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 7 - Stonehouse to Winchcombe

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Day 10 - Wednesday 17th June - GPS 19.5 miles

Stonehouse to Little Witcombe (B&B) via Crickley Hill

It was rather overcast at first, but the sun started to break through by the time I was having breakfast at 8.00. The landlady was saying that her B&B trade had been hit badly by the recession, as most of it came from people visiting local businesses rather than walkers or holidaymakers, and they had been cutting back quite a lot. As she lived on her own, what she disliked most of all was the boredom of not having much to do and having little company.

By the time I had finished breakfast, got myself ready and picked up a rather costly sandwich from the nearby filling station, it was 9.00 and the sun had gone in again. There was a shortcut from the back garden of Merton Lodge, through the school playing fields, to the Cotswold Way where it crossed the railway line via a footbridge before heading over to Maiden Hill. At the top of Maiden Hill, the views were very lacklustre with May Hill just a grey shape and none of the more distant hills visible. The consolation was that the walking was a lot easier in the cool conditions, especially when climbing uphill.

I entered Standish Wood, which is owned by the National Trust, and very soon came to a junction of paths and tracks without any waymarks. This concerned me a little, but I just took the main track that seemed to be going in roughly the right direction and followed it along for some distance with no sign of any waymarks, which made me wonder whether the National Trust didnít like waymarks on their land or whether I was on the wrong track. I consoled myself by the fact that the wood, though long, was not very wide so, provided I stayed roughly along a middle line, I couldnít go far wrong. Also, at the far end, the wood tapered in to a point, so I was likely to meet up with proper route by then. Further along were some footpath waymarks, but none of them had a Cotswold Way marker until I eventually came near to the end of the wood and merged onto the Cotswold Way path. By the exit from the wood was a map where I discovered that I must have entered the wood a little way to the left of where I should have and I ended up taking a parallel route further down the hillside. However, nothing was lost, as it was only about the same distance as the proper path.

From the wood was some open ground leading towards a very grand toposcope in the form of a 3D relief map of the hills nearby with pointers all around to distant landmarks. At this point, I was looking back almost due south, as the route tends to twist and turn to take in various viewpoints. Swinging back round first to the north and then to the west led to Haresfield Beacon, another hill fort with a good panoramic view. Turning again to the east and then to the south, the route came back to within a quarter of a mile of where I came out of Standish Wood having covered a few miles in the process. However, I didnít mind this, as it provided me with some good walking and fine views along the way. For much of the way now there was woodland until I reached a clearing coming out of Halliday Wood and stopped for a rest, having done nearly six miles.

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3D Toposcope overlooking Standish Park
3D Toposcope
Trig Point on Haresfield Beacon Hill Fort
Haresfield Beacon

At 11.50, I was off again and shortly entered an area of old quarries where there were quite a number of spotted orchids as well as other varieties. There was one much larger white orchid that I had not seen before so I took a photograph for identification later, and as far as I can work out it was a butterfly orchid. At the bottom, by the Edgemoor Inn, was a sign saying that it was a National Nature Reserve and that there were a large number of different types of orchid to be found. From here, there was a good view across the valley towards my next port of call, Painswick, on the next hill.

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Painswick from Edgemoor Inn
Painswick from Edgemoor Inn
Unusual Cotswold Way sign on way to Painswick
CW sign near Painswick

On the way to Painswick, I came to a rather unusually shaped sign mounted on a stone pillar saying ĎThe Cotswold Way Ė Chipping Campden 47 milesí and there was a stretch of walking through open countryside for a change after so much woodland earlier.

All morning, I had been meeting Cotswold Way walkers coming towards me and, unlike walkers I had met on other days, they were mostly carrying their own baggage on their backs. This was roughly the half-way point of the Cotswold Way, so people setting off at the weekend would reach here about now. This would explain the larger numbers, but not why few of them were using baggage transfer services.

Painswick is very attractive town and St Maryís Church made a good spectacle as I entered, with its fine lych gate and the topiary of the many bushes in the churchyard. By now there were a few small spots of rain Ė some rain had been forecast for the middle of the day. As I made my way up towards Painswick Beacon, another iron-age hill fort, I passed through a golf course with some very tricky holes. The rain spots got larger and the wind sprung up again, so I decided to take a lunch break in the shelter of some trees at the entrance to a wood. There was a seat conveniently placed with some shelter from the trees but also with a view across the valley. It didnít keep the rain off completely, but it served me well enough for a while as I tucked into my rather expensive sandwich of Ďpeppered beef and smoked Applewood cheese with tomato, iceberg lettuce and honey mustard mayonnaise in malted wheatgrain breadí. It was at least different from run of the mill sandwiches and was very tasty, so the price was somewhat justified if only for the elaborate description on the packet!

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Church of St Mary, Painswick with all its topiary
Painswick Church
Painswick Beacon Hill Fort
Painswick Beacon
View west from Painswick Beacon
W from Painswick Beacon

The rain was gradually passing over - it was never very heavy but came along in short waves, so I made my way onwards at 13.50, having already done nearly nine miles. Further along, I passed some very ugly buildings belonging to a stone merchant beside a quarry and then went onward beside the golf course, which seemed like a continuation of the previous one. The Cotswold Way went to the right of the course, but a path to the left led to the top of Painswick Hill, which gave a great panoramic view. Had the weather been better, I would have stayed a bit longer to have a good look around, but there was a very strong wind blowing with rain in the air, so I just took a couple of quick photos and continued on my way to rejoin the Cotswold Way by the end of the golf course.

For quite a way, the route went through woods and, although it was now raining steadily with a strong wind blowing, I was sheltered from most of this and didnít need to put on my waterproofs. It was not until I eventually emerged into the open that I realised just how much the trees had been protecting me from the elements, and I then had to put on my waterproof jacket and pack things more securely in my rucksack. Rather than getting my glasses spattered with raindrops, I decided to take them off and rely on the waymarking rather than following the guidebook. Before long, I started to follow a steep path down a grassy hillside but, after a while, I realised that I was no longer on the Cotswold Way and had no option but to turn around and climb back up the steep hillside again. I then realised that I had followed the wrong finger pointer on the signpost at the top.

There were few places with any view through the trees for the next few miles, so at least I wasnít missing anything because of the weather, though the walking became rather tedious. Although the trees had proved useful in the early stages, having saved me from much of the rain, the situation was now reversed. The rain had eased off quite a bit, but all the water held on the leaves of the trees was showering down on me every time a gust of wind came along. Eventually the way headed over towards a viewpoint at The Peak, but doubled back again without actually going to the viewpoint itself to take in the view, which seemed a bit pointless, though there was a path leading over there that I took. From there I could see Witcombe Reservoirs with Crickley Hill across the way, and the busy A417 dual carriageway dropping down the hill to the valley below and off into the distance. Retracing my footsteps from the viewpoint brought me back on the route towards Crickley Hill, coming out onto the main road near the Air Balloon pub by a roundabout. The traffic was horrendous as I stood near the roundabout trying to get half way across the road onto a central island. I thought I was going to be stuck there for ages until a kind van driver stopped to let me across accompanied by the sound of angry tooting of horns from impatient drivers on the roundabout behind him.

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Witcombe Reservoirs from 'The Peak' viewpoint
Witcombe Reservoirs
Witcombe Reservoirs from Crickley Hill
View from Crickley Hill

Once across, I was able to follow the path up onto Crickley Hill, with good views back where I had just come from. It almost goes without saying by now that in the open spaces along the way there were orchids dotted here and there. From Crickley Hill, I had to make my way off the route for about one and a half miles to my B&B at Little Whitcombe. Before I set off, I had taken the trouble to print off a section of Ordnance Survey map showing the way there. A path dropped down from the end of the hill to join a minor road with another path further along the road dropping down by the main road at the bottom of the hill. All was fine until I reached this second path, which was badly overgrown with nettles. Someone had done a bit of work trying to clear a way through but, wearing shorts, it was difficult to avoid being stung on the way. At the bottom, I was able to join the remains of the old road into Little Whitcombe. This road remained for local access when the main road was straightened and upgraded to a dual carriageway, so was quiet with only an occasional vehicle passing by now and then. From the map, it looked as if I might have to join the main road again, but I found that I was able to follow a road through an underpass to get to the other side and to my B&B.

When I got there, I tried knocking on the door using the knocker but there was no reply. Then I noticed a card on the door with writing that had almost completely faded away. I could just make that it said to go to the back door if there was no reply, so I went round through the garden and did just that. Still there was no reply. Looking through the window I could see a television set that was on but was then switched off. Still nobody came to the door. I was just wondering what to do next when a lady came up from behind and greeted me. It turned out that the lady in the house was infirm and unable to get out of her chair but must have phoned the other lady to come across and see me in. After being shown to my room and given a cup of tea, I went to have a bath. Once again, I was in a B&B with a bath: some places had had both bath and shower, but this had just a bath, so I was again able to relax in the soothing hot water after a fairly long dayís walk.

There was a Beefeater Inn just down the road, so I was able to get more reasonably priced food and drink than in most places. In the recession, the pub chains have tended to respond by cutting back on prices to stimulate trade. In this case Wadworth 6X bitter was £2.55 a pint as opposed to more than £3 in other places, and a beef and ale pie was very good value at £5.95. Whilst I was in there the large-screen TV was showing football but the volume was at a moderate level, so it was not too intrusive. However, someone behind the bar then turned it up to a much higher level making it overpowering for anyone who didnít want to watch. I then noticed that there was sunshine outside making it pleasantly warm, so I was able to finish my pint in peace and quiet.

I was still a little foot-sore as I had done the last ten miles without a rest and I was not particularly looking forward to tomorrowís walk of 23 miles even though the weather was forecast to be better. Generally, I try to avoid days of over twenty miles, but the lack of accommodation in some places makes it necessary on occasion. In this case it wasnít helped by the fact that tonightís accommodation was a mile and a half off-route making a long day even longer. The only thing to do was to try to get off to an early start and then to press on and on without much time for resting along the way. Even then, it was likely that I would arrive fairly late in the evening, though the consolation was that I had booked B&B in a pub for the night so wouldnít have far to go for food and drink.

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Day 11 - Thursday 18thth June - GPS 22.4 miles

Little Witcombe to Winchcombe (Pub B&B)

I awoke to a lovely sunny morning, had a good breakfast at 7.45 and set off at 8.15 making my way back along the road to return to the route where I left it at Crickley Hill. This should have been quite straightforward, as I was merely retracing my steps of yesterday evening. I came to a footpath overgrown with nettles and was prepared with my over-trousers handy to help me through. It was a steep climb up and I didnít remember it looking quite the same as yesterday, but it brought me out on a road running round the hillside as it should have done, so it didnít worry me too much. I then had to find the path where the Gloucestershire Way ran up to the top of Crickley Hill and joined the Cotswold Way. As I walked along the road, things didnít seem quite right as it started to descend a little rather than continuing on a gradual ascent and there was no sign of the footpath I was looking for. A sign for Oakland Farm came up and when I found this on my map I realised that I had taken a footpath up the hillside too soon and had joined another road running around the hillside lower down. Just then a lady came out of the farmhouse and, seeing that I was unsure of my way, proceeded to give me all sorts of possible directions to where I wanted to be, though eventually she decided that there was not really any other way than the one I had already worked out from my map. This meant going back along the road I was on, past the overgrown footpath I had come up, then further on to find the bottom of the other overgrown footpath that I should have taken.

I had removed my over-trousers once I had reached the top of the overgrown path and was not inclined to mess about with them any more so decided to take my chances with the nettles. By careful dodging and trampling I evaded the worst of them but still got several stings. However, I rubbed them with dock leaves and all was well apart from the fact that I had wasted some time and effort that I could ill afford with the long dayís walk ahead. By the time I regained the Cotswold Way, an hour had elapsed since I started out whereas I had anticipated taking little more than half an hour. On my way, I had passed a couple of the largest snails I have ever seen. They had bodies that were pinkish white and shells of a golden brown colour; much brighter than the snails that are commonly seen.

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Huge Snail near Crickley Hill
Snail near Crickley Hill
Witcombe from Crickley Hill
Witcombe from Crickley Hill
Crickley Hill Country Park
Crickley Hill Country Park

Some light cloud had covered the sky, but the views were still good from the top of Crickley Hill as I made my way along the ridge. There were a few other Cotswold Way walkers about and then I spotted the two I had met up with previously doing a Cotswold Way pub crawl. I joined them for a while, walking and chatting and then we kept passing each other from time to time along the way. They were heading for Cleave Hill for the night, but were also meeting up with some friends for lunch at the Reservoir Inn.

The route was not very well waymarked off Crickley Hill and my guidebook showed a proposed route change that I failed to find on the way, though I soon realised the need for one when I had to keep squeezing myself into a thick hedge to let vehicles pass by. After a while, I reached another fine viewpoint at Leckhampton Hill, where there is a pinnacle of rock called the Devilís Chimney. This isnít a natural feature, but was left there after quarrying. Nevertheless, it adds an interesting feature to the hillside. This was just slightly off-route and I continued past it along the path but then found I had to climb a very steep, crumbly hillside to get back on the route, whereas it would have been much better to have just backtracked a little from the Devilís Chimney as the two pub crawlers had done.

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Devil's Chimney with Cheltenham and Malvern Hills in distance
Devil's Chimney
Fungi in Lineover Wood
Fungi in Lineover Wood

There followed some fine ridge walking along Charlton Kings Common on the way to Seven Springs and then, after some walking through fields, another good viewpoint at Wistley Hill. I had been pressing on without a rest for about three and a half hours by now, so the seat overlooking the valley below seemed like an ideal place to have a short break. I ate some of my packed lunch and then continued onwards at 12.00, trying to get as much walking done in the earlier part of the day to make things easier later on. I pressed on past the Reservoir Inn and across the road to Dowdeswell Reservoir where I got a little confused with the direction of the route. I had gone up the path to the reservoir itself, whereas the way went off along a lane before reaching the reservoir. It didnít take me long to get back on track and climbing steadily up the hill to Lineover Wood, where I passed some interesting, large fugi growing out of a fallen tree trunk.

The only problem with taking a short rest break rather than a longer one was that I was still rather weary and already starting to look forward to another rest. However, I pushed on for another four miles until I reached the top of a hill with a disused quarry to the right. This had lots of mounds and dips and had been used extensively as a moto-cross circuit, with tracks running up and down all over the place. I chose a grassy hump as a good place to eat the rest of my packed lunch, as it was in a position with quite a good view. This was all well and good until it started to get a bit cold and windy making me put on my fleece.

A chap on a motorbike came along, rode around the hillside for a while and then went on his way and I decided that bit was time that I was on my way as well. By this time, however, I had discovered from my guidebook that I didnít have quite as far to walk as I thought. When doing my initial planning, I had copied a table of distances from the Internet and had been using this to calculate my daily walking distances. Although the total length of the walk from this agreed with that of my guidebook, there was some disagreement between the two along the way with variations of up to two miles or more arising in certain places. It seemed that my guidebook tended to be the more accurate in general, but it surprised me that the discrepancies existed, though there have been some recent route changes near Cleave Common and there are other places with optional route variants, which could account for some of the differences. Today, this was a welcome bonus for me as the longest day in my schedule was a couple of miles less than I thought and this more than compensated for the wasted time at the start of the day.

As I got up to go, I noticed that quite a few red ants had been crawling all over me, and it wasnít long before I felt one or two bites around my ankles where some had got caught up in my socks. They have quite a sharp sting to their bite, but it wore off before too long.

Whilst I had been looking for somewhere to sit down for my break, I had walked almost to the top of the hillside, having left the Cotswold Way over to my left, and I continued to the top when I set off again. Where the hill levelled out was an area that had been frequented by fly tippers, and there were piles of old refrigerators and all sorts of other rubbish. It seems a pity that nobody takes responsibility for places like this and things are just allowed to accumulate there, but this is probably private land that has just been abandoned once its use as a quarry was finished. Whilst I was there, a man in a 4 x 4 came along to try out a bit of off-road driving, which was probably better done here amongst all the rubbish than in some other area with more natural beauty that may have been destroyed.

It took me a little while to find my way back onto the Cotswold Way, as it had turned off part way down the hillside before reaching the top of the hill. This is one of the disadvantages of having a guidebook with maps that do not show any contours, as it is far more difficult to relate the map to features on the ground. This is where the National Trail guidebooks score, as they use sections of 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey maps with all the wealth of detail that they contain. However, the disadvantage of these guidebooks is that they give virtually no information about accommodation and other local services other than giving references to Tourist Information Offices, whereas my guidebook contained a wealth of useful practical information for planning the walk despite having more limited detail in its maps. As the route is generally very well waymarked, it is only occasionally that the limitation of the maps becomes apparent.

When I did manage to find the waymarked route again, it was still not all that easy to follow as the grassy hillside covered in gorse had also been used by motorcyclists with tracks running all over the place and in all directions, making it difficult to tell which track actually was the path. After a while, the tracks became less numerous and it became obvious that I was on the right one as I headed towards Bill Smyllies Nature Reserve. I came across an elderly couple who were on their knees and I wondered at first whether one of them had fallen down, but then discovered that they were examining a couple of bee orchids that they had found near the path. They were quite good specimens but not as large as the ones I had seen near Bath. We had a discussion about orchids and I told them of the places where I had seen them in great profusion along the way.

A little way further along, the way led up to Cleeve Hill, a fine upland walking area with views across Cheltenham Racecourse and the town itself with distant hills and mountains beyond. On a clear day, some of the Welsh mountains can be seen over sixty miles away and today, when the weather wasnít particularly good, I could see for forty or fifty miles. The edge of the hill has cliffs that were presumably left by quarrying for building stone, and there are remains of another iron-age fort. I was now embarking on the part of the Cotswold Way where I had done some bits on day walks in the past, though I had often not tried to follow the route itself and had worked out my own circular walks from a map.

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Approaching Cleeve Hill
Approaching Cleeve Hill
Cheltenham Racecourse from Cleeve Hill
Cheltenham Racecourse
from Cleeve Hill
Looking back south along Cleeve Hill
S along Cleeve Hill

The only thing to spoil Cleeve Hill is the golf course that spreads all over it, and this is the reason why some route changes were proposed when the Cotswold Way became a National Trail. The old route went over the hill through the middle of the golf course past the fourth tee on a permissive path and then over Cleeve Common to Belas Knap. Since the beginning of 2009 it takes a lower route round the edge of the golf course and down through a wooded valley, missing out Cleeve Common altogether. This is a pity, because this is one of the best upland walking areas of the Cotswold Way and is a considerable loss to the walk. Presumably this was a compromise that had to be made in view of the anticipated increase in walker numbers over the golf course, though I am not sure whether the National Trail status will really make a great deal of difference to what was already a well established walk.

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Cleeve Common - Old route of Cotswold Way
Cleeve Common
Old route of CW
Cleeve Common
Cleeve Common
One of the entrances to Belas Knap Long Barrow
Entrance to Belas Knap

There were still some marker posts along the old route with their arrows painted out, so I decided to take that route anyway, though it got a little confusing beyond the golf course trying to decide whether I was following the correct route or not. I just made my way as best I could using the sketch map in the guidebook, though without contour lines it wasnít all that easy when the marker posts petered out. I did see some wooden posts without markings and took these to be old waymarking posts until I saw a sign on one of them saying ĎWarning Electric Fenceí and realised that they were not marker posts at all. However, the way became reasonably obvious from the description and landmarks in the guidebook and I was able to find my way to Belas Knap Long Barrow without much difficulty, meeting up with the new route along the way.

By this time my feet were getting sore, particularly my heels, both of which were hurting and probably forming blisters, so each mile seemed more tiresome as I had to tread as evenly as possible everywhere to minimise my discomfort. The walk along the edge of a field seemed particularly long as, although the barrow could be seen straight ahead, it seemed to take ages to reach it. The barrow is quite impressive with various entrances including a false one to deter thieves.

From there it was less than two miles down into Winchcombe where I reached my B&B at the Plaistererís Arms much to the relief of my feet. After a shower, a much needed rest, and some doctoring of my feet, I went down to the bar for a couple of drinks and a meal feeling glad that I had only a very short way to go to get there. The food was rather expensive with only a couple of main courses under £10, the rest being £13 or more. However, there didnít seem to be anywhere else any cheaper in town according to my guidebook, so there was no point in making my feet suffer any more by looking elsewhere. I had a steak and ale pie which, apart from the silly puff pastry crust that disintegrated into a pile of flakes, was very tasty. I never understand why chefs use puff pastry on pies as it does nothing for the taste and just makes a mess everywhere. A short-crust pastry is so much better. The Timothy Taylorís Landlord bitter at £2.95 was good and not excessively priced for the area. I returned to my room to put my feet up and try to give them as much rest as possible ready for tomorrow.

Despite having been a long day and the build-up of problems with my feet, it had not been as bad as I had anticipated. This was partly because it had some of the best walking of the whole way making the miles seem to pass more quickly. Also, it helped that the mileage was not quite as great as I had expected from my initial calculations, though I still managed to clock up over 22 miles on my GPS including a few little detours on the way. After having had very few problems with my feet in the earlier part of the walk it was a bit surprising that my feet were so bad at the end of todayís walk. Not only was I footsore on the soles of my feet, but I had also got a few blisters round the heels of both feet. The blisters I put down to the slightly faster walking pace that I was doing now, having got rid of the earlier aching of my legs as I noted before, but the soreness of my soles had probably just built up during the walk and had not been helped by having two long days in succession.

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