Ebrington and St. Eadburgha’s
In 2015, we returned to England for an amazing vacation (read all about it here). Anytime a traveler comes to England who has never been before, visiting the traditionally tourist sights of London will be #1 on the list. It’s getting out into the countryside – and specifically to the Cotswolds – that should always be the true destination.
One of my favorite memories, after doing the “three days in London” tourist sights, was spending several hours in the small village of Ebrington.
We were staying in the amazing Charingworth Manor during our week in the Cotswolds and were going to be branching out from there to many different wonderful adventures. But one particular morning, we had some time to ourselves before the afternoon’s festivities began.
Since I had “done my homework” prior to the trip, I knew there was a nice country road walk from Charingworth to Ebrington, and the photos looked exactly like the prototype Cotswolds village. So, after breakfast we set out on foot. The way Charingworth was situated with the road behind it, we actually got to climb over a small dry-stack wall that had a convenient step built into it!
The road was typically “English narrow”, allowing two cars to pass side-by-side only if one or both of them were off the actual road surface! So – walking along, we definitely kept our eyes open. Fortunately, English drivers are VERY used to foot traffic, and this particular road was so rarely used that we only saw one or two cars during the round trip walk!
The fields along this road were just beginning to show growth, as we were there in late May and it was still a bit on the cool side (by our Texas standards!). But the smells of the fresh Earth, the peaty odors of the mulch and fertilizer, and the different colors of the various crops and flowers filled our senses as we enjoyed the late morning walk down the winding road.
As we arrived at the edge of the village, there was a wall outside a small farmhouse with a box on it. Above it was a sign denoting “eggs for sale”. While there were no eggs to be seen (they had already been purchased for the day!), it was all done on the honor system – with 1/2 dozen eggs for 1 pound being the going rate.
Having the opportunity to have fresh eggs for your daily breakfast at such a reasonable price sounds like a little slice of heaven. Mark later told us he called this the “Egg Box 360” (a play on the X-Box gaming system name).
Walking up the lane into the village, each of the houses were built out of the beautiful Cotswold Stone (a yellowish limestone that turns out to be made of fossilized sea urchins from the Jurassic period when this area was under water!). This stone really gives the entire Cotswolds a certain charm as the stones become a beautiful honey color as they age. The dry-stack walls along the lane, and separating the front gardens of each home, give a sense of organization and structure. Each front garden is immaculately prepared and kept, with striking flowers and vines really popping with bright colors.
A humorous bit, intended this way or not, was the transformation of a traditional “red phone box” into an actual “defibrillation station”. With the advent of cell phones, I guess there was no real reason for a “public phone” … kudos to them for keeping the symbolic phone box, but making use of it for something else! 🙂
It’s really easy to say things like “this is the perfect Cotswolds village.” I’ve seen a number of these villages during my visits that could make this claim.
I think that may be one of the things I love about this area — each village has its own unique charm, but they share several common features: those aforementioned Cotswold stone houses, a village pub (or more!), and a village church.
The Ebrington Arms
Well, of COURSE I’m going to make sure that this village visit includes the local pub! Since we had been walking and taking in the sites, we were ready for lunch.
The Ebrington Arms is an award-winning pub that is set directly in the center of the village. Near a memorial to village men lost during WWI (“The Great War”) in Europe, this picture-perfect pub has that same ivy-covered Cotswold stone exterior. As we walk in, the rich smell of fires of the past, meals of the present, and a welcoming glow from the windows greet us.
There’s a great table near the fireplace that we gladly take. Even though it’s late May and the fireplace isn’t actually lit, it’s still a really cozy setting and exactly what we wanted.
We actually had arrived a few minutes before noon, so the food service hasn’t yet started, but we didn’t mind one little bit. Sitting in this charming pub, enjoying a break from our country walk from Charingworth, and just absorbing the history of this nearly 400 year old building.
According to their website, it has a colorful history – built around 1640 as a large dwelling or farmhouse. Thankfully, it’s spent most of its time as the village public house!
A pint of the local ale, from the brewery also owned by the Arms’ owners (!), and I’m ready for some fish and chips! Absolutely perfect. I could not have asked for a better pub meal.
England used to have (past tense!) a reputation for boring (at best) or awful (at worst) food. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been visiting since 1996, and I’ve never had a bad meal — even in the most modest of establishments. The Arms, however, is also part of the movement of gastro-pubs where in addition to traditional pub grub, they offer high-end fare that would put to shame many stuffy establishments here at home.
I may have found my new favorite English pub … and I’ve been to a number of them during my six (and counting) visits to the beautiful English Cotswolds.
While we could’ve spent even more time here, it’s time to move on.
Fortunately, these Cotswolds villages are all nice and compact, and our next target was only a few lovely steps down the road. Bidding the owners “farewell, for now”, we left the cozy confines of the local pub and walked back out into the beautiful spring air.
The traffic circle in front of the pub was actually more triangular in shape (unusual!), but due mostly to the preservation of the trio of huge trees in the middle. A very helpful sign points us to our next destination – St Eadburgha’s Church.
The path that we follow actually goes between two rows of houses. Barely wide enough to allow two people to walk side-by-side, this path is framed by a house exterior on one side and a dry-stack garden wall on the other. The owner of the back garden beside this path has their springtime efforts on full display, as the many different flowers are in bloom and spill over the garden wall. It’s really lovely — I would be quite satisfied to enjoy an afternoon cup of tea there.
A small wooden gate welcomes visitors to the churchyard. Unlike the pub, however, dogs are not allowed. 🙂
One thing that has struck me about all of the English village churches that I have visited is the state of the grave markers. The ancient stones are different in style, depending on the importance (and riches) of the deceased, the era in which they were interred, and (in all likelihood) size of donations to the church itself. Made of the same Cotswold Stone, they have a coordinated appearance – regardless of the differing styles and sizes. The older the stone, though, the more worn-off the inscriptions tend to be.
A number of the inscriptions are easily back to the 1600s, and we think some are probably older. As it turns out, we’re correct! There’s one old burial marker – barely visible above the thick grass – that is actually a stone coffin lid. The cross carved into the stone seems to indicate some importance, with the church literature implying that it may be the burial place of a Knight Crusader, which of course would lend to a far earlier date than the other more visible burial markers.
As we enter the main entrance, we pick up a booklet of information, in which we learn about the church’s patron saint:
ST. EADBURGHA is the patron saint. Not much is known of this Saxon saint, but what little we know is of great interest. She is patron of Pershore Abbey and, more locally, of the ‘old’ Church at Broadway and a few others in the Worcestershire / Gloucestershire area. It is known that Eadburgha was a daughter of King Edward the Elder – a son of King Alfred the Great and, at an early age, she was sent to the Abbey in Winchester founded by King Alfred’s widow. In due course she became an Abbess, and therefore a woman of great power and prestige in her day. Her relics were preserved at Pershore. St. Eadburgha’s patronal festival is held annually on the Sunday nearest to the 15th of June.
Like most ancient Churches, St. Eadburgha’s in Ebrington has been altered, enlarged and restored many times. It is believed that the Tower and the south (main internal) doorway of the present building date from the 13th century. The Church consists of a chancel, a nave and three bays with a south transept aisle, south doorway porch, a blocked north door and an embattled west Tower.
Once inside, the light from the church windows give an almost heavenly (pun intended) glow to the honey-hued Cotswold Stone columns, walls, and ceiling. Combining with the rich wood pulpit, pews, and red seat cushions, the entire ambiance almost demands a silent reverence. We’re the only ones in the small village church, so we have time to enjoy and explore without interrupting any daily prayers or activities.
I do, however, make sure to take a few moments to sit in silence and offer my own humble, yet earnest, devotion. It’s a truly special and cherished moment.
It just reinforces my desire, bordering on need sometimes, to visit *ALL* the local Cotswolds villages … and spend the day exploring the pub and the church … and whatever else those charming locales offer.
If you ever have the chance — I can’t recommend the experience enough.