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Shipton on Stour
IT’S only a small town today but for centuries Shipston-on- Stour was a major sheep market and commercial centre for the rich agricultural area of south Warwickshire. Known as the Feldon, it was actually part of Worcestershire until boundary changes in 1931. Dozens of beautiful houses from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries testify to its past prosperity, based not only on its status as a market town, but also on its position at the junction of two important roads. The Stratford road was particularly significant in the coaching era and a couple of old coaching inns still grace Shipston’s streets today. There are some very fine buildings on High Street – which is actually a square – but Sheep Street is probably the most charming street in town. Shipston’s connection with sheep goes back a long way; its name derives from the Saxon for ‘sheepwashtown’. This walk heads south from Shipston, initially following part of the long-distance Shakespeare’s Way, to visit the three Warwickshire hamlets of Barcheston, Willington and Burmington, and the picturesque Gloucestershire village of Todenham. There are glimpses of lovely parkland at Tidmington but for much of the way you will be walking through pasture strongly marked with the undulating ridgeand- furrow pattern created by mediaeval ploughing, before the common fields were enclosed for sheep. The old road from Todenham to Shipston, now ‘downgraded’ to byway and bridleway status, makes a splendid return route, especially where it crosses Hanson Hill. Barcheston is a tiny hamlet with a surprising tradition of tapestry weaving, which you can read about in St Martin’s Church, if it’s open. Some historians suggest that Barcheston was once much larger but was depopulated by local landowner William Willington to make way for sheep. There is also a deserted mediaeval village at Ditchford, near Todenham, but nobody really knows whether depopulation in this part of south Warwickshire was due to landowners preferring highly profitable sheep to people, or to the effects of the Black Death in the 14th century.
Start: Shipston-on-Stour, at junction of B4035 and A3400, east of Chipping Campden and south of Stratford-upon-Avon; grid ref SP259404. Length: 7½ miles/12km. Maps: OS Explorer OL45, OS Landranger 151. Terrain: Mostly pasture, with some arable and woodland; mainly flat. Footpaths: Mostly excellent. Stiles: Eight. Parking: Mill Street (B4035) by river Stour. Public transport: By train or bus to Stratford (166 direct on Sundays, 550/551 to Evesham then 28 to Stratford on weekdays) then Stagecoach 50/50A Stratford to Chipping Norton/Banbury, daily, alighting at Mill Street; or by train to Moreton-in-Marsh then taxi to Todenham (three miles); warwickshire.gov.uk or Traveline 0871 200 2233. Refreshments: Shipston and Todenham.
1 Cross the river Stour and walk along the road, passing Fell Mill Lane before taking a footpath on the right, Shakespeare’s Way. Follow it across fields to Barcheston and walk along a lane for
100m until it bends left. Turn right here, still on Shakespeare’s Way. The route is never in doubt, taking a well-trodden course through fields beside the Stour. When you come to a junction at a
bridge go straight on to Willington, without crossing the bridge. Turn right and then go straight on along a footpath when the road bends left by Rushway House. Walk past Manor Farm then go into a
field. Follow the right-hand edge, climb a wobbly stile at the far side – not the one in the corner – cross a small field and then a footbridge. Go to the far left corner of parklike pasture then
proceed to a road. Turn left through Burmington, then turn right at a crossroad.
2 Cross the A3400, join the Todenham lane then take a footpath on the left after Mitford Bridge. Follow Nethercote Brook until you have to cross it at a footbridge. Walk across the next field to a gap left of a tall oak tree at the far side then continue along the edge of another field. Just past Red Barn you’ll come to a junction. Turn right, descend to cross a footbridge then go diagonally left across a large field, aiming for a point between a church spire and a wide-spreading, round-topped oak tree in the hedge; when you reach the highest point of the field you’ll see a stile and can adjust your heading if necessary. Cross two more fields then turn right when you see a concrete track (lacking any signage or waymarking), which leads to Todenham. Turn left past the Farriers Arms and the church.
3 Turn right on a byway (signed ‘public path’) just before the village hall. Ignore branching paths and stay on the byway as it swings right to reach a junction by the entrance to Todenham Manor. Turn left, still on the byway. Keep straight on at a junction, entering a field and shortly crossing Knee Brook – the byway crosses it at a ford below some black poplars, but there’s a footbridge to the left. Proceed through the next field to a lane and cross to a bridleway. It’s easily followed through the first couple of fields until you come to a green gate. Don’t go through this but turn right, following the hedge to another gate in a corner. After this point, the bridleway is unmistakeable (as long as you’re not thrown by the misleading waymarking, with yellow arrows where they should be blue).
4 Keep straight on when you reach the outskirts of Shipston. A sign by an electricity sub-station marks the end of the bridleway and you turn right a few paces further on, along Campden Road. Turn left when you reach Darlingscote Road, then right on Sheep Street. Turn right along High Street, then left on West Street and right to Mill Street.
Worcester News recommends the use of OS Explorer Maps, your ideal passport to navigating the countryside. This walk is based on OS Explorer OL45.