«il to 27th June 1998 88 days i The planning stage of this journey encompassed a period of 12 months. Fitness We set ourselves a fitness program to ...»
27 We sit in the warm sun behind a hedge and by a bridge, sheltered from a chill wind and eat morning tea. Stretch those legs, mmm it is so warm here out of the wind, we feel like a sleep but the excitement of every new step is a strong enough inducement to move us along. Lunch time finds us in a village with an Inn so we stop for an hour or so and Philip enjoys a pint and we both eat roast turkey. Delicious! Food, glorious food. So hungry all the time. Refuelled we put on a good spurt of energy for the hills ahead.
Along lane after lane we meander, “Let’s hope the weather stays good now” Philip says.
Suddenly his attention is diverted to a wide green field by the lane. Two fatted pigs copulate energetically, grunting loudly with the exertion. Philip laughs as he takes out the camera. “When we show our photos” he says “this photo will test just who is paying attention and who isn’t!” We walk on. Time for reflection listening to the sounds of spring and wondering why it all happens and who makes it happen. Thinking too how our generation and the couple before have been so rugged on our fragile environment.
Maesbury hill fort, an immense earthworks stronghold, now greened in grass, which must have been a centre for prehistoric rulers, is a highlight. We sit on the ancient earth ramparts and wonder at the history of this land and the lives of the thousands who have been here before us. We are doing a lot of wondering as we walk, I think. There have been people living here for so long, it is all so old, so many visible layers. We sit together and there is no-one else. There is no enchantment in sharing such a place with tourists. Are we classed as tourists, I wonder. I don’t know how long we have been sitting here but the shadows are lengthening as we leave. Time captured us for a spell. Ancient sites hold you in their power. We climb a stile and walk down through a field of silently grazing sheep.
Then it is a long straight trudge to our next campsite. The campsite is exceptionally basic and our tent looks lonely on the wide expanse of green. The shower room is freezing, concrete and a plastic shower curtain. So, in the gathering dusk, we move a picnic table close to our tent and eat our dinner with hunched shoulders and a stiff back to stop the shivers - then into bed - another cold night with ice on the tent and a crunch underfoot.
Day 19 Binegar to Bath
An early start this morning because we have a long way to go. Our destination is Bath miles hence. The sky is heavy and threatening rain. Threat becomes reality and a drizzle turns to a constant patter. These drips from the sky seem ever our companions.
Where is Spring hiding today? Past Paulton to Camerton, where we walk through a gentle undulating landscape to begin to follow Cam Brook whose course will take us almost to the edge of Bath. The rain makes it difficult to appreciate the scenery which today is a mix of small and medium sized fields of rich grasslands, angular and irregular in shape with few trees. Most trees are located along Cam Brook and near buildings and villages. This would be an ideal walk on a sunny day and every turn of the water’s course would beckon you to linger. But for us there is just rain and mud and 28 more mud. Mud that sticks and holds your feet as though wishing to swallow you. Mud to sink into and slip and slide along, grabbing at branches for support.
We follow a bridle trail and the horses heavy solid hoof fall has turned the already muddy path into a bog. We notice that this path is part of the Limestone Link. This country is criss-crossed with marked paths. It must be wonderful to be able to walk them all. What a way to enjoy your country, I envy the British.
Finally we reach a lane and as we walk we scrape our feet and wipe them in the plants and grasses that grow long and water laden on the tarmac’s edge. The mud really sticks. We are longing for our first glimpse of Bath. We plan to stay there for two nights. I feel as though I am preparing for a wonderful holiday, I am so looking forward to having a day off and walking without my pack, just for a little while.
Eventually Bath, a most elegant and golden city, is laid out before us and with very sore feet we meet its footpaths which lead us to Rosemary House and our attic room way way at the top of the winding stairs. Two nights. Hooray!!! Oh, we need a rest!
But before we rest everything needs washing. Philip’s socks are the worst. Phew, do they smell. He hangs his equally smelly boots from the high attic window, attaching their laces to the latch. Hopefully a bit of fresh air and sunshine will improve the odour. Oh yes, the sun has come out.
Today is a lay day to rest our weary feet. We are staying another night here at Rosemary House.
After breakfast we walk down the hill and through the underpass to emerge in this wonderful World Heritage City of Bath.
Bath is situated by the River Avon surrounded by steep hills. Such history, so European and such beauty. A wealth of Georgian architecture built of local limestone and well preserved Roman remains combine to make Bath one of the most elegant and architecturally notable cities in Britain. The hot mineral springs on the site attracted the Romans, who founded Bath and named it Aquae Sulis dedicated to the deity Sul (Minerva). The first King of all England, Edgar, was crowned here in AD973 in an abbey built by the Saxons. The abbey was later rebuilt by the Normans. Bath has a compact centre with broad main streets, narrow alleys and baskets of flowers hanging from every available space, We wander and sigh and exclaim and sit in the spring sunshine to absorb the ambience. A happy day this. More food - coffee and cake - then we walk by the River Avon to where it tumbles from beneath Pulteney Bridge down past the park full of spring blossoms and then by Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. We have visited Bath’s historical sites before, so today we just amble. We stop in an outdoor shop
In legend it is told that Bladud is the founder of Bath and the curative waters and mud found there.
Lud Hubibras (Bladud), was a British Prince in Celtic times. As a young man at court Bladud contracted the greatly feared disease of Leprosy. Sadly, his father banished and disowned his son. Before he ventured into the wide world, away from his father’s kingdom, his mother gave him a ring of gold. She told him to keep it safely for if every he was cured of the disease this ring would prove his birthright to the throne.
The prince walked widely but everywhere he went he was shunned. Eventually he came to make a meager living from swine herding. One day he noticed that some of his herd had caught leprosy. Fearing the consequences he decided to run away from his master. He took the swine and fled across the River Avon to the area where the city of Bath now stands. He wandered the area until one day one of the pigs went crazy and pitched itself into a black bog in the marshy ground. Bladud struggled to pull the pig from the bog and his body was soon pasted with the foul smelling mud. When he had finally freed himself and the pig, he found that the pig’s skin lesions had disappeared, and where the mud had touched his bare skin he was also cured. He removed his clothes and immersed himself fully in the warm mud. With this treatment he was soon fully cured of the disease.
Finally, Bladud returned to Court, where he was welcomed with open arms by his mother, who recognised the ring she had given him many years before. Bladud ruled wisely as King for twenty years. He founded the city of Bath, and created the temple of Aqua Sulis dedicated to Minerva.
He was purported to have been a man of great learning, he journeyed across Europe and studied in Athens, later bringing much Greek wisdom back to Britain. He came to grief when a magical experiment failed. He wanted to fly so he built himself some wings, and was airborne over New Troy when they gave way and he crashed to the ground.
That was the end of Bladud.
This is decadence - propped on a mound of pillows with bare feet and a royal spread of food and wine before us. I wriggle my toes as I pop another delicious morsel into my mouth and ponder on tomorrow, for tomorrow we begin the first of our long distance paths - the 100 mile Cotswold Way. Now the adventure really begins.
Day 21 Bath to Cold Ashton
Off we go on the Cotswold Way. The Cotswold Way has its beginnings by the Cathedral in Bath and then for 103 miles it follows the Western edge of the Cotswold escarpment to Chipping Campden. It is an undulating route, with its highest point at Cleeve Cloud (just over 1,000 ft), which weaves its way through green and gentle countryside featuring low limestone hills and agricultural valleys and it is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
This will be a moderate introduction to Britain’s long distance trails. In medieval times this was a prosperous wool area and along our way we will find solid houses of local 30 limestone, wealthy towns and villages, picturesque pubs, and ancient sites from prehistoric and Roman Britain. Our feet will follow the shadowy footsteps of millenniums of Cotswold dwellers.
Following the small white way marking dots that appear on posts and stiles or beside the yellow public footpath markers or blue bridleway markers we head north out of the town to Primrose Hill then down to Weston and up into the countryside. The weather is poor again a dismal grey sky, clouds heavy with rain. The mud is thick on the ground as we gain the escarpment and trek across the hilltops. We breathe deeply of the moist air and the beautiful Cotswold hills are laid out before us. We do not put on our gaiters and I am being too careful trying to pick my way through the mud to keep my clothes clean. A silly and vain hope. The path, a bridleway, runs between two wire fences and is churned by horses to a slick ooze of mire. My foot slips from under me, my pack shifts my balance from centre. Down I go, the whole of my weight landing on my thigh as it hits the taut wire of the fence. The hot pain runs up my thigh and my eyes momentarily lose vision. I open my eyes to see Philip chatting to two healthy looking men up ahead, a father and son who are almost to Bath and the completion of the Cotswold Way, walking from the other end, Groan, my face grows hotly red. I am embarrassed. The bruising will be horrendous, I know. The older man strides through the mud to help me to my feet. He must wonder how this silly woman is going to make it all the way to John o’Groats. I stand up straight and thank him then carry on walking, holding my leg stiffly and masking the pain. Oh yes, it really does hurt.
We walk on, albeit somewhat more carefully, climbing stile after stile through the green hills. The views are wide and panoramic but it begins to drizzle and another soft day is upon us. When will this rain end? Mustn’t let it get us down, after all this is England and England is synonymous with rain.
We arrive in Cold Ashton at around 4pm and ring a farmhouse B & B from the phone box (we have a list of Cotswold Way accommodation) - no luck, the answering machine is on.
I hang up and just as I am leaving the phone box the phone rings. I stop abruptly and my mind goes blank. “Well answer it,” Philip says. It is a man named Malcolm from Rectory Farm - the number I had just rung and yes he has a room. The wonders of technology! He meets us at the back of the church and takes us to his farm and our room.
Muddy boots and gaiters (I put them on after my little accident) are left at the door and then upstairs and into a hot spa bath. My leg has a huge black bruise extending almost the whole length of my thigh but the bath is very pleasing! All clean and neat we wander down to the White Hart Inn at the end of the drive and eat an enormous dinner. I order dessert. “I’ll have the spotted dick please”. I can’t stop laughing. The waitress begins to laugh and with a twinkle replies “a spotted one is it, sure then you’ll enjoy that” When it comes it is a neat steamed pudding dotted with currants and floating in custard.
31 Day 22 Cold Ashton to Hillersley
Malcolm lives alone in his big farmhouse but the many spaces around him are filled with pictures of his family. I wonder where his family are? He is not very chatty and has an aura of an inner sadness. He waits upon us most efficiently at breakfast and soon we are walking down his drive to cross the main road to pick up the Cotswold Way once again by the White Hart Inn.
More mud, fields of it but the day is warmish and so far dry. This is a walk of enchantment by stone walls and through fields thick with spring grass and brightly contrasting yellow dandelion blooms. At times our direction is aided by large white plastic discs nailed to a ‘hard to spot’ stile in the far corner of the very wide fields. We plan to walk 15 miles today and so not much time for breaks. Our legs climb so many stiles, some wood, some stone. From a stone stile by a lane under a Cotswold Way sign we quite literally slide down a steep slope, turn a corner and are captivated by the land ahead.
Rising away into the distance lie fields of green heavily flowered with the sunshine circles of the yellow dandelions and tiny white yellow centred daisies. Huge trees run up the slopes and cap the hilltops. The dandelions are so yellow, the grass so green and the form and balance of the scene is such that I have to stop and breathe deeply trying to absorb some of its pure beauty to take with me through life. It is a joy to be here together, these are precious days. There is companionship in silence as well as chatter for these are not only days of love and friendship but days of reflection.
Back comes the rain, our ever present drippy companion. We hardly see a soul all day.