When we finally do push on round the corner to the Devil's Chimney landmark, we realise that we have stopped and stared so much at paragliders, scenery and stone walling that we have covered 4.5 miles in 3 hours. This is possibly sub-snail's pace. I think it demonstrates the wisdom of shorter stages and doing in ten days rather than 7 or 8 though. For me, to be trying to cover, say, 15 miles today, would have meant feeling (self-imposed) pressure when I was watching the paragliders. I'd have felt I should get on with it and not linger too long. As it is, there is no rush, though we really ought to step up the pace a little bit. So we crack open lunch at the Devil's Chimney and walk on.
Next stop is the National Star College at Ullenwood who have recently opened the fabulous Star Bistro in their new development. We've only just had our sandwiches so there is no way we could eat there but they have just been nominated as Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards Finalists for 2012. The menu looks amazing and it's pretty reasonable too. The coffee is excellent and you get a couple of lovely little treats with it, I particularly liked the pistachios in chocolate. When we comment on the quality of the coffee afterwards the person who serves us tells us that Rocket Coffee is roasted in an old copper roaster in nearby Stroud. More than that, they build schools and hospitals in the places they buy the coffee from and so it's a real partnership. I love that the Star Bistro know and care and enthuse about this stuff.
If I was local I'd certainly visit. It's open from 11-4 on Tuesday to Friday, 10-4 on a Saturday and they plan to do some special Sunday lunches too. It's well worth dropping in if you are walking the Cotswold Way, especially as you walk past the entrance to the college on your route.
Suitably refreshed we walk though some lovely wooded areas and on to Crickley Hill. Again we stop and stare out over lovely scenery, it is a warm, clear day and has been perfect walking weather.
It's a bit of a rude awakening after such a lovely stroll to then emerge at the noisiest and most dangerous part of the walk. The Air Balloon roundabout at Birdlip is busy as cars rush between two motorways and you need to take care as you cross. They are faster than you might think and after 9 miles or so, you are probably not as fast as you think. Thankfully the route only follows the main road to Cirencester briefly and, again, you are in the quiet of the route to Birdlip.
Having been bouyed by a signpost that told us Birdlip was just a half a mile away, we have to get the map out when we hit the old (pre-bypass) road from Birdlip to Gloucester. We've parked in Birdlip village so are faced with leaving the route here and a short walk up the road to the car, or crossing the road and taking in some more woodland before we cut back on a different footpath nearer the village. We elect to do the latter, even though it means walking down and up, in short succession, a reasonable slope - certainly reasonable for this time in the walk anyway. I do it because I have half an eye on the next stage, which at 13.5 miles will be the longest, and cutting even half a mile off that seems worth it. Andy does it because he's a long suffering friend.
At the bottom we meet our Australian friends, who have their map out and are wondering, not unreasonably, where Birdlip has gone. Through local knowledge - partly garnered through playing cricket in such villages - we point them back up the hill to where they are heading for the pub. We continue and join them a bit later. We sit together on a table in the pub garden swopping stories and they are thrilled to find that Andy is a Cotswold dry stone waller and have lots of questions for him. It's a good way to end the day and with the weather, scenery and people, it's been my best day yet. Next stop, in a couple of weeks time, Randwick.