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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?

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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

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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!

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Cotswold Way

Photos from Day Six

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Cotswold Way

Photos from Day Four

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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.

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Cotswold Way General

Photos from Day Three

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Cotswold Way

Day Two – Wood Stanway to Cleeve Hill – 12 miles

After a hearty breakfast we escaped the clutches of Anne and Marcus/Martin/ Melvin and having taken the hire car to Cleeve Hill where luckily two owners of cars came out at the right time to create a space for us, we headed back to the hamlet of Wood Stanway to start the anticipated steep ascent.

Highlights included the Hailes Abbey, extensive views, Winchcombe with its eclectic blend of architectural styles, clement weather and eating our sandwich lunch perched on a slightly precarious dry stone wall looking back over the way we had come. We spotted Sudeley Castle a few times but again decided that a detour off the path to visit the site wasn’t for us.

It was only by pretending that Tim was somehow related to Carey that we got him in to see the abbey.

So we sped along quite quickly and got to the Cleeve Hill House just after 3pm, having left at 9.30 or so. Mannfred (Mann) got us booked in and we went off to get the cars and detoured on the way back to the Hollow Bottom Inn in Guiting Something.

This was partly the reason for the very drunken evening ahead, with the real ale there being quite good…

We had dinner in the Lising Sun, which wasn’t a Chinese after all, but an Old English Inn, where despite slow and apathetic service, I had a passable fillet and several buckets of red wine.

I must had woken during the night to derobe, and felt a bit light headed going down to breakfast where we enjoyed some cheery banter with the Australian lady there before us.

A very nice B&B with excellent views, this morning rather hazy for a variety of reasons…

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Cotswold Way

Day One – Chipping Campden to Wood Stanway (12.5 miles)

A lovely sunny day gave us the best of prospects for far reaching views across the Vale of Evesham and into 10-13 counties depending on the section.

Highlights included starting at the Market Hall in Chipping Campden, a lovely stretch called the Mile, with great views in all directions, the Broadway Tower, learning about nuclear bunkers, the deer park and greeting the American walking up the steep hill towards us while we were making our way into Broadway where we had lunch of soup and pâté in the pub where Tim had stayed with Dot a few years ago.

Broadway was busy and we discussed whether to branch off to visit Snowshill which we decided against when we got to the junction, probably the right decision as all of us felt a little weary once we arrived in Wood Stanway and another couple of miles might have been too many.

Glorious beech woods, warm sunshine, easy walking without the bag, good company – just the start this lovely walk deserves!

We enjoyed the scenery in the sleepy village of Stanton, saw the impressive Stanway House where the beer was being brewed that we went to track down in the Pheasant later. We had a couple of pints in the Mount Inn once we had retrieved the other car and then settled in for roast dinner back at 25 Wood Stanway with the eccentric Mervin and Ann.

We had a lovely meal, and a very memorable dinner – Mervin the farrier kept on about his dancing and then we heard about his leg – luckily we had finished the meal by then!

Carey and the chilled Rolly, followed by the Rioja, and two bottles of Shiraz Viognier meant we slept well ahead of a full breakfast.

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Cotswold Way

Day Zero – Chipping Campden

I was picked up from Moreton-in-Marsh by Carey in the hired Kia, who had tried to meet me off the earlier train, but then he had a pleasant hour exploring the village when he realised his mistake. I had enjoyed the train journey via Reading, and even managed a Skype call with Mel in Canada while admiring the scenery passing by the window.

A grey day which turned to rain later, as after checking in with the charming Zoe at the Old Bakehouse in the High Street, Carey went off to visit the mother of a friend who was in care locally, while I walked down the village streets and did some gentle caching.

Tim suggested the Volunteer, and that he would be there soon, but on arrival I found that to be both busy, full of small children and a bit hostile.

So we went to the Red Lion, where I introduced myself to Tracy, as suggested by Hamish, who had phoned ahead and put a couple of tenners behind the bar for us. He had suggested that I loudly announce to the bar that I was a geocacher, but I was more circumspect and just eased myself into a conversation. Anyway with Hamish’s generosity gratefully turned into several drinks for the three of us, we set off to Michaels the local Greek Restuarant where we had a pleasant dinner.

On waking in the morning we realised that Tim and I had lost the key to the room, which Tim thought had been left in the restaurant. So we set off to see if it was open, which it wasn’t, and then Tim fessed up to Zoe over a splendid full English – she was fine. Actually after breakers we discovered that Carey had picked up our key the previous evening and taken it into his room with him, so all was well.

We then bought some wine from the local vintner, and set off to put one of the cars in Wood Stanway ahead of the days 12.5 mile walk.