Tales from the Big Trails, in print on 2nd September 2021, available now for pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing. Featuring all 15 National Trails in England and Wales, and the 4 designated long-distance Scotland’s Great Trails. This is the story of the people I meet, the landscapes and coastal scenery and the sheer joy of walking these iconic long-distance routes in the UK. Click on a link below for a copy.
A walk through the glorious Cotswold countryside with surprisingly good views over Wales, the Malvern’s and the Severn estuary. For much of the route, the path follows the limestone escarpment with frequent descents into stunning villages untroubled by time. The wooded sections bring relief from wind, rain or the sun and are beautiful in the spring and autumn.
Time of year
The decision on the time of year depends on the availability of accommodation and your preference for spring flowers or autumn leaves. I would argue that school summer holidays are best avoided, but that is true of any trail. Even the winter months could be great if you get good cold bright days, but if it has been raining heavily, going will be soft, meaning muddy. I walked the trail in May when the wild garlic aroma is overpowering.
Length of walk
At 102 miles this is a walk that can easily be finished in a week. I was not camping so my aim was to finish it quickly, to avoid excessive accommodation costs. I spent 5 days on the trail including transportation at each end, 4 nights in all. I chose to walk from Chipping Campden as the majesty of walking to the Bath Abbey appealed to me. Plus there are frequent trains home.
There are very few camping sites at sensible intervals on the trail, so take account of additional miles walking to reach them. Every scratch of land seems to be attended to so wild camping will be difficult. This is one reason I chose to find B&B and Hotels. They are relatively expensive and it is quite a popular route with organised tours, so booking ahead is important. Avoid Cheltenham Race week and Badminton Horse Trials when prices go up and rooms become scarce.
I caught the train to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and then a bus to Chipping Campden, which set me down right next to the starting marker. The town is a real gem, quintessentially English. A short climb brings you onto the escarpment for a taste of the view for the week. Spring lambs are bouncing around everywhere as I progress through Broadway and Stanton, equally beautiful but the former busy. Shortly afterwards I link up with another trail walker and we agree to walk together for the rest of the day, trading life stories and experiences of previous walks. She is camping, but I progress into Winchcombe for a hotel room and dinner, Luxury eh!
The next day brings Cheltenham into view through the wooded trail. Wild garlic is everywhere as are wild deer. The showery weather means the rain jacket is on and off but it doesn’t take long to reach Birdlip and another hotel, which really caters to businessmen and is dreary and unimaginative. The breakfast is good, as is the next sections through bluebells, wild garlic and beech trees until you reach Coopers Hill, where people chase cheese down a very steep hill in late May. Not only English villages but English eccentricity too! After Painswick, a place I make a note to return to, the Severn Valley comes into view, and you can see deep into the Black Mountains, tracing the route from the Severn Bridge into Wales. I walk past kids playing rounders and cricket and a vineyard before finding a lovely B&B in Middleyard.
Another long day ahead, but I have to keep pace to make the last day of 24 miles possible. That means reaching the Inn at Hawkesbury, so early start after a great breakfast. More views into Dursley and then into Wotton-Under-Edge, with many fellow walkers, most who seem to be training for greater challenges, including runners, who are also doing the CW in 5 days (am I overdoing it?). The Inn provides a cosy room and excellent meal, this really is luxury compared to the trails I tackle later in the year.
The last day means a really early start if I am to catch a train which brings me home in time for dinner and a pint. At 6AM there is a stunning view across the Severn in the early morning mist, the wet grass soaks my boots, but I am on a mission. The heifers seem a bit frisky this morning and chase me across the field, walking poles raised aloft keeps them at a distance. No time to stop at the National Trust property at Dyrham Park after crossing the M4, which is a pity as it looks splendid. The last section has wide views to Bristol and then to Bath, nestled in its surrounding hills. Passing the famous Royal Crescent I mingle with the tourists towards the finishing marker outside the Abbey’s West door, a sculpture which says “Stand ye in the Ways….”. A Japanese couple wants me to take their photo and ask what the stone means. It is a long conversation.
- Day 1 – 18m – Train to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Bus to Chipping Campden, walk to Winchcombe – Hotel
- Day 2 – 21m – Birdlip – Hotel
- Day 3 – 18m – Middleyard B&B
- Day 4 – 20m – Hawkesbury – Inn
- Day 5 – 25m – Bath and train home
A pint (or two) that evening rendered me immobile 🙂