I have recently been spending time with my parents in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. On a bright sunny Sunday morning I explored some of the winding tracks of a near by village called Chalford and Chalford Hill. Where is that? In the South West-ish of the English Midlands ( see map below). The Parish of Chalford is contained in the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Beauty
Chalford Parish stretches a fair way over this part of the Cotswolds. Chalford Hill is a steep valley within the parish. There are four other historic settlements in the parish. The villages are Chalford Hill (1 on map above), France Lynch (2), Brownshill (3), Old Bussage (4), Chalford Vale (5) and Manor Village (aka Bussage) (6). Much of my information comes from a publication by the Chalford Parish Council (see the last link at the bottom of the blog)
The original villages of Chalford, Chalford Hill, France Lynch, Bussage and Brownshill were squatter settlements for handloom weavers and other cloth workers as a result of the expansion of the woollen industry in the early Middle Ages and later. The valley road through Chalford was first developed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. From the later 18th century, when the valley bottom offered no further sites, cottages were built on the hillsides above, an area sometimes referred to as Little Switzerland.
As the wool trade ebbed and flowed, so did the population and prosperity of the area, though the opening of the Thames and Severn Canal in 1789 helped to create further, if different, jobs, at least for a time. The next important change was the opening of the Great Western Railway line in 1845, built along the valley beside the canal. A station was opened in Chalford village in 1897 and there was also a halt west of the village. Both stations closed in 1964. Today the next station stop is Stroud.
The Parish is renowned for its steep hillsides and scarp edges as well as it’s narrow roads and footpaths many of which have a gradient between 10% and 25% Behind many of the honey-coloured houses are narrow paths that stretch over an incredible 28 km within the parish. These tracks lead up some very steep hillsides. In the past the narrow mud tracks allowed workers to quickly reach the mills in the valley by foot – a majority of the paths leading straight down hill. Although you might be forgiven for thinking this is mountain goat country it was donkeys that did all the heavy carrying in the past. Today this is 4×4 country.
These tracks enabled goods (food and coal) to be transported up and down the hill by donkey. These days alpacas are becoming a common sight in Britain and Ireland but back in the day Chalford was the domain of the donkey aka “Neddy” or “Ned”.
Donkeys were used until the 1930s to deliver bread, coal and other household items to people’s doorsteps (Jennie being the name of one of the donkeys). In fact, many front doors can still only be accessed by a winding network of ‘donkey paths’. In those times Chalford was known as ‘Neddyshire’ which derives its name from the use of donkeys.
I am looking forward to exploring more of these tracks when I return as well as the path along the canal at the bottom of the valley.
Find out more:-