Church Fete - the best ever current buns!

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Cotswold Church FeteThe Cotswold Way is a national trail, which begins its one hundred mile route in Chipping Campden and completes it in Bath. On the way it passes through some of the most beautiful parts of the Cotswolds, especially between Campden and Painswick. After Painswick the villages are scarcer, the stone a shade greyer, the landscape more profoundly rural. Yet, on its way south, from time to time it passes close to some historic gems and one of them is an unassuming manor house in the hamlet of Horton, not far from Chipping Sodbury. Located adjacent to the church, as is the way of these things, sits Horton Court, built out of stone largely in the 16th century. Not very opulent as such houses go, it has a charmingly domestic aspect, not dissimilar to many others in the Cotswolds, but with one significant difference – the survival of a 12th century Norman Hall and some of the earliest Renaissance decorative motifs in England. The original manor house had been donated to the See of Sarum, who endowed it with a prebend (a sort of ecclesiastical land tenure), the first holder of which was Robert de Beaufeu, who almost certainly built the hall. A rare survivor of its type, it is much altered but it is quite possible to get a strong sense of how it would have been when first raised in about 1150. The Rev. William Knight was the holder of the prebend from 1517. Knight travelled on many occasions to Italy on diplomatic missions for King Henry VIII, including negotiations with the pope over Henry's divorce from Catharine of Aragon. During his travels he witnessed the Italian artistic Renaissance and incorporated some of the motifs he had seen into the new house he built around the Norman hall in about 1521.

The house, owned by the National Trust, is in a poor state. It has been partially opened to the public in the expectation of being able to restore it fully but this will take time – it is worth seeing now in its naturally evolved state, a strange mixture of medieval style and rather run-down early twentieth century domestic technology.

On the way out I noticed a sign beside the church advertising 'tea'. If I expected anything, it was a plate of sandwiches and a tea-urn in a wind-buffeted tent. In fact, it was the church itself that had been turned into a tearoom. There was a long table laden with homemade cakes (including an excellent currant bun made by the very affable woman selling them) on one side of the nave and tables placed strategically among the pews and transepts. The hymn numbers from the service earlier in the day were still on the wall above the pulpit and the church was filled with patriotically coloured flowers.

I suppose some might wonder if selling teas in a sacred place is altogether in keeping with the notion of sanctity. I wondered that, too, at first, as if there is one thing that an agnostic relishes in country churches, it is the peace and stillness. But thinking about it, it seemed churlish to be so fussy. Churches are public places and serving teas for a few hours a few times a year constitutes a public service, which is far from doing a deal with the forces of Mammon. And the bun was delicious. Personally, I am all for it, but only if the cakes are as good as the ones on sale here.

Our walking tours and tailor made holidays take in some of these stunning towns and villages and can easily be planned around particular local events if you wish. Have a look at our tours pages and contact us if you require any more information.

NewsVictoria Fielden