Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Old Straight Tracks: Bull's Cross

Bull's Cross is supposed to be a crossroads, but it's K-shaped. It took me a while to work out why, until I looked at it on old maps.

The bendy and undulating road which passes through Bull's Cross hardly fits the description of an old straight track but actually it's probably very ancient indeed, at least in parts. Known to its friends as the B4070, the road runs along the ridge of the Cotswolds between the gloriously named Birdlip and the village of Slad, which is best known for its association with the writer of a certain famous 1950s novel. The road is thought to have been part of an old trade route for the transportation of salt from Droitwich (a distinction it shares with the Wyche Cutting below) and may have already been in use before that, given the number of Iron Age (and earlier) settlements in the area. It crosses over another very old road coming up from Sheepscombe. The priorities of the roads have been switched around over time, so instead of the two tracks crossing over in an X-shape, the parts that pass along the ridgeway have merged to become one continuous road, while the bits which dip steeply into the valley have become side-roads – and remain tiny single-track lanes. Hence the junction being more K-shaped.

Local tradition has it that Bull's Cross is haunted by a place-memory manifestation of a stagecoach following a horrific stagecoach accident on the spot at some unspecified time in the past. Whether the accident can be verified as a historical event I couldn't say, but given the age of the crossroads and its perilous position on the crest of a steep slope, it would be more remarkable if there hadn't been fatal accidents there over the centuries. Even these days, it can be an unpleasant experience driving a car up the single-track lanes in wet or snowy weather and having to give way when you get to the top. What can be more readily verified is that Bull's Cross was formerly the site of a gibbet. Perhaps that's why the atmosphere around the junction is a bit murky.

You can't complain about the view though. On one side is the sumptuously undulating Cotswold ridge, and on the other is the gorgeous Painswick Valley, its slopes positively popping with springs and wells. Painswick itself, a snuggled collection of stone-built honey-coloured historic delight, is enough to make any true-born Englishperson come over all misty eyed.

View across the fields to the town of Painswick from Bull's Cross

Like every self-respecting ancient junction, Bull's Cross has a sturdy old marker stone at the wayside. This delicately shaped boulder is quite a nice example of a rural Gloucestershire milestone, although it isn't very helpful in telling you how far away anything is, because it's blank. It looks like it had a square panel screwed to the front at one time, but somebody's nicked it.

The front of the stone (facing the road) is flat, but the back is gently rounded, and shows off the carving work that went into producing its curious shape – which is reminiscent of an oak-leaf or a bulbous mother-goddess or a fossilised frog, depending how weird your imagination is. The stepped edges could have been made for some more practical purpose though; perhaps for weary travellers to rest their backsides against, or as mounting steps for horsemen. Fans of old straight tracks, armed with a ruler and Ordnance Survey map, might want to look at the alignment of this stone with the churches of Painswick and Brookthorpe. Or, going the other way, through the crest of Down Hill to the Giant's Stone burial chamber (rems of) and Westwood Farm long barrow.

1 comment:

  1. Here now in 2022 in the howling wind coming from the east atop looking down both sides of the valley. Great you've written this piece and I'm surprised no one else has commented or left thanks....as I now do.