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…..

Friday, 8 June 2012

North Nibley to Old Sodbury: Day 14 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).

I have long been a connoisseur of place names, both the magnificent (Krasnoyarsk, Lithuania, Samarkand) and the faintly ridiculous (Piddletrenthide, Erfurt, Yonkers). Day 14 started and finished at places worth visiting for their names alone.

After a hearty breakfast and a trip to fetch Alison from Yate station, we headed out to face whatever the weather might throw at us. The rain had mostly moved north during the night, but the wind was still gusting strongly and we had a rather huddled look as we posed in front of the Black Horse

A fine North Nibley morning
(picture credit: Francis)

North Nibley occupies a small plateau 80 metres above the Severn Valley, the Tyndale Monument is perched on top of the Cotswold scarp a further 80 metres above the village.

To reach the monument we walked up a narrow gully and then climbed up its side with the aid of some rough steps. Being sheltered from the howling wind was a relief, but the noise it made in the trees and the precarious way some of them were anchored on the steep slope made it feel like a dangerous place. Hearing a sharp crack behind me I turned expecting to see a falling bough, but nothing happened.

The monument stands on a spur so windswept I had difficulty holding the camera steady. It commemorates William Tyndale, who certainly spent his youth in North Nibley and may have been born there. After he published his English translation of the Bible in 1525, a grateful church had him burnt as a heretic. The monument, built 1866, seems a rather belated recognition of his efforts, but building monuments was a popular job creation scheme in the mid-1800s.

The Tyndale Monument above
North Nibley
It is possible to climb the 34 metre high tower, but as we had difficult standing on the ground beside it none of us felt the need to be blown off the top, and anyway the view would have been largely of mist. Instead we battled our way across the top of Nibley Knoll and into the welcome, if hazardous, shelter of Westridge Wood.

Across Nibley Knoll
The wind had moderated by the time we reached Wotton Hill above Wotton-under-Edge. A sharp descent brought us into the streets of the first town we had walked through since Winchcombe in 2010.

On Wotton Hill

Like Winchcombe, Wotton is built of Cotswold stone and manages to look quaint without being twee. It has all the usual facilities, some of which we used (an ATM) and others we looked at but reluctantly accepted they were unsuitable for the present occasion (a spectacular cake shop).

Through Wotton-under-Edge

Also like Winchcombe, Wotton also has several handsome almshouses which are still in use though the poverty they were built to alleviate left Wotton many decades ago.


Once through the town we climbed back onto the edge and paused for coffee near the top of Blackquarries Hill. We picked a sheltered spot, but the wind had risen again and the next part of our route required us to walk straight into the gale across an exposed summit.

From here to Wortley Hill – actually a spur overlooking the village of Wortley – we were buffeted by moisture laden winds.

The descent to Wortley was down a long sunken lane. In several places fallen trees lay across the top of the banks, though none of them had come down in the current storm.

Down the Sunken Lane to Wortley

We also passed this magnificent fungus growing on a well-rotted log. Exhaustive research (ten minutes Googling and a glance at Collins Guide to Mushrooms and Toadstools) leads me to believe it is Trametes Cinnabarina, though I say this with no great confidence.

Trametes Cinnabarina

We touched the edge of the hamlet of Wortley from where field paths took us on to Alderley....

Leaving Wortley

...and then a minor road took us to Hillesley. It went down and then up, but after hopping on and off the scarp twice in the morning such gentle slopes were a relief.

The Fleece in Hillesley was our intended lunch stop, but I spotted the ‘for sale’ sign a long way off and walked the last hundred metres with foreboding. We were six months late for lunch. A group of villagers, I have since learned, are trying to raise the money to buy the pub, but they are struggling and in the meantime Hillesley has to be added to the growing list of publess villages.

We might have already known this had Alison deployed her smart phone earlier. The map showed a pub in Hawkesbury Upton, two kilometres further down our route and Alison quickly confirmed it had a website, which does not prove it is open. A phone call confirmed they were.

We briefly continued along the minor road before leaving it to climb the scarp again – thankfully it is a lot lower here – to the splendidly named Splatt’s Barn. A farm track then pointed us straight at the Somerset Monument.

A farm track pointing straight at the Somerset Monument

Strangely similar to the Tyndale Monument but built twenty years earlier in 1846, it commemorates Robert Henry Edward Somerset, a general who fought beside Wellington at Waterloo. Building towers and columns in memory of the notable dead was fashionable at the time - though Nelson (column built 1840) had already bagged the best site.

The Somerset Monument
Approaching Hawkesbury Upton we passed this sign. Given the rate of attrition of country pubs the name might be prophetic.

Hawkesbury Upton

Hawkesbury Upton is a larger village than Hillesley and the Beaufort Arms was both open and doing good business. I phoned Lynne whilst enjoying a glass of lunch to find she was at Horton Court, a mere two kilometres away, where it was raining heavily. It was a very local shower as we had encountered little rain in the morning and would meet none during the afternoon. The wind also dropped after lunch and although it was hardly a ‘nice day’ conditions for walking were pleasant enough.

The enforced revision of our lunch plans had required a small diversion from our planned route and the start of the field path back to the Cotswold Way had disappeared under a new estate. Somehow Francis divined the right route and we then followed the top of the low scarp until we were above Horton Court were the rain Lynne reported had long disappeared.

The path above Horton Court

Horton Court is a 16th century manor house now in the care of the National Trust, but all we could see from our vantage point was the top of the church tower.

Horton Court is down there somewhere

I am a bit vague about where we went next. The map shows the Cotswold Way descending the scarp almost to Horton Court and then following the minor road to the village of Horton. We followed the Cotswold way signs, but they led us first along the scarp…..

Mike and Brian look down the scarp into the bottomless abyss that is
the Severn Valley

…. and then south east to a small hill fort before descending directly into the village, a route not shown on the map.

At the start of the descent we passed this building…..

A fitting home for owls and swallows

….. which was constructed as a millennium project for the use of nesting barn owls and swallows. Whether a vote of thanks was ever passed by a parliament of owls I do not know, but the only swallows I saw were in the Beaufort Arms.

From Horton field paths took us to Little Sodbury…..

Field paths from Horton to Little Sodbury

….and past the low, compact 19th century church of St Adeline. Little Sodbury is a ‘Thankful’ or ‘Blessed’ village, phrases coined in the 1930s for those settlements that lost no servicemen in the First World War. A 2010 survey established that there were 54 civil parishes in England and Wales which were so ‘blessed’, three of them in Gloucestershire (none in Staffordshire). The only village in Gloucestershire that is ‘doubly blessed’ (i.e. 'blessed' in both World Wars) is Upper Slaughter, which proves that God does irony – assuming (s)he exists.

St Adeline's, Little Sodbury

Simple, flat field paths took us the last kilometre and a half to Old Sodbury and the sanctuary of the Dog Inn.

Arriving in Old Sodbury
(picture credit: Francis)

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to grudgingly accept that a smart phone came in useful today!