Day 32 - Cheltenham to Winchcombe
It was a leisurely start today, and that was the theme of the day. My apartment had a late check out, and the walk was one of the shortest planned at only 8.5 miles. Given my leg was still sore, it was good luck that this coincided. With pain killers and taking it fairly steady, I hoped it would be OK to walk on today.
I was disappointed to miss having a bit of an explore of Cheltenham yesterday because of resting my leg. So I was glad to take a short diversion to walk through Pittville on the way out of the town. Like Montpellier, this area very much speaks of Cheltenham’s elegant spa history. Beautifully proportioned houses and parks, it was a place in which to linger.
Then the path skirted the race course, with the one big hill I was climbing today smiling at me in the background.
Today I was doing sections of the Cotswold Way, but not sticking to it. Instead my route for the next couple of days is taking me in a less circuitous direction, so that I get to Chipping Campden tomorrow. I’m sorry not to do all of it, as it’s been really great. But there’ll be other times to come back and see the bits I’ve missed - this walk is about heading north. And initially heading upwards. There was a lot of steep climbing to get to the top of Cleeve Hill. The path was rather like a river bed, scoured between the trees. It tested my leg, but the pain didn’t get any worse, so that gave me the confidence to continue. The hyper awareness that I can have about how I’m physically feeling used to cause me anxiety, but now it is just a system of warnings and protections.
At the top I took a break to have a drink and a snack. The view down to Cheltenham was pretty good, but particularly it was lovely to sit amongst the wild flowers and observe the butterflies. There was a butterfly nature reserve just up the track, some had ventured out.
As I was sitting and watching I heard someone talking as he approached. It was Ralph, talking to Harriet, his horse. Harriet was quite interested in me, and I tried to play it quite cool and tell her with my body language that I was very used to a horse joining my picnic.
Ralph and I had a chat, and I undoubtedly confused him by telling him confidently that I was walking to Chilcompton, which I absolutely wasn’t. In the meantime Harriet ate a lot of the wildflowers.
Then out into the Winchcombe Way, which unsurprisingly heads to Winchcombe. There are a lot of Ways round here, including the Holst Way - he lived in Cheltenham so I guess he’s jumped on the Way bandwagon. Maybe you can see the Planets from his Way. (cringey muso joke, so sorry.)
I headed up towards Cleeve Common. What a revelation, an unspoilt moorland, an SSSI, and the highest land in the Cotswolds. And because they’d helpfully placed three communications towers on the edge of it I had excellent signal. That was helpful, as I could keep up with the governmental dramas. I’ve not been at all bothered about staying in touch with the news whilst I’ve been walking, and I think that’s been good for me. But this was too big to avoid.
As the moorland dipped down and the view over the plain emerged, I saw a plane travelling very low coming towards me. Initially concerned, I realised that it was maybe a student pilot. I watched the skilful manoeuvring, and I’m sure in my TVAA Tshirt they couldn’t have missed me.
Then leaving the common behind, I rejoined the Cotswold Way and followed a clear track towards Winchcombe. This was meadowland again. When walking solo the senses have a chance to really engage. I could see the blackberry flowers opening with the buds of fruit beneath them, I was followed by enthusiastic butterflies and irritating flies, I could hear the ground nesting birds calling and there was the sweet heady smell of the hay that the farmer was cutting in the field bedside me, ready to lay down a taste of summer for his livestock in the winter. All of these things I have sensed before, but in combination it was incandescent.
At the end of the track was Belas Knap Long Barrow. This is a reconstruction of the burial site that was found here, to give us an idea of what these structures looked like. In the original building 38 people were buried here, sometime between 3,700 and 3,600 BC. That is so spectacularly old. These people were probably cattle herders and hunters, and small scale farmers. Some of the skeletons had fatal head injuries, showing that raiding and conflict was common in the early Neolithic period. Although it wasn’t the original, the darkness inside the tomb spaces was very evocative.
From Belas Knap it was only a couple of miles to Winchcombe, with some impressive views to the village and over to Sudely Castle.
As I was coming down the hill towards the village I met Elisabeth, Birgitta, Ulle and John. Three Swedes and a Brit from Gothenburg on the Cotswold Way. We shared a couple of jokes, agreed that at 60 it’s fine to not want to camp, and John admired my GPS equipment (how my life has changed!) before heading off in different directions.
Winchcombe is another lovely Cotswold village. Possibly my favourite so far, with thriving shops and a gorgeous aspect from the footpath. But for some reason the musical back drop to my approach was an ear worm of The Lightning Tree, the theme tune to Follyfoot, a TV programme from my childhood. It returned to me in its full major/minor tension glory and has been with me for much of the rest of the day. I bet anyone of my age reading this has now got the tune going through their head. ‘Dreams come true if you want them to, if you want them to then it's up to you’ if you don’t know this excellent and irritatingly catchy song, the link is here. You’re welcome….
One of the issues with a short day is that it can mean arriving at the accommodation before they are ready. Because I thought this might be the case, I snuck into a combined antiques and tea shop. The owner is also an occupational therapist, and in lockdown she got a number of her clients to log their walking miles to try to get a combined total of LEJOG. They got as far as Stratford on Avon, where I’ll be in real life on Saturday. She was very supportive of what I was doing, and made an excellent cream tea!
It shows how much better my leg was that I decided to add a couple of miles to the walking total, so that I could have a look at Sudely castle, just down the road from Winchcombe. So much history in one place. I was very taken with the ruined tithe barn and banqueting hall.
I was less taken with the story of Lady Eleanor Boteler. Married to a knight at 13, then widowed, she lived in Sudeley looking after her father in law. The new king, Edward IV, liked the look of her and married her secretly. He went off her very quickly, so obviously she took herself off to a Carmelite community where she died aged 34. When Edward died 15 years later, the bishop who officiated at their wedding finally came forward and said what had happened. She had been the true Queen of England. Patriarchy…..
I consoled myself with Major General John Brocklehurst’s Campaign Commode.
And even better, a queen’s quilted privy. I had rather got my monarchs confused by this point, so I couldn’t tell you for sure which royal bottom had sat on this. Whichever, bagsy I don’t clean it.
And then a final queen, Katherine Parr, whose tomb is in the Sudeley Castle church. The poor woman was dug up centuries after being entombed, and it was discovered that her flesh had been preserved by the layers of linen she was wrapped in. Over the next 35 years people kept unwrapping her to prove the story. But of course every time they did it the putrefaction would set in, until all that remained was ‘a little brown dust’. They finally left her alone and buried just the dust.
It was good to talk to Raina and Sonja over dinner. They are from California, and have done a couple of weeks in Ireland, then shopping for toys for the grandchildren in London before walking the Cotswold Way. We shared walking stories, and despair at our respective politicians.
8.5 miles plus 2 miles to Sudeley and back
Local tipple: Cheltenham gold from Goffs brewery
Dinner at the White Hart, Winchcombe - very good.
Traditional prawn cocktail
Mushroom and truffle mac’n’cheese
New song of the day
Kick out the Windows - Parsonfield
This was suggested by someone that means a lot to me, as particularly appropriate for my walk. How right they were. I love the lyrics, and I especially love the joy and energy of the banjo bursting out as if previously suppressed. And then the static section at the end….
Video of the day
Number of anti blister measures taken today: 0 Hurrah!