The Cotswold village of Owlpen
Owlpen has a recorded history of 900 years. The adult population of about 35 on the electoral roll, perhaps a tenth of its peak at the turn of the nineteenth century, is the smallest in Gloucestershire.
Topographical writers have commented on the picturesque combe, or 'bottom', as the local word has it, which encloses the historic hamlet around the manor hourse. It is set under the limestone Edge in a mystery land of deeply wooded valleys between the 'high, wild hills' of the Cotswold uplands and the gentler Vale of Berkeley.
John Smyth writes (in 1639):
"Owlpen, the situation giving the denomination ... quasi hole-pen, being in as deep a bottom or hole as is elsewhere to be seen. It may perhaps like some to derive the Etimology from Owlepen, quasi a pen or Cage for owles; sith noe forest made up of Ivy bushes can exceed the fitness for the breed and harbour of owles."
Samuel Rudder of Uley (1779) describes the valley as "a kind of gloomy retreat":
"The church and houses lie dispersedly at the top of a deep and narrow combe, almost environed by steep hills, covered with hanging beech woods, and forming a kind of amphitheatre, except to the west."
T.D. Fosbrooke (1807) finds Owlpen
There are about five miles of footpaths on the estate, with beautiful and varied walks through the beech woods, thick with bluebells and wild garlic in the spring, along the meadows of the Ewelme valley and the Cotswold edge. They interconnect with a system of public footpaths, including the Cotswold Way long-distance path, extending through infinite miles of spectacular countryside.
Visitors to the manor are welcome to enjoy popular walks through the woods behind the manor to Nympsfield and the Uley Bury hill fort, across the fields to the Strawberry Hill Gothick fantasy at Stouts Hill, or along the carriage drive to Owlpen House.
You will find that some of these local walks feature in the best-selling national guides to walks in the British Isles. Maps and walking guides are for sale in the Estate Office.
Ruins of Owlpen House still stand on the top of the scarp, near the eastern boundary of the estate, by the Nympsfield drive which leads to the Wotton-under-Edge to Nailsworth road. The House only lasted just over 100 years, until it was demolished in 1957. The trappings of a Victorian mansion remain: two lodges, the stable block, ruined glass-houses and walled gardens, a rare country house gas works with retort house, and a lily pond and cellars. Victorian plantings, shelter belts, shrubberies and clumps, are now past their maturity.
The Ewelme brook rises at Twopence (or "Tetpens") Spring at the head of the valley, below a bronze age round barrow, all but ploughed out today. A standing stone stood in the field by Marlings End Cottage.
Owlpen is now something of a 'deserted village', nettles and elders marking the sites of many old cottages and gardens, along Fiery Lane and the margins of the woods.
The Church of the Holy Cross (Church of England) is still in use, with services regularly on alternate Sundays.
The parish registers date to 1686, for those with an interest in the genealogy of local families, and the archives of the manor date over 800 years.
The churchyard contains some fine table tombs and monuments to families who emigrated from Owlpen all over the English-speaking world from the 1830s. Now they return every year to discover their roots.