Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Cotswold Way - Day 4 - Dowdeswell to Birdlip

Today's guest walker is my good friend Andy and after a hearty breakfast and the necessary juggling of getting a car to the finish point and a car to the start, we are away at 10am.  Some peering at maps has shown we have two short sharp climbs in the first mile or two and then we should be fine for the rest of the day.  And that's pretty much how it proves to be.  The anticipated climbs turn out to be pretty straight forward actually and we pretty much take them in our stride.  This is probably helped by the brand new route to Ravensgate Common that was opened only two days before, and is described on the Cotswold Way website as the first major route change on the Cotswold Way in the last three years.  We didn't realize it at the time but we must be some of the very first to be taking the new route.  Well, it works and as you can see below, it's a great view from the top.   

Whilst there are still some slopes and hills to come today, this 10.5 mile stretch is reasonably easy walking.  There are some lovely yellow fields on the way to Seven Springs.   

The higlight of today's walk is probably to be found at the top of Leckhampton Hill where we see a few dozen people paragliding, circling around on the thermals like some of the buzzards we have seen.  It's an amazing way to see Cheltenham below but takes some serious guts to launch yourself off the edge trusting only to some thread and material.  It is a magical sight to see so many of them in the air, circling around and it's quite mesmerizing.  We stop and watch for some time and the Rutland and Australian couples that I met yesterday do the same.  Had I not been walking on a Saturday I'd have missed this sight.    

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.    


  1. Steve

    It was one of my best days yet, as well. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you. Good luck on the remaining stages.


  2. Although not immediately transported into Cranberries territory of 'Desperate Andy' I'll admit to jealous Andy from reading and seeing the photos,
    another friend A....(signed in as wife of A, evidently)

    1. Sorry Andy D, following it with olympic torch and cricket blogs isn't probably helping either. Not deliberate, I promise. Will blog on 80s pop soon!

  3. I love some of your images and they really do bring me back to a few years ago. I remember staying at Cheltenham Hotels for a beautiful week away walking and exploring the beautiful area.