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 6 - Old Sodbury to Stonehouse

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Day 8 - Monday 15th June - GPS 22 miles

Old Sodbury to Dursley (B&B) via Stinchcombe Hill

I arose at 7.15 and got as much ready as I could so that I could get off fairly quickly after breakfast at 8.00. The young man who checked me in last night said that breakfast was served in the cottage, but it turned out that this was not the case and it was served in the pub. The breakfast was very good and I had decided not to ask for a packed lunch, as there was a filling station across the road where I had been able to get a sandwich to supplement the few things I still had left. I thought that I had already paid £35 for my B&B by credit card over the telephone when booking, but it turned out that the card details were only taken to guarantee the booking and when it came to paying my bill was only £25, which made a pleasant surprise. This was one of the few places with an actual single room rather than a double room for single occupancy, which was probably why the price was more reasonable. It was also not en-suite.

The weather was warm and sunny as I set off at 8.45 heading up the hill towards the village church. From the church, there was a good view across the Severn Valley and a Millennium Stone there had pointers to various landmarks including the two Severn Bridges, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, although distant haze prevented the farthest of these from being seen with any clarity, if at all.

There were a few steep ups and downs to start with as the route climbed up to one hill fort on the way to Little Sodbury and then, after passing a reservoir on the way to Horton, up to another hill fort. There was a folly on the hillside near the second hill fort acting as a nesting place for swallows, built as part of the Millennium project. Both of these vantage points gave good views across the Severn and along the hills of the Cotswolds, making the walking interesting and enjoyable. By now, I had shaken off any aches and pains: my feet were doing fine and I was accustomed to the weight of my pack, so I was able to enjoy the walking without dwelling on how far I had left to go. I knew that if I just kept going at a steady pace I would get to my destination at a reasonable time. This is ideally how it should be on a long distance walk, but it often turns out the other way round if aches and pains set in or the walking becomes boring. Further along, the landscape was less hilly, but there still a few things of interest to see and, further on past Hawkesbury, was a monument to Lord Robert Somerset, which could be seen for some distance beforehand.

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Small reservoir on the way to Horton
Reservoir near Horton
Folly above Horton Court built for nesting swallows
Folly above Horton Court
View NW near Hawkesbury
Near Hawkesbury

The monument looked as if it might be a good place for a rest, with possibly a chance to climb to the top for a view, but access to the site was closed and it was obviously not built with sightseers in mind, though the monument itself could be seen well from all around. I walked on further and stopped on the grass just before Lower Kilcott, having walked about six and a half miles. Along the way I had met several other Cotswold Way walkers: three elderly ladies, an elderly couple, and two chaps who were carrying camping gear, the others looking as if they were using a luggage transfer service.

The scenery started to improve again as I made my way from Lower Kilcott to Alderley and then Wortley. From there a steep, sunken track climbed up the hillside through the trees. It seemed to go on forever, with the gradient gradually becoming gentler and gentler until it finally levelled off at the top of the wold. Unfortunately, there was still no view, as I was still in the woods, and the route turned to the left and started to drop down again. I was just beginning to think that I had climbed all the way up and was going to drop back down again without even being rewarded with a view when the path levelled off again and exited the woods revealing wide open views across the Severn. From here, not only could the now familiar Severn Bridges be seen, but also the River Severn itself. Further along were fine views of the Cotswolds as I joined the road leading down to Wotton-under-Edge. From further down the road a very steep bridleway ran down to the valley bottom at the eastern end of the village, where the route joined a road for a short way before following a footpath by the stream towards the village centre.

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Sunken path up Wortley Hill
Path up Wortley Hill

I had been looking out for somewhere to stop for lunch and this seemed ideal, apart from the fact that quite a few people kept coming past. My GPS said that I was only two and a quarter miles from my destination for the night, but this was very deceptive as the route does a great deal of looping about near here, especially if you take the longer optional route around Stinchcombe Hill, which makes it about seven and a half miles from here. Having made good progress so far, I would have enough time to take the longer route without being pushed for time, but first I needed to call at a shop in Wotton-under-Edge to get some more to drink as my two litres of Kool Aid was not really enough in this hot weather.

At 14.20, I was off again towards the village, which was quite large with lots of facilities, so I called into the Tesco Express for a cool carton of orange and a packet of crisps. I thought it might be a good opportunity to send off some postcards, so I started looking for a shop that sold them. I walked up and down the high street and saw nothing. There was a shop advertising cards, so I asked in there, but the lady said that she didnít sell postcards but that I should try the Heritage Centre that did sell them. I followed the signs at the top end of the village and eventually reached the Heritage Centre only to find that it was closed, so I finally abandoned the idea, having wasted enough time already. This is obviously one of the Cotswold villages that is not on the tourist trail and just caters for locals.

Continuing on out of the village, I climbed up the hill where there was a circle of pine trees enclosed by a brick wall with a fine view across the valley. From then on, the views were hidden for quite a while first by trees beside the path and then by Westridge Wood until I finally emerged to see the Tyndale Monument on Nibley Knoll. On the way across to the monument there were good views and this time the monument was open to the public, allowing anyone to climb the 121 spiral steps to the top. It quite surprised me that, although there was natural lighting from small windows on the way up, there was also electric lighting installed. Apparently this was fitted when restoration work was undertaken as part of the Millennium Project. The monument was built in 1866 in remembrance of William Tyndale (1516 Ė 1587) who first translated the bible into English and who was martyred for his Protestant beliefs. At the top, the views were even better and I was able to get a more detailed view of the Severn Bridges through my binoculars. The only unfortunate thing was that a large band of black cloud was drifting across from the north making it look like I could be in for a downpour.

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Wooton Hill looking south
Wooton Hill
Tyndale Monument on Nibley Knoll
Tyndale Monument
Southend from Tyndale Monument
Southend from Monument

I made my way back down the steps and then down the steep path to Nibley, stopping for a drink and a rest before climbing Stinchcombe Hill. The dark cloud was still hovering nearby but not looking quite as dark as it was previously as I set off again at 16.45 towards the steep path up to Stinchcombe Hill. At the top was a sign saying Dursley via direct route ĺ mile, via Stinchcombe Hill 2ĺ miles. It was just 17.00 at this point, so I thought that I should be able to make it the long way round by about 18.00. It was starting to rain a little, but not enough to get wet as I made my way around the hillside with good views across to the Tyndale Monument and the valley below. Further round were fine views across the River Severn with hills in the distance that were either the Black Mountains or the Brecon Beacons. In fact, this was one of the best parts of the dayís walk, so was definitely worth the extra effort.

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Nibley and Tyndale Monument from Stinchcombe Hill
Tyndale Monument from
Stinchcombe Hill
Dursley from Stinchcombe Hill

Round the northern side of the hill the views were restricted by trees for most of the way, though there was one opening giving good views across the Severn and another with views over Dursley. Although I had been walking at quite a good pace without stopping much at any of the viewpoints, it was 18.05 before I reached the club house of the golf course with still about half a mile to go into Dursley, so I think that the mileage shown earlier on the post was a considerable under-estimate. A steep path led down from the Golf Club into Dursley and it was 18.15 by the time I reached the town.

My B&B was in Shakespeare Road so I looked on the map in the car park but couldnít find it on there. I entered the grid reference of the B&B into my GPS and it showed that I still had three quarters of a mile to go. To avoid the landlady getting worried because I wasnít there by my estimated time of 18.00, I telephone her to say I would be late and she gave me some directions, though I wasnít sure that I could remember them all without writing them down. My guidebook gave different directions, so I was undecided as to which would be the best, but headed in the directions given on the phone, also checking with my GPS to see how I was progressing. The B&B was on a housing estate, and like many housing estates, the roads were laid out in loops and curves with limited means of access from the main roads. Consequently I had to keep going along the main road when my GPS was telling me I should be way over to the left and it was some distance before I could find a way into the estate. Even then, I couldnít head directly to where I wanted to be because of the road layout and finally resorted to asking directions. By the time I found the place it was nearly 19.00 and I was getting rather tired, having walked about 22 miles. However, I was greeted with a mug of tea and some cake, which was very welcome, and spent some time chatting with Mrs Harding, who had done a lot of walking herself.

After a refreshing bath, I got ready to go into town for something to eat and drink, taking the route described in the guidebook, which proved to be considerably easier and more direct. Although there were several pubs in town advertising food, most of them only served meals at lunchtime or had finished serving earlier in the evening. However, I managed to find one, the Old Bell, that was still serving food at well past 20.00, so I had a pork chop with new potatoes and vegetables for £7.95 plus a couple of pints of Otter bitter at £2.50 a pint. Mrs Harding had been out over Stinchcombe Hill walking the dog whilst I was out and we chatted for a while on my return before I retired for the night.

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Day 9 - Tuesday 16th June - GPS 13.5 miles

Dursley to Ryeford near Stonehouse (B&B) via Uley Bury and Selsley Common

I had a nice breakfast at 8.00 and got off to a leisurely start at 9.30, as I didnít have as far to walk today. The weather was beautiful again and on my way into town I called in at the local Co-op to get sandwiches and yoghurt for lunch. Dursley did, at least, have shops selling postcards, so I sent a couple off and looked around town a little making it about 10.30 before I got started back on the route. On my way towards Cam Peak, I saw a young badger in the long grass beside the path. It made me wonder whether it was ill, as they are generally not seen out much in the daytime and it didnít seem in a hurry to rush away. A man with a young girl and a dog were coming down towards me, so I alerted them to the badger in case the dog decided to chase after it. After they had passed by, the badger retreated slowly into the long grass and was then out of sight.

A steep path led up out of the valley onto a ridge with Cam Peak just off the route, but it was well worth the short detour to the top for the glorious views. There were a number of people out walking including a group who were cooking up food beside the path. Another steep path took me up onto Cam Long Down, a ridge with more glorious views all around. There I met a chap who was out walking his dog. He was a Londoner but had lived in Dursley for forty years and was able to point out all the landmarks to me.

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Dursley from Peaked Down
Dursley from Peaked Down
Cam Long Down from Peaked Down
Cam Long Down
Uley Bury from Cam Long Down
Uley Bury from
Cam Long Down

After this fine bit of ridge walking, the way dropped down into a valley and up again to Uley Bury. The steep climb up there was along a sunken path under the shade of trees, which made it refreshingly cool on such a warm day, though it did cut off the views. At the top, there was the option of going just off the route for a walk around the Bury, an old, rectangular shaped hill fort. As I had plenty of time to spare, there was no problem in doing the extra mile circuit round the perimeter path, which gave more beautiful views for much of the way, except for some places that were shrouded by trees.

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Cam Long Down from Uley Bury Hill Fort
Cam Long Down
Downham Hill and Dursley from Uley Bury
Downham Hill and Dursley

It was now about time for a lunch break and I took the opportunity to tend to my feet. Earlier in the walk my feet had been doing very well, despite some days with fairly high mileage, but yesterday I started to get a couple of blisters, one on the side of my heel and the other on my big toe. Neither of them was very big, but it was better to burst them otherwise they would have spread and got much bigger. It seems strange for these to start after a week of trouble free walking, but I put it down to the fact that I was now walking at a slightly faster pace. In the earlier part of the walk, my walking speed was reduced because of the aches in my legs and this meant less rubbing of my feet and less tendency for blisters to start. Now that the aches had gone and I was getting into my stride, the greater flexing of my ankles and movement of my feet within my boots was causing more rubbing and hence more problems with blisters. In previous walks, I have often found that problems have started later in the walk, but I never quite realised the probable reason, though it all made more sense now. There are, of course, all sorts of other factors that can provoke blisters such as walking with wet feet or over a lot of uneven ground, but I couldnít put it down to any of these on this occasion.

Further on through Coaley Wood, the views were lost but the shade from the trees did make the walking easier in the heat of the day. I missed Hetty Peglerís Tump, just off the path, not knowing quite what I should be looking for, though a plaque further on mentioned it as a fine example of a burial chamber. There were a few spotted orchids here and there beside the path, and I passed a chap with a camera set up on a tripod, taking photographs of one. At times the hillside became very steep and the path neared the edge of a cliff dropping down beyond the fence. Eventually the route emerged from the trees into the bright sunshine with Coaley Peak just ahead. This place was a popular spot for tourists, probably because it had some great views across the Severn to the hills and mountains of Wales, but also because it was easily accessible from the nearby road, which had a large car park.

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Toposcope near Nympsfield with views to River Severn and May Hill
River Severn and May Hill
Nympsfield Long Barrow
Nympsfield Long Barrow
Middle Yard and Stonehouse from Pen Hill
Stonehouse from Pen Hill

From the toposcope, the bend in the River Severn, the site of a wildfowl park, was more clearly visible. May Hill had been prominent for some time, but now the Malvern Hills further north were in view, though the distant haze meant that the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons were only very faintly visible. Soon I came upon Nympsfield Long Barrow, which, being in the open rather than in woodland, couldnít be missed as easily as Hetty Peglerís Tump. It was then back into woodland again for a while and at the next place where there was an open view, I stopped for a rest and a spot of sunbathing until I thought it about time to press on. Before long, I was back into more woodland until coming to Pen Hill, where there was a choice of routes; the shorter route going directly to Stonehouse and the scenic route detouring over Selsley Common. I am always inclined to take a scenic route if I have the time, and today being a shorter dayís walk, meant I had no problem in doing so.

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Pyramidal Orchids on Selsley Common
Pyramidal Orchids
Toposcope on Selsley Common with view over Stonehouse
Selsley Common

Selsley Common was a lovely upland area with sweeping grassy slopes absolutely covered in orchids. I think they were pyramidal orchids, as they didnít have spotted leaves, though I wasnít quite sure. I have seen places with a fair number of orchids before, but never seen them as prolific as this and covering such a large area. The views across the valley were great and the distant haze had now largely dispersed, making Sugar Loaf and the Black Mountains clearer to see. There was another toposcope near the summit and most of the features indicated on it were visible in these better conditions. This had made a fine finish to the dayís walk, so I was very glad that I had taken this route even though it was about two miles longer.

The path dropped down the grassy hillside towards the road near All Saints Church at Selsley West. The church was covered in scaffolding and sheeting, being in the middle of renovation work, so it spoiled the appearance of what looked like a very impressive building. Further down the road a path ran across fields towards the A419 at the bottom of the valley. This road was very busy, as seems to be the case with many of the main roads around the Cotswolds, though there were at least some pedestrian lights to help me to cross and the route soon joined a cycle track on an old railway embankment running parallel to the road before crossing the River Frome and joining the Stroudwater Canal towpath. This sounds as if it might be picturesque, but in fact it was rather industrialised and not very attractive at all.

My B&B was in a fine old house, Merton Lodge, on the road running near to the canal. It was next door to a pub, the Ryeford Arms but this had, unfortunately, closed down last year, so the nearest place to eat was in Stonehouse, about a mile further along the road. After a cup of tea, a shower and washing out some of my things, I headed off along the road for something to eat. Everything I passed on the way seemed to belong to the Wycliffe Prep School, with every entrance marked with a gate number to various school buildings and playing fields along the way. Such places are generally deeply into sports activities, so there were quite a number of sports fields occupying large areas of land.

As I reached Stonehouse, I passed a chip shop, so I decided to have a pint in the pub and then call back there for fish and chips. Across the road, in the Woolpack Inn, I had a pint of Abbot Ale at £3.20 from their good selection of real ales, and sat not far from an old chap who was talking to himself Ė not just a few little mutterings, but a lengthy monologue, which was quite disconcerting. He went up to the bar, where he seemed to have quite a lucid conversation with the bar person, but then returned and continued to ramble on to himself, so I finished my pint and went to the chip shop.

Whilst waiting for my fish and chips, a teenage girl came in and ordered something. After a few minutes there was the sound of a horse whinnying and the chip shop owner kept telling the girl that she should leave her horse outside, though there was no horse anywhere to be seen. It then dawned on me that the sound, which was very realistic, was actually the ring tone on her mobile phone as she received a number of text messages. I have heard all sorts of ring tones, but never one like that which genuinely sounded as if there was a horse outside. After eating my fish and chips, I returned to the Woolpack for a pint of London Pride at the slightly lesser price of £3.05 before returning to the B&B.

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