Millie & Suzy

Follow our walking adventures around the Cotswolds & beyond


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Cotswold Way National Trail Hall of Fame

Cotswold Way

We were excited to learn that we would have the opportunity to enter the Cotswold Way Hall of Fame if we managed to complete the National Trail. We downloaded and printed out our completion cards from the website, and got them stamped at various points along the way. We collected our stamps from tourist information centres and post offices.

As well as being entered on the website, you also receive an embroidered patch, or brass and enamel pin badge which says “I’ve walked the Cotswold Way”. We opted for the pin badges (They cost £15 for 2).

 

I joke that it was the thought of the pin badge that kept me going, but it is partly true. I love badges and really wanted one.

Walking the Cotswold Way was a wonderful experience, made truly unforgettable by the genuine kindness and warmth of the people we met along the trail. At times it was hard going, and we did almost give up, but it was all worth it in the end. Not just for the badge, but for the memories.

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The Cotswold Way National Trail. Painswick to Bath: Day 6 – Day 10

Cam Long Down

Cam Long Down – September 2015

We had more days of rest than we needed but we didn’t want to arrive in Bath on a Friday or Saturday night when the hotel prices are higher. Also travelling home on a Sunday was no good as the buses don’t run from the railway station to our home town. I was eager to get going again, and it was difficult being patient.

We ditched a lot of gear from our backpacks, including all of our cooking equipment, before returning to the trail. Even the mini playing cards didn’t make it 😦 we were ruthless. Every gram you take away makes that backpack more bearable.

We continued walking from where we had left off in Painswick. It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed the views from Haresfield Beacon as we sat down on a bench to eat our chorizo and cheese baguettes. This was familiar territory as we’d already walked some of the sections around here.

Camping at Thistledown Farm near Nympsfield

Camping at Thistledown Farm near Nympsfield

On day 7 we continued on to Cam Long Down, which was one of my favourite places along the trail. The hill was steep but we loved the wonderful 360° views. It wasn’t much further from there to Dursley where we were glad to find that there were plenty of places to get food! That night we stayed at the Black Horse Inn at North Nibley, instead of camping on the grounds of Nibley House as we’d originally planned.

The Tyndale Monument at North Nibley

The Tyndale Monument at North Nibley

We left the village early, and saw the Tyndale Monument in the beautiful morning light, its cross was shining brightly. There was nobody else around, and it was magical. We climbed to the top of the tower, up a spiral staircase of 121 steps, but it was worth the effort as the views were amazing.

Wotton-under-Edge is only 2 miles from North Nibley so we were in good time for our best breakfast of the trail at The Edge Cafe. We had poached eggs on toast with bacon, and great coffee. After tackling a challenging hill up out of Wotton-under-Edge, the walking soon became surprisingly easy along farm tracks and lanes. We passed the Somerset Monument, but it is privately owned so we were unable to climb its tower.

On reaching Horton we stayed at Oakfield Farm campsite. The grass was so well kept it was like camping on a tennis court. We could see the Somerset monument in the far distance and could hardly believe we’d come all that way.

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A pleasant view across farmland from Horton Fort

On day 9 we walked from Horton to Cold Ashton. We got caught in heavy rain that morning and our shoes and boots were drenched and uncomfortable. The walk through Dodington Park was very peaceful, so it was a shock to suddenly arrive at the noisy section that crosses over the M4 motorway. We passed through a seedy car parking area, hurrying on as quickly as we could through the woodland and out across the fields again.

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The final descent into Bath through green fields

On the last day my feet were pretty sore, but this time it was the balls of my feet rather than my heels. I felt as though I was walking on burning hot coals.

The way to Bath was prettier than I’d imagined, and it wasn’t too steep a descent. The guide book made it sound like Everest. However, the last bit of the walk through the city was really steep, and we weren’t prepared for that as we thought we’d done it! We met a man who had walked the Camino de Santiago (500 miles). It is beyond me how people do it. I sat down on a bench to apply talc to my feet and change into dry socks. I hobbled into Bath, it wasn’t quite the glamorous ending I’d wanted it to be.

We turned a last corner, and there was Bath Abbey in all its glory illuminated in the sunlight. I felt quite emotional as we approached, but I kept a stiff upper lip. After all I am British 😉

Bath Abbey, and the end of our 102 mile journey

Bath Abbey marking the end of our 102 mile journey


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The Cotswold Way National Trail. Chipping Campden to Painswick: Day 1 – Day 5

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Our first day of walking was just 6 miles from Chipping Campden to Broadway. I was looking forward to the views from Broadway Tower, but it poured with rain all day and when we got to the top of the hill the view was a total white-out. We decided to have a cream tea in the cafe before continuing on to Broadway village.

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Broadway Tower – August 2015

There were no campsites in the area so that night we stayed at the Horse and Hound Inn, a beautiful old pub with plenty of character. We spent hours unpacking our backpacks and making sure our equipment and clothing was dry. It wasn’t exactly the easy start we had anticipated.

The following day the weather was looking better. We enjoyed the walk through the stunning Cotswold landscape, and made it to our campsite at Hayles Fruit Farm before the farm shop closed at 5pm. The afternoon sun had been almost too hot, and I was craving a bottle of their chilled apple juice. We were tired and we’d only walked for 16 miles, I wondered how on earth we were going to manage 102 miles.

In the morning we woke up bright and early, but it took 3 hours to pack up. I had packed our bags originally as Suzy was working, and as a result she wasn’t familiar enough with how to pack things away, or where things needed to go to fit into our relatively small 36L bags. It was a bit of a disaster actually, as we didn’t leave Winchcombe until 12.30, and only just made it to our campsite near Dowdeswell before dark. We went to the Co-op supermarket in Winchcombe to pick up some supplies, and they didn’t stock any of the things we had planned to buy. What didn’t make matters easier was that the aisles were so narrow we could barely walk up and down them with our backpacks on. In the end, Suzy waited with our bags while I desperately tried to search for suitable backpacking food for several days as the next shop along the trail wouldn’t be until Painswick. I was getting really fed up and I bought sparkling water by mistake, so we had to go back to get still water.

Later on that afternoon we were walking on Cleeve Hill near Cheltenham, and the weather began to look pretty dark and stormy. It was a bit scary, but we were tired and already hungry, and that can play tricks with your mind. Suzy panicked and started crying. OMG this was ridiculous, we were only on day 3, and not far from home! We ate some M&M’s and beef jerky, and I tried to be reassuring. I was scared too, but I pretended to think it would all be fine. We went the wrong way at a disused quarry because someone had turned the metal finger post so that it pointed in the wrong direction, so it was another 2 hours before we made it to Colgate Farm. We pitched the tent just in time before the rain started. It was a relief that there were some other people staying there: a Dutch lady who was doing some circular walks from her car, and two Irish lads who had walked from Bath to Dursley and then given up. They’d travelled by bus to Cheltenham instead.  We were relieved that it wasn’t just us finding it difficult.

It took longer than we thought it would to reach Seven Springs where we were able to get a hot meal at the “Hungry Horse” pub. As we approached I saw the Cheltenham to Cirencester bus, and I wanted to give up and go home. We felt better after eating, so we decided to carry on.

Camping pods at Ullenwood

Camping pods at Ullenwood

That night we stayed in a wooden camping pod at Ullenwood, which saved us from having to pitch the tent. The pods are located on the grounds of the National Star college, which helps people with disabilities. The place had a special feel about it, very modern and leading edge. We enjoyed our stay there.

It was day 5 and my heels were getting sore so I applied duct tape, and we set off for Painswick. The walk that day was beautiful through ancient woodland, but very hilly. We rested at the top of Cooper’s Hill the site of the annual cheese rolling event. Some American hikers were worried about whether or not they would make it to Painswick before dark, but they were reassured when we said we were staying there too.

Resting at the top of Cooper's Hill

Resting at the top of Cooper’s Hill

Painswick is at the half way point of the Cotswold Way National Trail. It is a lovely town, with interesting little streets and restaurants. For the first time we felt as though we were on holiday instead of a gruelling SAS exercise. However, the next day we decided we needed an unplanned break. The decision was final when the small breakfast offering arrived at our B&B, and I knew we would be in for another day of hunger.

We got a bus home to Cirencester and rested for a few days before returning to the trail. We considered giving up, but this was something we really wanted to achieve and we weren’t going to be beaten that easily.


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The Cotswold Way – 102 miles – Had we bitten off more than we could chew?

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This was our first National Trail, so we are amateurs and it showed. Our backpacks weighed 7.kg base weight. With 1L of water and food this weight increased to about 9.kg, which after only a couple of days felt too heavy. We had trained with this weight, but weren’t prepared for it day after day. My knees and feet didn’t thank me at all, and Suzy developed sores on her collar bones which we taped up. We didn’t meet any other backpackers en-route. Other hikers were mostly staying at B&B’s, and using a Sherpa service to transport their luggage. Our plan was to pitch up when there were campsites within 1.5 miles of the trail, otherwise staying in B&B’s or pubs. This worked out as 6 nights camping, and 4 nights in accommodation.

However, the main problem wasn’t the weight of our bags, or the challenges of camping, and walking each day. It was food. We had no idea just how hungry we would be, and it was difficult to find suitable food from the limited selection of shops along the way. At Broadway there was a Budgens, but after that the village shops didn’t stock anything useful. We ate sandwiches & pork pies, but it was tricky getting things that would keep for several days without being in a fridge. We started out with two big bags of beef jerky, but couldn’t buy that anywhere. So we swapped jerky for Pepperami sticks, and Babybel cheese which we figured would probably be ok as they’re sealed in wax. I had flap jacks but Suzy can’t eat oats, chocolate, nuts, Jaffa cakes, Tuc cheese biscuits, crisps. Basically snacks to keep us going. On day 4 we arrived at the “Hungry Horse” pub at Seven Springs and I actually cried because I was so grateful for the meal  – fish and chips. It seems silly now that I’m at home with food in the cupboard, but I will never forget that day.

The next morning we followed the Cotswold Way National Trail across Crickley Hill arriving at the Air Balloon pub at 10.00 for breakfast. Suzy had phoned the night before to double check that they were serving breakfast, but they looked closed 😮 We waited for 15 minutes before realising they were open but Suzy had tried the wrong door. The girl then told us that they don’t do breakfast until 11.00??

Full English at the Royal George Hotel in Birdlip

Full English at the Royal George Hotel, Birdlip

We couldn’t wait any longer as we had a hilly walk to Painswick that day. She said it was 5 minutes walk to the Royal George Hotel at Birdlip where they would be serving food. An hour later we arrived at the Royal George! The breakfast was excellent there, and we were very glad of it, but it was a bit of a way off the trail and it cost us quite a bit of time with all that faffing about. We did get a large takeaway sandwich for our lunch though 😉

We looked forward to a full English breakfast at our B&B in Painswick, but we were disappointingly hungry after a very small offering of one fried egg, 2 skinny chipolatas and some extraordinarily thin bacon. I think we probably picked the only B&B in the town that doesn’t cater for a walker’s appetite. That was the final straw, so after approx 50 miles we decided to have a few days of unplanned recovery time. We went home, ate heaps of warming food, and returned to the trail better prepared and with bigger tummies but much lighter bags! For one thing we ditched all of our cooking equipment, which we hadn’t used once. Partly because we hadn’t been able to get any of the food items we were planning to cook (which was mainly Smash instant potato).

Once out hiking the trail again, we got lucky with some fantastic breakfasts including my favourite at The Edge cafe in the main street of Wotton-under-Edge. What a lovely town with such friendly, helpful people too. It is true that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and as long as we filled up nicely to start off we were almost fine.

At The Edge Cafe in Wotton-under-Edge

The Edge Cafe in Wotton-under-Edge

I asked some other hikers if they were managing to find enough food along the trail. I think they thought it was a very odd question. Obviously a comfy bed in a warm B&B, a hearty breakfast each morning, and a taxi to a restaurant for dinner was the solution. I felt secretly foolish that we had suffered so much. I knew there wouldn’t be tearooms at every corner, but quite honestly the Cotswolds aren’t wilderness. Thank goodness we didn’t choose to go backpacking somewhere remote!

I wondered what food I would crave the most while walking. Many people say that for them it is burgers, but I found out that mine is pizza. Suzy reports that she was mostly too hungry to even think.

 


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Selsley Common to Stroudwater Canal

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For this walk we used: Trailblazer Guides – Cotswold Way (Published 2009) Map 23 & 24: Selsley Common Circuit. Distance: 4.5 miles.

We began the walk at Selsley Common, which is a large open expanse of grassland, and a rich habitat for rare flora and fauna in the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The views from the edge of the common across the valley below are really beautiful, with soft rolling hills and green pastures.

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The Topograph at Selsley Common – August 2015

Although this walk is only 4.5 miles long we expected it to take a while as the climb back up to Selsley Common is pretty steep and we were once again in training with our backpacks. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that we only seem to average about 1 mile an hour. The terrain is not very difficult, but the paths can be slippery if it has rained, and carrying the extra weight seems to slow us down to a snail’s pace.

The walk through Pen Wood was lovely, it has a really ancient feel, the lush green ferns sprouting out of the banks remind me of scenes from Jurassic Park. Between Middleyard and Kings Stanley we accidentally took the wrong path. We got distracted by a wonky stile, and I stood in dog poo, so we failed to notice we were no longer on the Cotswold Way. We hadn’t strayed far off route, but a local man noticed us scratching our heads and looking at our Trailblazer guidebook and helpfully suggested we go through the Maize field to rejoin the route. My gut feeling told me to retrace our steps 200 paces, but I felt bad about not taking the man’s advice, so we made our way slowly along the edge of the field as he had instructed. The trouble was that by doing so we bypassed Kings Stanley, and we intended to visit Court Farm to see if they still accept campers as we are backpacking the trail in a week’s time. Photo0986By coincidence we bumped into a lady who is in my Gloucestershire walking group, and she had an OS map and helped us on our way. I felt like a bit of a fool. How on earth are we going to navigate this National Trail if we can’t find our way across a couple of fields? About an hour later, we were back on route having found the farm. It has been sold, so we can’t camp there. I’m glad we checked!

The walk continued along the Stroudwater Canal towards Ebley Mill. The sun was shining and it was a pleasant stroll along the tow path. We passed a lock and came to Oil Mills Bridge (now called the Snow Mill – they manufacture snow for film sets) This was the point at which we had to leave the canal, but the map showed a stone footbridge crossing the River Frome, and it was nowhere in sight. We were stumped, and didn’t really know what to do next. There were no Cotswold Way marker posts at all along here. After a good hour or so, we eventually realised there was a footpath alongside the Snow Mill building, leading to a concrete footbridge. It was also pretty difficult to find the next landmark – a disused railway embankment bridge, which was was well hidden in the undergrowth. I reckon the cow fields here would be impassable in winter after a lot of rain, it was pretty boggy and churned up even at this time of year. It seems a strange  and somewhat confusing route for the Cotswold Way, and I suspect that most people take the shortcut to Kings Stanley rather than this scenic route across Selsley common. It is not a well worn path!

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Evening views of Selsley church with Stroud in the distance

This walk was challenging as we didn’t have a detailed OS map for this area and were trying to rely on our guide book. However, we did have the Cotswold Way Harvey map and it was still difficult to navigate between Stroudwater canal and Selsley. Apart from our navigation issues though, we loved it. The views were particularly magical as the sun began to set, and the grass looked as though it had been spun from gold.

Our rating: 5/5

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