As the days grow slightly longer, and with my Welsh Castle Wander in mind, I’m trying to undertake a few 10-or-more mile walks. Of course, if I can make them coincide with some form of medieval theme, I will. I love to wander across the countryside, far from the madding crowd, where you can really feel a connection with the past. There’s something quite magical about actually travelling somewhere on foot: to have a starting point and a destination. After all, that’s how most people got about in the Middle Ages. I find it gives a totally different perspective on an area you’d normally only see from the road, and you can discover so much more about the land and its history. You feel a part of it. And a part of then.
So yesterday the journey of choice was from Fawsley Church in Northamptonshire to my mum’s home near Banbury. It took in two deserted medieval villages and their solitary churches, and some lovely views.
The Church of St Mary stands alone in an elevated position on the Fawsley Estate, but it was once the centre of a bustling village, lost over time to sheep farming, landscaping and the building of the nearby Tudor manor, now a country hotel. Fawsley seems to have been a thriving community in 13th Century, as is shown by Henry III granting it a Market Charter in 1244, but its fortunes declined after the arrival of the powerful Knightley family in 1416. They were great sheep farmers, so they enclosed the lands and the subsequent depopulation of the village became such that by 1524 only 7 people were listed as paying subsidy to Henry VIII. It made the Knightleys pretty unpopular.
The effigies of Sir Richard Knightley and his wife on their splendid alabaster tomb
Inside the church are some interesting finds. A superb, free-standing alabaster tomb of Sir Richard Knightley, who fought with the Lancastrians at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and lived on until well into Henry VIII’s reign, stands by the south aisle, and behind this is the high-sided Knightley pew, designed to hide the family from the rest of the congregation. However, its position meant that they couldn’t see what the priest was doing at the altar, so they had a ‘squint’ (a big square hole!) put into the south wall of the chancel so they could see what was going on.
Away across fields and through the odd spinney, we came to another deserted medieval village, Church Charwelton. This seems to have followed a similar story to Fawsley, with the Andrews family keeping 1200 animals by 1539. There remains a spectral presence in the landscape here, beside the lonely church, with the tell-tale ‘lumps and bumps’ of the former settlement’s earthworks still prominent. It’s quite haunting to wander in the footsteps of these ancient villagers, and I could almost hear their voices.
Remnants in the earth of the deserted Charwelton with its church looking on
Onwards through ever quiet rolling landscape, and soon it was time for a welcome stop at a pub in the very un-deserted village of Eydon. I always seem to gain a massive energy boost if I stop half way through a long walk for a huge glass of wine! With that gorgeous wood burning stove I could have happily settled down there for the rest of the afternoon, but there was a fair distance still to go.
Time to refuel
The last leg
Crossing a babbling stream
It wasn’t their fault the villagers were turfed off the land…
The remainder of the walk took us across a landscape that soon, sadly, will be less peaceful and undisturbed when it falls victim to HS2, which will cut straight through this green and pleasant land. The madness of modernity strikes again. But for now, it’s a tonic to stroll across green fields and running streams, before the last climb uphill to Thorpe Mandeville and the promise of hot tea and my mum’s warm cheese scones.