Painswick

Stroud News and Journal:

Painswick's churchyard is one of the most beautiful in England, famed for its yew trees which date back over 200 years. Indeed some were planted as long ago as 1714.

They are elegantly kept, arching over their surroundings in a lovely symmetry. Every September, the "clypping" ceremony takes place - but don't think this involves garden shears. The word is from the Saxon "ycleping", meaning embracing, and this ritual is, in fact, a service of dedication when villagers hold hands to encircle the church.

But as you look around this idyllic spot, don't be surprised if you feel a slight chill in the air that makes you shiver. For, if you count these aged yews, you will find that they number 99 - no more and no fewer. Anyone in Painswick will tell you that any hundredth tree planted will fail to thrive and will die - killed by the Devil himself.

But Old Nick cannot take away from the charm of Painswick, known in some quarters as The Queen of the Cotswolds. Its pretty cottages line narrow streets, their softly-coloured grey stone originally quarried from nearby Painswick Hill.

As ever, in the Cotswolds, the woollen merchants have left their mark. In this town, many of their grand houses are in, or near, Bisley Street, and their "clothier" graves fill the churchyard, imposing even in their death.

St Mary's Church can boast of a noble past. During the Civil War, a group of Parliamentarian soldiers sheltered here. Their attackers caused considerable damage to the building. Charles I himself was no stranger to the area. He stood on top of nearby Painswick Beacon and said of the woodland below, "Let it be called Paradise". And it is, even today. He is not the only royal connection. Corbels in the church's aisle are thought to represent Richard II and his queen.

Before you leave the church, take a look at the model ship which stands at the back of the nave. It's a seven-foot model of Drake's Armada ship, the Bonaventure, and was made locally in the 1880s. Despite its more literal connections, its place in the church is allegorical, representing the believers who cast away across the sea of life, in search of God.

Just south of the church in St Mary's Street, are a set of rare "spectacle" stocks. Although they may look as if they belong to more fearsome times, they only date back to the 19th Century. They were intended "for the punishment of those who carry on carousels to the annoyance of neighbours". Be warned!

More soothing are the sights of two great houses - Court House and Castle Godwyn. The former was built in 1604 for a local cloth merchant, Thomas Gardner, and the latter is a small 18th Century manor.

The town offers up-to-date pleasures too. Here, you'll find craft work, and a fine half-timbered post office, dating back to 1428 - the oldest working post office in the country.

Finally, no-one who visits the town should miss Painswick House with its famous Rococo Garden. These six acres show how gardens are meant to be, and offer delightful woodland walks. If Painswick is the Queen of the Cotswolds, then these gardens are surely her crown.

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