Thursday, January 04, 2007

Adlestrop, the Oddingtons, and Stow-on-the-Wold (7.5 miles)

Mark, the Claras, and Peter, in Adlestrop, Gloucestershire

This morning, Clara and Peter and I were joined by our niece Clara and our nephew Mark for a lovely walk in the Cotswolds, from Adlestrop to Stow-on-the-Wold and back by way of Lower and Upper Oddington. Adlestrop once had its own train station, where on a hot June day many years ago a train stopped carrying the poet Edward Thomas (one of the great English poets who died in World War I). He was inspired by stopping in Adlestrop to write this lovely poem:

Yes, I remember Adlestrop--
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

The train station is now long gone, but the station sign has been moved to the bus shelter, and the poem is inscribed on a plaque on the back of the bench. Adlestrop is a small, unspoiled town that is perhaps little changed since Edward Thomas stopped at the station a century ago; ironically, had the station remained, the town might have been further developed, and may have lost some of its timeless charm.

Adlestrop was one of the estates held by the elder branch of the Leigh family, the younger branch of which held Stoneleigh Abbey. This little church contains monuments to James Leigh (to the left of the chancel arch in the photograph at right) and his wife, Lady Caroline Leigh. Their son, James Henry, inherited Stoneleigh Abbey when the elder branch of the Leigh family died out. James Leigh's brother, Rev. Thomas Leigh, was the father of Cassandra Leigh, who was in turn the mother of Jane Austen. Cassandra and Jane were visiting their cousin James Henry in Adlestrop in the summer of 1806, when he learned that he had inherited Stoneleigh (for Stoneleigh, see the posting for September 3, 2006).

From Adlestrop, we walked through both Lower and Upper Oddington to Maugersbury, and thence to Stow. Stow is the highest village in the Cotswolds, at 700 ft. In March 1646, it was the site of the Battle of Stow, a major defeat for the Royalist forces loyal to King Charles I. A year earlier, before the battle of Naseby, the King himself had stayed in Stow—at the King's Arms Hotel, where today we stopped for a warming lunch of soup and bread before returning to Adlestrop.

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