Sunday, 11 July 2010

Belas Knap & Winchcombe

At the end of June we escaped across the border to visit nearby
Belas Knap, a prehistoric monument situated in the heart of the Cotswolds. Along the way we stopped on a top road to look across to our eventual destination - the wooded area covering the horizon. But first I wanted to pop into Winchcombe, a bustling little town which has stood here for over a thousand years.

If I were holidaying in the Cotswolds, I might get somewhat tired of reading recommendations to visit the usual tourist hotspots. Where else, I might ask, can I see unspoilt buildings and absorb heritage, without the droves of coaches and sweaty crowds, without tacky souvenir shops and half a dozen tearooms? The answer would be - visit
Winchcombe, a real, living, breathing town with bundles of history and individual shops, galleries and pubs which not only cater for the always welcome visitors, but for the locals as well.

My reason for popping in was to say hello to a couple of Twitter friends who have businesses within whistling distance of each other - just to put names to faces. On the main High Street is a wonderful old fashioned toyshop called
Sprogs, crammed with the most gorgeous array of new and modern playthings. I defy anyone to enter it and not emerge with some treasure, be it for themselves or a gift for a lucky child. I treated myself to a tin kaleidoscope. Sadly it was the owner's day off, so no Twitter meet up, but I did have the pleasure of talking to their assistant, who looked after me splendidly.

Next on my list was the
Winds of Change Gallery, just along the road, where I introduced myself again and was given the warmest of welcomes and a little tour. Although it is a modest size, it is beautifully laid out with a wide ranging and ever changing display of fine arts and crafts.

My visit had to be fairly quick though, despite the kind offer of coffee in the courtyard, which I will be taking up next time. We were headed to nearby Belas Knap, about a mile out of town. Parking the bike, we had spectacular views across to Winchcombe and beyond. If you look down you can just see
Sudely Castle, nestling in the landscape with historic grace as it has done for centuries.

The walk up to Belas Knap is fairly short - about a mile or more - but it is all uphill. The views are worth it though. Here we can see across to our first stopping point on the top road coming in - a little wisp of smoke just to the right being our landmark, which we saw from the other side as we looked over a couple of hours previously.

It was a hot, muggy day and the sheep were taking refuge under the hawthorns, soaking in the coolness from the drystone walls.

By the time we got almost to the top, we had even better views.

I'm not an ancient historian, so I won't attempt to give a potted history of this beautiful site. It's basic shape can be seen below. A number of skeletons were excavated from it in the mid-nineteenth century and since then the side chambers have been faithfully reconstructed and left open to the public.

Coming off the footpath and entering the site, with a large, false chamber heading the earthwork.

The first north-eastern chamber, which is open. At this time of year the barrow is covered with sweet Wild Thyme, Lady's Bedstraw and Scabious. If you are lucky enough to be there alone, all that can be heard is the wind skating across the hilltop and skylarks carolling as they bounce over the surrounding fields. No wonder the ancients chose it as a sacred site.

The other end, the Southern entrance.

And coming round, the Western entrance, also open and pleasant to sit inside for five minutes, listening to the density of earth and stone around you; the silence is thick.

Feeling quieter and somehow refreshed from a half hour spent pottering around this wonderful monument, we descended back down the track to the bike, with the Cotswolds and beyond spread out in glory beneath us.


  1. Thank you for this beautiful description in words and pictures of what looks like a wonderful place. I immediately have a rushing urge to visit but am equally sort of calmed by the knowledge that you haven't missed anything out and it will still be there waiting for when I'm able to go. I love your peepy posts Gretel! :-)

  2. I love going to ancient monuments!So atmospheric. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Another wonderful afternoon of exploration. My favorite Gretelism for today..."the silence is thick" actually made me hear the silence from thousands of miles away! You are a born descriptive literati :-) Make note of these places...someday we will visit them together...I know it!
    your Yankee friend,
    Janet xox
    PS...big Hello to Andy!

  4. Winchcombe! Okay, now you've done it! I've seen the the shop called 'Sprogs' where my ex-hubby proceeded to explain what that translated to in 'Yank', then we meandered into that exact gallery where he spoke to someone about showing his work. I had a slice of pie and tea right around there...all this time I NEVER knew it was Winchcombe! haha! Thanks per usual, wonderful pictures and narratives :) Hope you're well, take care!

  5. Thank-you for being a tourist for us, and posting photos and info. The next time we go to the cousins' in Swerford we'll look for Winchcombe! (For some reason tweetdeck isn't including yours and other people's updates, so I had to look for you.)

  6. Thanks for posting great pictures. I feel as though I have been there through your lens. Carla

  7. What a captivating post. I loved the photo of the sheep by the stone wall, but the ancient monument with the stone ceiling was wonderful to see!

  8. The village's timber framed buildings and winding street are exactly what I picture in my imagination when I dream of Olde England. I paint scenes like this in my books, though I've never actually been there.
    I love the ancient places you portray here for us. Thank you for another lovely journey through time.

  9. Thanks for taking me along to another enchanting part of the Cotswolds. I didn't have time to visit Winchcombe, but surely next time I will. Today I read all posts of this blog, I love the way you describe your walks, please keep sharing!

    Cristina - Positively Beauty

  10. Your posts here continue to stack up evidence that you live in the most beautiful place on earth.

    And the monument! Words fail me.

  11. I just found your blog and am amazed by your photographs. Your corner of the world looks like heaven to me! Looking forward to backtracking on your blog while I wait for your next post!

  12. Both Winchcombe and Belas Knap look like the kind of places I love. Perhaps next year I'll try and spend a few days in the Cotswolds so that I can visit them. Lovely photographs of both places by the way


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