We’re heading northwest to Cirenchester, a town with an ancient history, first mentioned in the time of Ptolemy, 150 AD. At the time, Cirencester was called Corinium and was the largest Roman town on English soil. Today, Cirenchester is the largest town in the Cotswolds district.
We’ve been here breifly before, five years ago in our trip around the UK. Neither of us can remember why we rushed that visit, but it’s likely that it was in the mad dash to get back, having run out of time in the return journey. No doubt when I finish loading my (then) diary into my blog, I’ll discover the reason.
It’s a glorious day, and with rain setting in from tomorrow, we try to make the most of it, walking into town through Cirenchester Park, an expansive private estate held by the Earls of Bathurst covering 1,000 hectares. The path into town is lined with ancient chestnut trees. The local squirrels should do well in winter. We don’t spot any though, too many doggies, who like us, are enjoying an afternoon walk.
Cirencester has immediate Cotswolds appeal. On the edge of the park an 1800s military base stands amongst what were no doubt officers quarters. With stone finishes and pretty flower displays, even a military base can ooze charm.
The main street curves gently to the church, as always, the heart of these ancient towns. There’s a wedding inside, so we’re temporarily prevented from viewing the interior. Instead we walk through parkland to visit two historical markers at the edge of town: a Norman arch, once an entry gate to the city and the only remaining part of St Mary’s Abbey. Built in 1120, it’s Cirenchester’s oldest building still standing.
On the other side of town, an exposed section of the Roman walls gives a clue to what once stood here. I’d imagine the Time Team would have a ball here, there surely are extensive ruins under this whole area – it would make a great spot for one of their archeological digs.
There’s a pretty lake nearby, fed by the River Churn that runs through Cirenchester: it’s a tributary of the Thames, only ready a stream elsewhere in the park.
Back in town, the wedding party emerges to the glorious sound of church bells. No polite brief chorus here, the bells peal for well over 40 minutes making for a fabulous soundtrack for our walk through town.
Cirenchester’s history is evident from its architecture, a little from many periods, and its history as a market town is alive and well, with a craft market in progress.
There’s another major event in town too, in fact all through the Cotswolds: the 2017 Cirenchester Hare Trail, a wonderful fund raising initiative where artists donate their skill and time to paint hares for public display and eventual auction with all proceeds supporting a wildlife charity. Last year’s event raised almost £115k, a wonderful outcome.
There’s a Hare Trail to follow through surrounding towns and many other events. We found three hares in our travels today. The bottom one, below was exquisite, painted with a summer meadow scene. Big bunnies. They must have known I was coming!