Cotswold Ways Walk: Romantic Miserden to Wild Whiteway
PUBLISHED: 16:38 19 February 2018
Be inspired by the unspoilt delights and dells of Miserden and the fascinating Tolstoyan community of the Whiteway Colony
The beautiful sleepy corner of the Cotswolds where the unspoilt village of Miserden can be found, preserved as in amber from the ravages of modern life (it bucolic charms used as a location for TV and film productions such as Cider with Rosie), seems an unlikely place for Bolshy goings on and nudist anarchism, but just a mile and half away that’s just what happened. Picture the scene: the symbolic burning of deeds impaled on the end of a pitchfork. This was how the Whiteway Colony started, with a disavowal of individual ownership. The anarchist community, founded on noble Tolstoyan principles in the embers of the Nineteenth Century (1898), spreading its firebird wings to shelter ‘socialists, pacifists, ‘immigrant anarchists, Spanish refugees & wartime COs’ under its aegis. Idealistic principles like no money, communal living, naturism and free love attracted inevitable voyeurism, suspicion, and even, at one point in the 1920, Home Office interest, when it was investigated as a security risk. A couple were paid to infiltrate. They reported back wild tales of ‘promiscuous fornication’, but alas, evidence that could stand up in the light of day was lacking. ‘Manners had they none and their customs are beastly,’ wrote an official in 1925. Yet somehow Whiteway weathered the storm and became established, crude dwellings being slowly replaced by a network of bungalows, a village hall, school, youth club, a bakery, playing fields and a swimming pool. The presence of a handicraft guild, gardening group, football team, and a small press give an impression of a healthy, creative community.
Over the years it has attracted famous visitors including Gandhi and Allen Ginsberg. And yet, like any community, it has had its share of misfortune and infighting. The fact of its continual presence is a testimony to its visionary founders. It seems a million miles away from the feudal legacy of Miserden (The name Miserden derives from Musardera, “Musard’s manor”), now a handsome, well-managed estate with a village shop/PO, primary school, parish library and atmospheric pub where Morris dancers are likely to be spotted, leaping jauntily about, perpetuating the quintessentially English idyll, now home to the novelist, Ian McEwan.
Miserden Castle (the remains of the motte and bailey can be found deep in the valley) was a setting in one of the Ellis Peters medieval sleuth series (Brother Cadfael’s Penance), but that’s as exciting as it gets these days.
It is not the go-to destination for the thrill-seeker, unless you have a serious book habit! But on a Sunday afternoon there are few pleasanter spots in England, especially with a drink in hand by the flickering hearth of The Carpenters Arms.
1. Park in Miserden by The Carpenter’s Arms. Walk downhill, turning left at central tree ringed by a bench. Follow road along until you reach the Lutyens’ war memorial and charming church, St Andrews, with its impressive lych-gate and yew portal. The interior is worth visiting for the fine tombs.
2. Back on the lane, continue past St Andrews, the Parish Library and village school and the village shop and Post Office. Ignore first footpath on right leading down to trees; carry on a little further until you come to the footpath on your left (a little wooden gate) – go through this and, heading west, cross the narrow triangular field, until you come to another lane.
3. Cross this and continue straight ahead into next field. On your immediate right (SW) there is the remains of a Neolithic earth barrow (no more than a slight rise in the field). Making a diagonal, strike out across this field (a public right of way) until you the far corner; here climb over a stone stile.
4. Descend the steep field. Ignoring the path that crosses the track, keep heading down towards a hedge. As you approach, a gap appears. Go through this to a second field. Carefully drop down to the houses. You’ll emerge by some friendly goats.
5. Turn right here, following the lane up the hill until you reach a footpath on your right, take this and head north towards Wishanger, following edge of the field.
6. You’ll emerge by Yew Tree Cottage. Turn right here and walk along the road.
7. At Wishanger Manor (Farm) turn left past the impressive farm buildings.
8. Now follow the valley up until you emerge at Whiteway village. Notice the distinctive dwellings on your left.
9. As you reach the main road into Whiteway, you could explore the village, returning to this spot, then proceed up the footpath opposite, which climbs up over the field until eventually dropping down towards Barn Wood.
10. At Barn Wood follow the main trail down to the stream.
11. Cross over and take the path right up the side of the vale.
12. Eventually you come out at the edge of the trees, a field of corn on your left. Follow this path along South East.
13. When you hit the footpath coming from Caulde Green on your left, take a right into the corner of the field. Cross the stone stile (or the gap down to the path if you don’t want to climb over – warning: it can be slippy!).
14. Now head south along the path, dropping down to the vale bottom, crossing a track and keeping straight ahead (the path narrows but persist). It drops steeply down to a clearing. Cross this and ascend up the other side (this can be slippery so walking poles essential).
15. At the brow of the hill head to footpath signpost and cross stile (or go through gate to the right if legs tired). Now, heading south cross field to intersect the hollow lane which winds up to the village.
16. When you reach the metalled lane, take this left as it wends to the left of the nature reserve. It drops down between the trees to a five-bar gate. Here you ascend back up to the village. Its steep but it affords great views of Miserden, and remember – a pub awaits at the end!
Need to know:
Distance: 4.73ml/7.62km walk
Level: Moderate. Some steep/muddy sections. Suitable footwear and walking poles essential.
Parking: Miserden village
Pub: The Carpenters Arms, Miserden, Birdlip, GL6 7JA. Telephone - 01285 821283