The Cotswold Way is a 100 mile long distance walking path between Chipping Campden and Bath. Basically following the Cotswold escarpment the walk has amazing views to the west, goes through some delightful villages and flirts with history along it’s entire length. It is not for the faint hearted there are plenty of ups and downs which make your legs ache and your heart thump.
In the roasting summer of 2018 I decided to walk the northern half of the trail starting at Chipping Campden and finishing at Stroud. Over four days I walked about 56 miles with my tent on my back, stopping at two camp sites and wild camping the last night on a golf course (not on the green!)
Chipping Campden is a great example of a Cotswold market town. The honey coloured buildings that line the high street speak of the wealth the town once enjoyed in the middle ages, brought by the wool traders who operated there. Today it is a popular tourist attraction busy with visitors from all over the world.
It was a very fitting start for my walk along the Cotswold Way, the character of the town inspired me with thoughts of all the possibilities that lay ahead, things that I would see and experiences that I would have.
Not far from the start the path turns out of the town and onto a track that climbs up onto the limestone hills. Little did I realise then that this climb was a taster of what it would be like over the next four days. Walks along downs or ridge lines of hills seldom seem to follow the tops of the ridge, but rather seem to delight in exploring the slopes on their sides.
In the overwhelming heat of the summer climbing up the slopes was hard work and few times I felt really ill and had to stop and rest. I enjoyed the sun and the views that the clear sky afforded but being so hot was not so great, and there were times when I simply longed to find some shade.
To think of the Cotswolds is probably to think of idyllic villages made from a dark golden sandstone with hollyhocks growing outside of them. As with Chipping Campden these very attractive villages become tourist magnets pampering to their every need, pointless souvenirs, books that are vaguely related and coffee shops with exorbitant prices. To be honest while admiring their beauty I did not linger long in these places.
There were (I am glad to say) some smaller villages that I passed through who’s tranquillity I loved. Quintessentially English here was the peaceful village life that many of us dream of. Bathing in the hot sun to the gentle sound of wood pigeons, perfect gardens that were especially designed to show off those hollyhocks. Walking through them was a pleasure if not a little chocolate boxy with the threat of the possibility of Jeremy Clarkson lurking somewhere in the shadows!
Walking through the countryside
Fortunately there was plenty of time for solitude in the stunning countryside, places where souvenir hunting tourists fear to tread . I was surprised how much woodland there was mixed in with the rolling grasslands of the hills. These provided much welcomed shade from the sun and added a welcomed variety to the walk. As I have said there was plenty of opportunity for magnicent views and it was a great temptation to spend ages sitting on a hill top looking out towards the west, I never got tired of these views and every time I came to a new high point I felt just as excited as I had at the last one.
There was so many wild flowers along the walk and I was amazed at the number of butterflies there were. At times I walked through fields alive with them flying all around me. I do not think I have ever seen so many at one time.
Did I say flirts with history?
Of course the Cotswolds has a rich heritage both very ancient and relatively resent (Laurie Lee the writer lived there and the book Cider With Rosie is based on his early Cotswold life). My guide book often told me of points of historical interest that I was passing. There are quite a lot of Iron Age forts up on the hills but to be honest I found it difficult to recognise them most times, the all too familiar banks of earth seemed a little lost in the landscape. The most impressive prehistoric site was Belas Knap long barrow which appears to be still complete (it has been restored) with its hauntingly constructed entrances. Hailes Abbey one of the last Cistertian Monasteries in Henry VIII time is another historical site worth taking the time to investigate.
On most national trails camp sites are not that common, which can be a bit tricky if you are backpacking. It means that when backpacking you have to resort to wild camping, which I do not mind except that I am always a little anxious that the land owner will turn up and turf me off. In that respect camp sites are much more secure, and they have useful facilities like a loo and shower.
The two camp sites I stayed at on the Cotswold Way were great, the first was Hayles Fruit Farm. It was about eight in the evening when I arrived, a very friendly lady helped me sign in and opened up their shop so that I could buy a pie and cider (brewed from their fruit). The facilities were basic but very welcome, they have a cafe and in the morning I had a good breakfast there which made a great start to the day. The second camp site was Upper Hill Farm which really does B&B but have a small field with limited facilities for campers (a toilet and a sink). The guy there was very helpful again and pretty chatty, he also did a great breakfast fry up..
The third night I had to wild camp which was ok but I ended up on the side of a golf course. So I made sure I was up good and early and packed away, before the green keeper turned up and told me where to go!
I really enjoyed walking the Cotswold Way it has a deep character about it, fantastic views and charming countryside. It is quite hard work though in terms of ascents and descents especially with a tent on your back, but if you are fairly strong and fit – go for it you will not regret it.
I intend to finish the trail in 2019.