I journey across London from Surbiton to Paddington in excited anticipation for the latest chapter of our long walking weekends. Our aim was to cover 48 miles in 3 days on the Cotswold Way, the land of honey-coloured stone, picturesque villages and long distance views. To me, I imagined the trail to be English countryside at it’s best.
Thursday 31st October
With just one day of annual leave and an evening train journey to escape London, I sighed in relief as our train pelted through a thundering sky and across the Chiltern Hills. I was happy to escape the obligated celebration of Halloween. I can’t watch scary movies without life-long nightmares and the drunken revellers on the tube makes me wonder why people get together into crowded spaces with single-wear costumes.
From desk to train station, together Sarah and I take the 19:22 from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh (only £10 booked in advance). Moreton-in-Marsh is a small market town in the Evenlode Valley, within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Gloucestershire.
We arrived just after 9pm and walked 20 minutes to our Air BnB. Lee, our host for the evening, answered the door with infectious enthusiasm and gusto. He offered us a cup of tea and chatted to us like we were old friends. It made me think that meeting new people and being at ease is a great social skill to have. My equivalent in any social situation, is frequently excusing myself to go to the toilet when out for work drinks!
Friday 1st November 20.2 miles / 2,387ft / 727m ascent
We awoke to the smell of sizzling sausages and silky scrambled eggs. It was a real treat to start the day with a cooked breakfast! Lee was extremely accommodating and provided a vegan option of wholemeal bread, peanut butter and bananas for Sarah too.
With an early start and a taxi booked for 8AM (with Chipping Campden Taxis for £20), it was a 9 mile journey to the start point of the Cotswold Way, Chipping Campden. Chipping Campden is a delightful market town incorporating traditional Cotswold Architecture. It poured with rain during the taxi ride as we past stunning rolling hills of Autumnal colour. I mumbled to Sarah “I thought Cotswolds was flat”. The elderly taxi driver overheard my comment and guffawed in reply “FLAT?! Where did you hear that?!”. I rewind back to my ‘Londoner’ perception of the Cotswolds. I think of big coaches, little rivers and quaint villages with retired folk.
With excited anticipation, we sheltered in the Market Hall, whilst pulling on our waterproof trousers. The trail is well sign-posted and immediately ascended to the top of the escarpment at Fish Hill. I was sweating in waterproofs in November. It was a subtle reminder of winter walking that I wasn’t quite used to, feeling hot and cold at the same time!
The rain slowly eased away that day and we were met with spectacular views and delightful villages. We climb up to Dover’s Hill, Broadway Tower, and passed a stunning picnic area at Fish Hill. Descending down to a small village called Broadway was a quintessential introduction to Cotswold’s Villages: handsome, uniformly sand-stone and with a fountain as the centre-piece.
We stopped at Stanton and together devoured a pair of squashed peanut-butter sandwiches. Even in the village, we witnessed an abundance of stray apples everywhere that had fallen from fruit trees.
Leaving Stanton in the late afternoon, we were conscious of the time (2pm) and began to quicken our pace. It was difficult to keep up a good speed. With long rains came muddy fields, obstacle stiles with sloshy mud and wet grass that was take 2 steps forward, but slip 1 step back.
The trail became fairly secluded as we emerged towards the final stretch to Winchcombe. We had been on the go for over 8 hours and the twinkle of Winchcombe in the darkness propelled us both forward.
After a bit of back and forth on the high street, we found our empty Air BnB. I was utterly exhausted. After pulling off my walking boots that felt welded to my feet, we took a hot shower and felt renewed. Dinner was a delicious treat with hot and vinegary fish and chips from Layton‘s. The Air BnB host lady wasn’t home, but I felt almost relieved. Walking 20 miles in the wind and rain, with red ears and muddy boots, gives a great impression of homelessness, especially when you arrive into a pretty town.
Saturday 2nd November 12.2 miles / 2,046ft / 623m ascent
Our aim was a 16 mile day today. I woke up and peered through the open curtain, only to blurt out a noise like a strangled cat. The flood-gates in the sky had been opened and no-one was there to close them back up. Clouds were churning and evil. It was the type of day where you felt thankful to have a roof over your head.
We left our cosy Air Bnb and ascended up through the Sudeley Estate, climbing steadily along field paths up to the ancient Neolithic long barrow of Belas Knap.
It was a relentless climb in the wind and rain. We met up with dog-walkers along the way whom often asked us where we were going for the day. “Ullenwood” we’d reply. “ULLENWOOD?” would be the reply in disbelief. Was it the stormy weather? Was it because we were both 5ft 2? The skepticism from other walkers was a little disheartening, but we were determined to make it.
With the stormy weather, most of the Way stayed at high level before crossing the valley of the River Chelt. We emerge at the golf club on Cleeve Hill and decided to have a impromptu stop off for a hot lunch and some shelter. Our muddy boots were left outside as we padded in with wet socks and wind battered faces. A vegetable kiev, chips and salad worked wonders!
After lunch, we emerged onto the highest point for the day but began to lose our way a little. Being on a golf course meant wide open expanses of fields and paths.We pressed on quickly but this was the error in our ways, as we got immensely lost. I felt we were almost in-line with the Cotswold Way, but on the wrong path. A passing dog-walker knew the area like the back of his hand. “Where are you trying to get to?” “Ullenwood” we replied. He pointed out the contours of the hill and expressed concern that Ullenwood was a bit too far, given the hours of daylight left.
We could see where we went wrong, the trail we followed took us on an “S” shape adjacent to the trail. We had to double back to find the Cotswold Way again.
With the gravel-grey sky and large pillows of cloud that made it feel darker then it was, we were relieved to descend down from the Way onto a country lane. It was approaching 4pm in November, thus nightfall was approximately one hour away. I knew in my mind we weren’t going to make it to Ullenwood, yet ever step brought us closer to our goal destination. We didn’t stop.
With rain hoods pulled tightly over our heads, we glanced in curiosity as a car pulled up next to us. “Maybe it’s that dog guy!?” Sarah said enthusiastically. The window rolled down and a middle aged lady with cropped grey hair and wearing a high-vis spoke to us very softly. “Where are you going?”. “Ullenwood” we replied for the 3rd or 4th time again. We were ready for the look of disbelief. Instead, she looked concerned and said “Are you both ok? Do you need a lift?”. We replied that we didn’t want to dirty her car seats and her non-chalant reply is “it’s old anyway, hop in”.
I cannot put into words how extremely grateful, surprised and humbled that a stranger helped us in that moment. We were both soaked and disheartened. Nightfall was creeping up on us and the actions of a complete stranger, effectively saved us. We didn’t catch your name. We tried to find you by spreading the word of your kind deed to the Cheltenham Noticeboard on Facebook. These moments make me thankful forever. All I can do is uphold the mentality of Paying it Forward. Whether it be a quid, a lift, or helping someone with a bag. Thank you for reminding me that there is unexpected kindness in this world.
Day 2, similar to Day 1, basically polished me off. I hobbled to our Pod at Ullenwood Star Glamping, an accommodation provider run by a great charity with the aim of realising the aspirations of people with disabilities.
To our wonderful surprise, JustEat would deliver to our pod. It was a delicious, hand-delivered galore of nourishing pizza, crispy falafels, chips and crispy salad. Eaten in style (whilst lying down). The shower can wait until later.
Sunday 3rd November
Our weekend of walking came to an end this day. Our original plan was to cover another 14 miles, to hopefully meet with a bus that goes 1 per hour from Painswick to Stroud, to then hopefully connect with a train booked at 18:22 back to London Paddington.
After two rather stormy days, we decided it was best to find another route home. The relying on a 1 per hour bus to connect with a 1 per 2 hour train plan back to London seemed almost foolhardy with the difficult weather conditions. We booked a taxi back to Stroud. Stroud is a market town and civil parish in the centre of Gloucestershire, England. It is at the meeting point of the Five Valleys, the town is noted for its steep streets, independent spirit and cafe culture. We explored Stroud before getting the train home and dry.
- Despite the stormy weather, it was a wonderful and budget weekend away with proper full day walks. Route descriptions are available here
- The cost of the whole weekend away was £63.45 for 4 days / 3 nights.
- The first day is 20 miles which I think is a push for anyone, especially with the ascents and descents involved. I’d recommend tackling the Cotswold Way in Spring when there is a bit more daylight.
- Sarah’s Blog is here
- National Rail tickets were £22 return booked in advance with a YP railcard. London Paddington to Moreton-in Marsh, then Stroud to London Paddington.
- Our Accommodation links are here for you: 1) Moreton in Marsh (Air Bnb – £30 per person with breakfast 2) Winchcombe (Air Bnb – £25 per person with breakfast) 3) Ullenwood(Star Glamping – £24 per person for a pod).
- PS The Cotswold isn’t flat, the mileage, ascent and descent equate similarly to a good days walk in the Peak/Lake District. Don’t let the perception of pretty little villages fool you 😉
- A link to the plan I made is available online here on Google Drive
- If you have any questions, comment here and I’ll be happy to help!