The Two Churches walk
A young couple who stayed with us wrote eloquent feedback about their walks in the village, including the observation that Colston Bassett has “one functioning church for religious purposes, and one ruined church on a lonely hillside for poetic ones”.
This circular walk takes in the both of these churches … and the village cricket ground that’s immortalised in an ITV sitcom, and the corner of a field where the village gallows once stood. All in 50 minutes – or several hours if, as is likely, you find yourself enraptured by the ancient gravestones and fascinating features of the old ruined church and its graveyard.
Turn left onto Bakers Lane at the front gate and where it meets Bunnison Lane turn right. Fifty yards on your right the lane meets Church Gate, the main road through the village. Here on the right you’ll find the Grade II listed Church of St. John the Divine, which serves the local parish. This was erected in 1892 by the architect Arthur Brewill at the behest of Robert Millington Knowles, High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire (Harriet’s great great grandfather). He had it built in memory of his sons John who died aged 21, drowned in a river, and xx who was killed in the Boer War, and also of his lovely wife Alice, who died very young, leaving her daughter Evelyn to run the pastoral and household sides of the estate, aged 16. Built in the early perpendicular style, the church was regarded by architectural guide Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as one of the most beautiful village churches in England.
You’ll see a small graveyard in front of the Church. This is the family plot of the Le Marchants where most of those mentioned above are buried. The Church is usually unlocked and has wonderful gothic carving and also a rather sweet family chapel with a marble sculpture of an angel carved by the famous sculptor xx. You can find out more about its listed features here.
Turn right at the Church and walk for about 200 yards past a pair of cottages and a barn conversion, behind which you’ll find a footpath signposted on the left. Follow this over a small footbridge crossing the River Smite.
Keep walking straight on between a cultivated field on your left and a verdant hedgerow on your right. Shortly you’ll arrive at the Cricket pitch on your right. You can squeeze through a gap in the hedge if you want a closer look. Surrounded by wonderful trees and pasture land this pitch has become a popular cricketers paradise. So much so that Central TV chose it as the location for their 90’s TV comedy drama “Outside Edge” – starring Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn – about the trials and tribulations of running a Sunday League Cricket team.
The current pavilion dates back to the late 19th Century and underwent extensive renovation in the early 1960’s to restore it from a derelict state into a serviceable facility. The wooden pavilion still maintains its rustic charm. Both Home and Away dressing rooms are wood panelled and varnished. The communal tea area overlooking the ground is well decorated with archived team photos dating back to the 1890’s, illustrating the lively history of our English game.
Twitchers may be interested to note the presence of a sparrowhawk which normally takes up residence to the left of the side screen, the “yaffle” sound of green woodpeckers, or the circling of buzzards high above the wicket.
Passing in front of the pavilion with the cricket ground on your right, you’ll descend to a bridge across a small brook and then follow the path climbing to the second of our churches, the ruined, but safely renovated Norman Church of St Marys (Circa 1086).
Turn left to enter through the stile into the graveyard.
This old church has been a roofless ruin since the late 19th century. It was built on the site of an older church, probably Saxon, and was definitely in existence by 1135. It now consists of a four bay nave with a west tower, a south transept and an aisles chancel. Its prominent location on a gentle hill north east of the village was a site for earlier structures going back to Norman times. And through various episodes of building, extending and restoring over the centuries the ruins themselves have become a kind of time machine of medieval and later architecture. Hence its status as a scheduled Ancient Monument and its grade 1 listing in the ‘List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest’.
Among the features listed on the excellent Colston Bassett History site which you can find here, are:
- A precious, previously unrecorded fragment of Anglo Saxon carved interlaced pattern uncovered during consolidation work on the transept gable wall.
- Three Norman columns with scallop capitals in the north arcade thought to date from c.1130.
- An Early English – 13th Century half octagonal column with bell capital and nailhead decoration at the tower arch.
- An o-gee, or double curve arch, of a type started in the 14th Century.
- Belfry windows in the upper stage of the Bell tower typical of the 15th perpendicular style. The present bell frame has been tree-ring dated to 1609. There is a great deal of superb carving on the tower. It has three grotesque gargoyles. The grim one on the north side clutches two human figures.
- There is an 18th Century Georgian window which has fashionable ‘Gibbs’ surround named after James Gibbs, architect, (1682-1754).
Although depopulation meant that by the mid c17th the church was in disrepair and by 1892 was being plundered for materials for the new village church, St Mary’s was never de-consecrated. In July 2005 a service of re-dedication was held in the ruins following restoration work, which began in 1994.
As well as exploring the hidden gems of this architectural wonder, its also worth spending time among the gravestones in the ancient but still in use graveyard surrounding the church. Many of these are listed, dating back to the c18th, and you can find out more about them here:
Exit through the front gate of the Church and turn left down the path, down to the gate onto New Road. Turn right onto New Road, walking past Bellevue Stables.
Now you have two options, the first is about 20 minutes further but goes across fields and the second is shorter and on a small road, Washpit Lane. The road name is attributed to the place under Sheepwash Bridge, crossing back over the River Smite, where sheep were washed and the villages did their laundry.
- Go straight on past Washpit Road*.
At the end of the first field on your right, before you get to Belvoir Boarding Kennels, there is a metal gate on your right. Take this and follow the track all the way down the side of the woodland, Winnifred Wood. Jink left, and then you will see the river in front of you. Walk lefthanded along the river bank and you will see a ford on your right, easily wadeable and usually dryish unless there has been a lot of rainfall. Go through the ford and bear right along the river bank, about a third of a mile through a long grass meadow. The village end of this field, with its hill, was known as ‘Gallowshill’ and you can still just about make out a small mound, where according to a map of the village dated 1600, a gibbet stood. According to the Colston Bassett History site it’s “located on the northern boundary of the parish, almost touching the right bank of the Smite near what is now called the weir. … The Rev’d Young wrote in his book that ‘its origin may perhaps be found in the privilege, sometimes held by the lord of the manor in mediaeval days of sentencing culprits to capital punishment.’”
Walking onwards along the river, you reach Sheepwash Bridge where you can climb the fence or wall and find yourself at the bottom of Spring Hill. Turn left here and up the hill, taking you back into the village.
- If you want a short cut, in which case turn right onto Washpit Road and keep walking for a mile or so until you get to the top of Spring Hill, back in the village. You will join the previous walk at Sheepwash Bridge, as above.
In both cases, follow the road until you get to a T-junction. You can either turn left and take the first right down Bakers Lane, which brings you to our drive gate on the left, or, go straight on which takes you back to the Church of St John the Divine, where you turn left, take a left up Bakers Lane and the drive gate will be on your right.
Do ask if you would like to borrow an Ordnance Survey map as there are many other walks and footpaths around the village.