Day 8 Important Visitors

Today we had important visitors. Rebecca Burton our National Trust Regional Director SW and John Orna-Ornstein National Director of Culture and Engagement. They were both very nice and Nancy showed them how to uncover mosaics alongside our Curator for Gloucestershire Julie Reynolds.

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Nancy supervising the VIPs

Later in the day Lord Vestey visited and talked about the archaeological sites on his Estate which surrounds Chedworth Roman Villa. Chedworth used to be part of the Stowell Park Estate but was purchased by National Trust with money raised through public appeal in 1924.

We have now uncovered the eastern 8m of the Reception Hall mosaic Room 25b and 8m of the corridor mosaic.

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Amy and Fay’s Corridor Mosaic

In 25b we are removing a spread of rubble building stone with lots of slates which we think is late Roman building collapse and in this we find oyster shell, animal bone, nails and some pottery. We found the base of a 4th century bowl today.

Peter is still digging down in the deep trench beside the buttress which supported the wide doorway that led into the corridor from the reception hall. Odd bits and pieces but nothing very exciting found in there today.

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The buttress trench below the corridor doorway. The central area was excavated in 2016.

CW8 Tormarton to Bath, the final leg. (Dyrham and the Assembly Rooms)

We’re coming home, we’re coming home…

A group hug as we left the hotel, the last leg of our walk along the Cotswold Way.

Kate, Emma and I needed to be at Bath Abbey by 5pm.

When asked, the receptionist said that there was a shop at Cold Ashton …so we would lunch there.

We walked through the village of Tormarton, over the M4 bridge and across farmland. There were freshly repaired drystone walls all around us. We met the wallers with their timber templates … building as we passed by.

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The dry stone wallers near Tormarton

Dodging the cars on the A46 crossing, we walked through the pasture fields down to Dyrham Park. Through the village… where I picked up and handed Emma the third find. A fragment of Tudor earthenware churned up in the verge. A side track took us to Dyrham House where I met Tim coming out of the property office.

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Walking towards Badmington Doors: The NW corner of Dyrham Park

I thanked him for showing me the cellars the last time we met.

I had often wondered what survived of the earlier Dyrhams. Tim had shown me that down a flight of stairs, under the present house are flagstone floors and the quoin stones of the Tudor house, once occupied by the family of William Blathwayt’s wife Mary.

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The view from the Cotswold Way into the West Garden of Dyrham. Newly restored c.1700 garden bed as shown on Kips view of 1700.

William was Secretary at War to William III and had sufficient funds, in the 1690s, to organise a complete rebuild of Dyrham.. in the fashionable Baroque style. He also had the park laid out as a Dutch-style water garden. It had a long canal fed by a high cascade plunging down from a pool on the escarpment edge.

We opened the door and walked into the large orangery which lies beside Dyrham House. There was a large print of Johannes Kip’s perspective view of the finished intricate garden. Drawn in 1712, it shows the newly finished gardens with their patterned beds, fountains and ornamental garden buildings.

Looking back from the orangery towards the Cotswold escarpment, Kip’s drawing is hard to believe (though where we have excavated…. the drawing has proved true). A green amphitheatre now, reworked in the late 18th century, but the pool and the Neptune statue survive to mark where the cascade once fell 50 feet into the canal.

The dry weather is gradually revealing the hidden walls in the east park. The ground dries out more quickly where there is buried stone.. with less depth to conserve moisture. Parched lines of dry grass show what lies beneath.

Dyrham Park is covered with earthworks and the National Trust has just commissioned a LiDAR survey for whole property. This fine laser scan of the property’s ground surface has revealed the time depth of the place, which dates back to the Roman period and beyond. Such a good place to live and build a house. The medieval parish church stands beside Blathwayt’s rebuild to demonstrate that a medieval manor house once stood here. Just like at Horton Court which we had walked past the previous day.

Paul, Dyrham’s archaeologist, has been working in the east hall of the house, below the Cedar staircase. Under Colonel Blathwayt’s marble flagstones of the 1840s, were timber floorboards and below these a void. Down in the cellars was a breeze block wall, placed there when the heating went in about 60 years ago. A few blocks were removed and we peered through to find a well-dressed limestone wall and a stone corbel of later medieval style.

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The blocked cellar below the Cedar stairs

We walked further into the cellars across a gushing stream conduit to find a structure with a spiral staircase leading nowhere and a window looking out into the dark.

There have been manor houses at Dyrham at least since the Saxon period and our new discoveries, in the cellars, demonstrate that there are remains from at least the 15th-17th century to be teased out by mapping the house at this low level…..

Kate, Emma and I could only afford a brief rest before moving on…. as it was already mid morning. We walked back into the countryside and were soon within woodland. A little way in, we came across a bench and beside the path a wooden box..and in the box a plastic tub and in the tub a note book and pen….left by the Cotswold Way association

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The bench and box in the woods.

Our chance to record for posterity (or at least until the book was full) that we had reached this far…to leave a message for our Australian and American compatriots who started the walk with us at Chipping Campden. We signed the book and wished them well. The wild garlic in the wood was fading and we remembered the garlic’s rich aroma and sea of white flowers near Snowshill. How quickly things change.

We were heading for Pennsylvania, a hamlet with an unlikely name on the A46. Most importantly, it had a garage with a coffee machine and snacks. We sheltered behind a sign as the refueling cars pulled in. A surprisingly cool wind and my hayfever seemed to be developing into something more significant.

A mile beyond the road was Cold Ashton. A ghost hamlet, not a person in sight and certainly not the shop promised by the Tormarton receptionist. A bench with a view and time to search for whatever remained for lunch in the rucksacks. This amounted to an emergency bag of dry roasted peanuts and two crushed Wispa bars which had been carried for 95 miles ……for a time such as this.

We feasted and moved on.

Our next destination Lansdown Hill. A long climb. Then the text noise on the phone went off. Jan said ‘when will you get there?’

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One of the information boards on Lansdown Hill.

We were confident.. 4.30pm. Time for Jan to catch the train from Warminster and meet us at the Abbey.

On Lansdown Hill we reached a battlefield… Pennants and boards marking the positions of troops. 5th July 1643. Old peace-time friends Lord Hopton (for the King) and Sir William Waller (for Parliament) fought it out above the downlands of Bath. Waller held the City and Hopton led an army which was marching through the West Country seizing any outposts of Parliamentary strength that remained.

A pitched  battle between thousands of cavalry, musketmen and pikemen. Significant losses on both sides but in the end Waller continued to hold Bath and Hopton retreated to Devizes. The information boards tell of the ebb and flow of the battle… amongst the sound of skylarks.

The path over Lansdown took ages and we got lost in a golf course again. The time ticked by and there was no way we would be there by 4.30pm. Finally the City was below us and we were descending into the outskirts of this Georgian World Heritage Site…. overlying Roman Aquae Sulis, centred around a bathing and religious complex because of its magical hot water spring.

We started at the National Trust Chipping Campden market hall and we would finish close to the Bath Assembly Rooms, owned by the National Trust since 1931. It is now leased as a fashion museum by Bath & NE Somerset Council. This was a place mentioned in the Jane Austen novels ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’. Designed in 1769 as place for fashionable Georgian society to meet, dance and play. Austen describes one of the main functions of the place… for mothers to bring their unmarried daughters in the hope of finding an eligible husband (with loads of money).

The place declined in the 19th century but following work by the Society of the Protection of Ancient Buildings and NT….it was fully restored by 1938… but not for long. One of the bombs from the Luftwaffe raids on Bath 25-26th April 1942, hit the building and it became a burnt out shell. Nothing was done for years but it was finally restored and opened again in 1963.

Inspired by the discoveries at Dyrham…. it would be good to find time to look in the cellars and see whether there are remains of medieval and Roman Bath hidden down there. A visit to the Roman Bath complex near the Pump Room and Abbey demonstrates what lies hidden under the City.

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The Royal Crescent Bath

Jan texted again ‘Where are you ?

‘We had walked all day…beginning at 8am on the wrong side of the M4. Kate told us 5pm was the deadline to complete the walk. She needed the train to London.

Now, weaving through the smart, city-busy shoppers and tourists, our goal seemed unlikely to achieve. Then, the Royal Crescent and Circus were behind us. We headed for the Pump Room and Baths …it might be possible. As we approached the Abbey Tower the mechanism was whirring. ‘Come on Kate!’ I touched the stone as it struck one, Emma at two. Kate pulled a face.. paused… and touched on the stroke of 5.’

Jan was there waiting for us and we went straight to the station. Kate slipped into something more civilised, got her train and left for London. A couple of days later Emma took the plane for Milan from Bristol Airport.

Had I become a lean hardened walker? One of my aims was to become fit again…after so much time at a desk writing emails. Too many large breakfasts and relaxed evening meals had counteracted the 100 mile benefits of the walk ….and now my hayfever had shifted into a cold, turning into a hacking cough….then my back seised up in protest.. but after a couple of days of rest….

What would be my final Top tip be for you.

Block out two weeks next May and/or June and just do it. Life is short and the cycle of English flowers will not wait for you.

Hand-pick a good companion… or just go on your own… you will meet people out there.

Now…. I must pack the car full of tools and drawing boards, measuring tapes and files …and tomorrow head for Chedworth Roman Villa.

 

 

 

 

 

CW7 Wotton-Under-Edge to Tormarton (Newark Park & Horton Court)

On the morning of our 7th day on the Cotswold Way, I waited in reception for Kate and Emma, contemplating my damaged feet but pleased with the freshly laundered socks which would assist me, hopefully, to reach Bath.

Top tip: Drying socks (always a problem if you’ve washed them out in the sink). Shove them on the end of the hotel hair dryer at full power. Ensure a full watching brief of course to prevent overheating.

Ron and Sue said farewell. We agreed that we had shared an experience. One of those spiritual long distance lifetime bonds had been formed. At random moments.. in years to come…thoughts of a meeting at Crickley Hill in the rain would link Queensland with Wiltshire.

The girls arrived.. and our Australian friends said that if ever we were passing Gladstone.. We smiled, shared some more about our lives and families and said goodbye. Their planned progress would now be slower and they would gradually fall behind us on the trail.

Another town another Tescos. More provisions and then up the slope and we were back on the Cotswold escarpment.

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Newark Park an 18th century overlay of a 16th century lodge

We crossed onto National Trust land again at Newark Park. The house rises three stories high over a basement. Close to the edge for wonderful views. It was originally a hunting lodge, built in the mid-16th century for the Poyntz family of Acton Court near Bristol. In 1600, it was sold to the Low family who in 1672 extended it to make an H shaped building. The Clutterbuck family bought it in the 18th century and James Wyatt, architect, transformed it to its present form..encasing the earlier phases which lie buried within. The building currently has many of its floorboards lifted for repairs. Ian is recording the hidden archaeology of the building that has now been exposed.

A few years ago, Ian’s archaeology shook up what we thought we knew of Newark’s history, when a service trench was dug between the mansion and the escarpment. He found new walls and basement rooms containing earlier 17th century pottery. It seems that the Low family redesigned the house when they first bought it and then later in the century thought better of it.

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Newark beside the escarpment: Archaeological recording in the snow as a service trench reveals backfilled basements dating from the early 17th century

We walked past Blackquarries Hill long barrow, Newark’s scheduled monument. Michelle, the NT ranger, along with the Cotswold Wardens, have recently conserved the site and now it is preserved under grass with a new information board. There are no records of excavation but if it is a Neolithic site, it would have included a community burial lodge where bones were placed and curated and perhaps brought out for ceremonies at special times and then replaced in the burial chamber. This was the way of death around 3,800-3,600 BC

A warm and sultry day, drifting through the countryside: our target was the pub at Hawksbury Upton. We arrived late morning, had drinks and moved back into the outdoors.

This was our way of life now.

Emma said. This is good… We could just keep on walking’

‘Turn left at Bath, click onto the Wessex Ridgeway, down to Lyme Regis and take the coast path to Land’s End’.. I chipped in helpfully…’we’ve got the summer’….

but we hadn’t really.

‘I haven’t heard the news for days… It doesn’t matter…. We’re just travelling in a bubble of beauty’

‘Pass me a snicker bar, I think there’s one in my rucksack’

‘We ate the last one an hour ago’

‘Broadway seems like a dream to me now’

‘It took us four days to foot hike from Leckhampton’

‘We’ve all gone to look for….’

I don’t know….What did we set out to find? Whatever it was..we had become charmed by it. Sinking into a field of oxeye daisies and buttercups, we rested. The girls made flower chains and wove garlands to place in our side pockets.

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And the sun rose over an open field.

We next encountered Horton Court, nestled at the spring line below us. An ancient place. The oldest roofed building owned by the National Trust. The 12th century hall beside the parish church. From the hall, the house developed over the centuries. Layers and phases of building..constructed and reconstructed down to the 21st century. Now, newly refurbished for new tenants and surrounded by the medieval remains of its deer park, rabbit warren, string of fishponds and the footings of the old village visible as slight terraces in neighbouring fields.

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Horton Court: left is William Knight’s loggia, to the right is Horton Court and behind the parish church tower.

This was where William Knight lived in the early 16th century. He was educated in Italy and was sent by Henry VIII to negotiate his divorce so that the King could marry Ann Boleyn. We glimpsed the garden loggia behind the trees, built by Knight to a renaissance style. perhaps copied from memories of his time in Florence. Very ahead of its time for England. We found out that it dates from 1517 (the date given by the tree ring pattern in the roof trusses).

We walked up to Horton Camp, one of 30 National Trust Iron Age hillforts in Wessex. It consists of a single rampart and ditch. One of a string of such fortifications along the escarpment but this one has never been dated by excavation.

The Cotswold Way then took us to Little Sodbury. A quiet little village with a large comfortable bench-seat beside the parish church. The church has been rebuilt since William Tyndale’s time. A large noticeboard records his achievement, and later we walked up to Sodbury hillfort, past the site of the church he preached in. His first translation of the New Testament into English, commemorated by the tower over North Nibley we visited yesterday.

This hillfort was more impressive than Horton. Two ramparts rather than one. Kate was not impressed: she’d seen enough hillforts and long barrows and it was late afternoon.

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A pause for a shandy at Old Sodbury and then a trek across Doddington Park. A high status place, our access was allowed …as our common right.. but we were reminded to stay on the path. A helicopter landed in the distance ..with guests for the Duke.

One more, poppy filled field in the dusk as we approached the hotel at Tormarton.

We dined in a glass covered courtyard with a fountain, surrounded by trailing vines. Kate said that this was one of the nicest parts of each day and we thought back through the meals along the way to Chipping Campden…sad that this would be the last of our evenings together.

 

 

CW6 Stroud to Wotton-under-Edge (Woodchester Park & Coaley Peak

 

This group of posts is an intermission until Nancy starts the new series of Chedworth Roman Villa blogs on 9th July. We can promise you large amounts of mosaic this year and one or two small trenches to answer outstanding questions… before we end our time there.

Until then…. I am still zzzz walking the Cotswold Way with my daughters Kate and Emma and linking up with National Trust properties along the path.. dropping in some key archaeological facts. This, while sharing the pain and the pleasure.. along with my experienced tips as a long suffering long distance walker.. a little past his prime.

There were now three days left to us to walk the other half of the Cotswold Way. Kate needed to return to work in London and Emma had a job to go to in Italy. Our aim… to reach Bath Abbey by 5pm on 29th May.

Our walking distances would now become longer (due to an accommodation malfunction) so we woke early… 2 miles from the path. We needed to be on the road by 8 to catch up.

Heading downhill towards the Stroudwater Canal, we were determined to put the miles behind us before the promised ominous yellow weather warning proved itself.

A red sports car pulled over and an attractive woman leaned across from her seat and opened the door.

“Want a lift?”

I was tempted.. but I looked across at Kate and she shook her head.

“That’s so kind of you but we’ve walked all the way from Chipping Campden and it would feel like cheating”

“Sure?”

“Not really …could you let us know if there’s a shop nearby.”

“Just down the hill and left at the roundabout”

“Many thanks”

She smiled, moved back behind the steering wheel and drove away.

Kate said: “I don’t know how we would have fitted in anyway”

Good point, well made

At the roundabout we found Tescos. A retail treasure house. We got Clementine easy peelers, snack bars, pasties, (vegetarian equivalent for Emma), orange cartons and chocolate (as supplies had declined significantly).

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Ebley Mill, Stroudwater Canal

At the Stroudwater Canal and Ebley Mill we rejoined the Way (Alternative Route). This took us across a road and then over a field towards the village of Selsey.

A herd of horned cows and calves blocked our way forward. Kate refused to move. I did my normal cow-thing of showing them I meant business by blowing several loud loose raspberries and waving my arms a bit. This has always had magical effects and they shifted to one side so that I could coax Kate to adopt a wide route around them to the stile, which led to safety and the village. We made sure that we did not walk between a calf and its mother and all was well..apart from the sky which looked sick.

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Selsey Village from Selsey Common with sick sky

A steep walk to the top of Selsey Common where a herd of runners came out of nowhere and disappeared into the woods. We needed the pub at King Stanley and as we had walked off our last OS map, we were making do with the maps in the Cotswold Way National Trail Hand book.

Top tip: Always have the appropriate 1:25000 scale maps for the length of your walk so that you can see the footpath clearly in context. I had maps for almost the whole route. You need OL45; 179 168; 167; and 155. Though 167 has such a short bit of the CW on it..I opted out of that one (read on)

After asking around we eventually found the pub…way off track… at 11.30am. It did not open until 12 and the sky was a kind of mustard colour. We went to the car park and found a tin shelter with plastic chairs and a table.

A sudden crack of thunder and it started to rain. A note on the pub door suggested we phoned and I left a message saying that we were poor walkers needing the facilities and would it be at all possible for an earlier opening this Sunday.

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A photo of the rain from our shelter

We were pleased with the tin lean-to. The storm hit and it rained torrentially with thunders and lightnings for about a quarter of an hour.

Then a kind man opened the back door and we had pots of tea and cake and watched a repeat of Britain’s got Talent on TV and later a group of sodden walkers who had been…out there.. in it.. made an entrance.

Refreshed we plodded back up hill, to the path, as the rain gradually receded. We were back on it.. took off our wet weather gear and crossed Middleyard and then farmland. Met a couple of walkers coming towards us. “Where are you bound for”

“Dursley”

“But we’re going to Dursley”(apparently not)

“We’ve just left our car at the Stroudwater Canal”

Oh dear… we sheepishly had to follow them back to to junction where the Cotswold Way and the Alternative route Cotswold Way reunite and head towards Dursley. I should have invested in map 167 or have concentrated more on which green dotted line I was following on the National Trail Hand book.

So, that is how we found ourselves at 1.30pm where we had been at 11am with about 15 miles still to do.

We now embarked on a stretch of virtual motorway, the path followed the contours through woodland. A near level, straight and sheltered path. All good now that the sun was out. We did not stop until we rose up and broke out of the trees at Coaley Peak car park. The luxury of a picnic bench and our Tescos lunch at 3pm.

Below us was the Woodchester Valley and Woodchester Park. At the far end of this is the village and the Woodchester Roman Villa with its vast 4th century mosaic, decorated with extraordinary and intricate rings of beasts and geometric designs.. now buried again.

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Woodchester Mansion

The National Trust owns the upper valley with its string of dams and great lakes constructed in the late 18th century. They were created as a landscape feature but were also used to drive a water mill and feed a series of fish and eel traps. There are also the ruins of a brickworks and a Tudor glassworks in the woods.

The NT owns the ice house, the engine house, the coach houses and stables but not Woodchester Mansion (Woodchester Mansion Trust) . The mansion occupies the site of a string of earlier houses dating back to at least Tudor times.. but this last great building was for William Leigh.

He purchased the Woodchester Estate in 1845 and from 1855-1873 demolished the old house and built a fashionable Neo-Gothic place. The work slowed down as William’s health declined and stopped on his death in 1873. It is a great place to visit because it is a Victorian building frozen in time. The builders just walked away and therefore the wooden false-work is still in place: it was used for propping stonework and forming arches as the room were being constructed. Walking along a corridor, a row of intricately carved ceiling bosses will end in a blank where the mason packed his bag and left without finishing, 145 year ago.

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Surveying the excavation of the Woodchester stables and coach houses in 2012

The NT has consolidated and restored the outhouses and discovered the site of the steam engine that powered the saw mill and lathes. In a side valley near the house archaeologists have also worked to uncover the lost 19th century Italianate garden which is now a series of grass covered terraces complete with a ruined temple building at the head of the valley with a circular pool at the bottom. It feels a bit like the Boboli Gardens in Florence and we wonder what ornamentation and statuary once stood here. There are no surviving records.

A hidden place and a world in itself, the Woodchester valley has been cleared of many of the 20th century plantations that once obscured the original landscape views of the lakes. A good place to visit.

At our nearby bench we had finished two rounds of Clementines and I had just wandered over to look at the Nympesfield long barrow. This one has lost its capstones and the chambers are open and visible. Excavated three times from 1862-1974 it once contained the remains of 20-30 individuals upwards of 5,500 years ago. A hearth was found, perhaps part of the funerary ritual, and at the end of its use the forecourt and principal chamber were blocked.

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The Nympsfield Long Barrow at Coaley Peak car park.

We crossed the boundary into National Trust Coaley Peak which has great views out across the landscape and the remains of numerous Cotswold limestone quarries hacked out of the escarpment in the 18th-20th centuries and now colonised with plant-life and butterflies.

The next stop along the escarpment was Uley Iron Age hillfort which has an interesting bent rectangular shape and is full of the marks of round houses and enclosures. Nearby is another megalithic long barrow, which you can crawl into, and the site of an extensive Iron Age and Romano-Celtic religious complex which included a palisade, temple, outbuildings and settlement. It was in use from at least the 1st century until the end of the 4th century AD and was replaced about AD 380 by a structure interpreted as a Christian church.

Then it was the descent to Dursley. We should have gone up Cam Long Down but it seemed like another steep climb just to come down again and at this stage we needed to conserve energy. Our level short-cut was along a footpath at a field edge where we located a second prehistoric flint scraper, deep brown and on its own, finely worked. Someone dropped it about 4000 years ago.

A rarely used footpath, we struggled in nettles along a broken stream-bed and emerged at a field where a triplet of crazy short Shetland ponies were ducking under fences and careering around at full tilt and annoying all the other animals.

Then Dursley…at last. We needed a drink and it was 5.30. A pub was luring punters in with loud 80s music so I ordered long cool liquids of various kinds to the sound of Wham and we prepared ourselves for the next steep climb.

Out of the town and a struggle to another summit and another golf course and down again towards North Nibley. We made Nibley jokes (we’d lost it by then). Kate wanted poppies and at last we encountered the first few, bursting red out of the corn as our path made us wade through a field of green wheat.

Then.. a bit of love, a cottage with a sign saying Cotswold Way walkers fill your bottles and a water tap and beside it a fridge with filled bottles of cold water.

Such a lovely evening. Everyone had gone home but Emma said that the air was pure and cool and it was a fine time to enjoy the countryside. We began our last ascent of the day towards the high stone monument on the hill.

We got there…in the end and sat on a bench dividing up the last Clementine and taking in the far misty view into the lowering sunlight, across southern Gloucestershire towards the Severn Estuary.

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The Tyndale Monument

I walked over to the monument and read the plaque. Built in 1866 in grateful remembrance of William Tyndale who was martyred in 1536 because they disagreed with his first translation into English of the New Testament. It was too dangerous then, they thought, for just anyone to be able to read the words of Jesus …it seems.. though it’s probably far cleverer to let everyone read them and tell them that its rubbish so they don’t bother.

The next bit was level but Westridge Wood went on and on (much like this blog) and then at last the steep descent into Wotton-Under-Edge. Very pretty and we were glad to see it and the Swan and the receptionist who said.

‘Do you want a meal because we stop serving at 8’

(it was 7.55)

‘Yes please.’

‘That’s OK, I’ll tell the chef’

and we were shown to our room and after a rapid rearrangement we came downstairs and found a table.

A group beside us were talking in Australian.

Sue turned to us and said.

‘Hey, good to see you again. (she turned to her new friends) ‘These guys are our inspiration’

Ron agreed

‘They’ve walked all this way with their packs on the backs’

‘Imagine’.

CW5 Painswick to Stroud (Haresfield Beacon & Randwick)

This blog series seeks to link the experience of the Cotswold Way with the line of National Trust properties which it threads through. It also offers top tips to any potential walker planning to embark on this National Trail.

Today’s top tip is: plan your walk so that it is divided into roughly equal day long lengths and to choose accommodation close to the line of the long distance path.

The day 5 stop was disappointingly close to Painswick and a couple of miles away from the footpath. It was booked in the mistaken belief that it was in Kings Stanley rather than on the north side of Stroud.

I explained the miscalculation to my companions Kate and Emma and tried to paint   a bright picture saying that it would mean we would arrive early at the B & B that day. The flip side was that on the following days of the walk the distances would be …a little longer.

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Painswick town is very pretty. We walked out of it in light misty rain but nothing worth putting on waterproofs for.

Soon we found a field with a stone pillar in it. On one side was Chipping Campden 47 miles and on the other Bath 55.

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This is an area full of National Trust properties. The Stroud Commons: Minchinhampton Rodborough, Boundary Court. Today we would pass through Cotswold beech woods the National Trust’s Mansfield Wood and Stockwood and then Haresfield Beacon, Shortwood and Randwick Wood.

The trees were tall and slender, misty and a little sub tropical. They reminded me of the New Zealand native bush. I mentioned this to Ron and Sue from Queensland when we bumped into them again deep in the woods… but they were not impressed. No chance of bumping into flights of terraced Maori kumara pits in Gloucestershire… but it had that feeling… that suddenly a fantail would flit out of the dark and rest on a branch beside me.

At lunch time we climbed up from a farmyard and reached the end of the Iron Age hillfort of Haresfield Beacon. Although mist shrouded there was still a hazy distant view. We made camp surrounded by buttercups. Feasting on yesterday’s sandwiches and some of the less appealing chocolate bars that had survived this far.

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The ranger had shown me pottery he had found in rabbit scrapes here. It confirmed earlier discoveries that this place had been re-occupied in the Roman period. One of the sherds was Iron Age, as might be expected, and a geophysical survey here a few years ago found a series of ditched enclosures in the central area between the faint bank at the escarpment edge (where we sat) and the broad high rampart that marked the east end of the hillfort.

In recent years the National Trust countryside team have moved back the scrub woodland edge to reveal the rampart and entrance into the hillfort. The earthworks and the views out can now be far better appreciated.

We followed the edge round to Shortwood where there is a toposcope looking down onto two mounds which have recently been revealed. We think that they might be previously unrecorded Bronze Age burial mounds with a fine prospect back to the ridge of Haresfield. They are a good shape but lie close to old quarry workings so would need further investigation to prove that they were prehistoric rather than 18th-19th century spoil heaps.

Back into woodland. Randwick has a cross ridge dyke. This is probably about 3000 years old..later Bronze Age. A defence before hillforts. It defends the vulnerable level approach to a steep sided spur of land.

Beyond this, we passed two small Early Bronze Age round barrows and then the whale back of the Randwick megalithic long barrow 56m long and up to 26m wide and standing 4m high. Over 5,500 year old, it has a personality and like Belas Knap has a stone forecourt and megalithic entrance on its NE side. It was partly excavated in 1883 when a chamber was found containing disarticulated human bones. Other human remains were unearthed in a passage into the south west side.

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When I first saw this impressive earthwork it was hidden by bushes but much work has been carried out by the NT rangers and it is now looks really good as a grass covered clearing within the trees surrounded by later abandoned quarries.

We were descending into Stroud and seeking out a pub called the Carpenter’s Arms but we were too late and it was closed. An equally disappointed local couple guided us to the Prince of Wales where we bought large cool drinks and admired the sun which had now broken out of the clouds.

We lost the Cotswold Way in the Stroud suburbs but impressed ourselves with our map reading and bumped into it again.

Then, continued down slope through a vineyard to the Stroud Canal. Level and straight it took us through locks and old cloth mills until it was time to back track up hill to the accommodation. A long slog in the heat to approximately half a mile from the Prince of Wales.

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Still the chance to sample gourmet food in the restaurant and observe the disappointed faces of those in the bar watching Liverpool v Real Madrid.

Kate said “I thought this was going to be the easy day !”

CW 4 Coberley to Painswick (Crickley Hill)

Day 4 of the epic trek along the Cotswold Way.. accompanied by my surprisingly resilient daughters.

The sound of drumming on the cottage skylight demonstrated that our walk was proving to be symmetrical. The opening two days in brilliant sunshine followed by two days of rain.

I checked the met office ap which foretold precipitation until 2pm. Kate and Emma groaned and we had a leisurely breakfast. No impetus to embark.

Top tip: when considering long distance walking… choose the middle of the year when the days are long. Although autumn sunsets can be beautiful, early darkness can catch you out. Long ago I spent a night on a Pennine Way moor when we ran out of time and lost the path in the blackness. Baldersdale hostel was out there somewhere but proved impossible to find.

We wrapped our clothes in plastic bags and eventually set off in our waterproofs, dodging the articulated lorries back at the Seven Springs Hotel and then heading north. The path branched from the A435 to Cheltenham and aimed towards Hartley Hill and the escarpment edge.

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I suggested to the girls that we would be at Crickley Hill by late morning but the Cotswold Way is cruel here…it kinks backwards and forwards. We could have dropped south from Coberley and followed the Gloucestershire Way which would have taken us to Crickley in no time…. but of course…. that would have been wrong.

We reached the top of Hartley Hill in rain and deep mist. Memorial benches loomed out of the murk. It was suggested, on the seat plaques, that there were fine views that people had once loved. We assumed that this must be true as we grunted mutual commiseration with the wet walkers who crossed our path. An Australian couple were backpacking too and had considered camping but had plumped for B&B like us.

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Soon we had reached the famous Leckhampton hillfort. Excavations here had found Early Iron Age pottery and guard chambers at the entrances through the hillfort. The ramparts were of stone, laced with transverse timbers and found to be burnt when excavated.

The Cotswold Way symbol is the ‘ Devil’s Chimney’ which of course needed to be seen and photographed as part of the CW experience. The girls weren’t bothered so I did a slight detour and found it. A limestone pillar the old quarrymen had left behind, looming above a steep drop.

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The Devil’s Chimney

We pressed on. There was something about the next stretch that seemed interminable. The route dropped down and then zig-zagged along roads and fields and more roads. The clock ticked and it was hard to know whether it was better to be soaked by rain or by the perspiration we generated  inside our own water-proofs.

A narrow road took us past a college …with the welcoming siren call of a bistro with hot drinks ..but Crickley beckoned. We finally entered the woods weaving between the trees. I knew this place.. just a mile up the path was the tea room and our lunch stop.

At last, we burst out of the vegetation at the car park and found Ron and Sue our Australian compatriots from Cleeve Hill. We looked frazzled and they looked cool and collected under umbrellas. They welcomed us like old friends and said they’d taken a taxi there.

We staggered into the tea room like outlaws and dumped our sodden rucksacks beside the door. Scattered civilised people dotted the room and we grabbed a table at the back. Ignoring the now crushed sandwiches, made that morning, I strode to the bar and ordered hot chocolates and toasted ciabattas.

A young couple and their baby sat at the next table… and politely winced with the rest of the room as we peeled off our waterproofs and boots.

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Crickley Hill

Revived, we left the now empty cafe and walked through the entrance of the hillfort. The sky was clearing and we could now appreciate the strategic position of this place jutting out from the Cotswold edge with views to the Welsh hills.

We know a lot about Crickley because the site was excavated each summer from 1969-1993

The strongest earthwork defences faced the level land towards the tea room but the other sides had steep drops which did not require ramparts. These Iron Age features enclosed two periods of Early Iron Age occupation and both ended in fire and destruction it seems. The first settlement about 700 BC had rectangular houses (very unusual and rather continental) and the second of about 500 BC had the more conventional round houses.

Further in, I pointed out the low banks of the Early Neolithic causewayed enclosure. This proved to be remarkable as hundreds of leaf-shaped arrowheads were found scattered across the earthworks suggesting that there had been a battle here about 3500 BC. Such ancientness.. and strange to think that the people who occupied the hillfort were closer to us in time than these Neolithic people.

Nobody lived here it seems in the later Iron Age and Roman periods but the excavations found that, in the dark days after the Roman military were withdrawn from Britain, people took shelter here again in the 5th-6th century AD.

Now it was time for the crossing of the A417. At a National Trust meeting  here a few weeks earlier, I had witnessed back packers dicing with death as they braced themselves for this challenge. Smell the clutch pads, someone had said, as the massed vehicles screeched and juddered towards the roundabout.

There are extensive consultations and discussions taking place to solve the traffic problems at this hot spot where several roads meet. The solution needs to work but protect and improve the environment and include a green bridge where future walkers can cross in safety.

I did not feel nimble, we were carrying too much weight and the trucks and cars kept coming. A driver caught my eye and halted, another shamed into compliance did the same and we crossed to the island. Eventually a slight gap and we were across the opposite carriageway to the Air Balloon Inn.

It was getting quite late now.

Still…now the fog was clearing and views opened out over Gloucester from Barrow Wake, the site of the famous Late Iron Age burials. Three bodies discovered by quarrymen in 1879. Two men without grave goods and a woman accompanied by a decorated bronze mirror, a bracelet and two bowls.

We met Ron and Sue again who said that they’d probably take the bus at Birdlip. We left them and became concerned that they were not taking the pain of the walk seriously. What did they think this was… a holiday or something.

We needed to get a move on and stepped it out along mile after mile of contour hugging woodland. If we had been more leisurely, we would have taken the detour to Great Whitcombe Roman Villa but we had gone beyond such dalliances.

We reached Cooper’s Hill at 5pm. The annual cheese rolling championships were that weekend and the path crossed the foot of it. A camera crew was filming at the top of the steep slope and members of the team were keeping an eye on the bottom. We looked up.. very glad that we didn’t have to go up there. Someone shouted READY! and we expected a cheese to start bouncing down the slope with someone bouncing behind it but nothing happened. Someone shouted READY! again but nothing happened again so we went round the corner. We rested, drew chocolate from the store and put a battered banana out of its misery.

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The camera crew at the cheese rolling summit of Cooper’s Hill

We then discovered that the path did in fact go to the top of Cooper’s Hill so slogged up there and found the film crew.  We became distracted and missed the path and mistakenly plunged into woodland without guidance. Always a good idea to stop and back-track if no fresh CW markers are found.  It turned out that the correct turning was beside the film crew… who were packing up.

Then on and on through woodland and then out onto a golf course and then Painswick Beacon hillfort. Kate thought we could miss that and take the straightest possible route to Painswick itself.

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We walked through an active limestone quarry with some good geological stratigraphy but we weren’t that interested by that stage and dropped down into the town.

8pm and we staggered into the medieval hotel. Glad to rest and rebuild ourselves and then slip into the pub next door to eat and talk.

 

 

 

CW3 Cleeve Hill to Coberley

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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