Day three of our walk along the Cotswold Way National Trail. I was Introducing my daughters to the delights of long distance walking and visiting National Trust sites along the way.
We had become used to the bright warm idyllic days. Butterflies and wild flowers. The way dry and firm underfoot. This had lured us 25 miles along the path towards home.. but things were about to change….
The phone rang and Jan said “have you seen the weather?” I looked towards the hotel window and the view of Cleeve Hill was smeared with rivulets of water.
We met and went downstairs to breakfast. It was set out in the hotel conservatory. Emma said she liked the cosy sound of raindrops on glass.
We sat with an Australian couple who had started the same day as us, though we had not met before. They were from Gladstone, Queensland. Kate said she had lived in Townsville for a while….but Queensland is very large. We chatted with the family from Iowa and found out that we would not be staying in the same place again that evening. They were bound for Birdlip but we were to stop a few miles short of that.
Before setting off.. it was time to assess our feet. Kate and Emma were sensible and their feet were fine but my rucksack was too heavy and this had created a cumulative impact on my toes.. encased as they were inside the steel capped work boots. Such boots are good for health and safety on archaeological sites but perhaps not designed for long distance walking. Top tip: Blister pads, apply liberally to worn areas.
The Ordnance Survey triangulation station marking the highest point of Cleeve Hill and therefore the Cotswold Way.
We took a path behind the hotel and climbed steeply to the summit of Cleeve Hill to rejoin the path. A toposcope and concrete trig point loomed out of the mist and marked the highest point of the Cotswold Way 317m OD. We turned to imagine the view out to the Malvern Hills. Took commemorative photographs and headed off along the escarpment.
Quarrying up here (now long abandoned) has uncovered the prehistoric significance of this area. There had been various finds including flint implements and an Early Bronze Age axe. I saw that the path crossed a slight curving ridge which continued as a parched 15m diameter circle into the longer grass. A wall or stone bank of some kind lay beneath the grass… date and purpose unknown. Old I expect.. unless it was one of those deceptive pieces of golfing archaeology.
Approaching the ramparts of Cleeve Cloud Iron Age hillfort perched on the escarpment overlooking the land now occupied by Cheltenham town.
A little further on was Cleeve Cloud hillfort. Two banks and ditches ringed the steep drop overlooking what is now Cheltenham. Iron Age but unexcavated… so one can imagine the round houses within… but cannot be sure of them. No clear earthworks were seen and not every hillfort had them inside the ramparts.
We descended along the steep slope towards the 19th century Dowdeswell Reservoir and Water Treatment Works.
The rain was easing but this was a less civilised corridor of landscape and there were no obvious tea break facilities. We aimed for the road crossing at Dowdeswell where a little blue beer mug on the OS map offered a destination of solace.
Down through woodland and on a gate, just before the road, a faded sign greeted us. It had pictures of chocolate bars and mugs of tea with the disappointing information that the pub was now a curry house and rarely opened during the day. The alternative… come to the cottage gate and press the bell.
So we rounded the corner, found the house and pressed. An old couple came out and gave us menus. While we ate toasted tea cakes in the garden they told us that the Cotswold Way had been very popular to start with but was now quieter and more popular with Americans. The family we had started with had been there an hour earlier.
Revived, we went on, the rain sporadic and light now. We consigned waterproofs to our packs and climbed another hill, consuming more of the chocolate supply as we rested on a bench at the top.
This had been a National Trust free day, a blank area of land.. but tomorrow we would reach the wonders of Crickley Hill and its 5,500 year old battle site.
We followed the path to a crossroads and left the Cotswold Way for Seven Springs. Here, a sign announced that we had reached the source of the great River Thames…though there are several it seems. We bypassed the pub there and crossed fields to little Coberley village.
Emma began talking about the First World War as we walked through the grass. Every little place had lost fathers and sons in the conflict. On cue, it seemed, we approached the memorial to Coberley’s fallen (so many for such a small place) and a little further on we crossed the stream and found our cottage.
The owners showed us round and the information booklet described the Time Team excavation on Coberley Roman Villa. I searched on the phone and amazingly it played the whole programme to me while Kate found out how to make the wood burning stove work and dried her wet clothes.
That evening, we went in search of the site and found a large field overlooking the stream. The mosaics and walls of the 2nd-4th century villa were invisible under long grass ..but it was good to imagine them there and the activity of the Time Team dig a decade before.
Coberley parish church enclosed by a crenellated wall beside a farm once the site of a manor house.
We walked back past the parish church. Strangely, it was enclosed by a high crenellated wall and reached via a door in a barn (once beside a medieval manor house..now gone). The door was open.. and inside the church we found the tomb of a medieval knight, Sir Thomas Berkeley, once a sheriff and MP and a member of a distant branch of the Berkeley’s of Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire. This was his manor and he once occupied the lost house. We looked at his armoured stone effigy, dating to 1405, his feet rested on the figure of a lion.
The tomb of Sir Thomas Berkeley.
A quiet place.
We were tired but enjoying the journey.
Time was suspended. All else was set aside. Just for now it didn’t matter. Our sole aim to travel through landscape to achieve our next destination.