Kissing Gate Self Catering Holiday Cottage

Kissing Gate Cottage
Marshfield

Marshfield.

This first aricle is copied with the kind permission of Folio Magazine www.foliomagazine.co.uk :

(please click images to view original Folio article pages as pdf documents.)

Folio magazine Marshfield article page 1                    Folio magazine Marshfield article page 2

OUT IN THE ’FIELD

Small town life is still very much as it should be, discovers James Russell on a visit to the archetypal, picture-perfect Cotswold gem of Marshfield

Acouple of centuries ago, I might have hesitated before setting out for Marshfield. At that time the lonely roads around the town were popular with highwaymen, who attacked travellers coming north from Bath on the Fosse Way or east from Bristol, as I was. On 7 July 1763, one stocky, pock-marked villain held up a gentleman’s servant at the top of Tog Hill, where the A420 now hits the Cotswold ridge, and as I passed the spot I could see why thieves were drawn to this desolate stretch of highway on the border of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

They were also attracted, no doubt, by Marshfield’s wealth. A market town since the 13th century, Marshfield made the most of its location in hill country close to two prosperous cities to profit from trade in wool and malt. his town of only a thousand souls sits in just the right spot, with the arable land of the Cotswolds to the north and, immediately to the south, the green hills and valleys stretching towards Bath.

Today Marshfield is still mostly clustered along the impressive High Street running east to west along the ridge, and if you took away the parked cars, you could easily be back in the 18th century. Built in local stone, with crooked lintels and uneven roofs, the houses are alike but individual, making a walk around the town a treat. There’s a slightly Wild West feel to this long street. On a quiet Wednesday afternoon, hardly a car passes and you can hear pub signs and weathervanes creaking in the breeze.

Not that the place is deserted. Three good pubs are clustered near the market place (see panel), along with the Central Stores, Sweetapples teashop and R Artingstall’s shop that somehow manages to combine butcher, greengrocer and post office. It seems a quiet, thoughtful sort of town, though. Posters in windows advertise lectures in local history and Victorian literature, and even the public lavatories, in the front of the 17th-century Tolzey House, have a dignified air.

If I lived there, I’d probably rely for timekeeping on the two sundials, one in the market place, high up on the side of an estate agent’s office, the other on the south wall of St Mary the Virgin, overlooking the overgrown and decidedly romantic graveyard. A huge ash tree dominates this old churchyard; if you go past it, down the hill, you emerge via an iron gate to find yourself in front of the appropriately named Kissing Gate Cottage. Rough steps lead down a grassy bank to the lane. Cross it and keep going downhill and after a few minutes you come to a brook and a narrow stone footbridge.

This brook has its own tale to tell. In 2002 a trio of schoolboys were walking beside it when they spotted a skeleton lying submerged in the water. Assuming it to be an animal, they left it alone, but subsequently the bones were identified as human. The police suspected foul play, but carbon dating showed that this young man had perished a millennium earlier, apparently of natural causes, and been buried. Over the intervening years the stream had wandered from its original course, undermining the grave and revealing its grisly contents.

Not that there’s anything funereal about the scene today. Once over the stream, the best route is to the right, into a field and up the hill, where you immediately get the most fantastic view of the town. Marshfield could have been designed by a postcard manufacturer, because as you walk along the hillside you get to see the whole place laid out on the opposite side of the stream. It’s like one of those old maps where the buildings are drawn in 3D.

It’s definitely squelchy, though. I developed a theory, as I squidged across the wet ground, that the town got its name from this lush land, but this turned out to be wrong (as usual), as the name derives from ‘march’ or border. Still, my interpretation made sense as I followed the wellworn paths that twist and turn all over the valley - a wanderer’s paradise, this - passing the occasional horse. Finally, I turned back towards the village, following a path towards the tower of St Mary’s that must have been used by shepherds for centuries. Feet and hooves had worn a deep track in the grass, and so far no one had thought to plough the land and erase this fragile road, which turns into a lane called Sheepfair when you reach the village again.

I was quite warm by this point which was a good thing, as I’d promised myself a treat for completing this not-very-arduous circuit. I headed up Sheepfair to the High Street, turned right and hot-footed it back to the Central Stores and a local delicacy I felt duty-bound to try. This delicacy comes in different flavours - there’s a Very Vanilla, a Chocoholic Heaven and the one I went for: Toffee Fudge Fiasco.

Fiasco? Fandango, more like. Fantastico. OK, so Marshfield Farm isn’t strictly speaking in the town of Marshfield - the farm’s on the Bath-Stroud road, not far from Dyrham Park - but it must be in the parish or the, er, district. Anyway, their ice-cream is delicious. More creamy than sweet, which means you can safely feed children the stuff without fearing the after-effects.

“The villagers have been very supportive of our ice-cream for the last 20 years,” says Dawn from Marshfield Farm. “And therefore we support them back by always turning up to the village days, May fairs and church fetes, to scoop our ice-cream out of an old-fashioned ‘stop me and buy’ trike - always giving them a percentage of our takings on the day.”

Sounds like small town life as it’s supposed to be. And I haven’t even got to the legendary Marshfield Mummers, who perform their strange old play every Boxing Day. With characters like Old Father Christmas, Tenpenny Nit and Saucy Jack, this sounds like an experience not to be missed. Followed by lunch, of course. And ice-cream.

Kissing Gate Cottage side view

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Hugh & Ruth Cartwright
4 Little End, Marshfield
nr. Chippenham
Wiltshire SN14 8NU

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