The Hardy Connection – take a walk exploring the undulating chalk landscape of the Berkshire Downs to the east of Lambourn which form part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The area has a history going back several thousand years; Roman artefacts and graves have been found hereabouts and the ancient Ridgeway – said to be Britain’s oldest green road – passes not far to the north.
We start our journey at the little village of Fawley, once known as North Fawley to distinguish it from its near neighbour, South Fawley; at the time of the Domesday Book (completed in 1086) the manor of North Fawley belonged to the nuns of the Benedictine abbey at Amesbury, later passing to the Abbey of Fontevraud in the Anjou region of France until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The village church, built in the 1860’s and dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, was designed by George Edmund Street to replace an earlier medieval building that stood slightly to the east; Street, an ecclesiastical architect and leading advocate of Victorian gothic revival architecture is probably best known for designing the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The church was commissioned by Blanche Wroughton of Chaddleworth; the Wroughton’s had held the manor of Fawley since the 18th century.
Fawley has a place in literary history, as it was the home of Thomas Hardy’s grandmother. Hardy used the village as the inspiration for ‘Marygreen’ in his last novel Jude the Obscure (1895), whilst he gave the fictional character, Jude, a stonemason, whose dreams of becoming a scholar sadly remained unfulfilled, the surname, Fawley.
From the church we head west before turning southwards through an undulating patchwork of fields with views stretching out over the surrounding downs. We soon head south-east passing Pound’s Farm and Oakhedge Copse, before turning once again to head north to the hamlet of South Fawley, home to the metal, stone and glass sculptor, Johannes von Stumm (www.vonstumm.co.uk). The manor house (private), was built in the early 1600’s for Sir Francis Moore, a barrister and member of parliament, who was born at nearby East Ilsley in 1558.
From here, it’s an easy three quarters of a mile walk back to Fawley. Unfortunately, there are no pubs on the walk, the nearest being to the south at Great Shefford and East Garston, whilst there is a tea room at the Court Hill Centre just to the north of the Ridgeway; published in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Life, September 2018.