Cotswold Round 2009
Author: George Tod
This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
|Part 1 - Choosing, Planning and Training|
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I have reached the point in my long distance walking where I have done all of the walks in the UK that appeal to me, some of them twice and the Pennine Way three times. Each year it becomes more and more difficult to find another walk to do and last year I even devised a walk of my own around the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. I have often toyed with the idea of walking the West Highland Way, but have been put off by the fact that it mainly follows the valleys rather than taking to the mountains. One option I considered was to add extra days to the walk to climb some of the mountains, and last year it was brought to my attention that a walk has already been published, the Highland High Way, doing just this. However, this walk has a seriously difficult schedule of daily ascents that would be too much for me to achieve without ending up in a state of total exhaustion. Typical days involve 5,000 ft to 6,000 ft of ascent and one day has 8,000 ft with no easy way of splitting the walks into more manageable parts without dropping right down from the mountains and having to climb back up again the next day. Reading some accounts of people who have attempted it, most of them fail to keep going and either drop out or revert back to following the West Highland Way. Apart from the strenuous schedule, there is the likelihood of bad weather making conditions on the mountains very unpleasant. So, although there are some aspects of this walk that appeal to me, I decided that it would be just a bit too much to take on.
There are a number of walks that I have brushed aside in the past, not because they lacked merit, but because they are only about a week in duration, whereas I like to take on a walk of about two weeks. One of these is the Cotswold Way, some of the northern parts of which I have walked on day walks and found quite enjoyable, even though they are not as rugged and mountainous as the walks I favour most. However, whilst looking at details of the Cotswold Way, I found that there were a couple of extra walks put together by the Macmillan foundation to make it into a circular walk. The Cross Cotswold Pathway runs from Banbury to Bath using parts of the Macmillan Way. This joins up with the southern end of the Cotswold Way and then the Cotswold Link joins the northern end of the Cotswold Way at Chipping Campden back to Banbury.
One advantage of this walk was that my elder daughter lives in Shutford, a village about six miles from Banbury with the Cross Cotswold Pathway running about a mile away on one side of the village and the Cotswold Link running about two miles away on the other side of the village. This would mean that I could leave my car there and also have accommodation there at the start and end of the walk. Further planning showed that I could start by picking up the Cross Cotswold Pathway about five miles from its start at the nearest point to my daughterís house. Then towards the end of the walk I could be picked up from Chipping Campden at the end of the Cotswold Way, about 15 miles from Shutford and dropped back there the next morning to walk part of the Cotswold Link back to Shutford again. This just left a day to rejoin the Cotswold Link to Banbury and return to Shutford via the first few miles of the Cross Cotswold Pathway to the point where I had started. This would help a great deal in reducing the overall cost of accommodation, as B&B prices in the more popular parts of the Cotswolds can be rather expensive.
On the downside, the Cross Cotswold Pathway and the Cotswold Link promised not to be as interesting as the Cotswold Way, as they traverse more gentle countryside. About half of the walk would, therefore, not appeal to my passion for more rugged terrain. On the plus side, about 90% of the route would be completely new to me, which would partly compensate for it not being quite as interesting.
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The main essential in the planning phase is an accommodation guide for the route. The Cotswold Way has a number of guidebooks and I opted for the Trailblazer guide by Tricia & Bob Hayne (ISBN 978-1-905864-16-4) which is packed full of information including details of B&Bs along the way. The other two parts of the walk have been put together by the Macmillan Way Association, which publishes guidebooks and an accommodation guide.
The guidebooks were quite different in their approach to route finding. The Cotswold Way book shows a fair amount of detail and directions on the maps themselves with very little information in the text, whereas the Macmillan publications have extremely sketchy maps with very little detail but compensate by having very detailed route descriptions in the text. Neither could be said to be ideal, as there is nothing quite as good as sections of 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey maps that are used in National Trail Guides. I debated about whether to buy a set of OS maps to cover the walk, but decided that, as both walks were quite well waymarked, I could probably manage without. Over the past several years, I have become accustomed to using my GPS to locate my exact position whenever I have been uncertain about the route, but as none of my guidebooks showed any grid references, this would be of little use. The Cotswold Way guidebook does, however, have a list of waypoints for the various landmarks along the route, which could prove to be of some help for this part of the walk.
At various points along the way there is a distinct lack of accommodation, especially at a reasonable price, which makes the planning quite difficult in parts. This is quite a common problem with most long distance walks and it can mean that daily mileage can vary quite considerably to fit in with available accommodation. An additional problem is that, although there may be accommodation, there may be nowhere within a reasonable distance to get an evening meal. There are various ways that B&Bs cope with this if they do not offer evening meals themselves. Some places will offer a lift to and from a pub and one place even offered me the use of a car so that I could drive myself to a pub.
Pubs themselves often have accommodation which is generally of a reasonable price, and this was the case in some places around the Cotswolds, but in the more popular tourist places some pubs were asking as much as £70 or £80 for a single room, so I was quite concerned when I started to book that costs would start to soar above what I have usually had to pay. However, things were not as bad as I anticipated, and most of my accommodation was in the range of £25 to £35 for B&B, with only two at higher prices of £40 and £45, whilst one was only £23. The advantage of the Cotswold Way guidebook was that it had only been published this year so all the information, including prices, was up-to-date. On the other hand, the accommodation guide produced by the Macmillan Association gave no indication of price, not even rough price bands, so it was a matter of making telephone enquiries about price and availability before deciding whether to book or to try elsewhere.
There are one or two Youth Hostels on or near the way as well as a YMCA hostel in Bath, which I managed to book. However, I missed out on the YHA hostel at Stow-on-the-Wold, as the Macmillan guide didnít mention it. I also decided against the hostel in Cheltenham as it is quite a long way from the main Cotswold Way route. Eventually, I managed, with the help of my wife, to get the whole route booked with a schedule that, though not ideal, was manageable. The only part that I had real reservations about was the section from Crickley Hill to Wynchcombe, which, according to the distance chart I was using, came out at 21.5 miles. Unfortunately, the nearest B&B to the route had no vacancies, so I had to book accommodation at Little Witcombe, a mile and a half off-route. The prospect of a 23-mile day didnít thrill me, especially as I had fairly long days before and after, but it was too late to make any changes at this stage, so I would just have to press on to get there. Fortunately, Winchcombe has several places to eat, including the pub where I had booked B&B, so it wouldnít matter if I were rather late arriving.
Normally, I like to get in a series of mountain walks on the lead up to a long distance walk as this gets me into good shape and avoids some of the problems that can occur in the early days of a walk. In this instance, I had so many other things to occupy me that all of this had to go by the board. Our hotel had suffered extensive flooding from a burst pipe at the beginning of the year and there was a lot of work to be done getting it back to normal. Also, my younger daughter had just bought a house in rather derelict state and my help was needed to try to get it into a habitable condition as quickly as possible. This meant that the only walks of any significance that I had done this year were three in January and one in the middle of March and I hadnít even put my boots on for nearly three months before the start of this walk. All the walking I had managed to do in this time was a walk of two to three miles per day on the flat walking the dog. There was no shortage of physical activity during this time, but, apart from helping to keep me generally fit, it was a poor substitute for some good hill walking.
This was not the best position to be in when embarking on a long distance walk, and goes against all of my recommendations, but it was just a case of having to set off and hope for the best. On the plus side, this walk was going to be less strenuous than many that I have undertaken with considerably less hill climbing, but on the other hand, some of the daily mileages were quite considerable and likely to cause a few problems without the right training.
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