Day 30 - Painswick to Cheltenham
Another of those rather sad and reflective conversations with a B and B owner this morning. I was saying how lovely I thought Painswick was, after the evening I had last night when it felt full of life. He said that in fact it’s a village of two halves, divided by the main road, and that the 12 shops that there used to be there have been reduced to 3 because people travel to Stroud or other bigger towns for their shopping. It’s still very beautiful though.
Another morning, another hill. I had cut a bit from the full path when planning today, but decided that I couldn’t miss the Painswick Beacon, even though it would add a bit to the mileage. I’m glad I did it. It was a bit of a climb, but the views were amazing. I’ve been so lucky to have clear skies without any heat haze. It is on the site of one of only 35 Iron Age hill forts in the UK, dated back to 400 BC. Just as with the burial site yesterday, it’s clear why it would have been chosen, they would have seen invaders from 50 miles away. It has been maintained to try to prevent erosion, but walkers are still allowed to walk along the site of the ramparts. After the climb up, and the exhilarating opening up of the scenery in this ancient place it seemed surprising that the area was shared with a golf course.
The Cotswold Way shares the space with the golfers. After I had waited for a group to tee off, I asked if the clear track ahead was the continuation of the Way. I was firmly told not, and was directed to a smaller path that was overgrown with nettles and brambles. After emerging at the bottom I saw that the clear track led all the way down to meet my path. They just didn’t want me to go down it. I know that the game gives happiness to many, including those I love, but this was not golf’s finest hour.
I took a detour on a forest track through Buckholt Wood, an extensive Cotswold commons and beech wood nature reserve. Easy clear walking, enjoying the still fresh green of the beech. And then back out onto the Way, this time ducking through Witcombe wood whilst also enjoying momentary glimpses of the view to my left.
I was on a timetable this morning, in a way I haven’t really been since setting off, as I was meeting people in Birdlip. My lovely friends Janet and Sue were making the journey down to meet me. Sue was then going to walk with me to Cheltenham whilst Janet drove to open up the apartment we are sharing for a couple of days. It was so lovely to see them both, we had a happy reunion coffee together before walking again.
It’s interesting walking with others when I’m so used to being on my own. I find that I concentrate less on the map, and therefore we made a number of wrong turns in the first half an hour or so. But soon I got into the groove, trying to keep one eye on the map whilst also enjoying Sue’s company. We continued through woodland for a while, noticing the old dry stone wall that had seen better days in the middle of the wood, together with a touching tribute to a friend.
I was keen to make sure that Sue had a look at the views I’ve been appreciating over the last couple of days, so we followed the Way closely to be able to get to the various marked viewpoints.
If only we’d picked somewhere like that for lunch. Instead I settled on a scrubby bit of grass overlooking a building site and a pylon. The houses being built are going to have the most fantastic views though.
It was good to share with Sue the fun of meeting people too. Cecil and Sharon are American, over here on a walking holiday. They are members of the Appalachian Trail club. Back home they help to maintain a particular 10 mile section of that 2000 mile long footpath. I think that’s fantastic, for it to be cared for by individuals who are so proud of what they do that they wear a cap to mark it. It was meeting someone who had walked the Appalachian Way that had inspired me to do my big walk, so I was delighted to spend time with people who can keep it going for others.
The final dramatic view was on Leckhampton Hill. This is another hill fort on another promontory, that has also been used for quarrying over three hundred years. It has resulted in sheer cliff faces and a stone formation known as the Devil’s Chimney. The hill perches above Cheltenham, where my rest day will be tomorrow.
And then all that remained was a descent. There was a long version, or a shorter one. I could see from the gradients on the map that the latter would be steep, but I hadn’t anticipated quite how dramatically so. I was fine with my poles for balance and support, but Sue faced the at times precipitous slope without any additional props. She was a trooper, sometimes going down using the trees for support, sometimes just sliding on her bottom. Most impressively gutsy.
We were pleased to see a more level path at the bottom, and then an easy walk into Cheltenham. We enjoyed learning about Edward Wilson, one of Scott of the Antarctic’s crew who died on the snowy wastes. He was a pupil at Cheltenham College which we walked past on the approach to the town. There’s no way that the pupils of that school could avoid thinking they are something special, when you see the buildings they enter every day.
And then a big excitement for my ice cream fans, a Marshfield chocoholic cone. First ice cream for weeks!
What a lovely place Cheltenham is. We walked in through Montpellier, enjoying the refined parks, lovely independent shops, and the elegant architecture.
But although not as elegant, the best building was the one in which was my apartment. Because that’s where my friends were.
Tracey and Helen had also joined us, and were waiting with Janet. We had home made cake, a cup of tea, and even more joyful - a washing machine in which I could clean everything I owned because Janet had brought me a change of clothes for the next couple of days.
Distance travelled: 15.5 miles
Total ascent: 2275 feet
Calories burned: 2050
Local tipple: Half of Efes lager
Dinner at Istanbul Kitchen Turkish restaurant in Cheltenham - fantastic, really well cooked and fresh flavours
Spinach and feta Boregi
Video of the day