A Cotswold Challenge

Saturday 15th August 2015

It must now be a fortnight since I last returned to the Cotswolds. In a month’s time, I’ll be heading that way again for a long-distance walking challenge. But on this occasion, I was looking to correct and finalise the sixteen-mile route I’d plotted back in June.

It began again at the Kilkenny Viewpoint. Returning to the road from the car park, I made no hesitation in crossing over to head down the path I’d used at the end of my previous walk here. Upon reaching the lane, it was then a left turn that would lead me right beside a farm building, across a field and quite directly to a convergence with the Cotswold Way.

I’d bypassed all the overgrowth of my previous walk here at this same stage.

Half-expecting to have to meander around the edge of the next field, I spotted a distinct but welcome absence of long grass. In its place was the solution to the problem – a herd of cows!

In some situations, yes, that would create a new problem in itself. But I was pleased to find that these beasts were simply ‘watchers’. Neither did the have the level of curiosity or courage to close in on my footsteps.

It was at this stage in the walk last time that I began to see other people heading in the opposite direction. But it would be another while yet before I made human contact.

I geared myself up for the steep ascent beside Dowdeswell Reservoir. A yappy dog remains contained beside the house at the foot of the hill. Up on top, I noticed a long line of fencing in need of attention.

You may recall last time that I spotted a pair of ‘rabbit ears’, carved in to the top of a wooden gate post?

Here, I widened my eyes a little more to notice two other shapes (one of which, I’m sure, must be a heart).

Continuing along a familiar stretch of the Cotswold Way and I spotted this rather large horse in the field to my right:

Little did I realise but this forward-thinker was on his way over to greet me over the fence.

It can be rare to find horses who allow you to stroke their faces but it’s a nice feeling when they do wander over and you feel compelled to ‘say hello’… In all truth, he probably just wanted the apple in my bag!

I’ve said to myself that I will get to the Malverns before the year is out… It’s only a ninety-minute drive from home.

Fairly soon, I was on my way to the summit of Cleeve Hill, once again.

Despite this beginning as a rather nice day, the sky had begun to cloud over. With that, there were distinctly fewer golfers on the green than on my previous visit.

An unwelcome chill breezed through the air from the west, leading me to continue around to the north before I would stop for my lunch break, not too far from the clubhouse.

I did get the trig all to myself, this time!

A number of other walkers we wearing coats. I braved it in only my T-shirt before selecting a bench, at which point I bought out a lightweight jumper.

One sheep stood away from its flock; alone but very well sheltered from all elements.

On my previous walk here, I followed the Cotswold Way a little while further, before leaving it to take a more direct route to Belas Knap; approaching the long barrow from the north.

Another horse, enjoying a good scratch.

Having already trekked across so much familiar territory for the first-half of this walk, I decided it might be worth investigating an alternate route – one that’s likely to be more popular, following a National Trail – that would also help to ease any feelings of monotony.

This led me up an incredibly steep and never-ending climb. More severe and relentless then anything I had walked since Exmoor, I believe.

As the path began to zig-zag, the realistation dawned on me…

I had been here before!

It was during The Spooky Walk of February 2013; an unforgettable event of winter weather darkness where we lost our way, only to rediscover civilisation in a pub three-miles away from our cars, 21.00 on a Sunday as well!

While walking down this hill at the tail-end of our small group, I contemplated a toilet stop at the tip of every corner. ‘Should I stop here?’ ‘Will it take too long? I forgot my torch and don’t want to lose sight of the light of the others.’… On this occasion, I was only concerned with reaching the summit of this challenging climb.

As the Cotswold Way began to level out again, I could see Belas Knap Long Barrow off in the distance. Only, this time, I wouldn’t be paying it a visit. My main aim here was to establish a clear return path ahead.

Marching on, I returned to a familiar road; soon to ignore the first footpath I would come to on my right as, beyond the stile, it looked to be as overgrown as on my last visit in June. With another plan in mind, I continued a little further before following in the direction of an indicated Byway.

All I had to do, back in June, was to have walked an extra couple of hundred yards and I could’ve avoided so much agony.

It was clear, clean and unmistakable. At the other end, I even found the stile I should’ve been looking for on the previous walk – back then, I took the wrong gate in to the wrong field and certainly lost my way… Yet, I was only metres away from the right exit!

Following the desired path down through the farm and in to Whittington, I could see the buildings of Whittington Court, down far below.

Based on past experience; it was either going to be a stretch of road-walking or a bold fight through overgrowth in the fields ahead…

Fortune was clearly on my side, as the beautiful yellow plants had been cleared and the path ahead was accessible, if not easily defined.

Behind me, I could see a ‘top hat’ tree formation on the tip of the hill.

That was Whittington Court, as viewed from the rear.

Heading for the main road, this assertive woollen beast made sure that I wasn’t going to linger on their land for too long.

Crossing over, I then took a familiar series of country lanes through villages, before spotting this fungus (my first of the impending season) sprouting from the end of a fallen log.

That was the end of my sixteen-mile circuit, which I still hope to be able to lead with the Ramblers before 2016 arrives. I’m much happier with the second attempt and, with the minimal amount of climbs and sections of road walking, I like to think it will appeal to anyone who may at first be deterred by the stated distance.

Thanks for reading.

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