After another hot night, and breakfast accompanied by the resident, and very pretty, cat, we left our bed and breakfast ready to tackle another long day on the Cotswold Way.
We made our way back to the route of the Cotswold Way, climbing steeply to reach the escarpment once more. We soon gained views out over the countryside, it’s always a surprise how quickly the views open up once you have started to climb. Soon these were obscured by trees and we continued to climb on woodland paths, through escarpment beech woods, very similar in feel to those closer to home in the Chilterns. It was quiet and peaceful, little bird song on this still, hot day, the green canopy of interlocking leaves above coating deep shade. We didn’t see another soul until we came up to the Long Barrow at Nympsfield, conveniently close to a road for visitors.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the Cotswold Way, for me, is the reminders of the long history of human occupation in this landscape, from the Stone Age barrows and Neolithic hill forts, to the golden Cotswold villages and towns with castles churches, market halls and homes from through the ages, the mining history of Leckhampton Hill, the strip lytchets showing long ages of agriculture and the Roman town we are heading to in Bath. This landscape has been lived in, used, enjoyed by people for thousands of years and each age have made their mark on this beautiful area. It’s a real privilege to walk the area, to take this all in and notice the marks in the landscape that tell of this long history. Nympsfield didn’t disappoint- a chambered tomb built over 5500 years ago and reconstructed to its present form after excavations in the 1970s. More than 20 people have been found buried at the site, which was in use over a 200 year period and would originally have stood 2m high- it must have been a very impressive place.
We walked on across Coaley Peak, our high point of today’s walking, taking in the fabulous views, and Frocester Hill, more people here enjoying the views and the sunshine, taking an easy stroll from the car parks to the views, with the topograph on Frocester Hill even provided by the AA, just to reinforce that this is a place to drive to and enjoy! We passed through the woods, beside abandoned quarry faces, being swallowed by the vegetation, and on this hot, humid day it was easy to imagine this place as a jungle, all it needed was the squawk of a parrot or a snake hanging from a vine to make the imagined into reality. It didn’t take long for it to once more be just us on the paths. We dropped down steeply through the woodland, stopping still to enjoy a young roe deer in the woods below us, it felt almost as if time stopped as he stared up at us as we looked down to him, hesitant to break eye contact and end this magical moment.
Climbing back up we reached the corner of Uley Bury Hill Fort, covering a wide area on the promontory, we walked to the edge of it and wondered at the effort taken to build these huge ramparts over such a wide area before returning to the path, descending steeply again. This was clearly a very old path, the sides towering steeply above us, tree roots like buttresses and ferns growing in the damp shade. Somewhere in the trees around us, a tawny owl called, an incongruous sound in the middle of the day, which had us checking with each other that we hadn’t imagined it.
We passed close to a farm, our next climb clear ahead of us, Cam Long Down, a satellite hill to the Cotswold Ridge, standing with a neighbour as separate hills. It was a steep clamber up- an 80m climb to reach the top, the path clear and easy to follow.
The top of the hill is rutted with mine workings, undulating across the short cropped grassland. The views were stunning, back along the Cotswold escarpment where we had come from and across to the Severn and into Wales. At the sides of the path cotton thistle and ragwort grew, attracting bees, moths and butterflies. Six spot burnet moth, bold red and black, were in abundance and it was a joy to watch them as we walked.
As we dropped down from the hill we stopped briefly to chat to an older gentleman walking his dogs, who had been one of the volunteers to mark out the path of the Cotswold Way when it had first been planned, who told us we had just walked the best section fo the whole walk. The steep climb up onto Cam Long Down was certainly worth it for the magnificent views!
We continued to descend, making our way to the town of Dursley. We passed another couple of Cotswold Way walkers, who we had met at a couple of overnight stops, two brothers in law on their “annual leave” from their wives, tackling another long distance path together having already walked the South Downs Way and several other challenging walks. We chatted about the possibilibilty of thunderstorms later in the day and left them relaxing in a field as we carried on. We hadn’t walked much further when it began to spit with rain, gentle at first, the clouds that had suddenly appeared ahead ominously black. We stopped to put on waterproofs and pull the rain covers over our rucksacks, admiring the jaunty coat of a donkey who was watching us.
Almost as soon as we had zipped our coats up the heavens opened. By the time we were at the end of the road and walking into Dursley the roads were streams, the roads and dry land unable to cope with this sudden heavy downpour, rain bounced and danced off the roofs and roads, scattered down the roads in sinuous curving streams, bypassing drains in its rush. We took shelter in the market hall in the centre of town before dashing into a nearby cafe for lunch and shelter.
Soon the rain slowed and stopped. A Cotswold Hare, part of an art trail promoting the Area of Natural Beauty, stood outside the market hall, we stopped for a photo, almost matching in my green raincoat, before we continued on our way. It was a steep climb out of Dursley, the woodland path carved with new curved channels where the heavy rain had run down off the hill, the air sweet and filled with the ozone scent of petrichor, the parched landscape breathing a sigh of relief at this brief wet respite.
We were soon onto the golf course at Stinchcombe Hill, across this we started to drop down again to our stopping point for the day, North Nibley. There is a longer route for this section of the walk, an extra 2 miles around the edge of the escarpment at Stinchcombe Hill, wet and squelching in our trail shoes, we chose the shorter marked path directly across the golf course, maybe we will return one day to take in this short section.
We walked though formal parkland and across a field planted with oil seed, dry and almost ready for harvest, rattling as we walked through it, a loud susurration. Below our feet pineapple weed grew, scenting the air with a tropical aroma as we walked on it. We passed a house offering chilled walker to Cotswold Way walkers, an act of kindness. Soon we had reached the edge of North Nibley, and our home for the night, Nibley House, came into sight. Damp and muddy, we felt incongruous walking up to the door of this commanding house.
We were made at home and shown to our room, grateful to relax and unwind. Nibley House is a 17th century building, still in private hands, it’s had a colourful history, including being the site of the last private battle in England, the settling of scores at the battle of Nibley Green in 1470, between Viscount Lisle and Baron Berkeley, over the inheritance of Berkeley Castle. The unfortunate and impetuous Viscount Lisle was killed by Dean Foresters archers and his leaderless army broke and fled, leaving Baron Berkely victorious.
Through the windows of our room we could see our first objective for the next morning’s walking- high above us the Tyndale Monument looked down, a beacon to mark our path.