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…..

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Old Sodbury to Swineford: Day15 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).

Saturday promised to be a much better day; the rain had gone, the wind had dropped and there was even a patch of blue in the sky.
Brian, Mike & Francis prepare to leave the Dog Inn
Old Sodbury

After another hearty breakfast and with Alison duly re-fetched from Yate station we set off southwards across the fields towards the hamlet of Coombe End.

Nearing Coombe End

From here we crossed the Dodington Estate with its sweeping vistas of sheep bespattered parkland dotted with clumps of trees for raising pheasants. The park was laid out by Capability Brown in 1764 when the estate was owned by the Codrington family, who made their fortune from sugar plantations in the West Indies. It is now the home – or one of the homes - of James Dyson who bought the estate in 2003 after making his fortune rather more ethically from bagless vacuum cleaners and air-blades rather than by exploiting several hundred slaves.

Dodington Park

A few deer would have made the view perfect, but we had to settle for a large metal sculpture of a stag watching us motionlessly from a distant bank.

Plenty of sheep but no deer,
Dodington Park

The park provides a painless way of slipping back onto the Cotswold scarp. At its highest point we could look back over the valley and see the pylons of the Severn Bridge in the distance.

Crossing the park took some time, crossing the A46 was quicker, much less pleasant and considerably more dangerous. Having survived that it was only a short step to the village of Tormarton where we were meeting Heather, Francis and Alison’s daughter, who last walked with us on Day 11 (Perrott’s Brook).


Heather walked out of Tormarton on the path she had expected us to arrive on and saw us across the fields on another path, though we did not see her. Even after this early sighting we had considerable difficulty finding each other. Several phone calls simply added to the confusion.

Tormarton is not large, so we eventually we succeeded and together left the village via the bridge over the M4.

Over the M4

On the southern side we crossed fields of barley, the first cereal crop we had seen since Bredon Hill in 2010.

A lone poppy in a field of barley

The Cotswold Way took us west along Beacon Lane and back towards the motorway. Brian was very proud of his new walking poles which he had bought for the princely sum of 100 Hong Kong dollars (£8) in Stanley Market. They had been unveiled on Thursday and bent on Friday so they no longer telescoped properly and Brian was walking with a lightning conductor sticking up above his head. It is a wonderful place, Stanley Market, sometimes you get a bargain, sometimes you get what you pay for.

Brian carries his periscope along Beacon Lane

We re-crossed the A46 and visited the adjacent picnic site for coffee. With a car park and vehicle inspection centre it is not the most scenic spot, but looks fine if you point the camera in the right direction.

A sedge of Cranes at the feeding table

The Cotswold Way runs briefly parallel to the M4 giving an interesting view of the motorway climbing the hill opposite.

An unusual view of the M4

We turned south and followed the boundary of another cereal field for the next kilometre. Yesterday’s rain had smeared the compacted soil with a slick of wet clay, making it difficult walking; at times it was a struggle to keep upright.

I was glad to reach the end of this field and we soon found ourselves traversing the edge of a small valley below the wall of Dyrham Park. The valley side was covered with strip lynchets, banks of earth built up on the downslope of the field by generations of ploughing. Lynchets usually indicate Celtic farming and although they appear regularly on maps they are not always so easy to see on the ground.

Strip lynchets on the far side of the valley

We descended to the hamlet of Dyrham, passing the western frontage of Dyrham Park, built in 1694. The eastern front, the work of a different architect, was built a few years later. The house, constructed for William Blathwayt, Secretary of War to William III, is now owned by the National Trust. It featured in the films Remains of the Day (1993) and Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008) as well as a 2010 episode of Doctor Who.

The western front of Dyrham Park

Beyond the village we found ourselves in the flattest land we had encountered since crossing the Severn Valley at the end of 2009 and start of 2010.

Approaching Doynton

The signed paths did not match up with those on the map so we arrived in Doynton unsure as to exactly where we were. Lynne waited patiently outside the pub while we indulged in a lengthy and misguided circumnavigation of the village before joining her. The Cross House was doing good business on a Saturday lunchtime, and the weather had improved so much that we chose to drink our lunch in the garden – though Lynne did not think it was warm enough to remove her fleece.

A glass of lunch in the garden of the Cross House
As we left we passed a cricket match – what did we expect in an English village on a sunny Saturday afternoon? I merely took the picture and moved on, it was only later that I wondered what the fielding captain was doing. Why had he left so much space on the leg side? Why is the batsman not already shaping to work the ball that way? What is going on here?

Doynton cricket club - questionable tactics

With these questions still unasked we headed up Toghill Lane, climbing the Cotswold scarp for the seventh time in three days. Over the A420 we continued along the top of the hill to join Freezinghill Lane, a B road which was narrow and very busy. It was warmer than its name suggests, but the traffic made it an uncomfortable place to be and we were stuck with it for some 500m. We found what should have been our exit but the footpath sign had been reclaimed by the hedge and there was no way through.

The wooden footpath sign had been recalimed by the hedge
Freezinghill Lane

We backtracked to a gateway, and improvised our own route through the long grass.......

through the long grass
.....and down Freezing Hill.

Down Freezing Hill

Once we had descended there was nothing for it but to start our eighth and final ascent. The Cotswolds may not be the largest of hills, and the scarp may be higher in some places than others, but climbing up and down it nine times in three days is hard work. Hanging Hill is a grassy slope, the path zig-zagging upwards through a herd of cows. Reaching the top, we arrived at the site of the Battle of Lansdown.

Hanging Hill, site of the Battle of Lansdown in 1643

The battle, on July the 5th 1643, was not one of the major confrontations of the Civil War, but it did involve some 10 000 men and resulted in the deaths of 300 of them, mostly Royalists. It was a Royalist victory, in that they pushed the Parliamentarian army from their hilltop stronghold, but they lost so many men they were unable to complete their strategic aim of taking Bath.

From the top we had views over the outskirts of Bristol, the rest of the city stretching away into the distance.

Bristol from the top of Hanging Hill

Tracking along the top of the hill, we failed to find the remains of the Roman villa marked on the map, but Lansdown Golf Course was easier to locate. The golf club had signed a route outside the course, but Francis was adamant that we should take the slightly shorter right-of-way round top of the scarp. This involved walking along the edge of a couple of fairways and we were fortunate that no shouts of ‘fore’ came our way.

The long descent started down the golf course access road towards the hamlet of North Stoke. Somewhere along this path we entered Somerset having taken 8 days to cross Gloucestershire (though hardly in a straight line). We finished the descent on yet another sunken lane which deposited us at a picnic site in Swineford near the banks of the ‘Bristol’ Avon, not to be confused with the ‘Warwickshire’ Avon which we crossed (in Worcestershire!) in 2010, nor any of the Avons in Hampshire, Devon or Strathspey.

Down to North Stoke

We had survived a day of rain and a day of wind and enjoyed a day of sunshine. Perhaps it will be sunshine all the way when (all being well) we meet here in 2013 for the next instalment; and perhaps it won't. All that remained was to return various people to their cars and then to drive home. For us that meant a trip from Swineford (near North Stoke) to Swynnerton (near Stoke-on-Trent) - from a place where pigs can cross a river, to a homestead where pigs are kept; a feeble effort from a region that can offer such nominal splendours as Pucklechurch, Mangotsfield and Wickwar.


  1. I really enjoyed Donington Park especially when we all watched a fox gambling across the grass from one wood to another. When it belatedly spotted us, it decided to leg it hell for leather - possibly not sure of the purpose of Brian's periscope.

    Is sedge really the collective name for a group of Cranes or are you making it up as you go?

  2. I don't know why I forgot the fox when writing this, he really was rather splendid. I ought to go back and insert him into the narrative. However, as he had no dice, cards or roulette wheel I suspect he was gambolling across the grass, not gambling.
    I don't know why I am assuming the fox was a 'he', it could well have been a she.

    A 'sedge' is the correct name for a group of Cranes - at least according to the ever reliable Wikipedia. The slightly more authoritative Chambers only has sedge (or siege) as a company of herons or bitterns, but that's close enough for me.

    1. Thanks for your reply and indeed for the three excellent, amusing and informative blogs.

    2. My daughter, who is now an authority on all things Bristolian, says that we were OK using the car park where the A46 meets the M4 as a mid-morning break because it was daytime. Rather more dubious activities than sipping coffee or hot chocolate take place there in the evening.

      We were, of course, beyond reproach in the Dog Inn later.

  3. In fairness to the good traders of Stanley Market they did not specifically say their poles were intended to be used on English country walks. I am fairly sure they would be perfectly good used by little old chinese ladies for helping them get round the streets and by-ways of Hong Kong. It was completely my error to think they would do the same job as their european( Chinese made )equivalent! Lesson learnt -I got what I paid for!!