush will appear to your left. Finally, pass a tin barn to your left-hand side, just as you arrive at a gate by a lane.

8 Opposite, go up to a stile. In the next field follow its perimeter as it goes right and brings you to a stile. Cross to a path and follow it into Windrush village.

The Cotswolds, characterised by villages of gilded stone, lie mainly in Gloucestershire. Stone is everywhere here - walk across any field and shards of oolitic limestone lie about the surface like bits of fossilised litter. This limestone, for long an obstacle to arable farming, is a perfect building material. In the past almost every village was served by its own quarry, a few of which are still worked today. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, made largely of material derived from living organisms that thrived in the sea that once covered this part of Britain. The rock is therefore easily extracted and easily worked; some of it will actually yield to a handsaw. Of course this is something of a generalisation as, even in a small area, the quality of limestone varies considerably in colour and in texture, suiting certain uses more than others. But it is for its golden hue, due to the presence of iron oxide, that it is most famous.

The composition of the stone dictates the use to which it will be put. Some limestone, with a high proportion of grit, is best suited to wall building or to hut building. Some outcrops are in very thin layers and are known as 'presents' because they provide almost ready-made material for roof-slates. Sometimes the stone needs a little help and in this case it is left out in the winter so that frost freezes the moisture trapped between layers, forcing them apart. The stone can then be shaped into slates and hung on a wooden roof trellis by means of a simple nail. The smallest slates are placed at the top of the roof, the largest at the bottom. Because of their porous nature, they have to overlap and the roof is built at a steep pitch, so that the rain runs off quickly.

There are four basic types of stone construction in the Cotswolds - dry-stone, mortared rubble, dressed stone and ashlar. Dry-stone, without mortar, is used in boundary walls. Mortared rubble, on the other hand, depends on the use of lime pointing in order to stay upright. Dressed stone refers to the craft of chopping and axing stone to give a more polished and tighter finish. Ashlar is the finest technique, where the best stone is sawn and shaped into perfectly aligned blocks that act either as a facing on rubble, or which, more rarely, make up the entire wall. Ashlar was used in the finer houses and, occasionally, in barns. The quality of Cotswold stone has long been recognised and the quarries here, west of Burford, provided building material for St Paul's Cathedral and several Oxford colleges.

What to look for

Towards Little Barrington you should see Barrington Park, in the middle distance on your left. This Palladian house was built by William Kent for Earl Talbot (George II's Lord Chancellor) in the 18th century.

Where to eat and drink

En route there is one pub, the Fox Inn, at Little Barrington, charmingly located by a stream. In the summer you can eat in the garden, which is very helpful if you are with children.

While you're there

To the east is the small but magnificent town of Burford (actually in Oxfordshire). Its main street, flanked by a cascade of beautiful houses, leads down to the River Windrush, spanned by a bridge dating from 1322. Wool drove Burford's early prosperity; then, in the 18th century, it was an important stop on the coaching route to Oxford and London.

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