WHEN you go through the eastern arch into

Much Marcle

churchyard, you don’t really get a sense of the village church being on a hillside.

Near the end of our latest walk, however, that’s where the rambler has the advantage.

As we slip down Marcle Hill, with fine views across to the Malverns, we approach the beckoning tower of Saint Bartholomew’s from above.

It’s only when we cross the brook and climb past the sheep grazing in the pasture that we see the full eminence of a medieval church which cradles a Sleeping Beauty.

Blanche Mortimer was born around 1316, the youngest daughter of Roger Mortimer, the notorious 1st Earl of March.

Having led the Marcher lords in a revolt against King Edward II in what became known as the Despenser War, Mortimer was imprisoned for life in the Tower of London; he managed, however, to escape by drugging the constable and fled to France.

Eighteen months later he was joined at the French Court by Edward II’s French queen Isabella and Prince Edward, the heir to the throne.

By September 1326 the Mortimers had re-grouped and launched a small invasion force in opposition to Edward.

The king left London just before the city declared for the rebels and took ship from Bristol to confound his pursuers.

The Mortimer contingent, choosing to interpret this as the King relinquishing the monarchy, were emboldened to declare Prince Edward “guardian of the realm” in his father’s absence.

Since Edward was a minor, power was assumed by Isabella and Roger Mortimer.

The king took refuge in Wales but was captured and held initially in Monmouth Castle.

He was induced to hand over the Great Seal which was delivered to Prince Edward and Queen Isabella on 26th November at Much Marcle.

It has been speculated that this ceremony took place at Hellens but the more likely venue was the motte and bailey known as Mortimer’s Castle, which is right next to Saint Bartholomew’s; the only medieval manor of the period, it seems to have been granted out to Peter Grandisson and his wife Blanche Mortimer.

The property, standing on earthworks now hidden by trees, was in a convenient position to provide a rendezvous for the royal party travelling from Hereford and the emissaries with the Great Seal travelling from Monmouth.

Two days after the exchange at Mortimer’s Castle, Edward II himself must have passed by, as he seems to have been held in custody at Ledbury until 4th December.

In January 1327, Edward was confronted by twelve magnates at Kenilworth Castle and handed over his crown and sceptre and other symbols of authority.

After the succession of fourteen-year-old Edward III, Edward II’s fate was to be grisly murder at Berkeley Castle, possibly at Roger Mortimer’s behest.

Queen Isabella and Mortimer effectively ruled the country until 1330, when young king Edward and a band of companions entered Nottingham Castle and captured the arrogant, unpopular Mortimer.

Isabella pleaded for his life but Mortimer stood accused of fourteen crimes including the murder of Edward II and usurping royal power, and was hanged at Tyburn.

As for Blanche, her father’s public vilification and execution doesn’t seem to have troubled the serene countenance which we see in Marcle church under a canopy with the Mortimer and Grandisson Arms.

Her strikingly beautiful body is carved from Painswick limestone - delicate hands holding her rosary and dressed in a loose fitting gown with tightly buttoned sleeves and headdress.

But Blanche’s story doesn’t end with her effigy because in October 2013 restorers were surprised to discover her lead coffin inside the monument itself.

The Reverend Howard Mayell, vicar for the parish, summed it up: “We are quite overwhelmed by the idea that Blanche is still in the church.”

After immersing yourselves in all this history there’s room for seven people to have their pictures taken inside the church yew tree that was about half its current age when Blanche was laid to rest.

THE WALK 1 Walwyn Arms, Much Marcle. Check that it’s ok to park with a member of staff, remembering the pub is especially busy on Sundays between 11.30 and 4pm: then leave by crossing the busy road to head between stores and garage up the road for How Caple. At Money Kyrle’s memorial tree, TR for Rushall and Kynaston. Pass Slip Tavern to point 100m beyond speed limit signs.

2 4 plank bridge. TL through walkers’ gate into field. Go diagonally L, through gate. TL in orchard. Follow left perimeter fence, swing R, across works drive. Swing L and R. Just beyond waymarked knuckle in fence, TL through walkers’ gate. Head across next orchard, up through gate, along channel and down steps to road.

3 TR up road. At crossroads, TR for Woolhope. At green island, go up L, to put two semis on your R. Climb to street lamp before Upper Nuttall.

4 Lamp. Turn sharp left down wide track, to Little Puckmore. Take channel L of main gates. Cross stile. Follow L edge/hedge of field, swinging R to cross corner stile, thus turning L. Follow R edge, briefly, to cross stile (R) by new build.

5 The Hop House, Marcle Hill. Take wide track in front of the house down to road. Go straight across, 100m up R edge/hedge. Now, careful, strike up to left of lone tree, over brow of arable field and down to find stile onto road. Cross and go down R edge of field, aiming just L of church. Go through gap, over stone bridge, field and two plank bridge to cross main road.

6 Go up field towards St Bartholomew’s. Cross drive into churchyard. Visit. Leave churchyard by foliate archway. TL to Lower Lodge, R to road. Cross for Hellens and stride up Monks Walk towards the house.

7 Hellens. With car park L, TR in front of trees. (Wave to May Hill.) TL just before end of trees, down, by gate, bear L between lake and stone circle. Leave grounds by k-gate. Follow L edge through silver birches. Near end of copse, turn sharp L through k-gate. Follow two pastures, in direction of Marcle Ridge tower, back, beyond Hellens. Keep L, through wooden gate, past greenhouses along drive, L of Walwyn Court. At road, TR for Walwyn Arms.