For this walk we used: Collins Short Walks in The Cotswolds (Published: 2014) Walk 8: Winchcombe and Sudley Castle. Distance: 5 miles.
This walk climbs up behind Salter’s Hill taking in some lovely views of Winchcombe, before passing a sacred spring, and Sudley Castle which dates from the 15th century.
We parked in the car park on Back Lane (£1 per day) in Winchcombe, an ancient Anglo Saxon town, situated in a beautiful Cotswold valley between Broadway and Cheltenham. It’s name means ‘valley with a bend’. The inns, restaurants, tea rooms, and quaint shops set among Winchcombe’s main streets are full of the character of times past. Winchcombe is situated on the Cotswold Way National Trail, as well as being at the centre of many other walking routes. This is the place to have afternoon tea while watching hiking boots and Osprey bags go by.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and we made our way along the bustling main street, and out of town. We were extra careful not to walk the wrong way out of town as we had done previously in Broadway! Before long we were walking along a pretty country lane heading up into the hills. The track led from the paved road through a field of horses, and up a steep hill. It was hard work, but we stopped from time to time to catch our breath and admire the view behind us. There was a mist in the valley, which added a magical feel, very apt for Halloween.
The farm fields at the top of the hill were flat and seemed to go on for miles. The sky was deep blue, and the ground so dry underfoot that it seemed like Summer. I was glad I wore my Tilley hat, as it was unexpectedly hot. We crossed a tall stone stile into another field near Hill Barn, and passed the Winchcombe Way. It was all going well until then, but after that we lost sight of any footpath signs and weren’t sure which direction to go in. The field was on a slight mound, so the gate we wanted was hidden from view, and there were so many other gates exiting it that it was confusing. We picked a main gate and hoped for the best, but it was wrong. It led us down a long, steep sheep field towards Sudley Hill Farm, but when we got there we realised it wasn’t the public right of way, so we had to climb all the way back up again. We were huffing and puffing, and annoyed at ourselves for making a silly mistake. We weren’t sure where to go next, so we decided to continue walking around the entire perimeter of the field to check all possible exits. Suddenly, the gate with a footpath sign on it appeared, and we heaved a sigh of relief. We had taken so long by this point, that time was getting on and I wondered if we would make it back to the car before dark.
The farm track passed St Kenelm’s Well, a hidden historic treasure that doesn’t make it into tourist brochures. Up on the hillside stands a small 19th century building erected over a holy well that has drawn pilgrims since the 9th century. Over the door is a carved stone figure of the saint, crowned and seated, with sword and sceptre. It bears the date 819 A.D. and the name St Kenelmus. The rickety wooden door was unlocked, but inside was slightly disappointing. I peered into a rather neglected interior with a shallow square stone water tank. A grey breeze block was holding a pipe in place. It didn’t quite match my romantic idea of this place, or the beautiful inscription on the north wall which read:
“OH TRAVELLER, STAY THY WEARY FEET,
DRINK OF THIS WATER, PURE AND SWEET,
IT FLOWS FOR RICH AND POOR THE SAME,
THEN GO THY WAY, REMEMBERING STILL,
THE WAYSIDE WELL BENEATH THE HILL,
THE CUP OF WATER IN HIS NAME.”
I wasn’t tempted to drink the water! But I was still glad to have visited this unusual place, it is in a truly beautiful setting. We continued on towards Sudley Hill Farm which looked so pretty in the late afternoon sun. Pigs were roaming in the fields, and we were delighted to watch squealing piglets rooting around for acorns underneath the Oak trees. It was as though we were witnessing a scene from centuries ago.
A short climb up the road away from the farm, led us to a footpath through a woodland. We emerged from the trees to see another beautiful view. The sun was beginning to set, and the mist was rolling in once again. We hurried on towards Sudley Lodge. The public footpath no longer goes through the lodge so we followed the signs around it. A digger and tractor were at work mending the track so we stopped until it was safe to pass. A lady, her son, and their dog overtook us. We had seen them in the car park and on the first hill out of Winchcombe. I easily recognised them as she was carrying a bright purple Osprey rucksack. They were clearly in a hurry and the lady looked quite stressed as she rushed past us clutching her OS map. Suzy thought they’d probably got lost and were worried about getting back before dark. We picked up our pace a little, but even so they were soon out of sight. At the next gate I thought the path was straight on, but Suzy saw another kissing gate in the right hand hedge. She was right, and I wondered if the lady had missed the path being in such a hurry.
We crossed the large flat sheep field next to Sudley castle. I couldn’t see them ahead, so I think they must have gone the wrong way, but luckily they weren’t too far from Winchcombe. We passed the castle which I think I visited it on a school trip many years ago. It was once home to Henry VIII’s 6th wife, Katherine Parr.
We emerged from a narrow footpath onto a dusty road, where the gate ahead was hidden by a large tree, but we realised that and before long managed to follow the Windrush Way for a short distance back into Winchcombe. As we arrived back at the car it was just getting dark, so we had cut it a bit fine. We usually multiply the time the guide book says the walk takes by 2. This 2.5 hour walk did take us 5 hours, which includes the time spent in the wrong field near Sudley Hill Farm.
It was a pretty physical and challenging walk, but well worth it. We loved it and would definitely do this again.
Our Rating: 5/5