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”
“Not really …could you let us know if there’s a shop nearby.”
“Just down the hill and left at the roundabout”
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).
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.
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.
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”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
‘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’
‘They’ve walked all this way with their packs on the backs’