Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Cotswold Way

I'm missing my walking books already!

When do you start thinking about your next holiday?

(a) a week before you book it?
(b) the day you come home from your current holiday?
(c) half way through your current holiday on a windy ridge in the driving rain when you still have 5 miles to walk to reach your next overnight stop? You are covered in mud, yet you are already planning to get cold, tired and wet all over again on a different windy ridge as soon as you possibly can.

Surely not (c)?

I have to say, my week on the Cotswold Way was probably a (b) in that I think we planned it the day we got home after completing our Ridgeway walk.  We weren't cold, we weren't wet and we had at least taken off the walking boots.  

Two years pass and picture the scene: Junior Daughter was about to set off on a school trip, Senior Daughter was still away at Uni, and Mr Pitt and I were sitting in the Noel Arms in Chipping Campden just opposite the start of the Cotswold Way, admiring the deep polished chestnut brown of our pint and a half of Butty Bach, contemplating the 100 miles of walking ahead of us.

"At what point do we give up?" I enquire as I take my first sip.
"This one seems reasonable," Mr Pitt quips.

Mr Pitt is sporting an injury, after running the Bath Half Marathon a few weeks ago and so our long planned walking holiday along the Cotswold Way is in jeopardy before we've even started.  Halfway down the beer we agree that we are at least going to try our first stage - a warm-up of 6 miles talking us from Chipping Campden to Broadway.

We've learnt from our experience of walking the Ridgeway, two years ago,  and have both selected the minimum of clothing to see us through our six and a half days of walking plus an evening and a day in Bath at the end of our walk.  Everything we need for our adventure fits into two 'day packs'.  We have 500ml of good old Oxfordshire tap water between us, a guidebook and three good legs.  Let's go!

The Cotswold Way
 - The Beginning and the End
Eco tourism
How is this eco-tourism?

According to The International Ecotourism Society, 'Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 1990)'

I'm sure I'm not alone in that when I think of eco-tourism, I think of exotic locations, hikes and treks to admire the flora and fauna in its natural habitat amidst beautiful scenery, awe and wonder at every turn, experiencing the local culture and of course the local food.

But there's no reason why eco-tourism can't actually be found on your own doorstep (or at least on mine - come and see for yourself!)

In order to be an eco-tourist in my own backyard, this was my plan:

1) Support local people by staying in B&B accommodation, particularly looking for B&Bs who themselves support the local area with local food.
2) Sample the local beers.
3) On the trail… take nothing but photographs, kill nothing but time, leave nothing but footprints. (I saw that on a sign at Cooper's Hill).

The makings of a pretty good holiday, I feel - especially plan number 2!

Our itinerary
If you're planning to do the trail yourself the all important thing is the accommodation and we were lucky in that all the accommodation we picked was great.  All are to be recommended.

Day One (pm only): Chipping Campden to Broadway - 6 miles

A gentle start and perfect if you need the morning to travel to Chipping Campden.  We left the pub at around two and were in Broadway by just after four.  Broadway is a fab place to stay overnight with a good choice of Bed and Breakfast accommodation and lots of lovely places to eat.  But, it is advisable to book one of these lovely eateries in advance as even early in the year Broadway was buzzing.  We didn't heed that advice and so we felt like we were traipsing along the High Street from place to place being consistently turned away - no room at the inn.  We did start to wonder whether we were overdoing it on the packing light thing.  Broadway is a smart place, but then we noticed a very well dressed couple one restaurant ahead of us also being turned away.  Phew!

Grey clouds with silver linings and all that, there was an upside to the saga… we ended up at Russel's fish and chip shop which has (posh) cafe style seating and posh fish and chips all served out of stylish bamboo compostable dishes.  I always try to think about the sustainability of the fish I eat and I know that the traditional fish and chip offerings are all in short supply.  Not feeling fully prepared for my fishy experience my mind was a bit of a blank when it came to trying to recall the sustainable fish options and cod always rings alarm bells, though I felt that a restaurant that used compostable serving dishes would likely be mindful of the source of their fish supplies.  Mr Pitt opted for cod and I chose cod cheeks, thinking that if I'm going to eat cod, then I'll go for the less popular part of the fish so as to at least make the most of it.  Cod cheeks are yummy, I can now report and on returning home I checked out the sustainability page of the Russel's Fish and Chip Shop website to find they use local oil, and responsibly sourced cod.  Aside from the food being delicious, with copious but not excessive portions, the service was warm and friendly and I would definitely recommend it.  I hope to be going again!

Cowley House B&B in Broadway
Bed for the night was the wonderful Cowley House.  A warm welcome awaited us, a comfortable bed in a pretty room and a delicious breakfast of local goodies to send us on our way.  Cowley House is right on the trail at the 'bottom' end of the High Street, which makes it an ideal place to set off from next morning.  Other advantages are the fact that there's real ale on offer across the road at the CAMRA award winning Crown and Trumpet pub.  More local ales to sample.

Day Two 18.75 miles (am): Broadway to Hailes - 10 miles  and (pm): Hailes to Cleeve Hill - 8.75

The morning took us through the beautiful villages of Stanton, Stanway and Wood Stanway.  With just over 18 miles to go we were keen not to venture too far off the trail for lunch and so we aimed for a 10 mile morning stint which took us to Hailes Fruit Farm which has a tea room and farm shop.  The tea room provides bags for walkers to put over their muddy boots - we chose to just take ours off and leave them outside!  Inside we had homemade vegetable soup which went down very well and there was an array of homemade cakes on offer.  The coffee and walnut cake was delicious.

The afternoon took us past the ruins of Hailes Abbey, the through Winchcombe and up, up, up to the Belas Knap Long Barrow.  Onwards from here we could see our destination, the beautiful Cleeve Common, so near yet so far.  Between us and Cleeve Common was a lovely wooded valley.  That meant, yes… we had to go all the way down, and all the way back up the other side.

Our bed for the night at Cleeve Hill was to be the Malvern View which lies just below the Cotswold Way.  Best of all, was that you can book to have an evening meal there.  Barry and Leana had emailed us the menu choices and we were looking forward to pea soup with mint oil, followed by roasted shoulder of lamb with seasonal vegetables & baby potatoes and finishing off with self saucing chocolate and peanut butter pudding.  I admit I've had a slight obsession with chocolate fondant puddings since.

Absolutely everything about the Malvern View was classy.  The rooms were tastefully decorated, very comfortable and we had a wonderfully reviving rain shower.  We were supplied with locally made lavender shower gel to relax our tired muscles, so we were fully refreshed when we arrived back in the dining room for our exquisite meal.  Leana is an excellent chef and with the services of a local wine merchant we had an excellent choice of wines to go with our meal.

However, fast or slow your walking pace, I really think you would be missing out if you didn't plan in a visit to the Malvern View!

Day Three 16.25 miles (am): Cleeve Hill to Seven Springs - 8 miles (pm): Seven Springs to Birdlip 8.25 miles

Day three started with a breakfast of porridge, fruits and local honey.  Just what was needed for the climb back up onto the Cotswold Way, followed by the even steeper climb once back on the trail, basically straight up to the highest point of Cleeve Hill itself.  If you look east from here, apparently the next highest point is somewhere in the Urals.   The weather was evil, but strangely, it cleared for a short time while we were on the top of the hill and we had views over Cheltenham and the race course.  I can imagine it gets crowded up here on race day!

View over Cheltenham racecourse

Cleeve Hill - the highest point along the Cotswold Way

This was undoubtedly the hardest day of walking, partly due to the inclement weather and partly because it seemed that for most of the day we were squelching through deep mud along bridleways through Prestbury Hill Reserve and Lineover Wood.

The obvious lunch option was not my favourite choice in that it was the Hungry Horse at Severn Springs - a chain pub on a main road, but we had a warm welcome despite our muddy state.  It was functional and friendly and very close to the trail.  There is little else around for most of the way.

A tempting road sign announced that Birdlip was just three miles away, but we stuck to our route and enjoyed the wonderful views on offer around Leckhampton Hill and Crickley Hill. Well we could see enough to tell that the views would be lovely if the weather were to be a bit lovelier.

Onward to Birdlip and we finished the day with a short walk up the pavement alongside the A 417 in rush hour - just enough to make me feel extremely grateful that I was walking and not sitting in my car queueing at the Air Balloon roundabout!  The path then dips down into a lovely woodland before you meet the hill that takes you up to Birdlip.

The Royal George pub provide a lovely room with very comfortable bed for a modest price together with an extensive menu of good old pub grub.  The buffet breakfast provided lots of healthy options to set us up for our days walking.

The Royal George Hotel, Birdlip

Day Four - 16 miles (am): Birdlip to Edge Common 7 miles  (pm): Edge Common to Middleyard 9 miles

Lovely woodland starts off the day, followed by a steep, steep climb up Cooper's Hill famed for cheese rolling.  The walking was much easier today, and we made good time to the lovely town of Painswick. Our lunch destination was the Edge Inn at Edgemoor a couple of miles beyond Painswick down some grassy meadows into the valley across the brook and up the other side, passing the not quite halfway marker on the way up!

Nearly half way - 47 miles in!
A ploughman's lunch and more local ale at the Edge Inn meant that I picked out this particular stretch of the Cotswold Way between Painswick and The Edge Inn (open 12 noon to 2pm) as one I'd most want to return to in the future for a pub lunch walk with friends.

A half of Uley's Gloucester Old Spot washed down the ploughman's nicely, but in the early part of the afternoon, we were a little confused about the landmarks we were supposed to be seeing according to our trusty guide book.  When Mrs Pitt realised she was holding the map upside down it all started to make sense! (And that was despite turning down the landlord's kind offer of filling her water bottle with another half of Old Spot.)

Accommodation that evening was at Valley Views in Middleyard, where we were welcomed by landlady, Pam White, who has won awards for looking after walkers and we could see why.  We had planned to walk back to King's Stanley to find an evening meal, but the pub had recently stopped serving food on a Tuesday.  However, Pam contacted a local taxi company that whisked us of to The Old Fleece in Woodchester, which had a lovely atmosphere and served well cooked local food.  Just one thing - the portions are very generous and this is the only place I have been unable to finish a meal in a long time.  If I go again - which I hope I do - I think I'd have a main course and then maybe share a pudding if there's still room!

Day Five 14.5 Miles (am): Middleyard to Dursley 8 miles  (pm): Dursley to Wotton-under-Edge 6.5 miles

The Valley Views breakfast was wonderful.  I chose yoghurt with berries and toast with home made jam (and set off feeling virtuous for avoiding another cooked breakfast).

Our morning's walk was to take us to The Old Spot in Dursley up and over some big hills.  The views over the Severn were stunning and we had a clear view of our route for the next few days.

Looking at Cam Long Down
Cam Long Down was a vertigo moment.  With the path going straight up the hill at one end there was a strange feeling of nothingness on either side as I clambered up.  I kept feeling I wanted to turn round and sit down.  A couple of times I could kid myself I was stopping to admire the view, but most of the time I was just clinging to the side of the hill in the hope of not rolling back down like a Double Gloucester Cheese.

Once on top it really did feel like an achievement.  The views all around were well worth lingering for. We met an elderly gentleman who was looking a little weary from the climb.  He told us that he'd got half way back down and realised his dog had stayed on the top of the hill, so he'd had to climb all the way back to the top to get him.

The Old Spot pub is another CAMRA award winner and we could see why. It is the epitome of the English Country pub run by people who really care about what they have on offer.  We were refreshed and revived ready for another big climb out of Dursley and up to the Tyndale Monument.  After the first steep climb up Stinchcombe Hill you come to the golf course.  You can either walk round the golf course or cut straight across it.  Our plan was to go straight across.  We later met some walkers who had chosen to walk around it and the verdict was 'not worth the extra miles'!

We stayed at The Swan in Wotton-under-Edge (tel:01453 843004). Very comfortable and good pub food.
The Swan Hotel

Day Six 14.5 miles (am): Wotton-under-Edge to Hawkesbury Upton 7.5 miles  (pm): Hawkesbury Upton to Tormarton 7 miles

A nice walk along the valley to ease us in to the penultimate day of walking, followed by another steep climb.  Once on top of the hill the path cut off a nice gravel bridle way through some grassy meadows and was a little difficult to follow.  We emerged soaking wet into a woodland and then back onto the gravel bridleway.  The detour it seemed was all so we could get a better look at Nanny Farmer's Bottom.

Nanny Farmer's Bottom
Just off the trail at Hawkesbury Upton is the Beaufort Arms.  You just keep walking on through the village instead of turning right at the green to follow the trail.  There's then a footpath from the pub back to the trail and it is another pub well worth stopping at.

That evening we arrived in the lovely village of Tormarton to stay at The Little Smithy which is a gem of a B&B.

We were entertained in the not to be missed Major's Retreat.  More excellent pub grub and local beers.

Day Seven: Tormarton to Bath 16 miles

The plan was to head to Cold Ashton for lunch - 6.5 miles in to our 16 mile day, but having set off not long after 9.00 am we were in Cold Ashton around 11 and in all my planning I hadn't remembered that the Folly End Farm was slightly off the trail, so we had walked on past and through the village before we realised we'd missed it.  We decided not to turn back, but I slightly regretted that decision two hours and another 6 miles later as there is nowhere else to stop and I don't think I made the most of the last few miles before we arrive at the village of Weston on the way into Bath - because all I could think about was a toilet!  So I'd advise a stop at Folly End Farm so you can fully enjoy the views later.

After a brief stop for a half of Severn Valley cider in Weston we continued on into Bath, but you don't just amble down to the town centre by the quickest route.  There are of course a couple more big hills to climb in case you didn't feel you'd done enough of that already.  So, up Primrose Hill and up Sion Hill, with spectacular views over the city of course, but I think my favourite bit was sitting in the sunshine, enjoying a plate of bread and olives with oil and vinegar and a cold glass of Devon white wine at The Circus Cafe with a feeling of euphoria at having walked 100 glorious miles along the Cotswold Way.

The Cotswold Way in oil and vinegar

The Cotswold Way, the beginning and the end.