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 4 - Rodmarton to Box

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Day 4 - Thursday 11th June - GPS 15.4 miles

Rodmarton to Pinkney (B&B)

I had breakfast at 8.00 and tucked into everything as I had very little left in my packed lunch box and wasn’t too sure whether the shop on the way in Avening would be open. So many small shops are unable to remain viable with competition from supermarkets, especially in a recession. Some of my washing was still a bit damp despite being hung next to the oil fired boiler, which has been running 24/7 since the early 1960s.

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Rodmarton Church from Village Green
Rodmarton Church
Route through fields near Hazleton Manor - wet from overnight rain
Near Hazleton Manor

It was a beautifully sunny morning with a freshness in the air so conducive to walking. After taking a quick look around the village, I was on my way at 9.20, retracing my way along the road to where I had left the route yesterday. The bright sunshine made everything so much more pleasant, even though much of the walking was along straight paths through field after field, or on minor roads. There were places where paths were overgrown with grass or crops still wet from yesterday’s rain, and my shorts and socks got quite wet though I knew they would soon dry out again in the sunshine.

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Village Green, Cherington
Cherington Pond, Nature Reserve
Cherington Pond

After a couple of miles I came through the village of Cherington with its old well head on an attractive village green, then down by Cherington Pond, a local nature reserve. Judging by the number of cars parked there, it was a very popular place, but I didn’t see much evidence of their occupants, though they could have been members of a group working somewhere else in the reserve. The pond was covered in water lilies, some of them just starting to open out in the sunshine.

More road walking brought me into the village of Avening, where I was pleased to find that the Post Office/ Village Store was open, though this not surprising as this was quite a large, busy village and I even encountered a mini traffic jam as I was trying to cross over to the shop. Climbing up the hill out of the village, I stopped for a rest and a drink, looking back towards Gatcombe Park on the opposite side of the valley, home of the Princess Royal and venue of the renowned Horse Trials. The weather turned cooler and there was a brief shower, but still quite a bit of blue sky around. By now, I was finding the walking easier and getting used to the weight of my pack. I still had a few aches in my legs, but these were improving as time went on, which meant that I was able to walk at a slightly faster pace.

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Gatcombe Park from above Avening - Home of the Princess Royal
Gatcombe Park
Chavenage House - Elizabethan manor house
Chavenage House

The next section proved to be one of the most overgrown so far. There were some vast meadows traversed by a little-trodden footpath. The first meadow wasn’t too bad, as the grass wasn’t so thick or high, but in the second one it was both high and very thick. Fortunately it was only a little wet from the recent shower, otherwise I would have become saturated. Stiles were overgrown with nettles that had to be avoided and, further on, the entrance to a footpath from the road was so overgrown with bushes that I had to fight my way through only to encounter nettles on the other side. The only thing to be said in its favour was that here the route through corn fields had been sprayed with weed killer to about a metre width, so they were easy to negotiate.

I emerged onto the road by Chavenage House, a fine Elizabethan manor house, which happened to be open to the public today as it was Thursday, the other opening day being Sunday, though I wasn’t inclined to go in. After taking a look at the house from the driveway, I continued on my way with the sun now shining in full force along with a strong wind, as I stopped for a lunch break. Despite the wind, it was still very pleasantly warm in the strong sunshine as I relaxed on the grass by the wayside sheltered from the full force of the wind by some trees. I had a good, long spell of sunbathing, as I had only about six miles left to walk and had plenty of time to spare, hoping that I might change the colour of my legs from their present ‘whiter shade of pale’. I also took the opportunity of laying my damp washing out to dry in the sun and wind, also taking off my boots to give my feet an airing.

At 15.00, it was about time to make a move, so I headed across more fields towards Westonbirt. There were several people riding horses around one field, this whole area being very much geared up to horse riding. I also noticed in my guidebook a polo pavilion marked nearby. Further on, the path skirted around the perimeter of the Westonbirt Arboretum, though from the path, it was a matter of being unable to see the arboretum for the trees, as there were some densely planted trees round the outside restricting the view of the more interesting trees further in. After a while, there were some better views into the interior and eventually, the path entered the part of the arboretum that is freely open to the public. On the way, however, there were three electric fences across the route of the path, none of them either signposted with warnings or provided with any means of crossing them. However, as the fences were not too high and the supporting posts were well spaced I took the option of treading the wire to the ground with my boot in order to get across. Had my boots been wet, however, this wouldn’t have been such an easy option. This is just one example of the disregard for public rights of way that occur in some areas.

After a lot of rather uninteresting walking, the way through the arboretum made an interesting and welcome change. There were some magnificent examples of a wide variety of mature trees laid out around broad avenues, all looking at their best in the bright sunshine. No doubt the part for which paid entry was required had even more exotic species, though it must take quite a long time to explore fully, as the site boasts 13,000 trees and 600 acres of grounds.

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Broad Drive, Westonbirt Arboretum
Westonbirt Arboretum
Broad Drive, Westonbirt Arboretum
Westonbirt Arboretum
River Avon near Sherston
River Avon near Sherston

Departing from the arboretum, the path towards the road was heavily overgrown, partly with nettles, making it necessary to walk through the edge of the crops, which still was not easy. After a stretch of road walking, the next obstacle course was a recently ploughed and planted field where the path should run diagonally across. There was no path at all, so I had to make my own route across which again wasn’t easy. Once I reached the road to Sherston, I then went in the opposite direction of the route for three quarters of a mile to my B&B in Pinkney.

When I arrived, there was a bit of a problem with the family dog, which was in the garden as it apparently didn’t like strange men – here I go again, being classified as strange! The landlady had quite a problem getting it indoors, which she had to do before she could let me in via the back entrance. Once inside, the dog was quite alright so long as it had the chance to sniff around me for a while, though I was warned that there might be a problem when I returned from the pub later that evening. They do not do B&B here on a regular basis, generally only taking people at peak times such as when the nearby Badminton Horse Trials are on, but I was put onto them by another B&B that was fully booked.

When I tried to phone home I found that my mobile phone had only a limited service for emergency calls through another network, but no service from O2. I had come prepared for just such an eventuality, having bought a phone card last year from the Post Office, but had not needed to use it then. There was a phone box conveniently placed just across the road, saying that it wouldn’t accept coins, which is becoming the case more and more with the phone boxes that have not already been removed. When I used my card, I was surprised to hear that, once I had activated the PIN, it would only remain valid for 90 days. Also my £5 card would give me only 21 minutes of time on a UK national call home. Bearing in mind the generally low cost of telephone calls these days, with BT offering 20 minutes for 40p from many of their coin-operated phone boxes, the phone card prices seemed rather excessive. Also, as phone cards are often used for just the occasional call when there is no mobile phone reception, a time limit of 90 days of use may well mean, as in my case, that one call can end up costing £5, even if it is a very short call. I can see no justification for a 90-day expiry period and it seems to me just a way of ripping people off. I checked up later on the call pricing and found that the prices were very reasonable to UK and international destinations, but that there was a 20p a minute surcharge from payphones, so they are good value for foreign visitors, say, provided that they use something other than a payphone and are able to make good use of the card within the 90-day period.

I made my way back along the road into Sherston and then found that as soon as I got out of the dip in the road, I had reasonable reception on my mobile phone, so I needn’t have used the card anyway. The first pub in the village was the Carpenter’s Arms, a little under a mile away. The prices were more reasonable than in some places I had come through, with most main courses costing less than £10, and beer at £2.85 a pint. I had some very nice hake with boiled potatoes and a sauce for £8.90. On my way back into the B&B, I was spared any further encounters with the dog, as I was able to enter via the back door and go directly up to my room.

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Day 5 - Friday 12th June - GPS 16.8 miles

Pinkney to Box

It was raining a little when I first got up for breakfast at 8.00, but by the time I had finished and was ready to set off at 9.00, it had cleared up and there were a few patches of blue sky. After rejoining the route on the way into Sherston, I called in the Post Office Shop, where I bought a baguette and some crisps to add to my lunch supplies.

Dropping down on the road out of the village, the route then ran beside a stream to the village of Brook End where there was a ford on the way into the village with a large blue sign saying ‘Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles’ and at the other side of the ford a red triangular sign saying ‘Try your Brakes’. This made me wonder just who the second sign was aimed at. Cyclists would most likely cross by the footbridge, and the only other non-motorised vehicles I could think of would be a horse drawn carriages, though they would be very few and far between. Perhaps they thought that, if motorists ignored the blue sign, they might at least take notice of the red one!

There was another ford at the other end of the village and the stream made the walk a little bit more interesting for a while. At the next village of Luckington, was an interesting looking church just next to a building with small lions on its stone gateposts. Through the churchyard was the main driveway to the church and this was overhung with some huge trees from Luckington Court, which bordered onto it.

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Mature trees of Luckington Court overhanging church driveway
Luckington Church
Close encounter with a bull

The update sheet to the guidebook warned that the route to Littleton Drew could be a little difficult to follow and, sure enough, this proved to be the case. It started off reasonably well despite overgrown paths, but it wasn’t long before I strayed off the route a little though I then managed to find it again. Further along, however, I went completely off-track. The guidebook suggested looking for the church tower as a landmark to head towards, but I could see no sign of a church tower anywhere, only a church spire in completely the wrong direction, so I headed across a field of cows in what I thought was roughly the right direction, only to be confronted by another bull that started to move towards me. After changing my course away from him, he then took no further notice and I was able to reach a minor road at the other end of the field.

I could see from the sketch map in the guidebook that there was a railway line nearby, and I could see a railway bridge crossing the road not far away, so I made my way to it and climbed up the overgrown embankment to see if I could find my bearings, but this didn’t help and I was still unsure as to whether I was east or west of where I should have been. My best option seemed to be to follow the road roughly southwards and hope that I would find a signpost. It wasn’t long before the road climbed slightly uphill and the church tower came into sight a little to the east of where the road was heading. Rather than trying to cut across fields, I continued along the road to a T-junction near the entrance to the village. Checking the odometer on my GPS against the distance shown in the guidebook, I had not had to walk much extra distance, so nothing was lost other than a bit of time trying to work out which way to go. It did, however, remind me of just how vulnerable I was with only the very sketchy maps in the guidebook showing little detail either side of the route and with no grid lines or references.

I stopped for a rest on a seat on the village green opposite the church, having done six miles, and set off again at 12.05 with the weather overcast, rather cool and with occasional spots of rain, though there were a few brighter spells earlier. Soon came the busy M4 motorway on a bridge over the minor road out of the village. After crossing By Brook and traversing some fields, I nearly missed Lugbury Long Barrow, but then turned back to take a closer look. It was in the middle of a field recently sown with crops and the barrow itself was heavily overgrown with nettles, which made it difficult to take a good look, though the big stones of its main tomb were fairly clear to see.

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Entrance stones of Lugbury Long Barrow
Lugbury Long Barrow
Neo-gothic bridge by Castle Combe Golf Course
Bridge near Castle Combe

A little further on, the route entered the golf course of the Manor House Hotel, with several golfers playing round and about. This was quite an attractive valley, despite the golf course, with a neo gothic bridge crossing By Brook. For the first time in quite a long distance there was a hill of some significant size with the path going up the valley side and through woods. At the top it opened out giving a view of Castle Combe Church over a wall and some grounds on the steep hillside with a high level walkway.

Dropping down the hill, I entered Castle Combe itself and found it to be a very picturesque village. A lot of other people obviously felt the same way, as it was overrun with tourists, many of them sitting on tables outside the Castle Inn Hotel and the White Hart Inn, both of which overlooked the ancient market cross. Despite the crowds, this seemed like a good place to stop for my lunch, sitting on a seat by the entrance to the church, as it is often difficult to find anywhere comfortable to sit along the way.

I set off again at 14.10, with about seven and a half miles left to walk. Near the bottom end of the village was a picturesque group of cottages overlooking the the river By Brook. In 1966, this setting was used as the harbour for the film Doctor Doolittle, which involved building a dam to flood the river and this was not popular with many of the locals at the time. At Castle Combe, the scenery had taken a sudden change for the better. Instead of long flat fields, there were now steep sided valleys, with the route climbing up the hillsides making the walk far more interesting. Even when the route followed minor roads, some of them weaved around and meandered up and down making them far less monotonous than the straight, level ones I had grown accustomed to for much of the walk in recent days. There were not always good views because of the trees, but the whole thing gave me a better feeling.

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Market Cross, Castle Combe
Market Cross, Castle Combe
By Brook at Castle Combe (flooded in 1966 to make harbour for Dr Doolittle film)
By Brook at Castle Combe
Improving scenery looking back along the route near Ford village
Near Ford village

The route roughly followed By Brook for much of the way, and this added to the scenery with its various bridges and views of the water. I lost the way slightly towards Slaughterford, but soon managed to reach the village via a farmyard to quickly regain the route. Weavern Lane was very waterlogged as it ran through the woods with deeply rutted tracks filled with water, and larger puddles in places, so it took a bit of careful footwork to get along. As I emerged from the woods, I took a little rest on a chopped-off tree stump beside the track and finished off my drink with about three miles left to go.

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Looking back to Ford village from By Brook
Ford village from By Brook
By Brook with Box Church spire just in view
By Brook near Box

After a while, the route dropped down into the valley to follow By Brook for the rest of the way. There was a bit of a confusion of pathways near Box Mill, so I just chose one that seemed to be going roughly towards Box Church and this eventually came out by large playing fields with the Queen’s Head, my destination for the night, at the top end. I arrived at 17.40 and, after phoning home, watching the news and having a shower, I went downstairs for a drink and a meal. The prices here were much more reasonable, with most main courses costing from £6.50 to £7.50. I settled for a very nice rump steak at £6.95 together with a couple of pints of Wadworth 6X at £2.90 a pint.

At the time of booking my accommodation, I was told that I could either have a Continental breakfast at any time, or a cooked breakfast at 10.00, which I though was rather odd. However, it seems that this is just at the weekend when they like to have a lie in. The options also included having a packed lunch instead of breakfast, so I decided to go for that. Although I was in no rush tomorrow with only six miles to walk, I didn’t particularly want to hang around waiting for a late breakfast. The packed lunch was left out for me later in the evening, so I could leave at whatever time I wanted in the morning.

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