Exploring Myth and Prehistory at England’s Rollright Stones

I loved visiting England's Rollright Stones. ©Ken Aikin

I loved visiting England’s Rollright Stones. ©Ken Aikin

October 2021: It’s a great time to reminisce about past travels while most of us stay at home during the COVID pandemic.

Originally posted: September 2018

There are few things I love better than poking about in prehistoric Britain. Located near several of the Cotswolds’ most beautiful villages are one of England’s most charming megalithic sites, called the Rollright Stones.  Not only are they magical, they’re surrounded by colorful stories to boot.

Because our vacation was free from the worries of driving on the left-hand side of the road, Ken and I arranged a taxi from the White Hart Royal Hotel  in Moreton-in-Marsh to the Rollright Stones, which consists of three monuments: the King’s Men stone circle, the Whispering Knights burial chamber, and the King Stone standing stone. Each was built hundreds or thousands of years apart, between 3800 and 1500 years BCE.

The King's Men stone circle in the Cotswolds ©Laurel Kallenbach

The King’s Men stone circle in the Cotswolds ©Laurel Kallenbach

We arrived in the midst of a drizzle, arranged for our driver to return in two hours, and followed the signs through the trees to the largest site, The King’s Men stone circle, where we stood beneath the trees and read the legend of the Rollright Stones from our guidebook.

The tale, which probably dates back to medieval times, goes something like this: A king and his army were marching through the Cotswold Hills when they were changed to stone by a witch—no doubt a wise woman who reasoned that the land was better off remaining as crop- and pastureland instead of becoming a battlefield. So, the crone turned the king into the lone-standing King Stone, his army into the King’s Men circle of stones, and his treason-plotting knights into the Whispering Knights standing stones. The witch then transformed into an elder tree, which supposedly still grows on the hill; if that elder is ever cut, the spell will break, and all the Stones will come back to life.

The King’s Men Stone Circle

The drizzle ceased, and we walked out into the open hilltop to a sweeping panorama of the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire countryside. And then we saw the beautiful King’s Men stone circle, the highlight of the Rollright Stones’ three sites. Dozens of pocked and craggy limestones—most less that six feet tall—stood in circular formation.

The King’s Men stone circle is one of the sites at England’s Rollright Stones. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The King’s Men stone circle is one of the sites at England’s Rollright Stones. ©Laurel Kallenbach

It was easy to see why they’re named for soldiers—many of the more upright stones did seem to have human shapes, although some of them were squat. Each stone possessed amazing character: each was weathered like an aged person’s face. In addition, the stones are covered by unique lichens in many hues—rust, ochre, burnt umber—and according to the info board about the circle, some of those lichens are 400 to 600 years old! The stones are surrounded at their bases by grass, moss, stinging nettles, and tiny field flowers.

Ken beside one of the tallest stones in the King's Men circle ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ken beside one of the tallest stones in the King’s Men circle ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ken and I were roaming alone among the stones, admiring their topography, when we were joined by a quartet of vivacious girls who skipped five or six times around the circle counting the stones.

There’s another legend about the King’s Men stone circle: the stones are supposedly uncountable. There are 70-odd stones, but in places it’s almost impossible to tell where one stone begins and the other ends because they lie in a cluster. Other stones barely show above the ground and the tufts of grass. According to the story, if you count the same number of stones three times, you are granted a wish.

These girls counted the stones in the circle—and got their wish! ©Laurel Kallenbach

These girls counted the stones in the circle—and got their wish! ©Laurel Kallenbach

After the girls had raced around the circle, we overheard them declaring to their mums that they got the same count three times, so they were all making a wish.

After the group left, I began counting stones but was distracted when I looked into the stand of trees that grew in a horseshoe around the circle. In the shrubbery, something shiny and colorful caught my eye, and when I went to look, I discovered that it was clooties—scraps of cloth or other decorations—tied to the branches.

Clooties at the King's Men circle ©Laurel Kallenbach

Clooties at the King’s Men circle ©Laurel Kallenbach

Clooties (also spelled “cloughties” or “clouties”) are a Pagan tradition for honoring trees and asking for healing, and they’re commonly found at sacred sites (like ancient standing stones) and healing wells across the UK and Ireland.

The Rollright clooties were made of ribbon, cloth, stalks of barley or wheat from the surrounding fields, daisy chains, and bits of colorful litter like candy and gum wrappers and a Pellegrino label that the makers probably cleaned up from the vicinity. I imagined that a Pagan group, celebrating Lughnasa just a few weeks before in early August, might have freshly decorated the boughs.

To give thanks for my regained mobility after hip replacement—which made it possible for me to travel to England for a walking holiday—I assembled my own clootie out of dandelions and a spray of leaves, and I tied them to a branch.

Last, I circumnavigated the circle again, counting the stones. I came up with 76, but didn’t have time to do a second or third pass; we still had two more sites to visit before our time was up, so I left it to the mystery.

This stone truly looked like a human outline in the King's Men circle. ©Laurel Kallenbach

This stone truly looked like a human outline in the King’s Men circle. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I did, however, take a moment to try to envision the stones with no gaps between them. According to historical and archaeological documentation, the stones may originally have numbered about 105, all standing shoulder to shoulder—even more like a militia than they look now. Over the millennia, many of the stones have fallen, and some were carted away in the last millennia for use in building bridges and whatnot.

In modern times, the Rollright Stones have been used to exhibit modern sculptures, including Anish Kapoor’s Turning the World Inside Out, and for plays, notably Mark Rylance’s production of The Tempest in1992. The Stones are also regularly used for private wedding and naming ceremonies and other celebrations, according to the Rollright website.

The Whispering Knights

Just a short walk past pastures of grazing sheep are the Whispering Knights. This trio of upright stones is aptly named because the stones lean into each other, so it doesn’t take much imagination to picture them as disgruntled knights furtively colluding against the king.

Three Whispering Knights at the Rollright Stones ©Laurel Kallenbach

The three Whispering Knights at the Rollright Stones ©Laurel Kallenbach

In reality, the vertical stones originally formed a Neolithic portal-dolmen, with these upright stones supporting a capstone, or flat “roof.” Sometime between 3800 and 3500 BCE, builders constructed this portal to lead into a communal burial chamber, which was used for human remains well into the Bronze Age, according to the sign posted at the site.

Today the Whispering Knights are surrounded by an iron fence to discourage people from climbing on the stones and damaging them or the lichens that grow on them. The Knights gaze over the farm fields and stands of trees as far as the eye can see. People toss coins into the crevasses of one of the fallen stones—for luck I suppose. Or perhaps to insure that they will return to this lovely place.

Another view of the Whispering Knights, part of a collapsed passage dolmen. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Another view of the Whispering Knights, part of a collapsed passage dolmen. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The mysterious stones seem to have captured the imagination of people in the region for centuries: There’s an age-old story that on New Year’s Day, the three Whispering Knights hoist their rocky bodies and “walk” down the valley to the brook for a drink of water. The church bells of the nearby town of Long Compton are also supposed to inspire this migration. If ever there were three stones with human personalities, it’s these three.

Other local folklore includes this story: A local farmer wanted one of the largest stones to build a bridge over a stream. It took 24 horses to drag the stone down the hill, and one worker was killed on the way. Eventually the farmer got the stone positioned across the stream, but by the next morning it had flipped over onto the bank! Each time the farmer moved the stone into a bridge position, the same thing happened. Then the area crops failed, so the farmer and his friends decided to return the stone to its original position. This time it took only onehorse to drag the heavy slab back up the hill!

The moral of the story? Don’t mess with ancient megaliths—and never underestimate their power or majesty.

The King Stone

We walked back to the road and crossed, passed through a farm gate, and wandered up to the lone King Stone, which rises sinuously from earth to sky.

 

The gate leading to the field where we found the King Stone. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The gate leading to the field where we found the King Stone. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Its lovely curve isn’t how the stone originally appeared; its shape is the result of centuries of human vandalism, now hopefully curbed by an iron fence with arrow-shaped spikes at the tops.

According to the sign, 19th century drovers and visitors chipped off part of the stone as good-luck charms and to “keep the Devil at bay.”

Bad luck, if you ask me. In fact, it’s a criminal offence to damage any monument stones like this in Britain.

There’s something lonely and exposed about the solitary King Stone, which looks as if thousands of years of wind passing over the hilltop had unfurled solid rock, sending it sailing skyward into the mottled clouds. Or perhaps the presence of adjacent burial chambers and cairns contributes to the melancholy atmosphere.

The time-swept King Stone ©Laurel Kallenbach

The time-swept King Stone ©Laurel Kallenbach

Or, maybe it’s the scale of time at the Rollright Stones: We humans have a lifespan of a hundred years if we’re lucky, whereas the King Stone has been a sentry over these Cotswold hills for more than 3,500 years. The Whispering Knights have guarded their secrets for almost 6,000 years.

After two hours at the Rollright Stones—which slipped by in the blink of an eye—our taxi driver returned to whisk us along the country roads and back to our hotel, which has been operating as an inn since the 1600s. Such is time in the ancient lands of Britain.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The entrance fee to the Rollright Stones is just 1£. For more information, including instructions to get to the site, visit RollrightStones.co.uk.

More about megaliths:

The circle at the Rollright Stones in the Cotswolds ©Laurel Kallenbach

The circle at the Rollright Stones in the Cotswolds ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Musings from Cotswold Trails: Naunton & Guiting Power

We hiked along the Gustav Holst Way on today’s Cotswold trek. ©Laurel Kallenbach

August 2021: It’s a great time to reminisce about past travels while most of us stay at home during the COVID pandemic. 

Originally published: September 2017

Day 3 of our English countryside walking adventure (arranged by Cotswold Walks)  happened to be my birthday, and the 6.5-mile route from Bourton-on-the-Water to Guiting Power held many delights.

Much of our path during the day followed the gentle River Windrush, which sometimes seemed to be more of a brook than a river.

At the beginning of our morning ramble, a swan flapped over the field we were walking through as it descended for a water landing. The air on the magnificent white bird’s great wings made a hollow, whooshing sound. I don’t recall ever seeing swans flying before, so this long-necked bird seemed like a good-luck omen for the day.

That was fortunate, because about an hour later Ken and I encountered gigantic cows with sharp horns. They grazed peacefully on the opposite side of a wire fence and the Windrush, which had dwindled to ditch size, but their gazes seemed hostile. We stopped to take a picture, but a mean-looking bull took offense and started advancing toward us as if he meant business, so we moved along quickly.

The hills overlooking Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

Today the terrain became more hilly and scenic, and flat fields gave way to woodland. And imagine our delight when we discovered that we were walking on part of the 35-mile trail way called the Gustav Holst Way, named for the composer who’s best known for The Planets. Born in the Cotswolds, Holst spent much time—like us—ambling through the hills and countryside of this region, which he memorialized in his pastoral “Cotswolds” Symphony in F major. (I’m listening to it as I write.) I got so carried away singing the Dargasson jig tune from Holst’s St. Paul Suite that we missed one of our turns.

The sign to Taunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

The sign to Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

We didn’t go far off course—less than 50 yards, thanks to the detailed instructions provided by Cotswold Walks—so we quickly got back on track again, and soon I was humming the “Greensleeves” theme that weaves through the end of that piece. (Yes, the Cotswolds Way has great appeal for classical music geeks like us!)

A Rest in Tranquil Naunton

Hiking up and down hills offered us the chance to take in the impressive vistas of medieval villages from a higher vantage point. We met a couple, who were also doing the Best of the Cotswolds circuit, so we hiked with them for about half an hour on the trail that morning. Just before noon, our little group spotted Naunton and decided to have a quick look-around at this town of about 300 people.

A house beside the River Windrush ©Laurel Kallenbach

A house beside the River Windrush ©Laurel Kallenbach

As we arrived on foot, we first saw a large dovecote, a structure with 1,176 dove-sized holes that dates back to the 1600s. (The Cotswold Walks guidebook said that back in the day, the meat of young doves was a dish for the wealthy, so that accounts for the popularity of names like “Dove Cottage” and “Dove Lane.”)

The sign for the Black Horse pub in Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

Naunton sits in the valley beside the River Windrush, and there’s a very pretty path right along the water with willows and lots of lovely riverside cottages to admire.

Ken and I sat along the banks for a rest and nibbled on snacks, then we wandered over to the Black Horse Inn, a traditional pub where our friends decided to have lunch. We didn’t eat there because we’d planned to have a late lunch at the next village.

Keep on Trekking

Refreshed, we continued on toward Guiting Power (pronounced “GUY-ting”).  Ken and I crossed through a pasture where a horse followed us all the way to the gate. I think she was hoping we had a treat, but we’d already eaten our snacks. For a while we had a light drizzle—almost more of a heavy mist—that warranted our rain jackets for 10 minutes or so.

Hollyhocks in front of a cottage built from Cotswold stone ©Laurel Kallenbach

Hollyhocks in front of a cottage built from Cotswold stone ©Laurel Kallenbach

Right at 2:00, the Warden’s Way path took us through a cornfield where the tassels were as tall as Ken. When we emerged from the stalks, we caught our first glimpse of the crenelated tower of Guiting Power’s Anglican church, St. Michael and All Angels, which dates back to Norman times. Sheep were grazing in the surrounding pastureland, and though it was tempting to stop and admire, we vowed to return later because we were famished and in need of a beer.

We checked first at the Farmers Arms, a traditional-style pub that served things like fish-and-chips with mushy peas and steak-and-kidney-pie, but the kitchen was already closed. So we kept walking up the hill to the Old Post Office, which has a café, but it didn’t serve hot food after 2:00. So we vowed to return at teatime and continued up the road to the Hollow Bottom Inn, located on the edge of town with views over pastoral fields that were bordered by traditional, drystack-stone fences.

The postmistress took a break at the Old Post Office in Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The postmistress took a break outside the Old Post Office in Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

This more contemporary gastro-pub serves some chef-inspired creations. We started with a local microbrew ale and then ordered a perfectly spiced (with tarragon, we surmised) Coronation Chicken Wrap and salads filled with the bounty of local gardens in late August. (Many restaurants in the Cotswolds serve local and organically produced food.)

The menu also offered an interesting story about the origin of the phrase “wet your whistle.” Apparently during the Middle Ages English pubs served ale in ceramic mugs that had whistles baked into them. When you needed a refill, you blew the whistle so the barmaid would come and “wet your whistle.” True tale or just pub lore? Either way it’s a fun story.

St Michael's and All Angels presides of the village of Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

St Michael’s and All Angels presides over the village of Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

While we were eating, the couple we’d hiked with that morning checked into the inn. Whimsically, we wished we were doing the same, but because it was the day before Bank Holiday weekend, Guiting Power’s modest number rooms were booked months in advance, so we were being picked up by a taxi and returned for the night to Bourton-on-the-Water at 6:00.

(There were pros and cons to this arrangement. On one hand, it was more efficient because we didn’t have to pack up our suitcases before departing on our morning walk. And we didn’t waste time settling into a new hotel or B&B. However, we also didn’t have the experience of spending the night in this distinctly cute town.)

A pretty blue doorway in the Cotswolds village of Guiting Power, Gloucestershire ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Glorious Village of Guiting Power 

After lunch, Ken and I explored Guiting Power, a sleepy, two-street village with just a few shops, the two pubs, a town green, the café/tea shop/post office, and a handful of pretty stone houses. The “tourist” description of Guiting Power is that there’s not much to do there other than have a pint and a bite, but the fact is that we love little towns like this that slumber under the sun on a late-August day.

In fact, I will say it: When I’m in love with a village, I just know I belong there, and Guiting Power stole my heart that afternoon.

Maybe it was the way hollyhocks and roses and purple flowers framed the doorways and windows of those stone cottages, attracting buzzing bumblebees and flittering butterflies.

Toasting my birthday at the Old Post Office ©Ken Aikin

Toasting my birthday at the Old Post Office ©Ken Aikin

Maybe it was the sheep grazing in the pastures around the church as we sat in the cemetery and gazed upon the countryside.

Maybe it was the joy of having chocolate cake and a birthday cappuccino at the outdoor table at the Old Post office while watching the locals  walk their dogs. We bought some stamps and basked in the sun and wrote  postcards.

Really, that’s about all Guiting Power had to offer—and it was heaven. No traffic. Very few tourists. Just the simple joy of spending a quiet afternoon in the prettiest of Cotswold villages. And lots of beautiful flowers.

Flowers Guiting Power ©Laurel Kallenbach

Brilliant flowers in the village of Guiting Power ©Laurel Kallenbach

Guiting Power was exactly what Ken and I had dreamed of when we were planning our walking trip through the Cotswolds: and here we were at this perfectly perfect village on my birthday! I can’t imagine a better present.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

I couldn't help but hum Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze" when I beheld this view. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I couldn’t help but hum Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” when I beheld this pastoral view on the edge of Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Winchcombe: This Cotswolds Village Is a Hub for Hiking

The Cotswolds Hills in west-central England are famous for quaint villages, thatched-roof houses, and grazing sheep—and I’ve always wanted to visit the area. The town of Winchcombe called me and Ken, and as luck would have it, we ended up visiting in August of 2012 and again in August of 2017 (as part of our ten-day Cotswold Walks village-to-village walking tour). It was a delight on both occasions!

Winchcombe: a historic town in the Cotswolds ©Laurel Kallenbach

Though I love visiting museums and enjoying the arts in big cities, I am, at heart, a village lover. So a day-visit to Winchcombe, a Gloucestershire village with Tudor-era history, was a match made in heaven.

The town has old buildings, beautiful gardens, a picturesque location, plenty of hiking and rambling trails into the gorgeous countryside, and historic Sudeley Castle. The only thing that wasn’t absolutely perfect when we visited in 2012 was the weather—but even rain didn’t dampen our spirits at this lively village, which dates back in the Neolithic period when people settled in this hilly area and built a stone-lined, burial chamber: the Belas Knap long barrow. (Though I’m keen on Neolithic sites, I still haven’t made it to Belas Knap.)

The Happenstance Border Morris Dancers led the procession through the streets of Winchcombe. ©Laurel Kallenbach

As luck would have it, we arrived in Winchcombe on the day of the Country Show, held annually in late August. A troupe of morris dancers wearing feathered bowler hats, tattercoats, and bells on their shins paraded through the streets, followed by septuagenarians driving vintage tractors. We felt like we were part of the party, which includes a flower show, a test of the skill and speed of herding dogs, sheep shearing, and much more.

Morris dancers entertained in the streets of Winchcombe. ©Laurel Kallenbach

We ate lunch at The White Hart Inn, a 16th-century pub with rooms right on Winchcombe’s main thoroughfare. With lots of country pub atmosphere, The White Hart restaurant is called Wine & Sausage, but it offers much more: In fact, it specializes in local produce cooked into simple but flavorful British food. We tried the regional cider and beer, of course!

I ordered the delicious local lamb served with rosemary/garlic sauce and colcannon, while Ken sampled the traditional fish pie with purple sprouting broccoli. We both were now fortified and ready to ramble.

Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers

The Cotswolds has been crowned the Walking Capital of England, and the 102-mile Cotswold Way footpath takes through-hikers from Chipping Campden to the city of Bath.

Ken on the world-famous Cotswold Way footpath. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Winchcombe is one of the jewels of the Cotswold Way, although it has many other trails as well, including the long-distance Winchcombe Way, the Wardens Way, and and the Windrush Way. The circular Gloucestershire Way also passes through Wicnhcombe and finishes at Tewkesbury.

Our plan was to hike for a couple of hours on one of the many trails that intersect in the village of Winchcombe. So after lunch, we set out on the Cotswold Way footpath, despite dark skies and threatening clouds. We had barely left town when it started to drizzle, but doggedly we on we pressed up the hill. When the rain got heavier and was propelled by high winds, we finally gave up and  turned back toward town.

A Visit to Stately Sudeley Castle

The consolation prize for having our hike rained out was ancient Sudeley Castle, the home of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife—and the only spouse who officially became that monarch’s widow. (The queen was born 500 years ago in 1512.)

Sudeley Castle’s tower and garden ©Laurel Kallenbach

Between rains, we wandered through the sculpted yew trees and the herb and rose gardens; we rested beside an elegant fountain; we explored the hollyhock-enhanced ruins of an old tithe barn, used in medieval times to store the produce that farmers brought as their tithe to the church. Cromwell partially destroyed the barn during the English Civil War.

For more than 20 years, Sudeley’s groundskeepers have been gardening organically and creating niche gardens and ponds that support native wildlife, including toads, bee orchids, disease-resistant elms, bumblebees, dragonflies, kingfishers and nuthatches.

Hydrangeas at St. Mary’s Church on the grounds of Sudeley Castle. Queen Katherine Parr is buried in the chapel. ©Laurel Kallenbach

We also visited the 15th-century St Mary’s Church where Queen Katherine lies buried.

Inside the castle, we learned about the inhabitants of this castle, from Katherine Parr to its current occupants, Lord and Lady Ashcombe. We especially appreciated an exhibit about the family’s campaign to protect badgers in the region. (They adopted an orphaned badger in the 1960s and ’70s, and have been advocates of the animals ever since.)

Ken and I absolutely loved Winchcombe, and in the summer of 2017 our dream of hiking the Cotswold Hills came true. Fare thee well, little Cotswolds village—we hope to be back again for a third visit!!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted: June 2013

Updated August 2021

For more information about walking in and around Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, visit Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers.You can also search for or share walks throughout England, Scotland, and Wales on Visorando. Key information such as distance and elevation are provided, and you can print out the walk or download a GPX file for use with GPS devices. Here’s the link for Cotswold treks

If you’d like a guided walking vacation—or one where you guide yourself but a local company creates the route and arranges reservations at B&Bs in the Cotswolds—I highly recommend Cotswold Walks, which we used for hiking village to village in 2017.

  • Cotswold Walks: Andrew Guppy offers guided and self-guided walks with great itineraries through the gorgeous Cotswold countryside and towns. They pick up your luggage after breakfast and deliver it to your destination, where it will be waiting when you arrive after the day’s hike.

In honor of Queen Elizabeth’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee, flags were flying in the pretty village of Winchcombe. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Read more about England’s pretty Cotswold region:

Sudeley Castle is located on the outskirts of Winchcombe. It offers gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Walking in the Cotswolds: The Beautiful Slaughters

June 2021: While the COVID pandemic is keeping most of us at home, now is a great time to reminisce about past travels. 

Originally published: September 2017

Lower Slaughter, a village on the banks of the River Eye ©Laurel Kallenbach

Lower Slaughter, a charming village on the banks of the River Eye.  ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, the names of Upper and Lower Slaughter—which we visited on our second day of walking in England’s Cotswold Hills—sound alarming, but if you’ve read Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling or Notes from a Small Island you already know that English country towns often carry strange appellations. (And for the record, “Slaughter” comes from the Old English word for a wetland—“slough” or slothre—meaning a “muddy place.”)

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

During our second day walking the “Best of the Cotswolds” loop, the highlight of our 7.5-mile hike was our arrival at these two villages. The walk began with a trek through farm after farm, field gate after field gate, dodging cow patties the size of hubcaps.

How is it possible we were walking across private farmland? In Britain, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act gives people access to “mountain, moor, heath, or down”—within reason, of course. We were almost always on established trails, and usually we could see where other hikers had already plodded across or on the edge of fields. We were respectful of the livestock and crops—although the corn and hay had already been harvested by late August.

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Waiting for us after all the farm crossings were two jewels of Cotswold villagedom. First we came to Lower Slaughter, a small village populated by stone cottages built along the slow-moving River Eye.

Lower Slaughter is best known for its 19th-century flour mill with its picturesque waterwheel and chimney. The Old Mill is now a museum and gift shop—which also happens to sell some wonderful ice cream. We had lunch outdoors at the River Café and watched the ducks as we slurped our soup and tucked into sandwiches.

The steeple of the 13th-century Anglican church, St. Mary’s, presides over the town, and its clock bells add to the village’s timeless feel. An occasional bench makes a nice place to sit and take in the scenery. We could hardly take a dozen steps without snapping a photo, especially after the sun peeped out.

St Mary's Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

St Mary’s Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s something irresistible about willow trees beside the water and Cotswold-stone cottages with flower boxes full of bright blooms.

(Cotswold stone is honey-colored sandstone that’s been quarried in the region for centuries and used to build houses and churches.)

At one pretty cottage, a couple was hanging swags of international flags for the upcoming Bank Holiday Village Fete.

After enjoying the views of Lower Slaughter, we continued our walk—yes, through more fields—to Upper Slaughter, a little less than a mile away. Along the way were some glorious trees, including age-old oaks and horse chestnuts that looked like massive green haystacks with pendant nut pods.

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

This village was—is it possible?—even smaller and a bit more posh than Lower Slaughter. Every cottage had climbing roses and flowerboxes; every stone was perfectly situated.

We wandered about Upper Slaughter and ambled into the Norman St. Peter’s church, where the list of priests/clergy stretches back to the 1200s.

We returned to Lower Slaughter to continue on our route to Bourton-on-Water, and in the process of passing through a kissing gate we noticed a plaque commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in July of 1981.
Charles and Diana plaque, Lower Slaughter©Laurel Kallenbach

It was a bit sad considering it was just a week before the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. Ken and I shared a smooch at every kissing gate we passed through during our trip, and we thought about how much happier we were than that infamously unhappy royal couple.

PS: What’s a kissing gate? It allows people, but not livestock, to pass through it. The hinged gate swings between the two sides of an enclosure, so only one person can step through it at a time, and they can kiss across the gate.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter         ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter's Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter’s Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach