There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Around Stroud on the Cotswold Scarp: Day 12 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

The final day for this year proved our Odyssey is about the journey not the (as yet undefined) destination. We spent half the day walking northwest and the other half southwest as we looped round Stroud, ending up a very few miles west of our starting point.

Stroud is not the Cotswold’s prettiest town, but somewhere has to work for a living rather than just being decorative. On the other hand, our near circumnavigation along the top of the Cotswold scarp, dipping into and out of side valleys, promised a fine day’s walking.

After eleven days of almost unbroken sunshine (ignoring the brief shower at Brockhampton, when we were under cover anyway) it was inevitable that our luck would change. Waking up in Cirencester, I looked out the window and saw thick clouds and rain, the sort of rain that seems set in for the day.

At the Round Elm crossroads

Back at the Round Elm crossroads, we donned waterproofs and, slightly reluctantly, plodded northwards through the drizzle towards Swift’s Hill. The map showed plenty of contours and I had prepared myself for a stiff climb. I should have looked more carefully; Swift’s Hill is less of a hill and more a spur sticking into the Slad Valley. As we had made the climb onto the plateau the previous afternoon, we had the slightly surreal experience of descending to the top of a ‘hill’.

Down to the 'summit' of Swift's Hill

In steady drizzle we left the ‘summit’, dropped into the valley, crossed the Slad brook and ascended the other side towards the village, which is strung out along the flank of the hill. Slad is the setting for Cider with Rosie* and Laurie Lee lived there most of his life. We crossed the northern end of the village past the war memorial. Regardless of how romanticised a place may have been in fiction, it can look as drab as anywhere else in the drizzle.

Approaching Slad

 Carrying on upwards we reached the top, where the rain called a temporary halt, and then descended Juniper Hill.

Mike descends Juniper Hill

Taking advantage of the drier spell we stopped for coffee and sat under an oak tree with a view over the large village of Painswick, which likes to style itself  ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’.

Painswick, the 'Queen of the Cotswolds'
Mike borrowed my camera and turned it away from the view to capture this dismal picture of sad, wet people huddled under a protective tree.

Wetter than we look

We reached the bottom of the Painswick Valley some way south of the village and set off up the other side, joining the Cotswold Way on our ascent of the strangely named Scottsquar Hill. In the disused quarry on the top we found our path meandering between hundreds of common spotted orchids.

Francis in the Painswick Valley

It was raining steadily by the time we entered Maitlands Wood. We followed the belt of woodland running round the top of the scarp for the next three kilometres, reaching the day’s most northerly point in Cliff Wood. The wide path was easy walking, despite the odd puddle, and the trees shielded us from the worst of the rain. It seemed preordained that the shower would last as long as the woodlands and we would emerge onto Haresfield Beacon as the sunshine broke through. So much for preordination. The drizzle continued as we climbed to the top of the beacon.

Mike and Alison in Maitlands Wood

Haresfield Beacon is on the western edge of the Cotswolds and we had a fine view over the Severn valley, with the distinctive outline of May Hill in the Forest of Dean on the far side. At this point the rain did ease a bit.

I have not spent many nights lying awake wondering how the River Severn becomes the Severn Estuary, but if I had thought of it at all, I had assumed the river just became wider and wider until, at some indefinable point, it ceased to be a river and became an inlet of the sea. Apparently, I was wrong. Even on this wet and misty day, it was possible to see a distinct, if distant, point where river suddenly becomes estuary.

The southern end of the Severn Valley
and the start of the estuary (in the misty distance)

We left Haresfield Beacon walking round the edge of the scarp, but decided not to track out to the viewpoint on the next spur as we had seen the view already and with the drizzle starting again the relative dry of Standish Wood seemed attractive.

Brian strides away from Haresfield Beacon

Navigation was not helped by the many paths that criss-cross the well-walked wood, but eventually we found the right spot to leave the trees and head for the road down to the village of Randwick for a lunch break.

It was well after two by the time we reached The Vine but it was still packed with Sunday lunchtime customers. We found a table, removed some of our wet clothes and hung them over the chairs. I found a dry shirt in my rucksack and felt a lot better after putting it on.

With the prospect of a ninety-mile drive home, Mike eschewed his second pint in favour of coffee and, somewhat typically, a pudding. Fruit, cream and brioche were involved. I had every intention of allowing Lynne to drive me home so, equally typically, I stuck to beer.

Leaving Randwick
After a long morning the afternoon’s walk was short. From Randwick we found a route back onto the Cotswold Way which descended gently into the valley west of Stroud. We mainly crossed farmland and then, as we neared the town, found ourselves in dog-walker territory. The final few hundred metres, over a railway and down a narrow alley between some buildings, seemed to be telling us we had finished with Cotswold scenery for the year.

Of course, there is plenty more of the Cotswolds to come. Next year’s walk will generally follow the Cotswold Way as it takes us from Stroud down towards Bath. You can, all being well, read about that right here in 2012 [yes you can, see links below].

*Cider with Rosie was published in the USA under the less than riveting title Edge of Day: Boyhood in the West of England

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, David. Two enjoyable and amusing accounts of two days' walks (Days 10 and 11). Looking forward to next year.