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Doles to Hardwick

Marston Doles stands on the canal, at SP 465 583, and used to be a droving inn.  It looks a late one: 1830’s, after the canal was built?  In #1 the pattern of blue bricks above the loft door reads: DOLES  INN  GOOD  STABLING.   The name has always struck me as appropriate because it’s a doleful place.  Perhaps it’s always rained when I’ve been there.


Now we come to one of the loneliest and loveliest stretches of old road in the country.  It was never turnpiked so is often single-track, with the verges each side each as wide as the tarmac in the middle (#2). 


The Welshmen were anxious to keep their stock separate, so the road bypasses all the villages, but the long views on either side made it possible for them to show their herds to local farmers.  The opportunity to buy, sell or swap stock was important and the frequent laybys on the route are probably there for these commercial reasons.  (Actually, the noise of the plates, or cattle shoes, on the metalled road in that quiet countryside would have attracted business more effectively than anything1.)


Two of the villages, Priors Hardwick and Upper Boddington, have streets called ‘London End’ leading on to the drove road (#3).  Not, I think, named by Welshmen with their destination in mind, but by the villagers to tempt drovers to use their fields as an overnight stance.


Priors Hardwick must have been a busy livestock centre: there is a Goose Green in the middle of the village and a delightful wedge-shaped gap in the church wall to stop the four-footed, and the wrong kind of two-footed, animals joining the congregation (#4).


The locals used to say there was an inn on average every four miles on this stretch, much needed when the road was busy in spring and autumn. 


#5 shows the often-quoted ‘cowpool’ just north of Priors Marston.  Instead of ‘pool’ (corruption of Welsh pwll) one would expect the English ‘pond’, even ‘pit’.  But how many Welshmen went through Priors Marston?


You can follow the trail in the Northants section…


1 John H Drew quotes a local man as saying (1965): ‘William Watt’s father said years ago that they could hear the clatter of plates at Priors Marston when at Priors Hardwick [about 2 miles as the crow flies].’  Other locals are adamant that droves never went through Priors Marston!

Doles to Hardwick image 1
Marston Doles Inn
Doles to Hardwick image 2
Near Hardwick
Doles to Hardwick image 3
London End, Hardwick
Doles to Hardwick image 4
Hardwick, St Mary's wall
Doles to Hardwick image 5