Chipping Campden Walk

This short journey features famous monuments and historic estates

Medieval Market Hall, High Street, Chipping Campden, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom (© Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

This 500-yard walk through “Campden” (as locals call their town) takes you from the tourist information office (TI) to the church in about 30 minutes.

If it’s open, begin at the Magistrate’s Court (can be closed for meetings, events, and even weddings). This meeting room is in the old police station, located above the TI (free, same hours as TI, ask at TI to go up). Under the open-beamed courtroom, you’ll find a humble little exhibit on the town’s history.

Campden’s most famous monument, the Market Hall, stands in front of the TI, marking the town center. It was built in 1627 by the 17th-century Lord of the Manor, Sir Baptist Hicks. (Look for the Hicks family coat of arms in the building’s facade.) Back then, it was an elegant—even over-the-top—shopping hall for the townsfolk who’d come here to buy their produce. In the 1940s, it was almost sold to an American, but the townspeople heroically raised money to buy it first, then gave it to the National Trust for its preservation.

The timbers inside are true to the original. Study the classic Cotswold stone roof, still held together with wooden pegs nailed in from underneath. (Tiles were cut and sold with peg holes, and stacked like waterproof scales.) Buildings all over the region still use these stone shingles. Today, the hall hosts local fairs.

Chipping Campden’s High Street has changed little architecturally since 1840. (The town’s street plan survives from the 12th century.) Notice the harmony of the long rows of buildings. While the street comprises different styles through the centuries, everything you see was made of the same Cotswold stone—the only stone allowed today.

To be level, High Street arcs with the contour of the hillside. Because it’s so wide, you know this was a market town. In past centuries, livestock and packhorses laden with piles of freshly shorn fleece would fill the streets. Campden was a sales and distribution center for the wool industry, and merchants from as far as Italy would come here for the prized raw wool.

High Street has no house numbers—people know the houses by their names. In the distance, you can see the town church (where this walk ends).

• Hike up High Street to just before the first intersection.

In 1367, William Grevel built what’s considered Campden’s first stone house: Grevel House (on the left). Sheep tycoons had big homes. Imagine back then, when this fine building was surrounded by humble wattle-and-daub huts. It had newfangled chimneys, rather than a crude hole in the roof. (No more rain inside!) Originally a “hall house” with just one big, tall room, it got its upper floor in the 16th century. The finely carved central bay window is a good early example of the Perpendicular Gothic style. The gargoyles scared away bad spirits—and served as rain spouts. The boot scrapers outside each door were fixtures in that muddy age—especially in market towns, where the streets were filled with animal dung.

• Continue up High Street for about 100 yards. Go past Church Street (which we’ll walk up later). Across the street, you’ll find a small Gothic arch leading into a garden.

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus