In January 2021 I wrote a blog about the River Till. I’ve updated it a couple of times as I learned more about the river valley and explored more of it. Yesterday, accompanied by my usual walking buddy Stu, I added the final stretch of the river at its southern end, namely where it enters the River Wylye. I’ve added the photo of the confluence to the original blog but decided to write this additional blog after we had made some further discoveries.
We left Shrewton on a warm but overcast morning. The sky foretold what was to come. We decided to walk the 5 or 6 miles to Stapleford, where we would find the confluence of the two rivers, have lunch and a beer (or two) in The Pelican and either a) walk back to Shrewton using a different route, or b) get the bus!
As we reached the site of Stapleford Castle, one of many residences owned by Jane Seymour’s father John ( the earthworks and ditch now hidden by trees), the heavens opened and the rain commenced. We trudged onwards until we reached the A36 opposite The Pelican where we stood in the pouring rain waiting for a gap in the traffic so we could cross. Of course no one would slow down to allow us across as we got increasing drenched.
Eventually we made it over to the other side of the road where we followed the footpath alongside the Till which runs by the pub gardens. This was new territory for me but Stu knew exactly where he was going. We crossed a stile and two little wooden pedestrian bridges erected by South Wilts Ramblers whereupon we came to another stile by the Till marked “Private”. “Here we go” I thought, “yet another stretch of river closed to the wider public”. Which indeed it was. Luckily I had my secret weapon with me. Stu is a member of the angling club that has a right of access to the river here, and he has fished it on many occasions. So we crossed the stile and walked along a short but beautiful stretch of the Till, its waters crystal clear at this point. Very soon we stopped by a bench where Stu announced that this was where the Till entered the Wylye. Just as I pulled my camera from my bag five young swans, still in their grey plumage, appeared one by one before us on the Wylye and paddled sedately round the corner into the Till.
After a while, during which we quite literally soaked up the tranquillity of the location, we returned to the public footpath and retired to the pub. What had been light but steady rainfall turned into a torrent. As we sat drinking our beer whilst staring out of the window we were thankful for the refuge from the deluge. Meanwhile the country announced the arrival of yet another Prime Minister!
Fortified by lunch and beer we decided to forego the bus and return to Shrewton on foot. The rain had stopped and the warm sunshine had made an appearance so we set off to visit the church at Stapleford before climbing to the ridge that is home to Druid’s Lodge Farm, now owned by the Guinness family. Anyone who has travelled north from the A36 through the village of Stapleford will be familiar with the chocolate box scene just before the church. A row of thatched cottages followed by the church on the inside of a sharp bend in the B3083 to Berwick St James. I’ve passed this way hundreds of times and have always wanted to get a photograph of this scene. But I’ve either not been able to stop or the road and parking area has been lined with cars and vans. This day was different. There was a solitary white van parked beside the road and it was a simple matter of standing in front of it to get my picture. It’s a shame about the thatcher’s scaffolding and the wheely bin but this would do for now.
As I fiddled with my camera trying to get the right position Stu disappeared into the church yard. I found him in the porch which immediately suggested that this church would be something special.
On the left of the outer door were the faint remains of a sundial, which are sometimes found by the entrance of churches so that parishioners would know what time to enter for the service. On entering the porch on the right, in place of the usual stone bench, was a tomb covering, clearly of great antiquity.
As we entered the church itself I was completely taken aback. Not since our visit to Inglesham Church have I been so astonished at the scene to be found beyond the door. It’s little wonder that St. Mary’s is a Grade I listed building.
This was to be a short visit as we still had 6 miles or so to walk. But we marvelled at the ornately carved arches of the arcade on the eastern side of the aisle, several with little stones faces on each of the four sides of supporting pillars, their noses hacked off in the Reformation.
There are still the remains of the original 12thcentury building, whilst the church was expanded and modified in the 13th century. A clerestory was added in the 15th century and an upper stage to the tower rebuilt in 1674. There was then the usual Victorian restoration.
We found little stone faces everywhere, a tomb to the left of the alter (the names of its occupants difficult to make out) and to the right of the alter a series of connected arches with a carved head at the base of each arch.
To the right (east) of the aisle beneath one of the windows was what was clearly a repurposed stone lintel complete with the top of what would have been another window. A window below a window cill. As we explored a local man entered the church, we assume to check up on what we up to! We asked if he could tell us about the church and its history, but sadly he couldn’t really expand on what we had already worked out for ourselves. We were particularly interested in why such an ornate church would have been built in such a small village, and wondered whether the Seymours had had a hand in it. Sir John Seymour lived from 1474 to 1536 so he may have added his mark at some point. It transpired that the chap who came in to check on us was the owner of the long white thatched cottage you see as you approach the church, which I think he said dated to the 15th century. He was involved in fund raising for the church so clearly felt a close attachment to it. I explained that I had been trying to get a photograph of the church and his cottage without cars for years, and he kindly offered to have the white van removed as it belonged to builders working in his house. But I declined unless he could also remove the overhead telephone wires and the scaffolding in front of his neighbour’s cottage!
Reluctantly we curtailed our visit in order to begin our long walk home before the beer wore off. But this is a church that deserves a lot more time to explore. We barely scratched the surface and I hardly noticed the exterior and church yard.
For more on both the River Till and the River Wylye check out the blogs on this website.