Day 26 - Bath to Tolldown
Grey and drizzly today, and the blister is still very much there, but I set off with a bit of a spring as I was going to be back on a proper trail today. The Cotswold Way is over 50 years old, and runs from Chipping Campden to Bath. I’m obviously doing it in reverse, which is the more unconventional way. The National Trails are wonderful. Almost always clearly signposted, you can set off on one feeling pretty confident that you won’t get stuck in a field or have to do a lot of road walking. After the rather tedious and frustrating routes between the coast path and Bath, these next 7 days of walking promise to be greatly improved.
It started very well, taking me through the Circus and then alongside the Royal Crescent. The architecture is almost unbelievably lovely, elegant and refined. There were many people out walking their dogs, also elegant and refined. A lady spotted a man who appeared to be about to ignore his dog’s squatting in the long grass: ‘oh dear, have you forgotten your poo bag, do take one of mine!’ He accepted sheepishly. Then a steepish climb up to Dean Hill for the first of many open vistas today.
Although the Cotswold Way is described as one of the least challenging National Trails, there’s certainly hills involved. But these are rather elegant and refined too, not here the aggressively steep slopes of the coastal path that punch your chest and spasm your legs. And given it winds its way around many little villages and towns, it feels surprisingly distant from civilisation. In fact I didn’t pass a cafe, shop or pub for 11 miles.
I’ve passed quite a few walkers today, often pairs of men. The first I met was Paul (the titch - his description!) and Mark (the lanky - mine!). They had started walking together in lockdown, and try to get out most Fridays. We walked together for a little way, and they shattered my dreams by telling me that the coffee shop I had previously heard of was closed down. No tea or coffee for me all day.
About 5 miles in I passed into Gloucestershire, county four of the journey. I’m getting nearer to home.
At this point was also the commemorative plaques and memorials for the Battle of Lansdown in 1643. I regret that my historical knowledge failed me a little at this, so the excellent display filled me in a bit. The battle was won by the Royalists in the civil war, though with many casualties. As a child, I was taken on trips to battlefields, and they often left me less than impressed. Especially the one to a housing estate where I had to use a lot of imagination. However, this felt very real. The walls that the soldiers sheltered behind were still there, and some still marked by the musket fire. The fields and the copses were the same. And the sadness and stupidity of it all too, the two rival commanders were best friends as children.
Further on there was a monument to one of the generals who was killed. The writing is partially destroyed, but the initial section says:
In this battle on the King’s part were more officers and gentlemen of quality slain than Private Men.
I bet that the families of those private men slain thought that their loved ones were of quality.
Having taken a short detour to avoid some very young calves with their mothers I returned to the trail and met my only barrier of the day. A section of a couple of fields was clearly owned by a farmer who was less keen on the trails than me. There were entrances with shoulder high grass and a couple of fields blocked with locked gates. But knowing that the likelihood was that I would be able to exit this area without getting stuck meant I could be more confident to leap over the gates and continue. If only it had involved leaping. More like heaving and teetering.
Easy clear walking from now on. Some of the hills gave me the chance to further demonstrate my extraordinary sweating skills, but generally this is gentle rolling countryside. Maybe not as exciting as the wilder parts of the country, but deeply familiar and comforting.
A lovely episode when the path led through a wood. There was a message letter box, inside which, in a sealed plastic container was a visitor’s book. It was great to add my comments to those from all over the world who have been walking this route. And the wood provided a sensory change too, deadening the noise of the nearby A road and replacing it with bird song and the dripping of water from the trees.
I chatted to a couple of men who were deciding whether to continue to Bath or stop and wild camp on the outskirts. They were concerned about the lack of pubs. I encouraged them to continue to the city and try the pub I went to two days ago. I suggested that they used the opening gambit I went with - ‘I hear you’re friendly’. I think of everything I’ve done since starting my walk, that is the thing that involved the most nerve and was the most out of my comfort zone.
Then I met Diane, an Aussie who has been over here walking various trails for a couple of weeks. She’s finishing in Bath and going home after a few days there and in London. We had a great chat about walking, leaving undies in hotel bedrooms, the liberation of packing light and the way that others see us as brave or unusual for choosing to travel in our own. She described how a younger man that she met a few days ago looked at her assessingly and said ‘you’ve got balls’. We agreed that she did. And that I did too.
She left me with the final piece of information that there is a detour to the path ahead, because there’s been problems with people using the track for prostitution. I’ll watch myself.
In the last few miles I enjoyed the Cotswold stone houses and admired the elegant and unnecessary finials on the gates as I approached Dyrham Park. The house is visible from the route, also very elegant. Probably gentlemen of quality lived there….
The last little section went past some strip lynchets, the signs of old field systems. With the delightfully pink grasses blowing, the big views and this ancient land it was a special quiet moment.
And then I discovered a good luck flamingo badge that I have carried since setting off had got detached from my rucksack. A frantic search meant that I found the badge in the grasses, but the attachment was broken. It will no longer attach to the bag, so I’ll have to clutch it instead, I’m not leaving any flamingo behind.
I have a flurry of company coming up, starting with my cousin Stephen who surprised me by saying he was coming for dinner tonight. Such a joy to spend time with him, we hardly ever see each other, and for this walk to precipitate meeting up has been an excellent added bonus. And two precious friends tomorrow!
Distance travelled: 13.5 miles
Total ascent: 1963 (far more than it felt like!)
Calories burned: 2060
Local tipple : half pint of Butscombe (brewed specially for the pub)
Dinner at The Crown at Tolldown - very good
Salt and pepper calamari
Trout fish cake with watercress, greens and poached egg
New song of the day
SHUM - Go_A
This is great. Full throated Eastern European singing with drones, mixed with folk melodies and bass and drum lines.
Video of the day