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…..

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Stroud to North Nibley: Day 13 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 Cotswolds is designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,’ but it is not just nature that makes the Cotswolds special, the towns and villages built of the honey coloured local stone also play their part. At least most of them do, but ‘most’ does not include Stroud. If the wealth of the Cotswolds was based on wool, somewhere had to be the mill town, and that somewhere was Stroud.
After spending our final day last year walking in a big circle round the town, this year started for Francis, Brian, Lynne and me with a night in a Stroud B & B.   We dined at the Carpenter’s Arms in Westrip on a hill on the western edge of the town. Viewed from above, surrounded by green hills bathed in evening sunshine, you can be fooled into thinking Stroud is another Cotswold gem. And it was not just Stroud that flattered to deceive; Wednesday evening’s sunshine would soon be replaced by Thursday’s cold front.  

Day 13 was a triumph of the meteorologist’s art. The promised rain arrived before dawn and kept going with hardly a break until well after dusk. Winds gusting to 60 mph were promised for the night and for Friday. The first 11 days of the Odyssey had been walked in sunshine. Day 12, 'Walking round Stroud', had broken the spell and a year later it remained fragmented. Alison arrived on a bus and we met Mike outside the garage in Ryeford, in the ribbon development connecting Stroud to Stonehouse, where we had finished last year. Lynne took a picture of us standing in the rain, then drove off in a nice dry car.

Mike, Brian, Me, Alison & Francis at Ryeford

We set off south towards our goal for the day, The Black Horse Inn in North Nibley. It is a wonderful name, North Nibley; it is worth the journey just to be able to say ‘I have been to North Nibley’. It may even be worth the journey in the rain. 

Crossing the Stroudwater Canal and the A419 we had hardly left the urban area when we reached Stanley Mills (a building not a bloke) on the edge of Leonard Stanley (a village not a bloke) or was it King’s Stanley, two settlements which seem to have difficulty telling themselves apart? Dark and satanic may have been overstating it for Stanley Mills, but it was certainly the sort of building we could have seen much further north.

Stanley Mills, husband of Gladys

From here we followed the Cotswold Way as it progressed through sodden vegetation....

Through sodden vegetation

 .....and beside soaked fields to the village of Middleyard where we started to climb the Cotswold escarpment.

and beside soaked fields to Middleyard

Half way up Pen Hill the path turns to follow the scarp, contouring through the thick woodlands. Normally I would moan about the trees interrupting the views across the Severn Valley, but there was only mist to see and we were grateful for the shelter.

Discussing the route in Pen Wood

We passed an enclosure containing three of Gloucestershire's more distinctive natives. The Gloucester Old Spot is one of the oldest recognised breeds of pigs. Once ‘endangered’ their high quality meat has resulted in growing popularity and the Rare Breeds Trust now classifies them only as ‘minority’. They are renowned for their intelligence, so the notice at the end of the field offering half pigs for sale and quoting a price per kilo seemed insensitive. What if one of the pigs can read?

Gloucester Old Spots

The path eventually climbs to the top of the scarp through Buckholt Wood and we emerged on the grassy summit near Nympsfield Long Barrow, one of a line of barrows along this edge. Built some 5000 years ago, excavations have uncovered twenty three bodies. It was much ploughed over in medieval times and many stones were recycled in later buildings so most of what can now be seen is reconstructed.

Nympsfield Long Barrow

An outbreak of picnic tables speckles the flat grassland between the barrow and the viewpoint on Coaley Peak. Francis and Alison made valiant use of one – don’t they look happy? – the rest of us drank our coffee skulking in the partial shelter of a hawthorn hedge.

Happy campers on Coaley Peak

The plan had been to follow the summit to beyond the wonderfully named Hetty Pegler’s Tump – another long barrow – but the rain redoubled its efforts and the wind started blowing it in our faces, so we deserted the exposed summit for the sanctuary of the woods. The path was not far below the top of the scarp but was well sheltered, even when it climbed to cross the spur occupied by Uley Bury. Uley Bury is a substantial (13 ha) Iron Age hill fort in use between 300 BC and 100 AD, though there is little for the passer-by to see except the surrounding earthworks.

Coaley Wood

Past Uley Bury we could see the village of Uley below us......

Above Uley

and shortly turned onto a steep field path leading down to the church. The village now has 1200 inhabitants, but was much bigger in the industrial revolution when it was famed for its blue cloth. It was also renowned for its larger number of pubs – 14 at one time – but now only the Old Crown survives.

The Old Crown, Uley

Given the rate at which country pubs are currently closing we were pleased to find the Old Crown not only open, but thriving. The Uley brewery, which closed in the nineteenth century when the wool trade collapsed, reopened in 1984 as a craft brewery and a pint or two of Uley Bitter were just what we needed. I do not know why everybody looks so miserable – I did say smiling was optional, but had not expected to be taken at my word.

Miserable gits, The Old Crown

Duly refreshed we made our way through the village and past the old petrol pumps, now merely a decorative feature. We are all, sadly, old enough to remember when pumps looked like this. I can even remember buying petrol at 4/11d a gallon. (‘What’s 4/11d, Grandpa?’ About 25p you ignorant youth. ‘So what’s a gallon Grandpa?’ An eighth of a bushel, tedious child.)

Petrol pumps,

We followed paths over the fields which rose gently to the foot of the scarp which here runs east - west.

Alison enjoys the rain on the edge of the woods

The rise gave good views back to Uley. The massive church was built in the 19th century, unfortunately destroying the Norman church that had previously stood on this site.

Looking back at Uley
We followed the scarp for a couple of kilometres; sometimes the path rose, sometimes it fell, occasionally it contoured. We walked through Rook Wood, Bowcote Knoll Wood, Cooper’s Wood.....

In Cooper's Wood

Folly Wood and Dursley Wood, though where one wood became another is anybody’s guess and the caption on the photographs is a best guess.

Folly Wood

The main Cotswold scarp turned south and we continued for a while along the spur that ends at Stinchcombe Hill. Eventually we crossed the spur and took the long steep sunken path that descends Breakheart Hill – I do not know the origin of the name, but it brought my knees closer to breaking than my heart. Back in the Severn Valley, a couple of kilometres on minor roads brought us within sight of the Tyndale Monument that sits on the ridge above North Nibley.

The Tyndale Monument above North Nibley

Arriving in the village we located The Black Horse, but found ourselves locked out. Lynne, we discovered, was locked in and we stood in the rain while she searched for someone with a key.

The Black Horse
North Nibley

When we were finally admitted I would happily have appreciated a shower and some dry clothes, but first I had to drive to Stroud to reunite Brian and Mike with their cars and Alison with her bus stop, as she was returning home to Cheltenham. Our walk had been up and down, but the route had been fairly direct; driving back was anything but, the road taking us round the end of Stinchcombe Hill and through Dursley before we were even back in Uley - almost double the distance we had walked.

It was an equally long return to North Nibley, too, but preferable to sitting on a bus for fifty minutes in wet clothing, which was Alison’s lot. Once clean and dry no one ventured beyond the Black Horse that night. Outside the rain fell and the wind blew, while inside there was gammon steak and Bath Ales. Staying in seemed the sensible option.

1 comment:

  1. Our worst day of weather since climbing to the windfarm above Cemmaes on our 1999 Go West walk -or, since then (?), our walk to the Mainwaring Arms on Staffordshire Muck-spreading Day.