A Swan Defends the Bridge

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SwanThere are many beautiful villages in the Cotswolds. Some are famous, whilst others, equally deserving of admiration, remain more or less anonymous. Their comparative obscurity is their main attraction. Visitors are few because these places, being slightly out of the way, offer little except their essential vernacular beauty – there is nothing to buy, nothing to do except breathe in rural history.One such – or, two such, to be accurate - is Eastleach, which is divided into two, Eastleach Martin and Eastleach Turville. The name 'Eastleach' comes from the pretty river Leach (meaning a stream flowing through boggy land) and the position of the village relative to its larger and better-known neighbour, Northleach.

As you enter the village on the Eastleach Turville bank, there is the Victoria Inn perched above you, its sign like a Victorian postage stamp. Turn right and you are soon at the river and one of the features peculiar to upland areas of the United Kingsom, a clapper bridge (from cleaca, meaning 'bridging the stepping stones), a series of low piers supporting a row of flagstones. As we approached it a swan, some fifty yards downstream of us, launched herself purposefully into the river amd made her way swiftly towards us. I wanted to photograph the bridge before crossing it and waited for the swan to approach in order to include her in the picture. What I had not reckoned on was her determination to refuse us passage. She broke towards the bank and settled in a hollow there, her wings bristling as she coiled and uncoiled her graceful neck in an attitude of defiant watchfulness. Each time we stepped close, she rose up, with just enough of a threat in her manner to send us back. No doubt defending her nest and its contents, she won the battle and we meekly went around to the church on the far bank by road.

Eastleach, unusually, has two parish churches, facing each other across the river. That is because until 1935 Turville and Martin were two distinct civil and ecclesiastical parishes. Eastleach Martin's church, the Church of St Michael & St Martin, is now in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust, whilst St. Andrew's Church in Turville, which has an impressive Norman 'Christ in Majesty' carved in stone on the tympanum over the south door, has become the official place of worship for the parish. John Keble, a founder of the Oxford Movement, author of 'The Christian Year' and after whom the Oxford University college is named, was curate of St. Michael & St. Martin in the early 19th century. In fact the clapper bridge, stoutly defended by the swan, is often called the Keble Bridge.

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NewsVictoria Fielden