I spent almost a month in the Cotswolds visitng with my parents recently and had a bit of time to explore.
They live near Stroud which TV programmes like “Escape to the Country ” tell me is the “poorer part of the Cotswolds”. I think “poor” may well be in the eye of the beholder. A new-build detached house (with pillars mind you) in the village near my parent’s was on sale recently for just over a million pounds.
One of the places I visited near by was Painswick. It is a very pretty market town located half way between Stroud and Gloucester. According to a Local Online Newsite Gloucestershire Live it’s on the “wrong side” of the Cotswolds for most Londoners who run out of steam around Bibury.
It is true that if you look up most lists of prettiest Cotswold villages to visit it doesn’t even make the top ten. I suspect that is because there are just so many ridiciously pretty places to visit in the Cotswolds. The list usually include places like Bibury, Stow-on-the-Wold, Kingham, Naunton, Castlecombe, Blockley, Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford, Tetbury, Broadway and the Slaughters (Upper and Lower).
Painswick, like many Cotswold villages gets a mention in Domesday Book in 1086 but really made it’s money from wool in the Tudor era. It is full of narrow lanes and honey coloured C15th and C16th houses as well as some more recent, Georgian ones.
I wanted to visit the churchyard because I have a fascination with topiary (hedges and bushes) and I love painting those different greens. I also like the weird semi-abstract organic shapes that the trees and shadows make. I could have wandered around that churchyard for hours.
Painswick Churchyard: Photo credit Emma Cownie
Painswick is famous for having 99 Yew trees in the churchyard. I had assumed they were very ancient as many yew trees grow incredibly slowly and live long, long lives. Many trees pre-date Christian settlements. They are sometimes called the tree of the dead. This is because their drooping branches of old yew trees can root and form new trunks where they touch the ground. Thus the yew came to symbolise death and resurrection in Celtic and later Christian culture. Their needles are toxic and so were also presumably planted to keep animals out of the churchyards away from graves; as well as for their “everlasting” symbolism.
These Painswick trees, however only date back to the C18th. They are also neatly clipped every year (so no drooping branches) . There is a local legend that only ninety-nine trees will ever grow here and the hundreth one kept dying as the devil destroyed it. And yes, there are at least ninety-nine trees as they are all numbered and sponsored (these yews trees are surprisingly expensive to look after). However, in 2000, all the churches in Gloucestershire were given a yew tree to celebrate the millenium. Painswick went ahead and planted the 100th tree which, contrary to tradition, actually thrived. In fact there are few extra trees (not numbered I noticed).
Every September the trees are clipped. This is a mammoth task and it this produces over two tonnes of material. The clippings do not go to waste as they are used as the basic raw material for the anti-cancer drug paclitaxol. So in a way these yew trees are still fighting the devil.
Painswick is well worth a visit. Those lazy Londoners don’t know what they are missing!
20 thoughts on “Painswick – the neglected “Queen” of the Cotswolds?”
Thank you Emma for this excellent post. I love the Cotswolds and Yew Trees.
A friend of mine, Janis Fry, has just had two more books published on the subject of Yew Trees – a subject which is indeed fascinating. As for property prices in the Cotswolds and many other places in England (particularly southern) ….they are ridiculously high!. I could purchase a house in France and many other parts of Europe for a fraction of the cost and often offering much more in terms of space etc. Real estate is not my problem:)
Yes, I would occasionally glance in estate agents’ windows in Stroud and be amazed at the sky high prices. I know that some yews are mind-bendingly old. I think I have ever heard that they pretty much live forever.
Lovely post Emma, what a magical story of the 99 yew trees as well. It sounds like something from a children’s book!
Doesn’t it? I loved that they had numbered (almost all) the trees so you got a sense of their number. It’s a lot of Yew trees
I really liked Painswick when I used to visit the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsworkers summer exhibition in the village hall there. Haven’t been for a long time though. Wonder if it still goes on – high time I went back. And yes, the churchyard is quite something. Love your painting of it. Ceri
Thank you Ceri. There’s lots more to Painswick than the church and the yew trees. And there’s also the Roccoco Garden near by.
The Rococo garden is lovely. I went to see the snowdrops a few years ago. Definitely worth a visit.
I am ashamed to say I have never been! Maybe next I am in Gloucestershire
Well, the sight of an emergency ambulance did make me pause for thought on my arrival but all was good in the end. Categorically Not something he ate.
I stayed here for a summer when I was in Grad School. So beautiful.
Wow. Cindy. I would have never guessed. What were you studying in Grad school?
This churchyard sounds huge. So does this include a church, and buildings, along with a cemetery? The Yew story is interesting.
Yes. The churchyard is big but as it’s full of yew trees it doesn’t seem that massive
As I enjoyed the all the sunshine in your photographs I kept thinking, isn’t it supposed to rain a lot in England? Could we maybe trade Midwest USA rain (which is getting out of hand) for some of the Cotswolds sunshine?
Ah, yes the whole point of British weather is that it’s varied and somewaht unpredictable. We do get lots of rain (Autumn and winter in particular and especially in August when all the kids are on holiday) and it can get great and sunny. But it can be very wierd. You can get snow in April and a heatwave in March. It was a beautiful dry February but by parents have told me that its done nothing but rain in late March.
Beautiful quaint place. I’ve never been England so its nice to feel like I’ve traveled there when viewing your photos, landscape paintings and reading about these places.
Yes, the Cotswolds is quaint place. I marvelled at it after a couple of years away. I should think that if you have never been to England, you would find it super-quaint. Stroud is an interesting Cotswold town as it’s roots are industrial (cotton mills and dyeing) and it’s more edgey than the surrounding villages.
Beautiful churchyard. Nice trees. Wonderful place. Where it’s place?
Painswick village, Gloucestershire, UK
Thank you so much!