We were thinking about how we might prepare for a big walk through the Alps in June 2022 and had some time in our diaries in early May. "How about walking some of the Cotswold Way?" I asked David. "Sounds like a good idea" he says. "Let's ask John too and I'll bring the dog". I panicked a bit at this imagining being kept awake all night with a crazy dog jumping on me at regular intervals. "It'll be fine" says David, "you'll see".
The Cotswold Way was set up as a route in the 1970s by the Gloucester County Council and adopted as a National Trail in 2007. This means that it has great signposting making it almost impossible to get lost. The full trail runs 163km from Chipping Camden to Bath and follows the western edge of the oolitic limestone escarpment. This provides great views across the Severn flood plain to the Malvern hills, Black Mountains and forest of Dean. However it also provides a lot of ascent and descent as the paths run alternately along the top, middle and bottom of the escarpment so that you are going up and down all the time. As a result it is tougher than you might think - certainly not as rough as our time on the Cape Wrath Trail last year but not a doddle either.
Another contrast to walking in Scotland is the amount of accomodation on route. This means that we travel with light sacks for our four days, staying in B&Bs and pubs along the way and finding refreshment in local villages at lunchtime. We did spot plenty of people sending their luggage ahead of them but as hardened walkers we did not think this necessary unless you were fitting this in as part of your 3 month visit to the UK (as two charming Americans whom we walked with for a morning were doing).
David had run various sections of the Cotswold Way as his running club in Bristol had entered the Cotswold relay several times. He suggested Birdlip to Bath a good choice for 4 days. The Cicerone Guidebook written by Kevin Reynolds described this as eight stages but we reckoned we could do two a day. This is just under 2/3 of the whole trail at 104km.
David's wonderful wife Annie drives the threee of us from Bristol to Birdlip where we start our walk. We are soon bowling along a path halfway down the escarpment in beech woods full of bluebells and wild garlic. They sell wild garlic for £2 a bunch in the our farmers' market in London. A nice little earner I say! After some views across the Witcomb reservoirs we climb steeply to the top of Coopers Hill. From here there is an annual 'cheese' rolling competition. Then we head into the woods and somehow lose the path. I think I can see where we need to be and we head down a track for 1km or so. Soon the familiar signposts are back until - oh oh - I think we recognise those cows and that view. We have double backed on our route! Fortunately a shortcut gets us back on track. After some more woods we reach Painswick, a very pretty, white limestone town. The first pub is closed (this becomes a bit of a theme) but we find the very picturesque Royal Oak for a lunchtime pint. From Painswick there is more open country to Haresfield Beacon with fine views over the Severn and Forest of Dean. The path is quite busy with walkers, dogs, cyclists, runners and even an electric skateboarder! After some views of Stround we skirt Kings Stanley and find our very smart B&B at Greencourt Loft in Middleyard.
I needn't have worried about Isla keeping us awake. She had run twice as far as we had walked, chasing pheasant and searching the hedgerows for rabbits. Once we settled in she ate her dinner and crashed out until the following morning. Next day we have a short walk back to the Cotswold Way and are soon following another path half way up the escarpment through more beech woods, bluebells and wild garlic. At Coaley Peak we enjoy more views and inspect Nymphsfield Long Barrow - one of several Iron Age sites near here. The sun comes out as we climb Cam Long Down. Two walkers at the top look suspiciously at our shorts and tell us we will catch Lymes disease from ticks. We come down the Down and cross pretty farmland to Dursley where we settle for a pork pie for lunch as all the pubs are shut!
After lunch we discover just how windy the route can be. We climb steeply up Stinchcombe hill and then do almost an entire circuit of the hill/golf course before heading down towards North Nibley. The path disappears through a rape field and then another climb takes us to the Tyndale Monument. You can climb the 110 steps for more fab views before following a pretty woodland trail to Wotton-under-Edge. The bar in the Swan Inn, our destination for the night, is already busy with locals at 3.30!
On Wednesday morning the weather changes and it is raining. A good chance to test our wet weather gear for the Alps. The Swan restaurant is full of Cotswold Way walkers discussing their routes. We head off through wet streets then follow a stream before climbing steepy to join another path through the woods. Isla crashes about in the undergrowth. A steep tunnel leads us down to Wortley and then a path up through cow parsley takes us to Alderley. By the time we reach the edge again the rain is pouring down so we are not too interested in exploring the Somerset Memorial. We push on past the rather fine Horton Court to Little Sodbury where we climb to Sodbury Hill Fort, full of grazing black sheep. The fort must have been amazing in its day. The earthworks are still pretty high and the area enclosed could hold a sizeable village.
We descend to Old Sodbury, through a churchyard and down the hill where, to our great relief, the Dog pub is open! They serve us very good mushroom soup with the largest ham sandwiches I have ever seen and a decent pint. Things are clearly looking up as the rain eases and we cross fields and then the grounds of the Doddington Park estate past a huge number of sheep and lambs. Just before the M4 we drop John off by his car and then walk through Tormarton, across the motorway and through some country lanes to the Crown Inn on the road down to Bath.
The scenery is changing on our last day. Still lots of up and down but the escarpment is no longer as pronounced and we get more open views to the west and south. The views are also more urban with Bristol, Keynsham and Bath in sight. We skirt around the very impressive Dyrham Hall and then climb up towards the A46 meeting it at the surprisingly named hamlet of Pennsylvania. In Cold Ashton we meet some charming Americans who are walking the whole trail as part of an extended trip to Europe. We walk with them for the rest of the morning. After Cold Ashton we reach a monument to Sir Bevil Granville who died here at the Battle of Lansdown in 1643 - a royalist victory during the Civil War. It is hard to miss the battle site as there are several other markers and information boards.
As we reach the Bath racecourse we are at the most westerly point of the trail. "I'm almost home" says David looking down towards Bristol. After more pretty views over Kelston Round Hill the trail drops down towards Bath but there is a sting in the tale - as we enter Bath the path turns and climbs steeply bringing us back to the very top of the city. We pass other walkers looking rather shocked by this unexpected climb at the end of the trail. Then we really are on the home stretch, walking down through Royal Victoria Park, past the Royal Crescent and on past many of Bath's very fine buildings to reach the shops and abbey, full of street performers, tourists and shoppers. Check out the data on our walk below the photos.
|Distance (km)||Ascent (m)|
|Birdlip to King's Stanley||30.2||762|
|King's Stanley to Wotton-under-Edge||24.4||800|
|Wotton-under-Edge to Tormarton (The Crown)||29.1||687|
|Tormarton to Bath||23.9||491|