Far from the Madd(en)ing Crowd

The title of this blog is actually rather a misnomer for the picturesque village of East Hendred is, in reality, quite close to both London and Oxford.  Nestling at the foot of the Berkshire Downs, its charm and ancient houses give it the appearance of a place far from civilisation and today’s frenetic pace of life.

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East Hendred (9) copyright

A traditional English village centres around the ‘big house,’ the pub and the church and East Hendred can boast that its manor has been owned by the same family, the Eystons, for over six hundred years.  It has three pubs thereby bucking the trend in recent years of the many pub closures elsewhere that often sees the social heart of a community destroyed.East Hendred (18) copyright

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There has been a village shop for very many years for a book published in 1922 (English Country Life & Work by  Ernest C. Pulbrook) shows it in a photograph.  Today, the shop is still “thriving and well-accustomed” although it is doubtful if it now sells the wooden hay rakes that are lined up outside on the early photo!  The building has remained unchanged over the years although the village changed allegiance in 1974 and is now in the county of Oxfordshire.  The shop is easily recognisable in my photograph as being at the far end of the row.East Hendred (1) copyright

East Hendred 1(a)

The church, dedicated to St Augustine of Canterbury, dates from the late twelfth century although its tower is later, built around 1450.  East Hendred (17) copyright

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At the other end of the village is the former Chapel of Jesus of Bethlehem also built around 1450 by Carthusian monks.  Now known as Champs Chapel, it houses a small museum dedicated to the history of the village.  It is opened and maintained by volunteers.

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Despite its historic past, the parish of East Hendred which is crossed by the ancient Ridgeway path (now a National Trail) is also firmly fixed in the modern day for it also houses the Harwell Science and Innovation Centre where the Diamond Syncrotron Facility is located.

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In the Footsteps of the Danes

In 858AD Hubba the Dane invaded England to be defeated by the Saxons at the Battle of Arx Cynuit. Recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles by Asser, biographer of King Alfred the Great, the site of the battle it is thought took place at Countisbury, a tiny clifftop community on Exmoor. Whether true or fanciful, a walk to Wind Hill hillfort* is well worth the effort. It is a place where it is possible to experience all the elements that Exmoor offers in one glorious 360 degree panoramic view.

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All the best English country walks should start and end at a pub and there are plenty of options to choose on this one. Mine started from the Blue Ball Inn at Countisbury which is as welcoming now as it was when I first crossed its threshold fifty years earlier.

Blue Ball (2) copyright

Turning left from the pub, walk down the road for a few yards before entering a gate to National Trust land, also on the left and the starting point of several extensive walks. Our destination is a short walk and is the high point close to the road. The path to the fort is well defined and grass covered; it merges with a field access track that leads gently uphill to its entrance. The second photograph below is taken from the fort: the pub is the white building.Wind Hill (9) copyrightWind Hill (5) copyright

The fort is a rare example of a promontory fort where the natural landscape has been adapted to create the defences. The coastal cliffs which form its northern defence are the highest in England rising to over 300 metres, to the west and south the East Lyn River has cut a deep gorge. Where necessary double ramparts were built to defend the weaker areas: at the entrance they still rise, after two thousand years or more, to an impressive thirteen metres.

Wind Hill (10) copyrightWind Hill (2) copyright

Although it is possible to make Wind Hill part of a longer walk I prefer not to do this. It is rare to meet anyone else here and to be able to explore the 85 acre site in splendid isolation gives a real feel of the place. Just spend time enjoying the silence,  lying down with your back propped against the ramparts listening to the wind and sheep calling.  As mentioned earlier, the views from the fort are magnificent: heather moorland, ancient woodland, hills, villages, sea, cliffs, the distant coast of Wales as well as wild creatures, ranging from the iconic red deer to seabirds and butterflies.

Wind Hill (8) copyright

 

* also known as Countisbury Castle

 

 

Links:

Historic England

The Megalithic Portal

Exmoor National Park

The Blue Ball Inn