Today would be the last hike of our “Walks in the English Countryside.” Six of our nine hikers were going on to the Canary Islands for another week of hiking. Because there was a 40% chance of rain, our marathon runner and two Canary Island-bound hikers who were also experiencing blistered feet elected to stay in town and browse around; after lunch, they planned to take a bus down to Lower Slaughter and meet the rest of us at The Slaughter’s Country Inn, our original hotel on our arrival in the Cotswolds.
The town of Moreton-in-Marsh grew up in the thirteenth century as a market town (open air markets are still held Tuesday mornings in the center of town) with a wide main street, narrow plots and back lane vehicular access. The town was used as a coaching station on the London to Worcester coaching route before the arrival of the railway in 1853. Many of the old buildings along High Street date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The sixteenth-century Curfew Tower on High Street had its bell rung nightly until 1860 to remind people of the risk of fire at night. The famous author J.R.R. Tolkien is believed to have had connections with Moreton-in-Marsh and there are claims that The Bell Inn is the inspiration behind The Prancing Pony, Middle Earth’s most famous pub in the book “Lord of the Rings.”
Our six remaining hikers left The Morton Manor House around 9:00 AM and anticipated an easy-going, yet wet, hike. Because it was raining, or at least drizzling, our leader figured out a way to cut off several miles of trail, leaving us with only about 9 miles before reaching our final destination. We first walked along the Roman Fosse Way, a paved road built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. As we worked our way out of town and into the pastures and surrounding farms and woods, we all agreed that today’s hike might, in fact, be our most beautiful. The landscape was a lush green, and large estates bordered the trail, each well-maintained and somewhat secluded.
There were several clusters of cottages, a brewery, and small farms along the way, and we headed for the only village with a pub on this shortened route, Lower Swell. We walked down to the pub from the Lower Swell War Memorial in the center of the Town Green, but unfortunately we were too early for lunch. The menu board we read outside the entrance said the pub would open at noon, but lunch would not start until 12:30 . . . not soon enough for us, so we continued to hike on down the road to our final destination.
As we hiked farther south to Lower Slaughter, the rain continued and the scenery was lush and green. Large private estates line the path, and a quiet mood came over us as we enjoyed the peacefulness of the area. We came across several more clusters of well-maintained stone homes, equestrian estates, beautiful gardens, and fertile farm land.
We arrived back at our starting point in Lower Slaughter about 3:00 and checked back into The Slaughter’s Country Inn, having hiked the full circuit of about 48 miles in the last four days. Later that evening we enjoyed our farewell dinner with the group, and packed our bags for the train back to Paddington Station the following morning.