Our local guide to Chalford, Bussage & Eastcombe
Walking up the towpath from Chalford, alongside the old canal, is like entering a secret world of tangled trees and old workers’ cottages that snuggle beside each other away from the road, keeping silent watch over the derelict locks, tumbledown bridges and mills that line the canal.
It is a secluded path that weaves its way through a gorge beneath trees and between water, with the stream on one side and the old disused canal on the other, where moorhens, coots and herons make their hidden, watery home. If you are lucky, you may see the iridescent flash of a kingfisher.
Mysterious and almost timeless, you feel like you are walking alongside history until you emerge at the delightful village playground, where the water collects in a shallow pool and children engage in the time-honoured practice of splashing about. The rumble of a passing train is the only thing to break the spell.
If it’s a hot day, you can take a small detour off the path to visit the charming village shop for a Winstone’s ice-cream. Now run by volunteers, the High Street store is the place to go for local bacon, bread, beer and honey, as well as the usual stamps and birthday cards. Fat Toni’s pizzas are available on Thursdays and there is even a selection of local gifts.
Because of the narrowness of the road through the village and the steep hills that rise above it, with weavers cottages clinging on at dizzy angles, it is not hard to understand why Chalford is known locally as ‘the Alpine village’ or to imagine the Chalford donkeys that used to plod patiently along the miles of winding tracks that criss-cross the village, delivering bread and coal to doorsteps.
Chalford sits in the Golden Valley and there are many theories as to how the valley acquired its lovely name. Apparently, the claim that Queen Victoria named the valley during her reign, after passing through it by train, is an urban myth, although she did write about it in her journals. In fact, a Roger Gulden held lands in the area in the Medieval period, so it is possible that he is the source of the name.
The village also contains some fine houses, built by wealthy clothiers who came to the area when the opening of the Thames and Severn Canal in 1789 made Chalford a manufacturing centre for broadcloth. One of the most distinctive – and photographed – homes is the charming Round House, built by the canal company as a lengthman’s cottage.
If you feel like a well-deserved coffee after your canalside rambles, Chalford is home to not one but two really great cafes – the popular Lavender Bakehouse and the Jolly Nice farm shop and café at the top of Cowcombe Hill.
The valley has long been a draw for artists and creative folk and today a number of art galleries continue that tradition, including the famous Gallery Pangolin, whose clients include Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley. Writers, artists, painters and potters have all made their home in the village and there is an annual Made in Chalford Christmas fair at the Victoria Works Studios.
If you climb to the plateau above Chalford, you will find an area in complete contrast to the valley bottom, where the villages of Chalford Hill, Brownshill, France Lynch,
Eastcombe and Bussage sit companionably alongside each other. Here the living is level and the views are truly stunning.
The area is popular for its mix of beautiful countryside and convenient amenities, which includes schools, pubs, shops, a doctors’ surgery and several lovely playing fields.
People have been calling this area home for a long time – the remains of long and round barrows show this plateau has been settled for at least 5,000 years. It was once a bit of a lawless place – apparently, many of the cottages were actually built illegally in the 16th century to house cloth-workers from the mills expanding in the valley
Bussage is a village of two parts – the older part with the church and the lovely traditional Cotswold pub, the Ram Inn, while the newer part is home to a large housing estate, built in the 1980s around Manor Farm, with road names such as Tanglewood Way and Cuckoo Close that belie its rural history. There is also a small shopping centre.
By contrast, Eastcombe is a traditional Cotswold village with honeyed stone cottages set around a village green and its own shop, school and pub – the lovely Lamb Inn. Put on your wellies and yomp across the fields to neighbouring Bisley or trudge down the hill and around the magical Toadsmoor Lake, which sits secretly among the trees in the beautiful Toadsmoor Valley.
One thing is for sure – whether you choose hill or vale, you will never be far from stunning countryside.
- Schools: primary schools in Chalford, Chalford Hill, Bussage and Eastcombe; Thomas Keble School mixed comprehensive at Eastcombe.
- Shops: there is a small shopping centre, which includes a Tesco Express, a doctor’s surgery and a community centre, at Bussage. Village shops in Chalford and Eastcombe.
- Pubs: the Ram Inn, Bussage and the Lamb Inn, Eastcombe.
- Churches: at Chalford, Bussage, Eastcombe and France Lynch.
- Links: Chalford is also close to the larger centres of
Stroud, Cirencester and Cheltenham, which have a wide range of shops and amenities.
“The Bakewell tarts at Lavender Bakehouse are to die for … and they also sell gorgeous gifts, jewellery and clothes in the shop upstairs. A great place to while away a morning off.”