Wednesday, 3 August 2016


For walkers following the Cotswold Way on the approach to Bath, the ups and downs of the northern part of the Cotswolds give way to a rolling plateau just to the north of the M4 motorway.  One of the points of interest on this stretch of the trail is Horton Court, a National Trust property (currently closed for renovation) which is a honey-coloured manor house built on the site of a Norman hall.  This property recently graced our TV screens in The Living And The Dead as Shepzoy House, the home of a young couple whose marriage is threatened by all manner of supernatural horrors going on around them, and by the husband’s descent into madness over the death of his son Gabriel, who died from drowning, a tragedy for which he blames himself.  The series is set in Somerset in the late 19th century, but Horton is in South Gloucestershire near Chipping Sodbury, between Stroud and Bath, a rural area where the brooding woodlands and swaying grasses of the fields create a suitably spooky atmosphere, prompting some to refer to the series as a kind of Gothic Thomas Hardy.  

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Photo by Marion Dutcher, via Wikimedia Commons

The main subject of the sotry, Nathan Appleby (‘Merlin’ with a beard aka Colin Morgan), is a psychologist who returns from London to the family home after the death of his mother and with his young wife Charlotte (Charlotte Spender) takes over the running of the farm there. The locals are like something from a bygone age with their ancient rituals and superstitions, something akin to the community encountered by Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man.  As for Nathan, he finds it hard to shake off his psychological calling, and starts investigating the case of a possessed local girl called Harriet, which unleashes a series of sinister phenomena and apparitions.  Harriet’s party piece is mimicking the voice of the late Gabriel, which tests Nathan’s sanity to the limit.  The sinister atmosphere and tension continue to build up in subsequent episodes, and the final episode is full of surprises, which I won’t go into in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet. 

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Edge of the escarpment above Horton Court. Photo by Maurice Pullin, via Wikimedia Commons
According to the Cotswold Way Trail Guide, Horton Court is probably the oldest property along the trail, being based on a single-storey hall house from the 12th century.  The adjoining church is the parish church of St James the Elder, built around 1300 on the site of the previous Norman church.  The manor itself, which lies alongside the hall, was built around 1521 by the Rev. William Knight, the future Bishop of Bath and Wells.  The most charming feature of the gardens is a 16th century Italianate loggia.  Although ramblers following the Cotswold Way are unable to enter the manor house at this time, the church is still up and running for those wanting to relive the atmosphere surrounding the drama series, and of course there is the bucolic countryside to wander through.

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St James the Elder Church. Photo by Adrian Pingstone, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the area.

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