Gargoyles and Gorgeous views

Posted 21st January 2023

If one were to imagine the quintessentially English village it might look very much like Easton on the Hill. Built largely of blonde local limestone, with roofs of Collyweston slate, the village is nestled into the summit of the Jurassic ridge which runs between the Nene Valley in the south, and the Welland in the north. It’s in Northamptonshire, but only just! And it’s the perfect spot for a winter wander, writes Laura Malpas.

Although settlement was certainly present in earlier centuries, Easton on the Hill is first mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, where it was recorded as a thriving settlement of thirty-one households, with three owners listed. These included Eudo, a powerful French noble who acted as steward to both William the Conqueror and his son. Eudo held the land during his lifetime and it may well have been he who started construction of the Church.

After Eudo’s death, Easton reverted to the Crown. Eventually, in the late sixteenth century it ended up in the possession of William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer to Elizabeth I, as part of the Burghley Estate where it has remained.

Through the years the village has remained lively and picturesque. A stroll around the lanes reveals great views and some remarkable buildings well worth a closer look.

All Saints Church is set in an ancient churchyard, which dates back to Saxon times, pre-conquest. Around the historic gravestones it’s a haven for wildlife, and in springtime it is filled with beautiful flowers, snowdrops, daffodils, primroses, and violets. Summer sees even more native wildflowers.

The churchyard also includes a wonderful Labyrinth and Peace Garden with benches to sit and contemplate the mysteries of life. Nearby are wonderful views over the village and surrounding farmland.

The church itself in a treasure inside and out. Construction started nearly a thousand years ago, and it has been added to over the centuries with many distinctive architectural features. All Saints has one of the finest Perpendicular towers in the area with an amusing feature which has no doubt raised many smiles over the centuries.

Perched on top of the South wall of the tower is a cheeky gargoyle. He is identifiably male, and mooning, with a strategically placed hole for diverting the rainwater from the tower roof. Legend tells us that the stoneworker responsible aimed the figure towards the stonemason of Peterborough Cathedral in protest at not being paid. Grotesque figures of this nature were not unusual in medieval churches, and it may well have been an apotropaic figure designed to deflect evil spirits, to cock a snook at the Devil.

Nearby the Church is the Priest’s House. This is free to enter, even though it is one of the smallest properties maintained by the National Trust. Despite its size, it is a very fine building and worth a visit. It was built in the latter years of the 15th century by Thomas Stokes the Rector. He wanted to guarantee his immortal soul a swift move from Purgatory to Heaven so he endowed the building to house a chantry priest to say daily prayers on his behalf. Following the Reformation it was used as the village schoolroom, and then as a stable.

It now contains a small museum of local bygones, and an exhibition on the local Collyweston slate industry. This is particularly interesting as many of the older buildings in Easton are roofed with this material. The Priest’s House is open daily, although you may need to collect the keys from a nearby house and let yourself in.

A few metres away lies Glebe House. It was built as the Rectory in the 1690s to offer rather more comfortable accommodation than the Priest’s House. It’s not open to visitors, but it is a very handsome dwelling to admire from the outside where you will see a plaque commemorating the son of a former occupant.

This was Captain Lancelot Skynner of the ill-fated HMS Lutine, which sank off the coast of Holland along with its vastly valuable cargo of gold and silver bullion, and the Dutch Crown jewels after repair in London. All but one of the 240 lives of crew and passengers were lost. The ship’s bell was recovered, and hangs still in Lloyds of London, the insurers of the lost cargo, and it is rung once to signal bad news, and twice to announce good news and special occasions. It is believed that the bullion and the Crown Jewels are still waiting to be discovered hidden in the depths.

The village has a special connection to the 1st Battalion, 1st Polish Parachute Brigade, who were stationed in the village during WW2 before deployment to Arnhem where they played an important role in Operation Market Garden. Easton has a pocket park named Spring Close after an underwater spring which fills a beautiful pool of water near to a small monument which commemorates the Polish Paratroopers, along with a seat marking 40 years of peace from 1945 – 1985. Later in 2023 this memorial is due to be refurbished and rededicated with a special ceremony. It is a tranquil spot, with a picnic bench and the perfect place for families to explore the natural surroundings.

Every good day out is made even better with good things to eat and drink, and a picnic is always fun. Easton has several lively options, including the Blue Bell Inn which dates back some four hundred years, and the excellent Birch Tree Café. This is a special place, more than just a café as it is partly staffed with young adults with Down’s Syndrome.

It provides a place where these young people can work, socialise, and develop life skills as a valued part of the community. When I visited there were dance classes going on, and lots of people enjoying delicious cake and snacks, beautifully prepared and served. If you’re visiting by car, cycling or walking this is a great place to stop for a break as there is plenty of space indoors and out, and parking too, including bike racks. And wifi! Do consider supporting this vibrant community hub providing real opportunities to give skills and combat loneliness.

If you’re interested in walking, there’s an excellent four miler on the ‘Northamptonshire Walks’ website, Walk 74, the Easton on the Hill Circular, and of course the Jurassic Way passes through the area. The Alltrails website has a good circular bike ride too.

For more information about visiting, please visit: