Trespass is a favourite metaphor for writers, but the poet TS Eliot took the word more literally while on a walk in the Cotswolds.

He was visiting his friend Emily Hale in Chipping Campden when they strayed into the garden of Burnt Norton House, overgrown and abandoned after the owner Sir William Keyte went mad and set fire to it.

The neglected gardens and the air of decay inspired his poem Burnt Norton, in which he meditates on a moment of joy and reflects on the nature of time. It is a beautiful setting, with breathtaking views towards Wales from the edge of the Cotswolds scarp, but Eliot was a pretty glum poet — the critic Randall Jarrell said he would have written The Waste Land about the Garden of Eden.

Burnt Norton is only a couple of miles from Campden, but is rarely open to the public, so we decided to walk there via Hidcote, one of the finest gardens in the Cotswolds, or indeed the world.

Chipping Campden is two hours from Oxford by train and bus, and I committed the worst possible sin for a walk organiser — I forgot the map. Fortunately the friendly people in the tourist information centre sold me a footpaths leaflet highlighting the paths to Hidcote.

I also bought a literary trail leaflet which marked TS Eliot’s Stanley Cottage and — a surprise to me — included the former home of novelist Graham Greene, who had a brief but happy time there with his wife Vivien, a former Blackwell’s secretary whom he later abandoned and who then lived in Iffley Turn, Oxford, until her death ten years ago.

TS Eliot (pictured left) also met his wife Vivienne in Oxford and abandoned her shortly after his visits to Emily. Unlike Graham Greene, Eliot did not like Chipping Campden, saying rather unpleasantly that “with its olde worlde atmosphere stinking of death”, the town suited Emily’s uncle and aunt, who had lent them the cottage.

He was rude about other places, too.

“I hate university towns. . . Oxford is very pretty but I do not like to be dead”.

However, he liked Campden enough to walk two or three times a week to some spot of interest. In fact, for walkers it is almost a Garden of Eden — the meeting place of several beautiful long-distance trails, and on summer weekends welcomes footsore but triumphant walkers finishing the Cotswold Way.

Next to the 600-year-old market hall is a stone post indicating the beginning and the end of this 100-mile walk, one of the most glorious in England.

One of its high-points is Dover’s Hill, less than a mile from Chipping Campden. I decided to leave that heart-stopping view until the last moment, so set off in the opposite direction.

The town is also the meeting point of the Cotswold Diamond Way, the Heart of England Way and the Monarch’s Way — and I followed their combined route out of the town, alongside a school playing field. I had planned this as an escape from the flat Thames Valley, and knew there would be a fair amount of climbing at the end. But first there was a steep descent towards the famous Campden railway tunnel, designed by the legendary Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The tree-covered entrance is hard to see from the footpath, but it is one of the wonders of the railway age.

The Heart of England Way continues to Hidcote along a ‘road unsuitable for motors’ — a pleasant tree-lined track which eventually crosses the road to climb the ridge and take the back way around the gardens.

Arriving on foot, you are acutely aware of the task that faced Major Lawrence Johnston when he created his masterpiece in such a windswept spot.

The footpath gives a good view along the Long Walk, but hides the ‘outdoor rooms’ which he formed from towering hedges. It is well worth the entrance fee to see how today’s National Trust gardeners have interpreted his White Garden, Fuchsia Garden, Red Borders, etc.

Maj Johnston eventually got fed up with battling the elements at Hidcote and after losing some precious plants to frost, created a garden in the French Riviera near Menton, which I visited last year.

I found it rather second-rate in comparison, despite the wonderful climate. The irrigation system was failing, and when we inquired about refreshments the attendant pointed ashamedly to the vending machine and said how jealous she was of our English tearooms. We made good use of the one at Hidcote, needless to say, before descending a dramatic dry valley next to the gardens of Kiftsgate Court. We did not go in (it is closed on Thursdays and Fridays) but you get some sense of the spectacular layout from the public footpath, which leads to the church at Mickleton, where Major Johnston is buried.

I will pass quickly over the next part of the walk, since a misunderstanding with the sketch map resulted in us walking along the B4632, rather than crossing the railway further north. But the road was not too busy, and provided the best view of Burnt Norton, rebuilt and renamed following the 1741 fire which destroyed Norton House. After the fire it was bought by an ancestor of the Harrowbys.

We do not know whether Eliot, as an American visitor, was aware of the house’s history, but he must have been intrigued by the name. The Harrowbys apparently thought he was ‘a bit cheeky’ to just walk in uninvited, but the present owner, the Duchess of Harrowby, took advantage of the poem’s fame when she recently wrote a historic romance called Burnt Norton under the name Caroline Sandon.

We stuck firmly to the right of way, skirting the house on the west with the frontage soon hidden behind the trees of delightfully-named woodland called The Dingle.

The path emerges on the road opposite the track to Kingcomb and Dover’s Hills, with the view gradually opening up, sweeping round from Bredon and May Hill, across the Severn Valley to the Forest of Dean, west to the Brecons and north to the Shropshire Hills.

It is a fitting climax to the Cotswold Way, and indeed any walk. We avoided the hilltop car park and marched down to Chipping Campden, with its medieval buildings glowing in the evening sun, and its welcoming tearooms.

* Train times from, and bus timetable from Burnt Norton is not open to the public. For Hidcote opening times call 01386 438333 or vist the website: For Kiftsgate, call 01386 438777 or visit the website:

Eliot was a city dweller and unused to the country. His biographer Peter Ackroyd says that on one walk the Nobel Laureate was nearly trampled by a boisterous cow and escaped by diving into a mulberry bush. To commemorate the event he composed a comic poem called The Country Walk, which reminds us of his most famous legacy — the musical Cats: “Of all the beasts that God allows/In England’s green and pleasant land/I most of all dislike the Cows.”

Extracts from Burnt Norton by TS Eliot (September 1934) Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past.

Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened Into the rose-garden. My words echo Thus, in your mind.

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight Even while the dust moves There rises the hidden laughter Of children in the foliage Quick now, here, now, always Ridiculous the waste sad time Stretching before and after.