Cotswold Walk: Chipping Campden to Dover’s Hill
Kirsty Hartsiotis and Anthony Nanson
- Credit: Kirsty Hartsiotis and Anthony Nanson
On the trail of doomed love around and about Chipping Campden
A woman, who is beautiful, though not in the first flush of youth, is hurrying up Dyer’s Lane from Chipping Campden. In the light of the full moon the white silk cloak she hugs around her shoulders is like a beacon. The dress underneath is dark and severe, and she wears a tall Puritan hat and white cap over her scraped-back hair. When she gets to Dover’s Hill, she positions herself in sight of the gate below. There, high on the hill, she pulls off her cloak and waits. After what seems an age, in which all that can be heard is the occasional bleat of a lamb and the bass note of the mother’s answer, there comes at last the sound of a horse’s pounding hooves. The rider races into view, black clad on his black horse, a swift shadow in the night. The woman waves her white cloak above her head. Its brightness in the moonlight is enough to stop the rider. He climbs the gate and strides up the hill towards her…
It could be a scene from a romantic movie. The Puritan maid who risks all for the love of the dashing Cavalier. They were childhood friends, Beatrice Morris and Sir Roger Northwick, but, in the Civil War, friends and families were torn asunder. Beatrice’s family were for Parliament. Sir Roger fought for the King and, like many Royalists, he fell on hard times after the war. His property confiscated, he turned highwayman to make ends meet. In a film or novel, there might be a happy ending, but in local folklore such an outcome is less likely. It’s said that on moonlit nights the shade of the white lady is still seen waving her cloak on Dover’s Hill. The gate below bears her name: White Lady’s Gate. This month’s walk takes you up that hill, through a lovely wood, and back down to Campden.
Although its heyday as wool town was over by the 17th century, Chipping Campden was still prosperous. The view from the junction of Sheep Street and the High Street, where our walk begins, is probably little different from the one that Sir Roger and Beatrice knew. Make your way along Park Road to the left, then turn right up Littleworth. The public footpath you want is a short way along on the left. The building of a new housing estate has temporarily required the footpath to be re-routed to the right when you enter the building site, round the back of the new houses, and then into the field beyond.
Cross the field diagonally and turn right on Dyer’s Lane. You’re now on Beatrice’s route up Dover’s Hill, and Sir Roger’s way down for a hard night’s highwayman work on the main road between Broadway and Stow. It was on that main road that Sir Roger chanced to waylay the carriage in which Beatrice was travelling. When he spoke courteously to return the brooch she’d handed over, she recognised him. What was she to do? Be a good Puritan and citizen and report him – or say nothing? In fond memory of their childhood days, she resolved she must meet him.
Dyer’s Lane is busier today than it was then, so cross over at the impressive gates to Campden House and follow the path along the edge of a wood and bean field. From the crossroads at the top, join the Cotswold Way to reach the National Trust car park and viewpoint on Dover’s Hill, with fantastic views of the Vale of Evesham. It’s about here that Beatrice stood to wave her white cloak in the moonlight. Look down to the left and you’ll see a double gate beside the lane to the west. At this gate – or its predecessor – the spinster and the Cavalier met and love sparked between them. Of course Beatrice wouldn’t turn him in! She returned to Dover’s Hill night after night to meet him, each time waving her white cloak to catch his eye.
Follow the path around the edge of the woodland and then enter Lynches Wood at a kissing gate. When you come to a junction of paths, go left down the long flight of steps. The route loops through the woods where, one warm spring night, Sir Roger and Beatrice became lovers among the sleeping bluebells. They’re not the only ones to have plighted their troth in this wood.
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Keep right at the next meeting of paths and you’ll eventually emerge back at the bottom of Dover’s Hill. In their younger days, Beatrice and Sir Roger would have come to this hill to enjoy the Whitsun games presided over by Sir Robert Dover. These games became known as the Cotswold Olympicks and had competitions for everything from shin-kicking to chess. They took place from 1612 until the Civil War and resumed after the Restoration until Victorian primness conspired with land enclosure to terminate the event in 1852, describing it as the ‘trysting place of the lowest of the population’. The Olympicks were revived again in 1951, for the Festival of Britain, and have been a regular June event since the 1960s – until the pandemic imposed a hiatus.
When you’ve hiked back up the hill, you can enjoy the view again and contemplate the denouement of Beatrice and Sir Roger’s story. Beatrice’s Puritan brother John spotted her sneaking out and followed her – only to see her in the arms of the vagabond Cavalier. He had to put a stop to that! One night he caught her when she was about to leave, took her white cloak from her, and confined her in their uncle’s house. Then John rode with a posse of troopers to intercept Sir Roger. It was John Morris who waved the cloak that night. In the fight that ensued, Sir Roger was killed. Poor Beatrice lost her reason when she found out. The first full moon after she was allowed out of her uncle’s house – in December – she took her white cloak and went up Dover’s Hill. They found her the next morning, dead and cold by the gate. But her ghost still returns, waving her white cloak in the moonlight, still hoping to meet her love.
It’s thanks to the foresight of a resident of Chipping Campden that we can wander at will on Dover’s Hill. The artist F. L. Griggs – who also designed the town’s war memorial – almost bankrupted himself to save the hill from being developed as a hotel complex. For him it was a ‘sacred hill’, and it was there he asked his wife, Nina, to marry him.
Bear right along the top edge of the National Trust land and, past a copse of trees and before the trig point, there’s a kissing gate to the arm of the Cotswold Way that leads back down a path and then a leafy track to the town. In the little Catholic church of St Catharine, on the corner of Lower High Street, you can find more work by Griggs and other Arts and Crafts designers. Back at the junction with Sheep Street you’ve reached the very end of the Cotswold Way, which stretches 100 miles from Bath. Chipping Campden is quite a hotspot of folklore. There are more tales we could tell, from the dark deeds of the Campden Wonder to the ghostly bear at Westington. Those are stories – and walks – for another day.
Distance: 4 miles.
Duration: 3 hours.
Level: Fairly easy walking but with some quite steep ascents and descents.
Parking: Road parking in Chipping Campden.
Toilets and refreshments: Many eateries in Chipping Campden. Public toilets on Sheep Street.
Transport links: You can reach Chipping Campden by bus from Stratford-on-Avon and Moreton-in-Marsh on Nos 1 and 2 Johnson’s Excelbus, and from Cheltenham, Bishop’s Cleeve and Winchcombe on Pulham’s Coaches 606 and 608.
Map: OS Explorer OL45 The Cotswolds.
Further reading: Gloucestershire Folk Tales, by Anthony Nanson; Gloucestershire Folk Tales for Children, by Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis.
Kirsty Hartsiotis and Anthony Nanson are Stroud-based storytellers and writers. Their books include Gloucestershire Folk Tales, Wiltshire Folk Tales, Gloucestershire Ghost Tales, and Gloucestershire Folk Tales for Children. Kirsty is also the curator of decorative and fine art at The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, Cheltenham. Anthony runs the small press Awen Publications.