I staggered through the dank edge of Dowdswell Wood to the sounds of bleating sheep, huge tractor and impossibly loud crackling of high voltage electrical transmission wires. This descent runs along the perimeter of a large woodland preserve and the path was inches thick with rich black muck that had dried out enough to stay put, and past the spillway from the reservoir, which was hidden behind tall mixed woods and scrub.
The sudden assault of sound amplified as I approached my designated pick-up spot along busy A40. Although I felt like I had been walking for 40 hours, I was right on time at around 18:30. I had phoned Frank and Geraldine, who own Cotswold Studio B&B in Charlton Kings, before I set out from Winchcombe in the morning.
Charlton Kings is on the outskirts of Cheltenham, a large town beloved by equestrians the world over for its unparalleled jumping course and match. On the ride to the B&B, Frank filled me in on some local history. He asked if I had noticed three large antenna towers on Cleeve Common. I had. Cleeve Common should have been the high point of my day, being the highest point on the Cotswold Way, but I had become mesmerized by the web of trails leading up to around and across the common, and had missed most of it. More later about that fiasco.
“The house is a cold war relic,” said Frank, thumping my thigh with a knuckle and a grin as he drove, “built by you Americans. That’s how Charlton Kings came to be.” He went on to tell me that the three microwave towers on the common are a listening post that has an unobstructed bead on Moscow, and that British Military Intelligence is based in Cheltenham because this listening post was so important during the cold war.
Of all the Brits I have met thus far, Frank has traveled most widely in the US and is now in his late seventies. He’s quite a story teller, and as a man of mixed race with a college major in American history, he has no end of fascinating anecdotes from travel in the American south in his younger days. These two are by far my favorite hosts thus far, and I’m delighted to be here for two night’s stay.
The downhill stretches are taking their toll on my arthritic bones–hips, knees, shins and my big toes are all screaming for mercy, though my lung power and stamina are holding up just fine. I wish I had a light step, instead of the forceful pounding one I use to get some speed out of my short legs. My ex-husband Donald used to refer to my short legs as “stumps” and right now, that’s exactly what they feel like.
Gloucestershire area had so much to offer, aside from the Cotswold Way, that I’m thinking of giving my legs a break and making a detour to either Bath by train, or Hidcote Gardens by bus. Hidcote involves a mile and a half uphill climb, after two bus rides, so I’m going to have to contemplate that one after I see if I can still walk.
This trip is my first experience with B&Bs, and this is almost as interesting as the walking. Sarah, back at Blair House in Winchcombe, treated me (and the other guests) as though we were visiting relatives. Blair House is full of cats and dogs, and would not be a great place to stay if this freaks you out. It was there I
We became great friends and the minute I opened my door in the morning he came tearing up the stairs and into my room for a good-morning tussle.
Angela, at Shenberrow Hill in the hamlet of Stanton, put on the best English breakfast with broiled fresh tomato slices and perfectly browned, tender, fine grained sausage along with plenty of fruit and local yogurt to choose from. These hearty, balanced breakfasts are standing in for supper, and this helps ease the hit on my pocketbook. Food here is comparable numerically with the US, but a killer when you factor in the 1:1.70 pound:dollar exchange rate.
Yesterday was a delightful day with increasing blue sky and a brisk wind drying things out and mitigating the sweat factor. Other than Cleeve Commons which are high barrens covered in places with juniper, and Belas Knapp barrow, the walk was not particularly interesting, and I met only a handful of walkers going the opposite way all day. There is a butterfly preserve, which is interesting in concept, but much like other hilly terrain I passed through. This stretch has the poorest signage, unlike what I have walked so far, and you must rely on your compass and map together to be sure of which track to follow. Once, in utter frustration, i cranked up the gps on the iPhone to confirm my location. I highly recommend purchasing the British Ordnance Survey maps for walking this section. The detail on these maps would have enabled me to easily reorient myself in this confusing section.
By taking the wrong, lowland route through bottomland, I missed the crags and most spectacular vertical edge of the Cotswold Escarpment. I did get to see a relic, however, and this provided me with amusement, as I contemplated it’s story while I slogged up what felt like an endless incline from deep dark woods to the gusty openness of Cleeve Hill.
Belas Knapp is a Neolithic burial mound. I had this place all to myself, and it was eerie to contemplate the humans who were living in the area, and buried there, having walked the same ground three thousand years before me.