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 5 - Box to Old Sodbury

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Day 6 - Saturday 13th June - GPS 7.5 miles

Box to Bath (YMCA)

I got up at 8.00 and had half of my packed lunch for breakfast along with a cup of tea, using the facilities in the room. The weather was not bad with reasonable patches of blue sky and a fairly good forecast. Having paid for my room in advance, all I had to do was let myself out of the Queen’s Head, making sure that I hadn’t forgotten anything, as I wouldn’t be able to get back in again.

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Attractive gardens at foot of Box Park
Box Park

After wandering down by the church, which was close by, I headed back down the playing fields to rejoin the route at the bottom, which initially passed by some attractive park gardens. Box was a much larger and busier place than most of the places I had encountered along the way, being only six miles from Bath and on the main A4 trunk road, though there is still a lot of very nice countryside around, despite evidence of much more residential development. One of its claims to fame is that it is at the western end of Box Tunnel: a great engineering achievement on Brunel’s Great Western Railway. It was not far from the tunnel entrance where I rejoined the route, although it was difficult to get a very good view of it from down there. There is another minor tunnel just to the west of the main tunnel, and the route skirted around the hill that the tunnel went straight through. Again, there were limited views of the entrances to this tunnel from the route as it followed the now familiar By Brook along the valley. There were some very attractive landscaped gardens at the bottom edge of the playing fields before the way led across a field just up the side of the valley.

Some of the directions in the guidebook were difficult to follow, as things on the ground have changed somewhat since publication: gates and stiles have been changed, hedgerows have been ploughed out and trees and bushes have matured, blotting out some of the landmarks from view. This has been quite a common problem throughout the route, though it has been largely compensated for by the very good waymarking along most of the way. Here, though, there was no waymarking to help in the immediate vicinity, though it was obvious from the sketch map that I needed to stay parallel with By Brook, and this was easily achieved by following the upper edge of the recently ploughed and planted fields, even if that were not the correct route of the path.

The roadway had led me to a fairly elevated position up the valley side, and I stopped for a rest and a drink just before Bathford, overlooking the sunlit valley with wooded hills behind, and a glimpse of much denser urban development further west on the outskirts of Bath. From there, the route dropped back down towards the main road, but just before I reached the bottom, I noticed a bee orchid right in the middle of the little-trodden path. Bee orchids are quite uncommon, and are often hunted for with great difficulty by keen botanists, so I was very surprised to see one in such a prominent place and also surprised that it had not been trampled upon. On further investigation, I found another three in the area nearby, but the first one I saw was the finest specimen.

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Bee Orchid on pathway near A4
Bee Orchid
Ducks by Kennet and Avon Canal, Bathhampton
Kennet and Avon Canal

After crossing the busy A4 and going up the hill to Bathford, the route dropped down again to cross By Brook for the very last time, just before its confluence with the River Avon. Shortly afterwards, at Bathampton - everywhere around here is prefixed with Bath - I joined the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath along to Bathwick. The weather by now was beautiful and the canal was a popular place for walkers, joggers and cyclists as well as those on barges. For once, I didn’t look odd in shorts, as the warm sunshine had encouraged many others to wear them, and by now my legs had taken on a more healthy looking colour than the deathly white they were at the start of the walk.

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House built over Kennet and Avon Canal near Bathwick
House over Canal, Bathwick
The Moorings, Kennet and Avon Canal, Bathwick
The Moorings, Bathwick
Locks on Kennet and Avon Canal, Bathwick
Locks at Bathwick

There were several interesting features along the canal, including a fine house built on a bridge over the canal, and a number of very elegant portals on some of the short tunnels. The route turned off towards Bath just before the flight of locks, but I decided that a bench just by the first lock would make an ideal spot for a lunch break in the warm sunshine.

Just across the canal, on a wall that stood a good twelve feet high on the canal side, though just a few feet above his garden on the other side, stood a man with some pruning shears. He must have spent about half an hour there, balancing on top of the wall, chatting to his neighbours down below and doing the occasional clip here and there once in a while. He showed no signs of fear about falling off into the canal, though I suppose that falling into the canal wouldn’t have been anywhere near as dangerous as would falling onto a hard surface from that height. I did get the impression though, that he was showing off a bit to his neighbours and the many passers by. Eventually, he returned to his house without any mishap, and the show was over.

I dropped down the path from the canal and it was not long before I was entering the city of Bath, passing the Cricket Club, the Parade Gardens and on to Bath Abbey which marked the end of the Cross Cotswold Pathway section of the walk and the start of the Cotswold Way. The city centre was quite familiar, as my wife and I had visited it several months ago, but in cold, wet weather. Everything looked so much better in the warm, sunny conditions, except for the fact that there were so many more people about, with sightseeing buses everywhere and masses of pedestrians walking around the streets. It wasn’t long before I found the YMCA where I had booked a room for the night. It was quite busy at the YMCA, with a few groups of people checking in. They have beds available in dormitories, much like the YHA do, but none of these were available when I booked, so I had to take the more expensive option of a private room, though this was still quite reasonable compared to what I would have had to pay in a B&B in Bath. The room had a fine view over the rooftops to the Abbey and the rest of the city centre, and I was able to drop off my things there before going out for a leisurely walk around the city for the rest of the afternoon.

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Pulteney Bridge over River Avon, Bath
Pulteney Bridge, Bath
Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey
Pulteney Bridge over River Avon, Bath
Pulteney Bridge, Bath

The YMCA was not far from The Circus, a fine example of Georgian architecture designed by John Wood the Elder, though he died three months before it was completed, leaving his son John Wood the Younger to oversee its completion. From there, I continued onward to visit the Royal Crescent, one of Bath’s most famous landmarks, designed by John Wood the Younger. Beyond there were the Royal Victoria Garden and the Botanical Gardens where I did a spot of sunbathing before the sky clouded over. There were quite a number of people about taking advantage of the good weekend weather, though the gardens were big enough for it not to be overcrowded.

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Royal Crescent, Bath
Royal Crescent, Bath
Royal Victoria Park, Bath
Royal Victoria Park, Bath
Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey

At the end of the afternoon, I headed back for a shower at the YMCA before going out to find something to eat. As well as all the expensive restaurants and bars that would be expected in an elegant city like Bath, there were also pubs that were part of large chains, offering food and drink at very reasonable prices. The recession had sparked a bit of a price war throughout the country, with all sorts of cheap meal deals to be had, and I settled for a 10oz gammon steak with all the trimmings for £6.25 in the Litten Tree not far along the road. Later, I wandered around the town again, picking up a few things for tomorrow’s lunch in a Sainsbury’s Local before retiring to my bed.

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Day 7 - Sunday 14th June - GPS 20.7 miles

Bath to Old Sodbury (Pub B&B)

I had intended to set off as early as possible, as I had quite a long way to go but, after a fitful night’s sleep, interrupted by late night revellers outside until after dawn and then by a loud chorus of birds, I dropped off to sleep again at about 6.30 and didn’t wake up again until 7.45. In a bit of a rush, I managed to get down for breakfast at 8.05 to find the whole breakfast bar filled with a large group of Frenchmen, probably a coach party. The room price included a continental breakfast, but a full English breakfast was available for an extra £2.10. I eventually managed to get served and found one of the few remaining tables, enabling me to down my breakfast, pack up my things and set off by 8.50, which wasn’t too bad, but a bit later than I had hoped.

Having already bought things for my lunch last night, I was able to get started on the walk straight away, and as I had already done the city centre part of the walk yesterday, I was able to head straight across to the Circus, then to the Royal Crescent and through the Royal Victoria Park to pick up the route up the hill out of the city. This was now the Cotswold Way, which I was walking in the opposite direction from normal. Fortunately, the Cotswold Way guidebook had fairly detailed maps for route finding rather than relying heavily on a route description as the Cross Cotswold Pathway had done. When walking a route in reverse, route descriptions are of very limited help, whereas maps can be used quite easily in either direction. It also helped that the route was very well waymarked, having been upgraded to National Trail status fairly recently.

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View from YMCA window over Bath City Centre
City Centre from YMCA
Entrance to Royal Victoria Park, Bath
Royal Victoria Park, Bath
Cotswold Way up Sion Hill, Bath
Sion Hill, Bath

The walk up the hill from the park was quite a steep climb followed by a steep drop back down again and several more ups and downs. This was more strenuous already that any of the walking I had done so far, but the scenery was also some of the best I had seen since the start of the walk. It helped, of course, that the sun was shining, but I now started to feel that I was doing some real walking for a change and not just trudging along to get to get through to the end of each day’s walk. The reason for the change of scenery was that the Cotswold Way follows the escarpment on the edge of the Severn Valley, whereas the Cross Cotswold Pathway just traverses the gently rolling countryside that makes up most of the rest of the Cotswolds.

There were quite a few people out and about – some out walking and some out jogging, which was not surprising on a sunny Sunday morning in a well populated area. Coming through Bath, I wondered where working class people managed to live, as all of the housing seemed to be so grand and expensive looking, but a couple of miles out of the city, I started to see blocks of utilitarian flats and more modest housing. After a few miles, the urban areas were left behind and replaced by open countryside as the way took to the higher ground.

Coming over Dean Hill, there were views of Beckford's Tower, a neo-classical folly on Lansdown Hill to the northeast, and at Kelston Round Hill I took the short permissive path to detour to the summit where a circuit of the small copse of trees enabled me to see a whole panorama. The Severn Bridges were visible out to the west, with the Cotswolds ranging onwards towards the north. I stopped at Prospect Stile for a rest and a drink near to a toposcope that pointed out all the landmarks, and met two walkers who were walking the whole of the Cotswold Way in the same direction as I was.

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Pendean Farm and Kelston Round Hill from Dean Hill
Kelston Round Hill
from Dean Hill
Looking back to Kelston Round Hill from Prospect Stile
Kelston Round Hill
from Prospect Stile
Battle of Lansdown display boards (some of many)
Battle of Lansdown
display boards

After all the early ups and downs, the route levelled out for some easier high level walking along the plateau at about 230m above sea level. Although the way remained close to the edge of the hill, the views were obscured quite a lot by trees, though there were a number of good vantage points from time to time, and both bridges over the Severn were becoming clearer with the large urban mass of Bristol also in view. The plateau was very flat and was the site of both a racecourse and a golf course, which I passed before encountering the first of the display boards commemorating the Battle of Lansdown in 1643.

The two other Cotswold Way walkers were already at the display boards, reading about the battle and trying to work out which side had won, which was not all that clear. As I stopped to have a look, they continued on to the next display board. About every hundred yards there was yet another display board or monument, some with a freshly painted decorative post bearing a metal flag at the top and imitation swords at the sides. This went on and on – there must have been about half a dozen of them in total – until I completely lost interest in the whole affair.

One of the problems with the route, if it can be called a problem, is that it is so well signposted that is generally not necessary to refer to the maps in the guidebook for quite long periods of time. As a result of this, I got completely out of touch with just where exactly I was. After the last plaque of the battle, I set off along the Cotswold Way route but was looking at the wrong place on my map. The way seemed to go on and on down a long, sunken lane with no turnings in either direction and I started to get worried as to whether I was going the right way. The two others, whom I had passed further back, were following me, but that didn’t necessarily mean that anything as they could just have been following me thinking that I knew the way.

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Fine view east from Battle of Lansdown battlefield, where I took the wrong route
E from battlefield

At the bottom of the lane, there were footpath signs but none of them were Cotswold Way signs, so I stopped and waited for the other two to catch up with me. Fortunately, they had an OS map, so we were able to work out where we were and where we had all gone wrong – we must have all missed a sign to the left at the top end of the lane. Luckily, one of the marked footpaths would take us back to rejoin the route about half a mile or so further along the valley without having to go all the way back up the hill. Just before getting back on the route, I decided to stop for a lunch break on the hillside as it would be more peaceful there than on the Cotswold Way itself. I had done over nine and a half miles, though only about nine miles of progress along the actual route.

The other two walkers were doing the walk more like a pub-crawl, with the whole way mapped out in pub stops both at lunchtimes and in the evenings. They were heading to the pub in Cold Ashton for their lunch and had been a little concerned that they had been delayed by the error of navigation and might be a bit late getting there, so they phoned to make sure that they would still be serving food.

At 13.45 I was on my way again, soon rejoining the route and starting a very steep climb, first up a farm track, then up a road with the gradient gradually easing off as I got further up. There was at least a good view as a reward for the climb before coming to the busy road crossing of the A46 on the way to Cold Ashton where the other two were having their pub lunch. In the village, I met up with a group of walkers who had come from Old Sodbury this morning: the place I was heading for tonight. They had stopped just by a very impressive looking house with fine views just opposite. The ‘great views’ are mentioned on the map in the guidebook, but not the house.

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View south from Cold Ashton
S from Cold Ashton
Manor House, Cold Ashton
Manor House, Cold Ashton
Dyrham House and Park (National Trust)
Dyrham House

On the way from Cold Ashton to Pensylvania, I had to cross the busy A46 again, and this was easier said than done. The traffic was very heavy and the queue for the nearby filling station was doing nothing to help matters, though it did eventually help me by bringing the traffic to a halt for a few moments, enabling me to dash across the road. I met several other Cotswold Way walkers on my way to Dyrham where I stopped for a rest and was passed again by the two who had stopped at the pub. I was off again at 15.30 with about seven miles still to go.

There was a fine view of Dyrham House, a National Trust property, through its gates with lots of people enjoying the sunshine in its grounds. Being a member, I could have gone in for free, but I had neither the time to spare nor the inclination to walk any extra distance wandering around the grounds, as I had enough walking to do to get to my destination. Past Dyrham, at Hinton Hill, the hillside had a series of tiered ridges that were the remnants of a strip lynchets field system from the Middle Ages. Further on, I encountered a long stretch badly overgrown path beside a field full of rape seed. It was bad enough ploughing through the mixture of undergrowth from one side and the rape seed on the other but when nettles started to be mixed in with it all, it was beyond a joke. By the time I had struggled through, the laces on both of my boots had become completely undone and I had several nettle stings on my legs.

I made another rest stop at the picnic area by Beacon Lane Plantation and finished off the last of my drink. It was still very hot in the bright sunshine, though there was a breath of cooler air in places to prevent it from being too oppressive. Setting off again at 16.45, I had to cross the A46 yet again with heavy traffic constantly streaming past. I was just wondering how I was going to manage it when a car flashed his headlights to let a lorry come out of a lay-by and I seized the opportunity to dash across.

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Strip Lynchets Field System at Hinton Hill near Dyrham
Strip Lynchets Field System
Dodington Park near Old Sodbury
Dodington Park
Entering the village of Old Sodbury
Old Sodbury

The landscape had become much flatter for the last few miles, and the route continued across fields to Tormarton, where it did a quick detour past the church before entering Dodington Park with its vast sweeping areas of grassland and trees. Although it looked very fine, it seemed endless as I neared the finish of a long day’s walking. At the top of a gentle hill, the landscape opened up giving even better views beyond, with a bowl shaped valley and sheep grazing at the bottom. Although there were one or two posts marking the way, it wasn’t very clear where park exit was. The map showed the corner of the field, but the posts tended to indicate somewhere further to the right, so I swung around in an arc, only to find that the map was, in fact, correct.

The park exit brought me onto the road leading into the village of Old Sodbury, where I was stopped by a passing motorist who asked for directions to the Village Hall. Of all the people to ask – someone with a large rucksack who was obviously not a local and who had just entered the village from the park, whereas he had already driven through part of it himself so would have had more chance of seeing it than me. I looked at my guidebook to see if that showed the Village Hall, but it didn’t, so I suggested that he would be better off asking a local. Soon after, at 18.15, I reached the Dog Inn where I was staying for the night, and was shown to my room in a row of cottages across the road. I had the use of a kitchen, conservatory and garden, which was very pleasant. My room didn’t have en-suite, but it was next door to the bathroom, which had both a bath and a shower. This often seems to be the case with rooms that aren’t en-suite, so if you like a relaxing bath after a day’s walk, it is better and cheaper than having en-suite rooms which seldom have a bath, though I did stay in one earlier in the walk that did.

When I got undressed to get into the bath, I realised that my arms looked almost black once they were out of the sunlight and my legs looked almost the same colour except with much more red to them. A few days of better weather had made a lot of difference to the pale shade I was earlier in the walk.

I had imagined Old Sodbury to be a quiet little village free from hustle and bustle, but found that it straddled a busy main road, so wasn’t the tranquil place I had expected, though it was still picturesque. After my bath, I went across the road to the pub and had some Wadworth 6X at £3.20 a pint: a price I had become accustomed to expect by now, and cottage pie and vegetables at £8.95, one of the cheaper options on the menu. There was a large beer garden and patio at the rear, but most of the tables were shaded from the evening sunshine, which was a pity. There was also a group of children running around everywhere screaming and shouting, which didn’t improve the experience. However, the cottage pie was very good and the people with the children eventually left, so things were a lot better then, though it was still a pity to be out of the sun. I got another pint and decided to drink that at one of the tables at the front of the pub, though they was next to the busy road.

Back in my room across the road, I watched TV for a while before going to bed. It was a very warm night, so I slept with my duvet half off most of time.

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