Cotswold Walking Weekend

I was quite worried that this weekend away might have had to be cancelled as I did something to my left foot a couple of days before setting off, and even when we were on the train heading for Stroud, I was still limping quite a bit. As it happens I needn’t have worried.

A couple of times a year Mrs. Wow & I go for a walking break with the Povall Boys, some long-standing friends of ours, now retired, who happen to share our fondness for good food (especially curries), good beer and good walks. Jeff & Mike are twins. I suggested the Cotswolds as a destination when I picked up some cheap train tickets (£20 return, Prittlewell to Stroud) and they readily agreed.

One of the great things about ACF is that you get to meet new friends, and on the Friday evening Jaded (actually, this was the third consecutive weekend that I have enjoyed Jaded’s company!) and Monsieur Pumpé joined us for some excellent beer and a good curry. We drank at the Golden Fleece in Nelson Street, a basic pub with a wide choice of well-kept real ales. This was followed by a visit to the Balti Spice. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t on the best of form, as I was pretty knackered and my foot was still giving me some trouble. However, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Saturday’s walk was a 9-miler starting and finishing at a disused airfield here .

We headed north towards Withington,

where we visited a pub (the Kings Head?) with a loopy dog

desperate for attention and gravity drawn beer which was past its best, then east towards Cassey Compton,

and then south towards a Roman villa

near Chedworth. From the villa we walked east aong the MacMillan Way then followed the edge of the wood and back towards Chedworth village where we visited the Seven Tuns, quite remarkably a Young’s tied house with some very good Ramrod bitter, but too much of a hint of SW1 about it, and then climbed the hill beside the church

and back to the car.

At one point we had some difficuly with the navigation as what we thought was the path had been ploughed up and, not 100% sure of our ground, we were reluctant to stomp across ploughed land unnecessarily. We kept to the edge of the field until we reached the road. The road was easy walking, but I was annoyed: bloody farmers are supposed to keep footpaths open and I gained the impression more than once during the weekend that some marvellous hillwalking country was being made less accessible by the Landed Gentry. I wonder how much of this attitude is fostered by the proximity of royalty just down the road at Highgrove?

We had an evening meal at an Eldridge Pope pub in Cirencester, the Black Horse, but it was not great. The food almost made up in quantity for what it lacked in quality, and they only had one beer on. Furthermore, half the bar space seemed to be occupied by unwashed glasses until someone whom I took for the landlady appeared and suddenly things got done. After getting back to our digs, Jeff & I walked to the Golden Fleece again, where Maurice X, the Man from Madagasca (or was it Morocco? Somewhere alliteratively African, anyway) was entertaining the packed house with unnecessarily amplifiied guitar playing. Jeff & I sat outside and drank London Pride.

On the Sunday we did Laurie Lee’s walk, a 7-miler starting and finishing at Bulls Cross. This was another wonderful walk, with much more up-and-down than the previous day’s. However, we found the route rather difficult to follow. The walk is no. 21 in the Pathfinder Guide, Cotswold Walks, and perhaps it didn’t help that we were following the route clockwise when the instructions assumed anticlockwise. We had a good reason for this: it was the only way, we reckoned, to be able to arrive at Laurie Lee’s local, the Woolpack in Slad, at a sensible time for a cooked lunch.

However, many of the paths were overgrown, there were occasions when the waymarks were absent, and quite a few fallen trees made the going difficult. In addition, I don’t recall visiting an area as bad as the Cotswolds for signs telling you what you were not allowed to do. “Private, no footpath!” , “Private road. Footpath only. No bicycles.” Even the local publication, Guide to the Cotswolds, depicts a beautiful lake, the most prominent feature in the photograph being a “No Fishing” sign.

There were some superb views. Here are some.

Once we had overcome our navigational difficulties, during which we disturbed three fallow deer which disappeared into the undergrowth, we found the

pub. It does not get a mention in the current Good Beer Guide, but I have seldom been into a finer pub. It served Uley’s beer, of which Old Spot was the favourite. There was also Laurie Lee’s bitter and a basic bitter. For the cider-inclined there was, of course, Rosie’s Cider.

The beer was good, but the food

was fantastic. It was a traditional roast, either pork (Gloucester Old Spot, of course) or beef (Aberdeen Angus) and they ran out. Apparenty they had only ordered enough food to supply 80 Sunday lunches, but we got ours!

The locals were extremely friendly. I had hardly set foot in the bar when another customer, a burly bearded bugger, thrust a digital camera in my face and photographed me. It turned out that the pub was running a beard-growing competition  Grin involving quite a few customers. Regulars who were taking part had had their photos taken in September at the start of the competition and again a few times until the competition concludes at Christmas. There was also  a Rogues’ Gallery of occasional visitors who showed some expertise in the noble art of beard growing and Yours Truly should now be firmly established somewhere there.

I put my rucksack and sticks down in the bar while carrying some beer, and one of the regulars said in his lovely Gloucestershire burr, “They’ll be alright there, no one round here goes walking!” I retorted, “What, you mean they all ride bikes?” which he found far more amusing than I expected.

After leaving the pub we climbed the hill opposite, involving about 100 metres of ascent in half a kilometre. Then it was a reasonably straight route back to the car. It was along this stretch that we followed a footpath, scarcely wide enough for walking between the dry stone wall and the barbed ire fence, immediately next to a much wider path which was evidently meant for horses, but the two were separated! It would have been possible to get over the wall and negotiate the barbed wire for some much easier walking, but some land owner wanted it that way so walkers were relegated to a difficult path when a much easier one could have been made available!

On the way back to Stroud we visited Painswick, a very neat village with a load of extravagant topiary in the churchyard. I looked in the estate agent’s window: hardly anything under half a million.

That evening we visited the Duke’s Head where we enjoyed some Timothy Taylor Landlord bitter, not exactly local but a very fine beer nonetheless, and followed this up with an even better curry than Friday’s, at the Radjoot restaurant, immediately next door to the Balti Spice.

My impressions of the weekend? The Cotswold Hills are a fantastic area for both walking and cycling. There are plenty of small roads, some steep hills, but lots more easy riding. Picturesque villages tend to be in steep, narrow valleys with the wider open spaces round about more undulating. The walking is hampered in places with inadequate waymarks and path maintenance and there is a lot of evidence of horsy types dominant: lots of green wellies, Land Rovers and pro-hunting signs.

The people we met were mostly very pleasant: Jaded & Monsieur Pumpé are first rate chaps and the fact that Gloucester is a great rugby-playing area makes it almost an extension of South Wales (I’m going to get some stick for that comment!). I felt that one woman, high on a magnificent horse, rather held her nose when she answered our “Good Morning” and there were one or two other occasions when we felt that the more cut-glass-accented residents would prefer it if a bunch of scruffy ramblers wouldn’t ask them which way the footpath goes.

I was not overly struck with our accommodation, the Downfield Hotel. The beds were comfortable enough, the breakfast plentiful and well-cooked, and the shower worked well. However, the Maitre d’ seemed to think that making jokes at guests’ expense was a good way to conduct business and he seemed to resent our asking for a nightcap at his pretty well-stocked bar. He had quite a choice of single malt, but we couldn’t see Lagavulin so Jeff had a Laphroiag and I settled for a Macallan. Janet asked for an orange joice and he replied sardonically “This is a bar…” and then tried to laugh it off. I think he was trying to imply that she should have been drinking something alcoholic.

Would I go back? Certainly! I’ll be amongst the first when Jaded’s Cotswold tour comes to fruition. I reckon a Sunday Lunch at the Woolpack in Slad would be hard to beat. If it can be beaten then it will be by a very special establishment indeed.

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