Short Walk Around Fairford
This walk is not intended for the serious walker, but for anyone with half an hour or so to spare who would like to sample the town’s attractions. A more detailed Heritage Walk Around Fairford and other beautiful walks can be found in the book “Fairford and Lechlade Walks” (£4.95) obtainable from the Town Council Office and other outlets in the town. There is a free Car Park at the top of the High Street to the north of the Market Square and beyond the Church.
With the car park behind, turn right down Mill Lane, which runs along the north side of the Churchyard. As we approach the river, see the Old Mill located on the right just before the bridge. The Domesday Book mentioned mills at Fairford, probably one on this site, but the present building dates from the seventeenth Century and worked until the 1920s, mostly grinding corn.
Cross over the bridge – this is the River Coln which runs into the Thames near Lechlade, a few miles to the east. Do look over the railings as there are usually lots of large fat trout and many water birds on the Mill pond – swans, all sorts of ducks, coot and moorhens are regulars here. The birds, the ornamental bridge in the background and the little waterfall make this a very popular spot for photographs
A little further on the right are the Oxpens, an ancient agricultural building with wooden stalls which accommodated pairs of oxen, at one time used for ploughing. This has been restored by the Ernest Cook Trust, a locally based national land owning educational charity, which owns all the land between Fairford and Quenington, and which also provided the garden and picnic place for public use.
From here, cross over the road to a stone stile in the wall. Climb over the stile to the public footpath which runs alongside the stream across the meadow. Before the river channel was dug out in the late 18th century to give it a deeper and much narrower course, the river was very wide and shallow and covered all this water meadow, up to the stream. This made an easy place to cross, and explains how Fairford got its name. At the end of the field there are fine views to the left of Fairford House, next to the church and Fayre Court to the right.
Go through the hunting stile and along by the stream to another stone stile that leads to the main road. This is the busy A417, so take great care and cross straight over into Waterloo Lane opposite. The stream is still on the left along this lane, but further on, beyond Waterloo Cottage, it turns towards the river and the lane narrows to a tarmac path between hedges. A little further on, the path opens out and a wooden bridge will be seen on the left. This is a junction of several paths. There is a footpath that continues straight on for a longer riverside walk (see Fairford and Lechlade Walks book), but for the town walk, turn left and cross the metal bridge. It is called Dilly’s bridge, and the memorial plaque will tell us that it commemorates a much-loved golden Retriever called Dilly.
Over the bridge turn left and head back towards town. The path passes Retort House on the left, the site of the original Fairford Gasworks. At the junction with the road, turn left into Back Lane and follow round the corner to the Market Place. On the corner to the left is White Hart Court, formerly the ancient White Hart Inn, and opposite is another fine building, with 15th century foundations, thought to have been built as a chantry house. This served the town as the George Inn for over 300 years and now houses the Post Office. Again, take great care when crossing the road into the Market Place. To the left on the western side of the Market Place is Fairford’s principal Inn, The Bull Hotel. Founded in the 16th century, it became an important coaching Inn with stabling for 30 horses.
The eastern side of the square has a variety of styles reflecting rebuilding during 18th century prosperity. Notice particularly the upper storey above Gloucester House that has two fine dummy windows in the middle, left over from the days of the Window Tax.
A worthwhile detour to the walk is to follow the footpath between Lloyds Bank and Chester House, which leads into The Croft. Continue along this leafy road to Fairford Hospital on the right hand side. The Cottage Hospital was built to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. Opposite the Hospital is the Walnut Tree Playing Field, a large open space with a playground in the southern half. A footpath runs alongside the western boundary of the hospital; this leads past Fairford Library on the right hand side, this building was formerly Fairford Infant School. A little further down the path on the left is the new Police Station built in 2002. At the junction with the main road, turn right and continue until back at the Market Place. Alternatively, turning left on the main road will lead to Keble House situated behind a high Cotswold stone wall. This was the birthplace of the Priest and Poet, John Keble who wrote ‘The Christian Year’. John Keble was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1831-1841. After his death, friends established Keble College at Oxford in his honour. Turn back and follow the main road back to the Market Place.
From the Market Place continue to the High Street, on the left are the Public Toilets, and the Community Centre, which dates from 1738 when it was built as a school.
Next is St. Mary’s Church, which is well worth a visit, for it is a fine example of a Cotswold Wool church, and famous for its unique set of medieval stained glass windows. Across the road is a Victorian building, the former Police Station and old Magistrates Court, and at the top of High Street is the entrance to Fairford Park with its gatehouse in the Gothic style.