This past weekend, I donned my waterproofs to brave the great outdoors. With a mountain of an expedition only a dozen weeks away now, I don’t think that I can use ‘the weather excuse‘ to keep me indoors for consecutive weekends. I have training to do and, flicking through the virtual pages of the three Walk West books, I can create a growing list of routes that I am keen to follow.
So, with falling water forecast and grey skies in waiting for me as I woke up on Sunday morning, I decided to keep the setting fairly familiar and not-too-brand-new by visiting Lansdown, to the north-east of Bath.
When you’ve walked 20 miles around the neighbouring city, it’s hard to imagine there could be much else left to find on the many hills that surround the area. But I’m slowly working my way up and over them all. Upon arriving at the start point, I felt excitement as the landscape opened up across from the nearside of my car.
Leaving home 45 minutes earlier, I thought I might get through this walk without too much of a soaking. As if those faintly-grey clouds may not contain as much water as they could and, therefore, they’d be able to absorb another day’s worth before having to rinse and refresh.
I’d also ignored the fact that the Bath Half Marathon was taking place on this same day… There I was, heading towards (or close to) the city. I didn’t know of the running route so I sensed a risk of learning along the way that part of my route my be inaccessible on this one occasion.
But that’s the kind of nonsense my mind concocts, sometimes. Because I arrived at the start point in good time and, even though I was coincidentally following the route of diverted traffic, there was no queues; there was no chaos and I pulled my handbrake with room to spare. From the lay-by, it’s only a moment’s walk to the Grenville Monument that you can see above. I resisted all urges to Google it beforehand!
From there, the walk becomes wooded and a little eerie (on a dark and blustery day) as you cross the hill top before a descent that offers respite from the harsh wind.
It was a popular area for dog walkers and I noticed a good number of others who were as courages as I was to stand against the act of Mother Nature.
I had to use my smart phone’s camera again, which is better than having nothing to share. In the past, I’ve struggled to cope with this on rainy days because moisture seems to interfere with my finger swipes and touches on the interactive screen. On this occasion, I also happened to have my stylus clipped to the side of the phone’s case and so, even after the heavens began to open as I left the mild shelter of those initial trees; I realised that I could take some photos while keeping my gloves on.
Very early on, I found myself following a group of ramblers who I didn’t recognise. Upon overtaking them as they stopped midway down this hill for a breather, I realised they were very young; teenagers, in fact and not an apparent ‘adult’ in sight… Maybe it was part of a Duke of Edinburgh Award or something but it was great to see kids out doing this on such a miserable day. They were laughing and sounding very cheerful as they worked together to navigate their map.
It’s the kind of occurrence that leads me to consider doing more to encourage people to walk and to explore our grand countryside…
But less than half-a-mile in and, a few yards ahead of the youngsters; I spotted one warning sign that was most unwelcome.
As I passed through the gate with extreme caution, I saw an empty field. As I looked over to my right, I saw this…
Big bulls and perhaps the ugliest of their kind!!
But what’s you can’t see just beneath this frame was an electric fence probably no more than 3ft high… It’s not a lot but, it might have been enough. I’ve crossed other bull-ridden fields with a lot less! Fortunately, I didn’t have to take any chances on this day. That one bull kept its eyes on me but not one of them made an advancing move.
There is a shortage of photos from this walk due to the inconvenience of using my phone in the rain. But I have a strong intention of returning on a drier day. Before reaching the road in the next shot, I think I passed through a second bull field, albeit one without the warning sign. Again, they were docile with the one lone and distant observer.
This is regarded as the most dangerous stretch of the walk (obviously, Geoff must know how to handle his bovine when turn berserk…). Around 700 yards of following a busy road with no raised ground to tread on, let alone a pavement. You can squirm through the shrubbery (above) for 50 yards or so, as Geoff advises, but then you have to jump down and cross the road to continue; looking for a vacancy in the hedge beside you for a redeeming walk that’ll keep you clear of high-speed wing mirrors!
When walking along any road, it always surprises me how many people seem to walk with the flow of passing traffic, which I’ve always considered to be incorrect and most dangerous… Here in the UK, I’d advise you to walk on the right (with cars passing on the left) so that you can make eye-contact with the moving traffic and gain that mutual awareness.
With no waymarks of apparent signs indicating a public right of way, I put all my faith in to Geoff’s words and continued as instructed, in order to avoid the constant flurry of cars. It’s not at all long before you’re greeted with the line of trees above.
If I read my OS map correctly then these sit on top of Freezing Hill – which was quite ironic and apt at the time!
Moving on and hopping over the two-bar stile, you pass downhill beside the site of earthworks that have their place in the history of the Civil War, apparently.
This was where I got lost on this walk and decided to ignore the first indication (to cross a double-stile I’d not yet reached) by turning right through the very first metal field gate that I came across… I then followed ploughs through the bog and east across the field, with views beyond a northern hedge to what I later learned was a private golf club and hotel. It wasn’t until I reached an inaccessible fence that I began to swear… At myself, at Geoff, at the wind for not allowing me to fold my OS map as I had intended… It meant a little bit of back tracking, some running, pain in adding pain to the tendons in my ankles and then re-reading each word, more carefully than before.
Rain was falling harder than before and it threatened to ruin my lunch break. But I had another hill to climb and it began with the most boggiest of all bridleways beside a local barn!
At the top of this hill was another information point and orange flag) making reference to the Battle of Lansdown from the 17th Century.
From here, the views must be extraordinary… On a more colourful day!
Continuing to follow the Cotswold Way (which was another major feature of this walk), I was lead to the site of a public golf course but not before noticing the distinct arrival of spring in the form of snowdrops.
I don’t have a single photo to share from within the golf course. The rain was that much heavier but I distinctly remember someone politely saying hello to me (which is always nice) as I wrestled with the “tiny” hood on my new waterproof coat for the best part of a minute.
I was stepping on to the land of Lansdown Racecourse – but not before a minor diversion to take in another fine and mighty view over the city of Bath.
At this point, known as Prospect Stile; it was interesting to note some of the places I’d been to even on some of my most recent walks.
I can’t recall having ever visited any racecourse in my 29 years. So, upon reaching Lansdown, I was expecting to see walking restrictions all over. But, there weren’t any races on and it seemed as though the entire land was open for anyone to walk their dog in… A different dog seemed to plod along each lane; lead by its respective owner.
So, I followed my instruction and cut across the lot to reach another golf course by the discreet entrance.
After exiting the golf course on the other side and crossing another busy road, I realised I was less than 30 minutes from the comfort of my car seat.
Following one permissive path across farmland, well, I really did hope there was another option but I had to take my chance in following the mud-lanes on the homeward stretch.
I then came to a small collection of hills that looked completely unfamiliar – when, in fact, these were the same hills I’d viewed hours earlier during my departure. It was only after I continued too far that the sensation of deja-vu suddenly struck me.
Before reaching the car, with my socks almost entirely sodden, I realised just why the water seemed to be pouring in to my boots…
I was already aware of splits that had developed (one on each boot) several months ago but there’s a gaping hole on the left of my right-boot, just where the laces begin, towards the toe-end… I was hoping they’d survive long enough to outlast the wet winter but I’ve already shopped online for a replacement pair, which will hopefully be arriving soon.
There’s now the concern that I’ll ‘ruin’ the waterproofing on my new boots before the summer comes (as I believe I did with my current pair in February 2013, when they were only four-months old). But, when we pay money for waterproofing and all of that, we do expect them to last. These boots aren’t just made for walking they’re made for wearing, too! I should probably work in a routine of cleaning and caring for them as well – unlike either of my two previous pairs.
I’m also on the verge of buying a new carry case or holder for my maps. The one I currently own (purchased late last summer) has proved itself to be anything but fully waterproof. But, even on a dry day, it’s not large enough to hold a full sheet of A4 and that was an oversight on my part. I haven’t yet settled on or purchased a replacement yet as I have an intention of joining The Ramblers for a walk this weekend… Provided my boots arrive in time and that the forecast isn’t anything like my previous visit to Cheltenham just over a year ago!
To see my entire photo set from this walk around Lansdown, please click here. I do expect to return over the summer and I might even take the walking group with me.
Thanks for reading and get outdoors!