Cotswold Ways Walk: A bimble round Dumbleton
12:49 06 February 2017
Walk in the footsteps of arguably the greatest English travel writer of the 20th century, Patrick Leigh Fermor, visiting his last home, his grave, and the magnificent Dumbleton Hall, where roaring fires, Sunday lunches and afternoon teas await to be indulged in
Dumbleton is an attractive village nestled beneath an outlier of the Cotswolds, Dumbleton Hill, on the western edge of the region, 20 miles north of Gloucester. It is the final resting place of travel-writer, adventurer, soldier and scholar Patrick Leigh Fermor DSO, a ‘modern Lord Byron’ whose extra-ordinary life has inspired films (e.g. Ill-Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde, in 1957) and books (most recently, Artemis Cooper’s award-winning biography, Patrick Leigh Fermor: an adventure).
Born in London in 1915, at the age of 18 he famously walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople and wrote about his adventures and insights in his two masterpieces, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and Water (1986). A third volume, The Broken Road (2013) was published posthumously after he died in 2011, eight years after his wife, Joan Elizabeth Rayner, one of the aristocratic Eyres-Monsells of Dumbleton and literally to the manor born. Paddy, as he was affectionately-known, inherited Mill House, on the edge of the village in 1994. He is buried in St Mary’s church and he’s in good company. Inside, there is a memorial to a fellow adventurer, Gino Watkins, an Arctic explorer. If the excitement gets too much, then you can retire to the splendour of Dumbleton Hall, renowned for its literary parties in the Thirties frequented by the likes of Sir John Betjeman, poet laureate. Perhaps the Muse will strike over sandwiches and scones?
1. Park on Dairy Lane near the village hall. Head back towards the village and turn right. Proceed along the High Street, walking towards the church, admiring the pretty houses, especially the splendid Grade II Listed Rectory on your right with its Tudor frontage.
2. Head towards the charming drinking fountain, raised by five old friends of Edward Holland, who died in 1875.
3. Enter the churchyard of St Mary’s. Note how the clock tower is missing hands – it’s certainly timeless around here! Also observe the lovely goblinish green man, expunging mistletoe-like foliage from its mouth above the doorway. You might wish to venture inside if a service isn’t on, and view the memorial to Gino Watkins (1907-1932), nephew of 1st Viscount Monsell, who tragically died on a kayak expedition in Greenland. On the southside of the churchyard you’ll find the distinctive pale grey Portland gravestone of Patrick Leigh Fermor with its compass rose and Greek inscription which translates as: ‘HE WAS OF THAT EXCELLENCE WHICH IS OF GREECE’.
4. Exit the churchyard via the side-gate nearest Leigh Fermor’s tomb and head through the gates of Dumbleton Hall Hotel. Head up the drive-way, minding out for cars. You might wish to traverse the grass, heading to the magnificent Cedars of Lebanon in front of the hotel, a good place to pause to enjoy the view back, before going through the gap in the poles at the head of the drive, by the cattle-grid. Go through the gate next to this and walk along the side of the hotel to the far-corner. Turn around and enjoy the view of the hall, before descending down the steps to the lake. Keeping this on your left, follow it and then the stream which feeds it, up to a romantic archway. Beyond this you’ll find a secret garden with a memorial to Postal Workers who gave their lives in the Second World War. Amble around the grounds in a clockwise direction. Enjoy the view back towards the hall and beyond to the Cotswold escarpment. Make your way down towards the Orangery, and contemplate refreshments (booking ahead recommended).
5. Leaving Dumbleton Hall, make your way back down the drive, once again minding any cars. Pass the cricket pavilion and grounds on your left, returning to the gatehouse.
6. Outside, turn right and cross the road to the stile (note the Footpath sign). Following the direction of the ‘Public Footpath’, rather than Winchcombe Way, head alongside the field towards the snow-post in the far corner.
7. Turn left at the snow-post, and follow the second field down towards the road and a 5-bar gate.
8. Cross road carefully, and bear left, to Mill Cottages. Follow the Public Footpath sign down to Mill House, last home of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Here he peacefully lived out his last decade and half, owning ‘the only river in England that flowed north’.
9. Returning to the corner of the field, turn right and, heading north, follow the line of the field until you get to a track. Then, turning left (and west) head back towards the village. When you reach the B4078, turn right (northwards), then cross to a Public Footpath sign on your left. Take this across the field (west again) to the village.
10. You should emerge on Blacksmith’s Lane. Turn left on the High Street and you’ll be back at the junction with Dairy Lane, where your chariot awaits. Bravo!
Kevan Manwaring is a Stroud-based writer and storyteller. He is the author of Oxfordshire Folk Tales and Northamptonshire Folk Tales, a contributor to English Folk Tales and editor of the forthcoming Ballad Tales, all from The History Press. He teaches creative writing for the Open University and in the Stroud-area.