It’s officially less than two months to Christmas. In the UK and Europe, the clocks have already gone back one hour, meaning we lose 60 minutes of precious daylight from our evenings. With the turn in season, my walks will also continue to shorten as I fight the lure of hibernation. But walk on, I must. I will.
For the first time since May, I took a trip up to the Cotswolds on Sunday in an effort to discover the Slad Valley, not too far from Stroud.
This requires a good 50 miles of driving in each direction and as such, I’m often less than inclined to make the journey north (alone) unless it’s for a good 15 miles of walking. But there were a number of reasons for me in wanting to take on this walk – which can be found in Geoff Mullett’s Walk West 3 – it’s only 9.5 miles long; it’s an introduction to a portion of the Stroud 5 Valleys walk I have my eye on for next September and I’d get to see a little more of the Cotswolds.
It begins in a tiny village known as Bisley. You’ll have to look closely to spot it on an OS map but I had some difficulty in locating the parking spot based on Geoff’s direction alone. Fortunately, I was checking this the night before and, through the power of Google StreetView, I was able to locate the start point of the walk and trace my way back down the road to Stroud… Not that it stopped me from missing an obvious turning very close to the end of my drive on Sunday morning!
Much as is described within the brief summary for this one; it is a bit of a hilly walk but we’re a long way south of Cleeve Hill here. There’s also a fair amount of tarmac to cover as you ramble on through several small villages.
Beyond leaving the church via a set of descending stone steps, I turned back for a photo opportunity only to notice the following text carved in to the face of one:
“Seek those things which are above” – Bisley Steps.
But it’s soon time to depart from this village by a series of footpaths as you escape in to the realms of open countryside.
Heading down in to the first valley, there was only one direction I could be set to head in next and that would have to involve climbing up a hill. Near the brow and, after a series of small gates, I spied a wary cow (possibly even a bull?) with its gazed locked hard on to me, while the rest of the herd retained their comfortable viewing positions.
Turning 90° at the top and heading towards the village of Eastcombe, you can quite clearly see Lypiatt Park House, which is allegedly where Guy Fawkes once met with his ‘associates’ in preparation for an explosive future event:
I’ve seen an increasing number of redundant fuel pumps on my walks this year. There’s even a pair just up the road from where I live. This one was as welcome as the rest – if not more so, for its contrast against the blue and new.
Eastcombe village green.
Down the road, a couple of bends and narrow lanes and I spotted the small but significant red lion above a building that used to house a pub of the same name:
From here, it was up in to woodlands and I soon found myself climbing uphill, if only for a short while.
These woods became a little tricker further on, which much of the path becoming overgrown or obstructed with the odd fallen tree; but it’s hard to go far off track. Crossing a few short fields and country lanes, I soon opened my eyes to the impending village of Slad, on my approach towards a farm.
I was a little apprehensive about the next bit as the landowner (quite possibly) was out working just down the side of the hill. Waymarks were neither too clear or apparent and I was aware I was following a redirected path, as according to a notice on one of the gates. But the route ahead was well worn in to the mud and so I reached my next destination with relative ease.
This was the view from my emergence on to Swift’s Hill. It it wasn’t so windy, I could’ve stopped here for a bit but I pressed on, knowing that Slad wasn’t far away and holding on to my intention to stop for lunch there.
It was on top of Swift’s Hill where I discovered the first of these ‘poetry posts‘, of which there are apparently 11 scattered around the Slad Valley. They feature as part of the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way, which was opened only in June of this year, which also happens to be the centenary year of the late poet’s birth.
‘Field of Autumn’ – Laurie Lee
Below, I’ll share with you the poem I found at the top of this hill but I only went on to discover two more following my own path.
Swift’s Hill near Slad, Gloucestershire.
Before reaching the main road that would lead me in to Slad, I became aware that this wasn’t going to like passing through one of those small villages where you barely see another soul… Several small groups and families were milling about. Most talked of Lee and the poetry while I noticed a couple of cross-Atlantic accents, which may suggest this compact Cotswold village offers quite the lure.
There’s more about the legacy of Laurie Lee a little further on.
Why do dirty signs warning of the presence of cattle (and not specifically bulls) appear so unnerving?
As I entered the main bovine-infested field, I spotted a group of ramblers (over 50s, at an educated guess) walking from the opposite direction, right between a congregation of cattle.
I’d say about half responded to my hello while others barely made eye contact. Well, you can’t do a lot worse than to try, sometimes! My heart stopped about halfway through the group when I realised that one of these ‘cows’ bore large horns on its head!
It was a curious one as well; almost squaring up to each person as they passed, not to mention myself, walking out of sequence, alone and in the opposite direction to the large pack.
But it’s curiosity only peaked when a couple of stragglers stepped in to the field with a large collie dog (think Lassie but without the heroics) , just as I was leaving. Seeing the dog was off it’s lead and free to roam, I hung around for a few minutes to ensure their passage was a safe one…
With one leading, the rest of the herd swiftly followed in spite of the dog’s lack of interest to do anything other than walk on. Seeing a cow stoop to low and close to investigate though is quite frightening. I’m glad there was no incident, as such, to speak of. I’m not exactly sure of what I was going to try and do, in the event that things had turned ugly!
It was then that I discovered a kind of minor-art installation, with a different theme of badger painted on to each fence post.
There were too many for me to stop and capture them all, although you will find a few extras (not featured here) over in my Flickr album. I would assume it’s related to the unnecessary Badger Cull, which has sadly returned for a second year across Somerset and Gloucestershire.
I believe this building was formerly Laurie Lee’s childhood school.
Up alongside the local church, you can find the final resting place for the much-loved poet.
RIP Laurie Lee.
I passed a pub known as The Woolpack Inn (apparently well-known) and then the same group of ramblers who’d “survived” a stand-off against that herd of cows; all before stopping for my overdue lunch break alongside a road at the top of the next little hill.
Except, I wasn’t supposed to be sat alongside this road, let alone the war memorial straight ahead that went unmentioned within the text I was following… I was supposed to have passed the lake you see above by now and it was only after digging out my OS map that I realised I’d definitely gone off-track and would have to retreat back down the hill before an elongated climb that would eventually lead me to Snow’s Farm.
From this point until the very end of the walk, I came across an abundance of black sheep that are so often unseen or so hard to find on my usual ventures.
Before descending from the farm down to the edge of a nature reserve, I faced a stand-off with another creature of the land…
But it was only a domesticated car. Albeit, in incredulously curious type. One who is perhaps the undisputed local champion of staring contests, I can only presume!
At the bottom, a stream plays host to by far the most muddy and boggiest stint of the entire 9.5 miles. Ignore the main footpath and head up to the left (if you can bare the extra mud) and after passing a pony you can find another of the Wildlife Way poetry boards.
On the way back down and to return to my intended track, this mud-loving horse, although timid in the presence of others minutes earlier, allowed me to stroke its dry and matted hair.
By this time, I was a good two-thirds of the way around the walk and with the end in sight (psychologically), I only wanted to press on.
It began with the climbing up through woods; the scenery of which reminded me of a group walk around parts of Cranham last year, which is only a few miles north of this location. My legs were tiring by this point and I had to stop at several points on the way up but only to rest and, strangely, not to catch my breath.
Surfaced roads became a blessing when I was finally reacquainted.
As I walked along perhaps the penultimate lane of this adventure, I spotted something perculiar just over the dry-stone wall and to my left.
It was indeed a trig point, which can be found on a OS map near Stancombe Plantation and just off the Wysis Way. I did indeed jump the wall (yes, trespassing) to take a closer look and it appeared as though I wasn’t the first to do this.
Before long, I was back at my car in Bisley and facing the prospect of another hour-plus driving home, while holding on to the fresh experience of exploring the Slad Valley and another new stretch of the Cotswolds.
Thanks for reading.