6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Cotswold Life today click here

Cotswold Ways Walk: A sisterly saunter by the Windrush

PUBLISHED: 11:01 12 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:01 12 September 2017

The meadow, looking back to St Mary's

The meadow, looking back to St Mary's

Kevan Manwaring

Walk in the footsteps of the talented and controversial socialites, the Mitford Sisters, around stunning Asthall and sublime Swinbrook. The perfect pub walk for a summer’s day

“Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur” as Ben Macintyre pithily described “those utterly maddening Mitford girls” (The Times, October 12, 2007). Between the six of them, these remarkable siblings seem to epitomize the major fault-lines of the 20th century, and their lives, as much as their literary works, have been the source of popular commentary, academic scrutiny and dramatic interpretation (e.g. Love in a Cold Climate adapted for television in 1980 and 2001).

The Mitfords, daughters of the 2nd Baron Redesdale (David Freeman-Mitford), were great socialites, and Asthall, the handsome Jacobean Cotswold manor house which their father inherited in 1916, hosted frequent hunting and shooting weekend parties after the family ensconced themselves there from 1919. Regular guests included Clementine Churchill, Frederick Lindemann and Walter Sickert.

Self-contained in their aristocratic bubble, the Mitford sisters had a private language called “Boudledidge” (pronounced “bowdledidge”), and each had a different nickname for the others (e.g. Bobo; Decca; Debbo). Their father was called ‘Farve’ and their mother, Sydney Freeman-Mitford, Baroness Redesdale, ‘Muv’.

The youngest of the Mitford sisters Deborah, later Duchess of Devonshire, was born at Asthall in 1920 (she went onto manage Chatsworth House). Her sister Diana had an appendectomy on the spare-bedroom table. Nancy Mitford’s fictional ‘Alconleigh’ in her most enduringly popular novel, The Pursuit of Love (1945) is based largely on Asthall, and family life there is described in Jessica Mitford’s autobiographical Hons and Rebels (1960). Redesdale had never planned to make Asthall Manor a permanent home (although improvements did take place during their time there), and in 1926 the family moved into nearby Swinbrook House which Redesdale had had built on the site of a derelict farm. The Mitfords subsequently leased 26 Rutland Gate in London’s Knightsbridge district following the sale of Asthall. And yet the legacy of the Mitfords presence in the Windrush valley lingers – one can almost hear the popping of champagne, the erudite chatter, and the chandelier tinkling of laughter.

St Mary's, burial place of the MitfordsSt Mary's, burial place of the Mitfords

Check out the map here!

The walk:

1. Park at The Maytime Inn if you’re planning to return for a drink or a meal or both (and who wouldn’t?). Walk out of the carpark and turn right towards the church of St Nicholas.

2. Enter the picturesque churchyard to get a splendid view of Asthall Manor, the childhood home of the Mitford Sisters. Note their private entrance to the churchyard. Admire the gabled Jacobean Cotswold manor house in Asthall, Oxfordshire, built circa 1620 and altered and enlarged in 1916.

3. Leave the churchyard via the gate you entered from, and turn right up the lane. Follow it around, turning right at the corner.

The belltower of St Mary'sThe belltower of St Mary's

4. Heading north-west, follow the lane along, enjoying the contours of the Windrush Valley, until you come to a crossroads by a cricket ground.

5. Turn right at the crossroads until you cross the lovely Windrush by the Swan Inn. Here, enjoy the sparkling waters of both if you wish... or push on.

6. Follow the lane around to the left and keep going until you get to the church of St Mary the Virgin.

7. Enter the churchyard. Just behind the tower – on the side with the ladder going up into the belfry – you’ll find the graves of Nancy, Unity and Pamela Mitford (plus a couple of the Mosley in-laws...).

8. Exit the churchyard via the little snicket between the cottages, turning right and following the stone-walled footpath out to the meadow.

9. Cross the meadow, enjoying the view out across the lake. Climb the stile into the next, heading towards the corner of the stone wall opposite via the old church of St Oswald’s.

The lane from Asthall to SwinbrookThe lane from Asthall to Swinbrook

10. Here is a site of an abandoned medieval village, a victim of the Black Death, although on a sunny day it’s hard to imagine a pleasanter spot.

11. Staying in the meadow, cross the unusual stile and walk uphill through Dean Meadow.

12. When you reach the top, catch your breath before crossing the stile and turning right along the road.

13. Follow this until you come to a path on your left. Follow this NE through some lovely fields full of grazing sheep (keep your dog on a lead), taking the left fork up the slope.

14. Eventually you come out on a lane. Turning right here, follow this along, pass the Hit and Miss Cottages (named after the frequent shooting parties the Mitford Sisters held, I wonder?). Ignoring the signs back to Swinbrook, carry on east straight passed the woods.

15. Until you come to a bridlepath on your right, which runs between the fields back towards Asthall.

A charming signA charming sign

16. Follow this southwards, thinking of the refreshment that awaits you ...

17. Crossing the lane, drop down the charmingly-named Ninety Cut Hill and cross the Windrush, and bob’s your uncle – you’re back in Asthall. The Maytime Inn is not, fortunately, a mirage. Refreshment awaits. Raise a glass to those maddening Mitford Sisters.

Need to know:

Distance: 7.11km / 4.42ml walk

Level: Easy. Suitable footwear essential.

Time: 2 hours.

Pub: The Maytime Inn, Burford, OX18 4HW, tel: 01993 822068; The Swan Inn, Swinbrook, nr Burford, OX18 4DY, tel: 01993 823339.

Dog-friendly: Yes.

Public transport: Buses from Oxford or Cheltenham.

Parking: The Maytime Inn, or nearby.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Cotswold Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Cotswold Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Cotswold Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & about

Yesterday, 13:51

We never tire of pretty pictures of the Cotswolds. Here are ten of the best shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Thursday, September 21, 2017

Being a region so steeped in history, there are plenty of locations in the Cotswolds with spooky stories from over the years. From bloody executions, eerie apparitions and headless horsemen, we pick 23 of the most haunted locations throughout the Cotswolds to visit if you dare

Read more
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Cotswold Life back in 2007, Candia McKormack, now our deputy editor but back then a designer, came up with this brilliant interpretation of the iconic Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album cover. We liked it so much we thought we’d use it again on our 50th anniversary

Read more
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Walk in the footsteps of the talented and controversial socialites, the Mitford Sisters, around stunning Asthall and sublime Swinbrook. The perfect pub walk for a summer’s day

Read more
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Crunchy leaves under foot, bracing walks in beautiful countryside, mugs of hot chocolate in cosy tea rooms and charming pubs with roaring fireplaces – what’s not to love about autumn in the Cotswolds?

Read more
Monday, September 4, 2017

For 80 years now, Bourton-on-the-Water has been one of the country’s finest locations in which to catch sight of Gulliver-esque giants. Join us as we get on hands and knees to take a peek into the homes of Cotswolds’ own Lilliput...

Read more
Friday, September 1, 2017

We go behind the scenes of Oxfordshire’s largest sporting event

Read more
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Positioned on the Roman-built Fosse Way, Moreton-in-Marsh is a town steeped in history. Complete with chocolate box houses and meandering streets, it’s the perfect place to explore for a taste of quintessential Cotswold life. We’ve assembled a brief guide to help you to get the most from your visit…

Read more
Thursday, August 3, 2017

Walk in the footsteps of Lewis Carroll and visit the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland amid the historic water meadows of Oxford

Read more
Thursday, July 27, 2017

Imposing manor houses, quiet medieval villages, idyllic swathes of countryside - the Cotswolds offers a lot for location scouts in the film business. We pick 19 famous filming locations in the Cotswolds, as seen on screens big and small

Read more
Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Reeves family, from Dursley, have always loved cycling through the countryside with daughters, Hannah and Charlotte. But as Charlotte, now 19, grew older, her special needs made cycling increasingly difficult. Their solution – Charlotte’s Tandems – is now an innovative UK-wide charity, as Katie Jarvis discovered

Read more
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thousands of visitors flocked to BBC Countryfile’s first live event last year, and following its monumental success it will return to Blenheim Palace this summer, promising to be bigger and better than ever. We pick ten reasons why Countryfile Live is the perfect day out for the whole family

Read more
Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Jane Leigh visits the Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa to find a thriving independent sector amongst the Regency architecture

Read more
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

There are plenty of fantastic events in the Cotswolds this summer, and many can be enjoyed with man’s best friend in tow. Mark Lewis, Managing Director of Cotswold RAW, the biologically appropriate raw food for dogs, talks us through what’s coming up for you and the family to attend

Read more
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
A+ Education

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Cotswold Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Cotswold's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search