Walk 151: Burford Town Walk

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1.8 miles (3 km), but this is a wandering walk so you may do more…you may do less

Time to walk: This is a town walk with lots to explore & could take all day if you take in all the beautiful buildings, lovely independent shops & numerous tea rooms and pubs. I did this walk during the 2nd lockdown & the town was eerily empty

Difficulty: All on hard surfaces

Parking: The best place to park is the free parking signposted off the High Street

Public toilets: Cafes, pubs etc

Map of the route: None

Penny Gasson visited Burford on the edge of the Cotswolds. What did she think of it – here’s her take on the Town Trail

Burford is a beautiful is a small medieval town situated just off the A40 between Oxford & Cheltenham on the River Windrush, Oxfordshire, England. It’s often referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’ & has always been a strategically important place, even in Anglo-Saxon times when it was the site of a fortified ford

It has a three-arched medieval bridge, an impressive church & both sides of the street are flanked by an unbroken line of ancient houses & shops. In October 2020 it was voted as the 6th best place to live in Europe

Let’s Walk!

1. As mentioned, the car park is alongside the River Windrush & there are always loads of ducks here…

2. Walk over the bridge out of the car park & head straight on towards the church. It was lovely to see this jasmine flowering at the end of November…

3. Ahead are the Warwick Almshouses, founded in 1457 by Burford wool merchant Henry Bishop, who was acting for the Earl of Warwick, then Lord of Burford. They are now for local people mainly women with limited means…

4. Next is St John the Baptist Church. The church reflects the wealth & civic pride of Burford’s medieval merchants. Its predominantly 15th century appearance masks work of many periods. The great west doorway, with its zigzag mouldings, is one of the few visible Norman remains…

The church has many interesting monuments including, on the font, the scratched name of Anthony Sedley & the date 1649. He was one of the Leveller mutineers from Cromwell’s army who were captured & held in the church. The ringleaders were shot against the churchyard wall, as the remaining prisoners watched from the church roof

5. Follow the road round until you reach the High Street, then turn left. There are lots of coffee shops & tea rooms along here, our favourite being the ‘Bakery on the Hill’ where everything is baked on the premises each day

There are some really lovely old buildings along here. I loved this doorway, which belongs to Shoo Cottage & dates back to the 16th century

6. Continuing along the High Street, you will pass the Methodist Church, which is a baroque building. It was built between about 1715 & 1730 as a private house & converted in 1849 to a Wesleyan Chapel. It’s a Grade II Listed Building

In more normal times they often have craft fairs here

7. Continue until you reach Witney Street on the left & turn down this road, again lined by beautiful old houses. On the right you will soon reach ‘The Great House’, one of Burford’s grandest houses…

It was built c1700 for John Castle, a wealthy physician, prominent in town affairs. The top floor forms a single long open gallery. The battlemented chimneys & parapet are a visual pun on the family name of ‘Castle’

8. Head back towards the High Street, passing the 17th century Royal Oak, our favourite pub in Burford & another Grade II listed building…

9. Once back on the High Street continue left heading towards the Hill. At 105 High Street you will reach the Bull Inn

The Inn dates back to 1475, but the Bull’s brick front, built c1715, is the only one in Burford. No doubt it was meant to make the inn stand out as visitors arrived by coach, at a time when there were plenty of places competing for their trade. At one time over 40 coaches a day passed through, stopping at one of the many inns. Not surprisingly brewing was important in Burford

Lord Nelson stayed here in 1802

10. Next 111 High Street is now a lovely deli…

…but look up at the front of this 15th century timber-framed building & you’ll find fine carved bargeboards…

It was built as a shop &, inside, traces survive of the medieval timber shop front. The modern front is several feet further forward, typical of the way shop fronts have encroached further into the street since the Middle Ages

11. At 115 High Street is Wysdom Hall. Behind the 1720 Georgian façade is one of the most important medieval houses in Burford…

Simon Wisdom lived here &, in the 16th century, he was Burford’s wealthiest man, dominating civic life & acquiring many properties

12. Continue up the hill, leaving the shops behind & admire the stunning cottages that line either side of the road, often selling for upwards of £700,000!

13. When you have finished looking at the houses, cross over the road & head down hill. There are normally stunning views from the top of the hill, but it was a bit foggy today!

It’s just as lovely on this side of the road…

14. There are some fabulous old carriage yards & alley ways along here…

15. This a good opportunity to look across the road at the tops of some of these old buildings…

On the corner of Sheep Street is the Tolsey. Tree-ring dating of its roof timbers shows it was built  around 1525…

Overlooking the medieval market area, market tolls were collected here. The open ground floor area housed stalls selling products that needed shelter from the sun or rain (like butter or silk). At the back of the Tolsey was the town lock-up. The Museum opened in 1960

16. Turn left here into Sheep Street, named because of Burford’s importance in the wool trade in medieval times

Stop outside Number 23. In the early 1890s this was the Lenthall Temperance Hotel. In 1908-9 it was listed as a Cyclists’ Touring Company house, reflecting the arrival in Burford of recreational tourism. Tourism by bicycle boomed briefly & there was even a cycle maker around the corner in the High Street

I loved this sign here…

17. Again there are some beautiful houses here…

18. Continue up Sheep Street until you reach the Lamb Inn. which comprises an accumulation of several properties…

The inn was remodelled in the 18C for the coaching trade with stables in the rear courtyard, now converted into accommodation, & a small snug with a fire in the front, a ‘warming room’ for coach passengers. A mounting block survives outside down Priory Lane

19. Head back towards the High Street, passing the Bay Tree Hotel. Established in 1935, the Bay Tree Hotel encompasses two earlier houses. Its detached right-hand part (east of Lavington Lane) began probably as a late 17th century cottage, which has a later north range and an east wing of c.1936. The hotel’s main part incorporates, on the right, a house built soon after 1649, when it was leased to the yeoman farmer Thomas Baggs

Another beautiful house…

20. Back on the High Street at Number 124, from the outside there is little sign of the age of this building, dated to 1401…

It was built as an inn, but since 1734 it’s been a chemist – the oldest in England. Inside are cabinets with fading labels such as Opium! After the end of the glass tax in 1845, other towns saw large plate glass windows replace smaller ones, but Burford’s economic stagnation in the 19th century meant earlier examples, like these, survived

21. At Number 104 is an antiques shop, which was the former George Inn & Yard. From the Middle Ages to its closure around 1800, this was one of Burford’s most important inns…

The stone gatehouse was built to be noticed by travellers arriving from the east, formerly the main road into town. The front rooms were used for eating & drinking, with accommodation round the courtyard. After the inn’s closure the yard, like many in Burford, was turned into cramped cottages for poorer workers

22. At Number 9 is Huffkins Bakery & Tearooms, built in 1578. You can see the date carved above the door. This was the Rose & Crown from the late 18th century to  around 1918…

23. Continue along the High Street until you reach the River Windrush, which rises in Winchcombe, in Gloucestershire, & flows for 65km to meet the Thames in Newbridge, Oxfordshire

The bridge here is Grade II listed & is 15th century in origin

24. Cross over here & head back to the car park along Church Lane, passing the original building of Burford School. The School was founded as an Elizabethan Grammar School for boys in 1571 by a group of local merchants of whom Simon Wysdom, one time Alderman of the town, was the driving force

Boarders were welcomed, though initially they were housed with families throughout the town. The Charter of the school is still in existence & its founding is celebrated each year in the autumn when a Charter Day Service is held, attended by the whole school

In 1896 the arrival of a new Head led to the addition of agricultural studies to the traditional curriculum & a revitalised boarding house was established to house them during the week.  This brought in the sons of local farmers & led to the establishment of a very successful fifty-six acre farm unit with a Danish Jersey Herd, breeding ewes, sows & poultry

The school became a County School in 1924 & girls were invited to attend, although the sexes were taught separately until 1952 when, due to its comparatively isolated position & the need for viability, comprehensive co-education was pioneered

The school moved to its new premises in 36 acres of rolling land at the top of Burford in 1957 & the original Grammar School became part of the Boarding House in the heart of the town. In 1980 it became a Community College, with many evening classes & events taking place, & in 2012 it became the Academy that it is today

So that is Burford, a place we have visited many times, but was much enriched this time by reading about all the beautiful old buildings

Go Walk!