A trip to Hell and back via World's End
PUBLISHED: 11:37 18 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:41 18 October 2016
Maureen McLean. All Rights Reserved
And it turns out that both are full of delightful people and sights as Jan Raycroft and Maureen McLean take a magical mystery tour
It might have been easier to tell photographer Maureen we were popping to hamlets close to Kintbury and Beedon, but not half as much fun. “We’re heading to Hell, so pack some sunglasses with your long lenses and prepare for the end of the world…” sounds wonderful, particularly if you add a Hammer Horror-style cackle at the end.
Back to reality and the truth of our itinerary – to discover exactly what was going on in Hell Corner (which we’d only ever seen on a map while lost between Newbury and Hungerford last year) and take a couple of turns off the A34 to find out if World’s End lived up to its name.
As we didn’t know whether Hell offered a gluten-free option for me, or might melt the cameras on an already hot day, it seemed wise to stock up on a last meal before entering. Fortunately, we found The Dundas Arms, a 4AA star Grade II listed Georgian inn beside the River Kennet as we entered Kintbury. With a fantastic garden, views of the canal boats and delicious 20th century menu to sustain intrepid explorers, it had everything we needed before entering Hell.
No one seemed to know exactly where Hell was, but why should they? Kintbury itself clearly belongs to Heaven (it was possibly a Saxon ‘holy place’) and a decade ago appeared as one of the ‘top 10 most sought-after villages in England’ in a Sunday Times feature.
It’s a pretty village with winding, narrow streets, nooks and crannies, truly local shops and St Mary’s Church, a former Saxon Minster, although most of the present church dates from the 12th century with a host of Norman features.
Even so, a quick whirl of the internet reveals that Kintbury is supposed to have at least one village ghost, a Lieutenant Dexter. People have apparently heard his sword, buried either with him or his wife, rattling in the churchyard at night. Then there’s the tale of bell ringers seeing a man wearing a black cloak and dark wide-brimmed hat who walked into the vestry and disappeared.
Long before this, a witch is said to have stopped villagers from retrieving The Kintbury Great Bell when it fell in the river during a huge storm – you can find out more on this story in the legends section of berkshirehistory.com.
More gruesomely, a 1588 text in the church refers to one ‘Wild Will Darell’ of Littlecote House in Wiltshire who apparently murdered a baby by throwing it on a fire. Somehow this miscreant initially escaped justice by handing over his estate to the judge, a family member, but died when he was thrown from his horse at Shefford Woodlands. Legend has it that either he or his horse saw a vision of the burning child before he was chucked overboard by his mount.
His ghost on horseback, with severed head hanging from the saddle (all such apparitions should have one), has been said to appear at the spot where he died.
Loaded up on shudders and that Dundas Arms feast, it was definitely time to head to Hell Corner, which turned out to be harder than we expected. A few twists and turns from Kintbury down single track roads and we found ourselves searching hedgerows and gloomy paths towards Inkpen Common Nature Reserve.
Thank goodness we came across residents Dan and Laura Hyde: “We didn’t know then, but four years ago we had our wedding marquee right here on the edge of Hell Corner!” said Laura as the couple showed us a sunny field at the centre of West Berkshire’s most delightful bit of Hell.
Dan pointed out the view from Hell Corner of nearby Walbury Hill, the highest spot in SE England, next to Gallows Down where Combe Gibbet was used in 1676 to hang the bodies of a man and his mistress who murdered his wife.
Not surprisingly, Maureen was intrigued by nearby Prosser’s Hanging on the map, but this is surely a happier story as Prosser is a local farming family name and a hanging wood is one on the side of a hill.
Having avoided driving down a hidden ditch (we had to wait while a farm tractor pulled out a vehicle in front of us that did just that) there was one last find – Hell Corner Farm, currently for sale for around £1m via patrickwilliams.co.uk at Pangbourne. If you think you’ve heard that farm name before it’s probably because Labour firebrand Barbara Castle (the late Baroness Castle of Blackburn) lived at one with the same title up in the Chilterns at Ibstone in Buckinghamshire.
Lovely as Hell was, we needed to leave and make our way to World’s End – which was a lot easier to find, being less off the beaten track. The hamlet, most of it along one road running parallel to the A34 between Chieveley and Beedon, also has a namesake in Buckinghamshire. The latter is on the outskirts of Wendover and best known for its garden centre.
But our Berkshire one has its own attractions… and some delightful monsters, which we will come to. Meanwhile, a bit of ghostly scene setting. Nearby Hermitage is thought to have a haunted folly, while ‘Old Tanner’ apparently strolls around the church at Hampstead Norreys. At Snelsmore Common it’s said that a modern day house viewer saw a group of men in Quaker dress. World’s End is just two miles from Peasemore, the childhood home of former PM David Cameron… which may or may not be haunted by the clanking chains of Brexit.
But as for World’s End itself, no shivers or shades… just the monsters we found at The Coach – and by that we don’t mean its hosts, the delightful Paul and Tracey Best and their family, but the huge, fabulous feasts they dish up to local residents and those in the know willing to travel for their treats or book it for functions.
This is a proper pub with dining room, bars and superb family-friendly garden. What we are talking here is massive burgers made on site with 100% ground meat and seasoning, barbecue dishes, grills, pizzas, hotdogs and the pièce de résistance, a Stokes Marsh beef fillet served on a burning hot lava rock so you can sear it to your liking.
We loved what looks like a ‘big kids’ menu with puds such as traditional knickerbocker glory or banana split, ice cream floats and thick milkshakes, and the menu for little ones is excellent as well. Arrive hungry as you can expect American diner-size portions here. See thecoachworldsend.co.uk.
It was sad to see that World’s End’s other pub, The Langley Hall Inn, had been closed for some time and appears to be going through a pretty lengthy conversion into a house.
And so we set off home, deciding that the modern day Hell of the M4 on a Friday night could be given a miss and we would take the back roads of mostly leafy lanes. No headless horsemen to report here – just the manic pedalling of numerous Bradley Wiggins and Jason Kenny lookalikes. Some of the Lycra was a bit scary though...
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