Cotswold Ways Walk: Springing thyme on Bredon Hill
- Credit: Candia McKormack
A bracing walk up to the summit of Bredon Hill is the perfect way to see in the Spring. A local saying warns ‘When Bredon Hill has on his hat, men of the vale beware of that’, but whatever the weather the charm of Elmley Castle and its inn will more than compensate!
The distinctive bulwark of Bredon Hill is, at 981 ft, the highest in the Cotswolds. It is a magnificent summit to ascend on a spring day, affording edifying views over Worcestershire and Gloucestershire and beyond. It draws the eye and inspires the legs, and has attracted the attention of Celtic chieftains and Roman centurions, a raggle-taggle of merry fair-goers followed by a disapproving bustle of Victorian worthies, plus a whole murmuration of poets, artists, writers and composers.
The most notable bard to be associated with it is A.E. Housman, who immortalised it in his classic evocation of the land of lost content, A Shropshire Lad: XXI, ‘In Summertime on Bredon’. With its memorable opening lines of ‘In summertime on Bredon/The bells they sound so clear;/Round both the shires they ring them/In steeples far and near,/A happy noise to hear’ it may seem like an odd choice for brisk March, but the poem that begins so optimistically strikes a chillier note half way through (‘But when the snows at Christmas/On Bredon top were strown,’). Like the two counties the hill overlooks, the poem seems to position itself between two extremes, tonally and thematically. Halfway between winter and summer seems like the ideal time to check out the source of Housman’s inspiration.
An outlier of the Cotswold Hills, Bredon (etymologically, Bre: ‘hill’; Dun: ‘hill’: so good they named it thrice!) has some fascinating features including Roman earthworks (Worcestershire’s largest hoard, of 4,000 coins, was discovered there in 2011), the romantic tower known as the Parson’s Folly (or more prosaically, the Banbury Stone Tower), and some strange stones. Most notable of these, unmissable indeed as the ‘elephant on the hill’, is the so-called Elephant Stone.
Until c. 1876 a fair and summer games were held on the hill every Whitsun, until things got a bit too Bacchanalian for Victorian sensibilities and the tradition ended. Today it remains a popular spot for hikers and picnickers.
1. Park in at the picnic area, just outside Elmley Castle. Heading towards the ridge, cross over the stile and proceed along the edge of the field.
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2. Heading south-east, carry along the top end of the field until you reach a metal gate, where the path joins the Wychavon Way.
3. Through the gate make your way through the woods, climbing the steep track.
4. Just past a little footbridge over boggy ground, you will see, on the rise, a footpath sign pointing right, between the trees. Taking this, make your way between Fiddler’s Knap and Castle Hill.
5. Keep climbing, heading up to the ridge. Don’t lose heart: the views will be worth it!
6. Finally you emerge out on the ridge. Now the way is a lot easier. After you’ve caught your breath (there is a bench conveniently situated for this purpose) turn right, and follow the path along the edge of the escarpment, with the slope of Long Plantation on your right.
7. The footpath drops down a few contours, but soon regains the height as you push up to the tower, which will soon hove into view. Nearly there!
8. Following the path along the edge westwards, you’ll pass through the earthworks of Kemerton Camp, finally reaching the magnificent Parson’s Folly, aka Banbury Stone Tower, which is nowhere near Banbury! It is apparently a derivation of ‘Baenintesburg’, a fact you can impress your friends with (perhaps!). The tower was built in the mid-18th century for John Parsons, MP (1732–1805), squire of Kemerton Court and intended, somewhat optimistically, as a summer house.
9. Admire the views, you’ve earned them!
10. Before you leave the tower (retracing your steps along the path) take a moment to squeeze through the King and Queen Stones – it’s meant to be good for your health (unless you get stuck of course)!
11. Continue back past the fort to the point where the footpath starts to drop down the hill. Take this first turning on your left.
12. Follow the path as its descends the hill back towards Elmley Castle. It eventually emerges by some farm buildings (Hill House Farm) at the top of Hill Lane. Follow this metalled lane down to the village.
13. A footpath on your right cuts off a corner of the field, but either way, it’s not far.
14. Turn right into the village. Proceed along past the charming houses with their heavy eaves of thatch, Tudor beams and babbling brook. A more charming corner of England it would be hard to find.
15. Around the corner you come to the Queen Elizabeth Inn. Time for refreshments!
16. Once restored, take the narrow alley opposite the pub back to the picnic place carpark. Well done!
Need to know:
Distance: 4.88miles / 7.85km walk
Level: Moderate. Some steep/muddy sections. Suitable footwear and walking poles essential.
Parking: Elmley Castle picnic area
Pub: The Queen Elizabeth, Main Street, Nr Pershore, Worcestershire WR10 3HS