The Cotswold Way – Day 8

June 14, 2003: Uley to Wotton-under-Edge

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Hodgecombe Farm from Cam Long Down

Skies were clearing as I peered through my panoramic bedroom windows early on the morning of our second day. We met for breakfast at 8:30; these meals were certainly modest by our former standards: some dry cereal (Margie liked to mix four different kinds), scrambled eggs (today Harold and I each added one sausage), toast and coffee. Catherine Bevan baked all her own bread and made her own jams as well.

We also had a floorshow, although an unsettling one. Seated at the edge of a flowerbed was Merlin, the dozy black cat. Much to our surprise (and his too) a mouse began to bounce in front of the cat’s nose in the grass. Merlin must have thought he was dreaming but just on the off-chance that this was for real he made a belated pounce, stunning his prey. This was all too easy and to make it more sporting the cat kicked the mouse in the air and pounced a few more times, finally beginning to gnaw on his breakfast as we concluded our own.

We brought our bags down. I had arranged with Compass Holidays, as last year, for the forward movement of these objects. and I was a bit concerned since the firm had promised to send labels to Hodgecombe Farm and none had arrived. I had brought a few labels with me and these we attached, but I worried all day about the fate of our packs. “If they don’t pick them up I’ll have to send a taxi for them myself,” I said to our hosts.

We began our walk at 9:45, walking down the farm access road, across the paved valley road and then steeply up the flank of Cam Long Down. This wasn’t the easiest beginning for a day’s walk, but we paused several times for breath-taking and in this way we were overtaken by two complaining lads who had come down from Uleybury. We soon had great views back across the valley, though Hodgecombe Farm was partially hidden in trees and it seemed dwarfed by the farm next door. Every time I could see a vehicle on the roadway below I fantasized that here might be the Compass company, come to fetch our bags.

After a stile we climbed into the woods that fringed the summit of Cam Long Down and Harold and I left the women behind ­– examining a plant. On top there were a number of routes but I did not take the most direct one to Cam Peak, the smaller sister of our own summit, preferring to walk over the summit plateau in order to obtain one of those far-reaching western vistas for which the Cotswold Way is famous.

When the women had rejoined us I found a path out to the saddle and we began a less challenging ascent of Cam Peak. We had to walk through a field of cows here (Margie always made me go first, especially after I had showed her a clipping about a woman who had been trampled by cows). There were lots of locals about, some accompanied by dogs, but we had the summit of Cam Peak pretty much to ourselves as we sat on the grass to drink some liquid.

Before us was a lovely view of Dursley and we could see the distant Tyndale Monument as well and after our rest we began our descent. Tosh thought she had uncovered another mouse but it was only a piece of wool. (Both of the Lees had undergone cataract surgery this year and both claimed they could see much better; Harold, in particular, said colors were much more intense.)

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The descent to Dursley from Cam Peak

At the bottom of the steep descent we passed through a small copse and emerged on a roadway. I was glad I was paying special attention to the guidebook because the sign for our next turn-off was pretty well disguised in the foliage of a roadside hedge. An electric fence was our next obstacle but there was rubber hose over the wire in critical spots. We rejoined a lane on the opposite side of this field and we had soon reached the highway into Dursley. We had only completed about two and half miles of the ten required for conclusion of this stage.

I had mentioned the possibility of packed lunches to Mrs. Bevan but she hadn’t the ingredients at such short notice and suggested that we could buy food in Dursley. I now proposed that instead of buying sandwiches here we could dawdle for forty-five minutes or so and have a pub lunch. The others agreed and Tosh asked a man who was polishing the brass on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ door if there was a place to get coffee. He recommended the Methodist Church and we continued on into the busy village, where kids in the churchyard were being entertained and shoppers were doing their Saturday chores.

We crossed over to the Market Hall and entered a pedestrian precinct so Marge could buy some more postcards (she sent between 30 and 40 of these missives on this trip, many to people in old folks homes). I then accompanied her in a search for a pillar box that had a Sunday pick-up while the Lees, sitting on a stone parapet, were served tea and biscuits by the Methodists (Tosh had to eat these, even though we were waiting around for lunch.)

Then we returned to the pedestrian zone and headed uphill, encouraged by the sight of pubs already doing business, and after many stops (including Tosh’s raid on a bakery) turned left at May Lane. I was aiming for the Old Spot Inn, where a resident Westie was lounging in the sunny doorway. We took a shaded table in the garden and had our drinks (my first pint of lager for the day) before ordering our food. Tosh and I had sausages and mash, but neither of us cleaned our plate. Every plant in the garden was analyzed while petanque players next door tossed their silver balls.

I had suggested, gently, that it might be nice to leave by 1:00 – as we still had over seven miles to go – and this was acted on with good will. Harold, our bookkeeper for the trip, paid up, and we began another steep climb along a suburban street that rose above the village and entered woodland.

There was some ambiguity about the direction of a waymark and Tosh abruptly abandoned the lane I wanted to use in favor of a parallel trail at a higher elevation. We could hear her getting farther away from us and I warned her not to stray too far to the left, but it was with some relief that we discovered her waiting for us near the top. A little path brought us out next to the clubhouse of the golf course on the flat hilltop expanse of Stinchcombe Hill.

Unfortunately there was an arrow pointing southwest here and Tosh had a hard time understanding that the CW actually does a two-mile circuit of the hilltop before using this exit. Our route required us to head in a northerly line along a road through the golf course before veering off to circumnavigate a western projection. At first there was muttering from the lady but as the views were so wonderful from this side of the escarpment she soon agreed that she had been wrong to complain. Golfers were all about (we were grateful that the chap teeing off just a few feet to our right did not slice his shot).

It was quite hot (I had lathered up again at lunch) and cover was absent for a good deal of this perambulation; our path, just below the level of the greens, bobbed up and down before reaching the westernmost extremity and climbing up to a topograph and a trig point. We turned a corner and headed east, often guessing on the correct path to take – with CW signs appearing only infrequently. At one point we crossed the course itself (signs warned golfers that there were walkers about) in order to rejoin our original road, which we could now follow back to that turnoff arrow.

This pointed at some unmown grass between two greens and there wasn’t much evidence of a path; the exit into the woods was also uncertain and I wandered about, scouting in several directions, before taking a final compass reading (I took many on this trip) and choosing an unmarked but likely looking downward path heading in a southwesterly direction.

A farm on our right was encouraging and we soon found another waymark, emerging from the woods and crossing several hot fields before emerging at a small collection of houses near a millstream (Harold convinced himself that this must be a pub). We crossed the road rising to North Nibley and began a steep parallel climb up a track, resting once near the top, and making our way at last into the village in question.

There were lots of people about, including many kids who were heading for a toy railway display near the church. Our route took us in the opposite direction, out to the busy road where the welcome sight of the Black Horse pub could be seen across the street. It was just going 3:00 and we had a nice rest in the pub’s shadows. I took my boots off and let my feet get cool on the flagstones, downing my second pint of lager for the day.

At about 3:45 we re-crossed the road and headed uphill to a point opposite our next turnoff. After dashing across a highway yet again we headed onto a very steep path uphill on Nibley Knoll. Quite a few trippers were descending this shaded path, including some little kids who were quite proud of the fact that they just climbed to the top of our next objective, the Tyndale Monument.

A little girl had done this as well, we discovered when we used a kissing gate to sit at the foot of this memorial to the first translator of the Bible into English – but there were no enthusiasts for this venture in our group. After another rest we set off along the flat top of this promontory, entering our last major woodland. It was easy walking up here and, as we passed the site of Brackenbury Hill Fort, route finding was not too difficult. When we emerged from these woods we could see a small enclosure of conifers below us and below it our first glimpses of Wotton-under-Edge.

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The Wellington trees on Wotton Hill

Again we paused at the conifers, first planted to celebrate Wellington’s victory in 1815, but it took me a while to discover a descending path that, in a steep decline, brought us into the streets of Wotton. We turned left and asked a young woman in uniform (meter maid?) for directions to our hotel. Soon we were on the high street, turning right at the clock tower and locating our blue palace just a few doors away. Here we were greeted by a short-haired brassy lady with tattoos on her biceps. She was expecting us, but, in spite of my increasing anxiety on the subject, there was no sign of our bags!

We were taken to our rooms in what was soon to become Gloucestershire’s answer to Fawlty Towers. The place was very shabby and much of it seemed to be under reconstruction. When I asked for a phone, for instance, I was show to a darkened bombsite of a space on the ground floor where a phone sat on a counter – (though I didn’t have to pay for its use, fortunately). I called Mrs. Bevan, who confirmed that our packs were still sitting in her vestibule. I said I would arrange something and she was most grateful, as she had new guests to look after and Jeff was covered in motor grease. I then called Compass, which was still open at a few minutes before 6:00. The gentleman I spoke to pleaded ignorance (missing out on the apology) and said he would look into it and get back to me. Since I had no phone in my room I had to wait in a small lounge with overstuffed furniture nearby. The rest of our party wandered down now and joined me. I drank a Diet Coke and in a few minutes Compass called and I was told my bags would be with me in ten or fifteen minutes (still no apology).

While we were waiting the brassy concierge, who called us all “love” or “darling,” entered with registration forms and menus. “Would you mind eating early,” she said, “the band begins at 9:00.” Next to our lounge was a large table set for some gathering and beyond this, at the end of the dining room, was a bandstand where some teens were already at work on their equipment. We decided to eat at 8:00, but to save time we preordered our meals. By the time this process was concluded, and much to our surprise, Jeff Bevan and son arrived with our bags. He said that the Compass folk were most contrite and it wouldn’t happen again; I hope they paid him for this errand of mercy.

Upstairs I phoned Dorothy successfully on the mobile (it was our 39th wedding anniversary). As I was taking a bath in the tepid waters of my bathroom I noticed that my right heel was a bit chafed and would require more taping on the morrow. I also became increasingly aware of a piercing beep, at thirty-second intervals, in the hall outside my door. I soon discovered that it came from a smoke alarm that was low on battery power and I went down to report it to madam. “Thanks, darling, I’ll send someone up to fix it.” It continued to beep until it was time to foregather in the low-ceilinged dining room, where, among the other items of kitsch, a shillelagh was leaning up against our table.

The portly young waitress was running between our table and several others. We asked her about lunches for the next day and she took our orders for sandwiches. Intermittently we could hear squabbles from the kitchen, and progress was slow. I had scampi and chips and drank my third pint of lager for the day. Our hostess spoke to me again about the smoke alarm but I was beginning to have my doubts that this understaffed establishment could come up with a solution. The band played their first number and we scuttled out.

Margie went to bed and the Lees and I took a stroll in the cool of the evening. At a pub at the bottom of our street they were blasting golden oldies. We walked along the high street and witnessed a heated argument between two girls. Wotton was beginning to enter its rural party mood – with lots of cars speeding along the main drag. Tosh and Harold decided to have a drink in another hotel and I returned to my room. It was warm and I had to keep my window wide open; this meant I got the golden oldies, though, fortunately, our band could not be heard from my part of the hotel. The smoke alarm was still bleating, but by now I was used to it and I was so tired I was soon sound asleep

To continue with our next stage you need:

Day 9: Wotton-under-Edge to Old Sodbury