Categories
General National Trails

National Trails under government review

The Ramblers Association is suggesting a trust is created to safeguard the future of the National Trails as a charitable trust. See their article here.

I’m not yet sure exactly what the government are suggesting doing, and will read up on this, but if as the Ramblers suggest, that by putting control of each trail back in the hands of the local authority to maintain, there is a chance that standards of maintenance might decline, then I am selfishly concerned, given my desire to walk them all over the next 15 years or less.

I’ve signed the petition online and would invite you to do the same. 12 million walkers use these trails annually and I believe they contribute enormously to the local rural economies.

Categories
Cotswold Way

Day Seven – Tormarton to Bath (17 miles)

The first question is whether it all adds up to 102 miles?

After a good breakfast in the excellent Little Smithy, Joanna Bowman kindly bid me farewell and I resolved that given the great quality of the B&B’s I had stayed in this trail, that I would always seek them out in preference.

The only problem here was a lack of Internet access, meaning I had to duck out of a Skype call which I had wanted to be in on. I did manage a phone signal here, so not all was lost.

However having a bit of respite from being permanently connected was great although the guilt still lingered,

I had checked the forecast several times and it seemed to change every time – sometimes sunshine, sometimes showers and so I opted for caution and took the rain jacket, which proved a wise move when being hailed on at around midday.

A lovely stretch of the walk, much better than I was expecting, with rolling countryside and some stunning views across to Bristol, both Severn bridges, and then down into Bath itself.

Of course the walk wouldn’t have been true to form if it hadn’t taken me up some steep hills in Bath itself, as if to say, don’t expect it to be downhill all the way on the last day…

I grabbed a sandwich in Pennsylvania, dodged a herd of aggressive cows (sadly I seem to be able to tell now which ones are going to be calm, and which not), wrote some positive comments in the trail book along the way, ( some Aussies said it wasn’t as good as either the Pennine Way or the Peak District – we shall see), and despite worrying about last day blisters, didn’t get any.

Did I mention I love my new boots?

The walk ending in Bath is spot on, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in the reverse direction as it seemed a very long uphill section and leaving Bath behind would have been tough. The World Heritage City (why do we only have one in England?) glistened in the sun below and the rainbow beckoned to the golden architectural treasures at the end of it.

Reaching the Abbey is always slightly anticlimactic, but I took 15 minutes to sit in a sunny spot and enjoy the satisfying feeling of completing the trip. What a great setting.

The Oldfields House was 20 minutes up the hill outside the centre and the steps up to the small but perfectly formed attic room kept me limbered up. Small touches of quality here meant I would recommend my choice, like my welcome by the lady from Knysna, the quality of the breakfast and the Molton Brown toiletries.

Smelling better than I had all week, I set off early for a few beers, only to discover that I had to wander around for 20 minutes at least to get a phone signal. A great guitarist busking outside the baths was worthy of support and eventually I passed on the upmarket wine bars and crammed myself into the Volunteer Riflemans Arms attracted by the sign for a pint of Butcombe Ale. The drunk coming in to sing to us all encouraged me to move on, and I headed for the Huntsman, having taken the details of the virtual cache at the Abbey en route.

After a swift pint of something unmemorable there, the local Thai beckoned, and I had a pleasant Tom Kha Gai, and a Red Prawn Curry, before taking in the hysterical walking comedy show “Bizarre Bath”.
It’s a must if you are in the city and I won’t spoil it for you but the £8 gave me and the other 60-70 people great value entertainment for 100 or so minutes.

Tired in leg and with stomach muscles feeling sore from laughing so much, back to the Oldfields by the shortcut I had discovered for a great nights sleep and a full English in the morning.

Altogether a wonderful week, of ups and downs in trail walking terms, but all ups in terms of the experience.

And did I mention my boots were brilliant?

Categories
Cotswold Way

Day Six – Lower Kilcott to Tormarton (9 miles)

After the miscalculation of the stop point the day before, I found myself with a short day today of only 9 miles. Just as well as the weather was lousy and looking worse the longer the day went on. I phoned from Bridge Farm to the Old Smithy to establish both that I was on my way and to get directions, and agreed with (Judge) Bowman over the phone that 3pm would be an acceptable arrival time, giving him time to walk the dog, and me time to visit a couple of pubs along the way. “Don’t drink too much!”, were his parting words.

After farewells at Bridge Farm to the lovely Wendy and Malcolm, and feeling bad that I hadn’t offered to pay for the phone call, I faced an uphill stretch in rainy conditions. I resolved to send them a cheque for the four pounds that I had pocketed in change rather than leaving with them as I should have.

Pleasant countryside for walking and with the potential for good views, but today visibility was sadly restricted due to the weather.

Only small hamlets along this stretch, with Horton and Little Sodbury leading me to the attractively and appropriately named Old Sodbury, some caching, a hill fort, and a fine pub called the Dog Inn (be careful mind, how you ask for directions!)

I made the acquaintance of Winnie the pub’s very friendly border collie, who had her own seat in the corner at one of the tables, Tom the somewhat taciturn but ultimately friendly landlord, and having parked my wet gear, started to dry out over a pint of Wickmar Dog Best, and a plate of sausage and mash off the lunch time menu – great value at £4.75. I was able to earwig the conversations from the various tables filling up around me, companionable but compete trivia on one side, stony silence with the occasional terse “well we could have gone walking if the weather had been better” on the other, and then the arrival of grumpy not getting on couple, “What, you want salad as well!!?!!” livened the whole place up.

Leaving the pub was a bit of a struggle, but having put the wet weather gear on, I knew I only had just 80 minutes or so to the end point for the day. So through Coomb’s End, again on attractive paths especially through Dodington Park, I found my way to the Major’s Retreat, just 150 yards short of the Old Smithy. I made Roy the eccentric landlord’s acquaintance over a pint of Pot Walloper, and again enjoyed the conversation of the locals, particularly two ladies on brandies, who had some life experience ” I love the smell of lambs in spring, all I can think of is mint sauce”, said one. “Oh I prefer pigs.”, said the other. “Mind you, you would, you married a few of them!” retorted the first. Oh what fun in small village pubs!

I went down to the Old Smithy, where the judge and I chatted about boating ( I guessed from the sailing trousers) he and I reset the tripped switch a few times, and I had a long soak and a read, in the charming annexe, with a separate living room, kitchen, and bathroom all to myself. The Little Smithy as it is known, was used by the Bowmans mother for six years before her death four years ago and is perfectly set up for a lovely stay in the country, very close to the convenient M4.

After saying hello to Joanna Bowman who ran over with an umbrella in torrential rain, I made some calls and then took advantage of a break in the clouds to visit the pub via the church.

The Major’s Retreat is a fascinating place. Roy, the nearly 70 year old Landlord, is well spoken, well read and an ex-surveyor from Kew. He has the potential there in the pub, to have a little gem, but for some reason (perhaps due to his forceful character and strong opinions) he had fallen out with the locals who no longer support him. Given that two other pubs locally have recently closed, this is a shame and hopefully Roy will get enough trade to see him survive. Certainly the food was good, great piles of home cooked soups and pies cooked by Chris, and I couldn’t help thinking that with some cosmetic changes and some repositioning of the brand he would do well – the beer was excellent, the food tasty, home cooked and great value, and although maybe slightly old fashioned for some people’s tastes, to me was a pub which stood the test of time.

After a couple of pints of Pigs Ear, I made sure that I left early otherwise the beer might overwhelm me, and had a great nights rest.
years before

Categories
Cotswold Way

Day Five – Randwick to Lower Kilcott (23 miles)

I should start by pointing out that 23 miles wasn’t the plan. I had thought Wotton-under-Edge, although a stretching 17 miles, was a sensible stop without leaving two long days to follow.

When I got to Dursley and checked the map in the extremely fine pub The Old Spot, I couldn’t find the Bridge Farm, my spot for the night, mentioned in the guidebook – which had been very reliable on all possible accommodation places so far. After checking the address on the web, I saw that it was a bit further than Wotton-under-Edge, indeed 6 miles further!

I checked my sources, and sure enough, on the Sherpa website the Bridge Farm is listed as Wotton-under-Edge. And right at the top of the list. That and the offer of a Thai meal on arrival cooked by Malcolm and Wendy Watchman’s daughter-in-law, a Thai, was too good to pass up.

So it was that I came to have the most challenging days walking of the trail, indeed for a very long time. The route was both long and also quite up and down, certainly compared with the previous day, and there seemed to be one ascent/descent after another. The Ramblers association decided that any available hill should be climbed, any viewpoint reached, even if it meant bending the path double to do so.

Not that I’m complaining, as apart from the slightly dull towns it took us through, the scenery was very pretty in parts. Luckily I opted for both short cuts, although I did climb all 121 of the Tyndale memorial steps on arrival.

Highlights?

    Seeing an buzzard and a kestrel and a deer all at close proximity
    Not being shot by the man with the air rifle in the woods
    Not being chased by any of the several bulls I walked past
    Some good views from time to time
    The Old Spot pub in Thursley
    Getting to Bridge Farm ahead of when I expected to
    The warm hospitality of Wendy and Malcolm
    Arriving without blisters and having a great soak in the bath

Lowlights?

    Dursley
    Being taken up Cam Long Down – straight up!

Looking forward to the Thai food – and having a beer or two!

Categories
General

Photos from Day Seven

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Categories
Cotswold Way

Photos from Day Six

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Categories
Cotswold Way

Photos from Day Four

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Categories
Cotswold Way

Day Four – Birdlip to Randwick (13 miles – plus 0.5 off the trail)

I love my boots! They were a great investment and have made the difference – keeping the feet dry and blister free so far. Plus the thin wicking socks, and the Scholl insole thingies that I attach to my second two.

I guess better weather helped as well to turn this into my favourite stretch so far. Plus having the bags carried – boy does that make a huge difference and worth every penny. All in all a great contrast to the painful slog across the South Downs Way where I had feet that looked like they had been through a shredder.

One of my favourite moments of the leg occurred right at the beginning when a lovely little old lady stopped her car and wound down the window just outside the Royal George, Birdlip, from where I started, having had an unsuccessful discussion with Michael the manager.

“Do you want a lift?”, she asked. “Yes, please”, I replied “I’m going to Bath.” The LOL lol’ed and sped off after establishing that I was walking for fun and not through necessity.

This section had a wide variety of countryside and some amazing views, and highlights included:

    The cheese rolling Coopers Hill. Crickey, those guys who take part are mad! I can how it’s not a case of whether you get injured or not, but rather what type of injury you sustain.
    Painswick – the escarpment and the golf course. Is it the most difficult course anywhere? It has to be tested,
    Painswick the town. A wonderful collection of architecture in a pale grey white limestone that looks stunning. I “researched” the Falcon Inn in Painswick and it was the opposite experience to the Royal George and will definitely entice us back for a long weekend. I had a lovely pint of Butcombe bitter which instantly shot into second place on my all-time favourite real ale list. I enjoyed an excellent Gloucester Spot sausage or three, with freshly cooked al dente assorted vegetables and loads of mash and gravy. The service was brilliant -I even got asked by the landlady if I’d like a glass of tap water with my meal.
    I enjoyed visiting the church with its Millenium clock, and the yews and the stocks
    Passing the slightly odd just-a-bit-more-than-halfway-to-go marker with Bath some distant 55 miles away still.
    Haresfield Beacon – 360 degree views to knock your socks off.

I slithered down the final path towards Randwick with my faith restored in that great British institution – the pub. The Falcon was everything that was good about good pubs,

I was greeted by the affable Mr Taylor at Court Farm, where I settled into my 1970’s surroundings, tired, but with a great sense of satisfaction on an excellent days walking.

A few phone calls later I was off to the Vine Tree Inn, further up the village, where the greeting I got was pretty average. They had a young man and younger girl serving behind the bar, and you could see he didn’t want to be there. And he let you know it. She, on the other hand, worked like a Trojan all evening, while he sat down, first at the bar, and then in the Restuarant. He even had the cheek to ask he to bring him some tomato sauce.

Once we had sorted out that the booking was in my first name rather than my surname, the food was very good. I met John, a nice chap who shares a few interests, including spaniels, golf, tennis, yachting and indeed he had already walked the way. He gave me some advice on which golf courses could make up a tour locally.

After fish cakes and cheese and biscuits I retired to the B&B, where I redid this page having lost the whole lot earlier.

A very good day.

Categories
General

Day Three – Cleeve Hill to Birdlip (15.5 miles)

Straight uphill to the top of the golf course and to the trig beacon. A lung busting climb after a big breakfast and a big night before. The other two had taken off in different directions, Tim kindly going via Birdlip to drop my bag in to the Royal George and one of my several bedrooms – more of that later.

The low mist covered everything and so the spectacular views of the day before had closed in to 150 feet or so. Dressed for wet weather – I sheltered from the wind and the mizzle at the top of the hill while putting in a call to the OfficeTeam office.

Looking back at the guide I see I went quite close to Cheltenham Racecourse but didn’t realise it.

Along one of the paths the water had run down the limestone with a very claylike consistency – the grey contrasting with the honey coloured substrate.

At the end of Dowdeswell Wood near the reservoir, there is a small B&B doing snacks and drinks. The nice man took my order for a personalised certificate of completion which he is mailing to me on Thursday. Big incentive to finish now!

I lunched at a roadside van at Seven Springs – not the most salubrious of settings but the cheese and tomato roll went down well.

It was a relief to have got through the section where there was a lot of shooting going on – I SA signs encouraging people to protest about the badger cull, as one of the reasons given was that high velocity bullets could end up anywhere, and there were two people hidden from view in the woods setting off loads of bullets, hopefully not in my direction. At one point I shouted “walker!” in their general direction, but I don’t think thy could have heard me – they may well have had ear defenders on…

Leckhampton Hill and the Devils Chimney was very impressive and generally the day was fairly up and down in altitude, but not unpleasantly so.

Crickley Hill and Barrow Wake were most impressive and soon I found myself doing the last treacherous 200 yards up the road to the Royal George in Birdlip where I asked them yet again, the third time this time, whether they would allow me to cancel one of the unwanted rooms I had booked. Not a chance. That meant 4 weeks notice, 10 days notice and appearing in person all failed. Bookings.com had been fine about being able to cancel even though it was in their small print that I couldn’t. But apparently Old English Inns policy is not to allow a cancellation if one has got a discounted rate through Bookings.com – not that it was a big discount!

Anyway Lisa on the desk was very pleasant about it and offered to speak to her manager, Michael about it, even though she said she knew he would say no. I thought I’d tackle it again with him in the morning, and although he was very professional and polite about it, clearly he has no local discretion and so what the central reservation office decide, he has to go along with. I thought he should be able to manage locally and also should be told how unhappy I was to have to pay for a room I wasn’t ever going to use. Hopefully he will feed it back.

I was probably never going to enjoy my stay, and so it was no surprise when I didn’t. Maybe I was looking for faults, but the service was very patchy, with long waits at the bar. The nachos were burnt. The cottage pie was ok. They wouldn’t sell me a bottle of Zinfandel off the bar as it was no longer on the menu – how strange is that? The carpets were torn in places, a lot if the paintwork needed refreshing, and the bath water wasn’t very warm. Breakfast was ok, but even though it wasn’t busy, the waitresses and the chef were keener on chatting than attending to one slightly grumpy customer.

Shame – the place has potential, but isn’t living up to it. I nearly tripped over the bucket and mop when coming out of my room at 8am – just another small example of not being up to the right standards.

Anyway, mustn’t grumble – oh dear, I just have. Onwards…

Oh, now I got great service from Sherpa, having phoned them during the day to ask them to transport my bag to each subsequent destination. I didn’t give them much notice, but they got it all spot on and Di, who I dealt with, was terrific, and it all went very smoothly. Just be aware that if you are a solo traveller, they will charge you a minimum of two bags, but frankly for the last four legs, which were long ones, the £64 charged seemed well worth it…

Categories
Cotswold Way General

Photos from Day Three

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