«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 ...»
High on this escarpment there is good drainage and the mud is not so bad. It is such a pleasure to have firmer ground beneath our feet and so enjoyable to look around without the rain marring your vision. We pass a Roman villa on our left then walk on through the lovely woods. This is to be the benchmark for the rest of the day which passes peaceably as we walk amongst the trees. An American walker wearing an extra coat of cat’s hair is our companion for a while - yes, he had also spent the night at Rosie’s. He is walking for a week or so as part of his holiday. Walking on this woodland path is so satisfying to the senses - mosses grow everywhere in the damp and the trees are strong and tall. In the summer this would be a gently wooded place of shifting breezes and rustling summer leaves but for now it is still skeletal but wonderful as we walk through the filtered sunlight in the soft cool wind. Yellow flowered fields and soft green grass make for a change of scenery, but it is an easy day and the fine weather lifts us and we laugh and chat as we stride along. We cross the main road and head down a lane to Dowdeswell Reservoir and our B & B for the night. Yes they have vacancies and also camping. Philip would like to camp but I am all for a warm bed tonight and a hot shower.
The bed is warm and the room cosy. The alarm beeps for 7am and I pull back the curtains to reveal blue skies. What a difference the weather makes.
The path uphill at the edge of Dowdeswell Wood, is steep and muddy but from there the walking is a joy and the countryside shimmers with colours pure. Green hilltops by stone walls, over stiles and through kissing gates and hunting gates we go. “Is that a bull?” Philip asks as we climb into a field. A fatted cow lazily casts its eye over us then continues grazing. “No”, I laugh.
We decide to take a shortcut up an extremely steep bridleway by a bare wood, its floor still heavy with last year’s leaves. At the top we sit on a stone wall and make our coffee and I do some running repairs on Philip’s map case. A Dalmatian wanders up and down eyeing our morning tea but eventually his owner comes by and they walk off across the fields together.
Through a gate and into Cleeve Common, a butterfly conservation area. The butterflies still asleep somewhere in the gorse covered moorland. A butterfly’s life is serendipity. It is such a fragile creature. Does it know when a flower is red, or yellow, I wonder. Where does it go in the rain?
Cleeve Common was the site of an Iron Age hillfort and is a wide-ranging area of unimproved limestone grassland on the Cotswold escarpment.
Small hills growing stunted trees rise away from the path and then we find ourselves once again in green fields which lead on to more moor land. Philip’s compass reading is excellent and a shortcut brings us back to the Cotswold Way once again. Rabbits hop about in great profusion, stopping to stare at us before leaping away or darting down their burrows. This is a wonderful day, this is a dream and a delight. Happiness is walking.
Coming over the hill to Winchombe we dally to inspect Belas Knap, a Neolithic 55 metre hump shaped long barrow which we bend low to enter and sit a while on some large stones contemplating the awesome span of history we have intruded upon. Belas Knap has four burial chambers formed of upright slabs. They contained the remains of 38 human skeletons, together with animal bones, flint implements and pottery from the end of the Neolithic or New Stone Age, circa 2000BC. There is no one else about. It is ours to enjoy but the stones are cold for those that lay here were disturbed, their bones prodded and examined, lying now on stainless steel beneath bright lights or secreted in labelled boxes.
The air shifts. Philip’s warm human hands touch mine. “Let’s go” he says.
Fast paced walking leads us down the wooded hill to an empty car park. Large signs warn of theft. In the trees by the car park a blue van is parked. The van’s back door
A Roman Villa sits enclosed by a stone wall and set amongst a small copse of trees amid a huge furrowed field. England’s air is “stirred and shaken” with ghosts of thousands of years. I am dizzy from all this history.
By the side of this field we follow a hedged farm track down a hill and before us from amid its retreat of splendid trees peeps Sudeley Castle, its windows winking in the sunshine. The lovely town of Winchcombe lies at its entrance. Walking is all the more pleasurable as it is yet too early in the year for the hordes of tourists who I am sure must populate these beautiful places in the summer season.
We are following a path used by pilgrims of many centuries as we pass the remains of the 13th Century Cistercian Haile Abbey to find the fruit farm which is listed in our book as having camping facilities for Cotswold Way walkers. As we trudge up the farm track we meet a boy and a girl leaving by car. They stop and point us in the direction of a field.
“The camping is down there”, they say. Off we go down the hill. It is a virtual swamp.
The water is lying in muddy pools and we slosh through. “This is crazy, what do they think they are playing at. We can’t camp here” Philip says. We feel low and disheartened and walk around and around peering across the vast wetland for somewhere to put the tent up. The only place is a small rectangle of gravel built up from the level of the field at one end of which is a standpipe. The tent fits perfectly and we crawl in, eat a sketchy cold meal and try to get some sleep.
Distant rumblings awaken us. Within minutes a storm is raging and the night is clamorous with wind. Lightening crackles and flashes amongst dark thunderheads, lighting the tent’s inside with a cool beige light in which I can just discern Philip’s rumpled face. Great claps of thunder menace our sanctuary and make us draw closer together to hug each other to sleep. Rain and hail wallop the tent but sleep takes us quickly and we stay dry and warm.
Day 28 Haile to Broadway
Bird song fills my senses. We had set the alarm for 5am but awake to the wild birds’ dawn chorus well before and anxious to leave this marshy field we pack up in record time.
The rain and hail have disappeared and the storm has washed the sky to a clean clear brilliant blue. It is a beautiful morning.
The path leads us steeply up hill through Hailes Wood, a forest of spring. Green hangs hazily in the air and we breathe of its freshness. Strong legs carry us to the top of a long line of hills. The fields are full of lambs and perfect green rises to meet perfect blue. The top of the hill is Beckbury Camp, an iron age fort. At the ridge edge is a stand of mature trees and a monument of unknown origins. So perched here, high on the beautiful land
Philip takes out the map. He smiles at me, his eyes bright “What do you say we only walk to Broadway” he says “we’ll be there by 11am and we can have a break and clean everything” “B & B” I grin “Yes” he says.
The walking is truly wonderful, nature is a master artist. Our way is over green fields and through tiny sleepy villages. Lower Coscombe and most particularly, Stanton, are utterly charming. As we walk through Stanton’s narrow streets which are lined in a higgedly piggedly fashion with 17th century houses of golden limestone and steep gabled roofs, we are under the spell of history. The walls of the cottages are webbed with creepers and bright flowers boil over the low stone walls. Stanton looks today the same as it looked when it was built and its beauty will be preserved into the future. This is a residential village without tourist shops and restaurants. There is a solitary pub, The Mount Inn and a classic medieval village church, St. Michael’s. We tramp on through the shimmering green countryside and reach Broadway at 11.30am and book into a B & B.
Broadway is completely sightseer territory. From the village green to the end of the gently climbing High Street it is worthy of movie set status for period films. The sun warms the honey limestone of the elegant Cotswold houses. Dickensian shop windows are full of attractive goods to lure the tourists. The variety of architectural styles adds to the historical aspect. Steep gables, dormer windows in cottages, bay windows, thatched roofed cottages and timber on weathered stone. I wish I had days to lift the layers of time to reveal the stories and exploits of the everyday lives of the maybe thousands of years of life in these villages. Imagine for a moment the hidden stories beneath the stones of this one town.
The Village Green
Throughout the centuries the village green has served as the hub of village local life and recreation. Crowned May Queens and children dancing around the maypole, village fairs, games and the bon fires of November all took place on the village green. It wasn’t all fun on the green, there were lockups, stocks and whipping posts for the correction of wrong doers.
The origins of the village green are obscure but it is believed that they were conceived in medieval times to enclose the village livestock, which were impounded at night against wild predators and human poachers. There was usually a pond which was home to ducks and geese and provided drinking water for livestock. In later times a pump provided for both humans and animals Sandy, the more than helpful landlady of our B & B, allows us to do our washing in her machine and after we finish our tidy up we explore the town and eat dinner in a 17th century pub. We feel good, our equipment and clothes have had a Spring clean. This place is so civilised.
5 miles to go until we finish the Cotswold Way and then we begin the Heart of England Way. We have now walked 330 miles. It is difficult to comprehend when neither of us
Happy shafts of sunlight light the tiny tearooms at the front of this lovely old house as we move in farewell through the door to leave the comely tourist trap of Broadway for the last leg of the Cotswold Way. Such a feeling of amazement that we have come this far.
Arrive in Chipping Campden around lunchtime and find the Post Office to pick up maps for the next leg of our journey. The used maps we post back. We bought a Heart of England Way guidebook in Broadway.
Chipping Campden, an old wool merchants’ town is another wealthy, golden stoned town of characteristic Cotswold architecture and this is also very much a ‘tourist town’. We have seen the Cotswold limestone in many shades, from weathered grey to off white to deep gold in the villages we have visited but here, as in Stanton, is the rich honeyed stone that glows golden in the sunshine and makes you sigh with contentment. It all seems too perfect to be real. Even so, I prefer the wilder and more out of the world places where I can turn and not be standing in someone else’s space.
We sit on a seat in the centre of town close by the old Market Hall, a covered open market built in 1627 of the ubiquitous golden stone with an arched and timbered roof. This small building appears on postcards as the symbol of this town and in those pictures probably also represents the strength and wealth of the Cotswold area which came from the richness of its farming and markets. Chipping is olde English for ‘market’ or ‘trading centre’ and the dealing has been going on here for centuries. We watch the men and women as they cross the divided High Street, the Market Hall in the middle, in long strides, busy with their own purpose. They are still dressed for winter in warm coats, some in dark sombre tones others in bright red, much more sensible as one would need a bit of cheer from the winter woes. We go unnoticed as this town draws many kinds of people from the outside world and being the meeting point of the Cotswold Way and the Heart of England Way, walkers would be a common sight.
Our feet are moving well, we are covering the ground. Philip studies the map of Britain which outlines the area covered by each Ordinance Survey map and its number. He colours in the maps we have used and we can see a wide path forming up the map. “Still a very long way to go he says”. An ending and a beginning. Now the next trail awaits us.
The Heart of England Way, a 100 mile green route across the West Midlands, begins at 41 Bourton on Water but we will join it here in Chipping Campden. The countryside ahead will be flatter, low lying country with woodlands, canals and farmland. It will be the expected vision of ‘completely English’. Shakespeare Country. The Way will lead us northwards across the Avon Valley to the Forest of Arden where our minds can play in the scenes of Shakespeare’s writings. Then North again we will enter the flat and fertile Tame Valley and cross over it to Lichfield. From there we will turn west and climb into Cannock Chase. When we reach the Glacial Boulder we will leave the Heart of England Way for the wilder country of the Staffordshire Way.
As I look around me at the obvious storybook beauty and think of the span of years that humans have lived and worked amid these buildings of mellow time worn stone, I wonder how many of the present inhabitants appreciate the depth and history of their surroundings. Are they in raptures of awe of this backdrop to their lives or is wonder restrained by over exposure and routine. I suppose that generalisation is impossible, it would be like generalising about love.
My bottom muscle is very sore today and walking is painful, however we trudge on.
We take up the Heart of England Way in a tiny and extremely narrow lane through an old gate down past the High School, then over a stile and into a field. After some muddy fields by Mickleton Hills farm we enter a beautiful boulevard. The leaves are on the trees and the trees are magnificent. I am enchanted. Suddenly honey stone is gone and warm red brick and timber, thatch and charm, old trees resplendent in the sunshine, and soft gently folding countryside of Shakespeare’s wanderings is where we walk. Oh the bliss of level walking. The leaves really are on most of the trees and up in their hugeness they rustle in the wind as we pass. “This is great” Philip says “level walking. This will be a breeze”.