A Warwick walk

Of the five counties that The Four Shires serves, (I know, blame the Editor) the closest county town is Warwick, just over 20 miles north. Before you ask, Aylesbury...

garden2Of the five counties that The Four Shires serves, (I know, blame the Editor) the closest county town is Warwick, just over 20 miles north. Before you ask, Aylesbury is the administrative centre of Buckinghamshire and besides, I have to admit to a bias as Warwick is my home town, writes Peter Jones.

It is to Warwick that we travel for this month’s walk, although after last month’s exertions in muddy north Oxfordshire this will be more of a stroll; and what an interesting stroll it turns out to be. There are more gardens than the Chelsea flower show, two gates, a couple of confessions and to top it all we end up in court!

My usual walking companion and Four Shires reader accompanied me, Roger; he is an architect and was very useful identifying the large variety of different ages and styles of properties to be found in Warwick

Just before we arrive on the old Banbury Road we take a left turn into Bridge End. This is a much sought after residential street in the town and it features in a short time when we are on the other side of the river.

As we cross the river bridge we slow down and take in the view of Warwick Castle. This must be one of the finest views in the country for it is one of the world’s greatest mediaeval castles. It is not part of our plans for today but we are never far away from it.

St Nicholas Park is on our right and has plenty of parking spaces and it was here that we left the car for the day before crossing over into Mill Street, one of the few streets in Warwick that survived the Great Fire of 1694. It was once described as “The prettiest street in England”, a mix of mediaeval and later properties, Roger was beside himself.

At the very bottom is The Mill Garden, originally built as a bridge keeper’s cottage in 1398 it was acquired by one Arthur Measures and his wife in 1938 and it was he who created the gardens. This is a truly stunning location with the River Avon and the castle forming the boundaries. It is hard to imagine that this was once the busiest part of the town.

The ruined bridge in front of us was built in the 14th Century and once had 11 spans. This was the main entrance across the river from Bridge End and carried all who entered and left. The road up into the town passed straight through the garden and through what is now the castle wall!

The gardens are now looked after by Mr Measure’s daughter Julia and are open to the public from April till the end of October. They are well worth the visit for they are one of Warwick’s hidden gems.

Now time for a confession, Mr Measure’s mother ran the sweet shop in Jury Street where I lived for my first 21 years. When I was at primary school my parents used to give me a shilling to pay into my post office account but like a lot of my class mates we used to spend a 1d in the sweet shop and just pay 11d into the savings book.

My mother is a Four Shires reader and I may now be in trouble.

As we retrace our steps back up Mill Street we pause to admire The Malt House, converted from its original use into a house in the 1920s, the Earl of Warwick himself lived there for a short while.

Turning left at the top of the street we head up towards East Gate. Built in the 15th century, it is now a holiday cottage. Check it out on the internet for it is a fantastic place to stay. Traffic only stopped driving through it just over 50 years ago and you can see some pretty severe scratches on the arch where one or two underestimated the height of their vehicles!

In front of it is a fine Victorianbridge 1 pillar box, still in daily use. There is an identical one at the other end of town in front of Westgate.

We turn up into The Butts. Remember a few months back when we walked around Aynho, we discovered a ‘Butts’ there as well and after a few yards we turn into a lane called the ‘Tink-a-Tank’ which takes us up to the town centre.

This dark passageway has walls either side of it some seven feet high. The other side of the wall is where I lived for my first 21 years, and it’s time for another confession. For some reason, probably to impress a girl, I climbed out of my bedroom window and painted a giant ‘CND’ symbol next to a chimney. This somewhat irritated my father, as his employers who owned the house were not overly happy. The symbol however, is till there!

That’s got to be 50 years ago and must be testimony to the quality of the paint, if nothing else.

The Tink-a-Tank leads into St Marys Churchyard where we find our second garden of the day. The College Gardens are owned by St Marys Church and are accessed through a metal gate in the wall. Admission is free and there are lovely views of the church, it is a wonderfully quiet little refuge.

Heading back through the churchyard we come out in Church Street opposite the Zetland Arms, our first pub and third garden of the day. A quick ‘half follows and then we go back out and down to the High Street which we cross into Castle Lane.

Here we admire the frontage of The Dispensary that in times past offered free medicines to the poor. In recent times it was used by BBC TV as the setting for its TV series ‘Dangerfield’, a story about a country GP practice.

Opposite there is another free garden, that of The Pageant House. This is again somewhere quiet to sit and possibly picnic It is not only free, but has some great public loos.

Castle Lane continues all the way to Westgate, the castle appearing over the wall to our left. The lane is a real mix of both old and new property including a really modern looking cottage that got architect Roger really bubbling.

We reach Westgate and after a quick look we turn right into the High Street. There are two gardens within a few yards here, one at the back of the Friends Meeting House where we sit outside with a cup of coffee and another at the back of the Unitarian Chapel. Both are free to enter and again, both quiet peaceful places to sit and lose a few minutes.

Where the High Street meets Jury Street, once the town’s main crossroads, we turn left into Church Street and walk up to the impressive St Marys Church that dominates the town centre.

Much of the church was destroyed in the great fire (of 1694) but Beauchamp Chapel was largely untouched and has the magnificent tombs of the Earls of Beauchamp. You could spend several hours here for there is much to see including many memorial plaques from The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and old bread shelves where bread was left for the poor of the town to help themselves to.

beachamp 2Time now for lunch and we are really spoilt for choice. I am assured that there are 80 places to eat and drink within the town centre and we chose The Red Lion in the market place. A life-size bronze statue of world middleweight boxing champion Randolph Turpin guards it ominously.

Over an excellent bottle of Cotes Du Rhone and perfectly pink cooked calves liver three other Four Shires readers joined us. To make sure we behaved, editor Jeremy arrived for the part of our trip that I was really looking forward to.

Northgate Street runs from the church to the magnificent Northgate House and is home to the Shire Hall, which until two years ago was the home of Warwick assizes. On the other side is a row of what were council offices about to be converted to residential use.

Warwickshire County Council had kindly agreed to open them up for us and we were given a tour by our guide. The Shire Hall is stunning. There are two Victorian courtrooms and a further court for family cases to be tried. These were very impressive and after we had all taken turns to be Judge, Jury and accused we went down to the cells below.

These were horrible and claustrophobic and covered in graffiti from prisoners who had been ‘taken down’. They were quite sobering – but nothing prepared us for the trip into the damp, dark and dank dungeon that was built in 1680 and still in use up to 1797. Only 21 feet across it held up to 40 prisoners chained to the stone pillars that are still there!

Round the corner in Barrack Street set in the wall of what was Warwick Gaol is one of the old wooden cell doors – this is all very grim.

We head back to the car via The New Bowling Green pub in St Nicholas Church street for a quick half in our last walled garden of the day.

We had only scratched the surface of Warwick but we can always come back. There is no need to follow any set route for there is something to see around every corner. If you feel you need a guide however, you could do no worse than buy a copy of Arthur Measure’s visitors guide to Warwick – you can find it in several places in town.