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Perrotts Brook to Fairford

The Old Gloucester to London Road

 

North-west of Gloucester lies Maisemore, a village on the flood plain of the Severn.  The name comes from the Welsh maes mawr, meaning ‘great meadow’.  Presumably the area was an assembly point for large droves of Welsh cattle, for sale either in Gloucester itself or further south and east.

 

It’s hard to follow the exact route of the Gloucester-London road for the first 10 miles, but Ogilby in 1675 had it going (roughly) through Brockworth, Birdlip Hill & Brimpsfield.  At Birdlip the herds could take the Ermin Street route south to join The Ridgeway or aim for the Sussex fairs.  (Cobbett describes Welsh heifers in calf using this route in autumn & fetching £6-8 in Sussex, twice their Welsh cost.  The Welsh could not afford to keep the calves born the following spring, and the men of Sussex thought 'Ha! Two for the price of one'.) 

But my route crosses Ermin Street (A417) four miles north-west of Cirencester (SO 992 071), proclaiming itself ‘Welsh Way’.  And then… there’s a ten-mile stretch of straight and lonely lane, passing unflustered across major roads on its own little journey, grass emerging through the tarmac, populated on either side by sheep and only sheep.  It’s too narrow a track for traffic to pass, but traffic doesn’t bother.  Perfect.

 

The OS map shows the route clearly going through Perrotts Brook (SP 021 062) and Barnsley (SP 077 051); then Ready Token.  (What a name!  Presumably it alerted travellers to the presence of a tollgate on Akeman Street where they would need to produce a ticket.  The village isn't shown on the 1675 map, which predated the turnpike.)  Finally, Fairford and Lechlade.  That’s as far as I got.  I’ll enclose a gloomy picture of the bridge over Perrotts Brook, an all-important watering hole in an arid part of England; then a few of ‘Shady Lane’ as I dubbed it, because tall hedges guard either side and the verges are narrow as it goes gently downhill to Barnsley.  (The erosion of the limestone by generations of cattle as Shady Lane debouches on to Barnsley High Street is impressive, because Cotswold stone is hard.)

 

Barnsley is a beautiful village, but we disdainfully cross ‘The Street’ and find our way round the back of Barnsley House (now a hotel), where there was a ten-acre grazing area for tired beasts which is now used to grow vegetables to supply the hotel’s needs.  Bet the soil’s good!  We do a dogleg and join the Ready Token road behind Barnsley half a mile on, rather than doing anything as simple as following ‘The Street’.   Reason: ‘The Street’ came with the turnpike in the 1740’s and there was a toll to avoid.

 

On The Street at the north end of the village stands ‘The Old Greyhound’, no longer a pub; but it’s too smart and too late for drovers; they probably frequented The Queen’s Head & the Blackamoor’s Head – the mind boggles! – both mentioned in 1844, both lost in time, but both probably near the ten-acre.  (There are plenty of examples of drovers’ inns in pairs: when the droving season arrived, one inn could not cope.)  The present “The Village Pub” is excellent but a modern invention.  After lunch there I was entertained by the local historian Paul Le Bars, who lives directly opposite the pub and who was as delighted as I was to find a fellow-obsessive.   All I’ve written in the last two paragraphs comes from Paul.

 

The road to Ready Token and Fairford lacks the character of the earlier stretch, but is no less private, and The Cotswolds open up before you in panoramic style till suddenly you arrive in Fairford and the adventure is over.  Once again an old drove route has shown me the countryside at its best.

Perrotts Brook to Fairford image 1
Perrotts Brook
Perrotts Brook to Fairford image 2
Road to Barnsley #1
Perrotts Brook to Fairford image 3
Road to Barnsley #2
Perrotts Brook to Fairford image 4
Road to Barnsley #3
Perrotts Brook to Fairford image 5
Just east of Ready Token