20121202_A Cotswolds Circular Walk from Blockley
1st Half … Blockley to Longborough :- Via Bourton Downs and Hinchwick.
A Coventry CHA Rambling Club “A+” Walk.
When : 2nd December 2012
Where : Cotswold Hills
Full Walk Distance : Approx 11.5 miles (18.5 km)
and Significant heights : Approx 1310 ft (400m) spread throughout the day, over maybe 6 or 7 ups and as many downs.
Maps used once I got home to look at the route : 1:50,000 OS Landranger Maps No. 151 + a tiny bit on No.163, but I know the leaders used an OS 1:25,000 map – I think Outdoor Leisure Map No.45 The Cotswolds (I think I need to buy that one!)
Full Walk Summary : First half of a circular country walk starting and finishing in the village of Blockley (sort of mid-way between Morton-In-Marsh and Chipping Campden) and taking in rolling Cotswold countryside, including the villages of Longborough and Bourton-on-the-Hill and also Batsford Arboretum’s garden centre cafe.
More Pic’s to follow in while …. If you click on a pic’ it should launch as a larger image on my flickr photostream.
After my recent diary of the Coventry CHA’s Stanton to Broadway walk, this diary write up is from a few weeks later, being from the beginning of December (2012), and just like the Stanton walk, the weather was also very frosty.
The Stanton walk I’d been on with the CHA three weeks before, was about 10 miles long, and was in a similar area, so when I learnt that my Sister and her friend Jenny were again leading this walk I decided to give it a go. Now, just as a bit of back-ground, the CHA run a coach every Sunday (A+B walks) but about once a month, a more strenuous walk is organised, this is known as the A+ walk. More strenuous is quite a subjective term, which could be down to the type of terrain, heights gained, distances walked or how far away from Coventry the journey is, or most likely a combination of several of these factors. Transport is by shared cars (or sometimes a mini-bus I think) rather than the coach to get to the start point, at which juncture the leader gathers everyone that’s turned up and leads the walk for the day. For today’s walk, I’d arranged to drive to Coventry and share a lift to Blockley with my sis’.
Now, this should have been quite straight forward, other than there must have been a power cut or something in the night which had turned off my alarm clock and when I was woken by my lovely wife with a start, all it was doing was flashing 12:00 midnight at me !!! The real time was 7:40 giving me just 20 minutes to get dressed, pack ruck-sack, grab walking boots, make sandwiches, fill flask, scrape ice off car and then drive the ten miles or so from Rugby to Coventry !!! ARGHHHH !!! some things really are IMPOSSIBLE !!!! … I think I probably swore at myself more than once and at every inanimate object that wouldn’t behave as it should … The old adage of “MORE SPEED LESS HASTE” is very true!
The solution was to do everything (as quickly as possible) EXCEPT the drive to Coventry and instead drive straight to Blockley from my home :- Certainly, less cost effective but with a chance that I’d arrive pretty close to the 9:00 am rendezvous time. A phone call confirmed where we were to meet, and I grabbed a road map to see just were Blockley is …. Luckily it’s not far off The Fosse Way; The dead straight Roman Road runs very close to my home and that was the route I was very soon heading down, being very wary of potential surface water and/or black ice (we’d had a lot of recent rain and it was freezing). I arrived at 9:03 and found a parking spot immediately behind my sister’s car just up the road from the village store near to the church. I don’t know why but I was expecting maybe a dozen or more walkers to turn up, but it turned out there were only seven of us, including the two leaders and me, so it didn’t take long for us to gather and move off down the road passing in front of the old village store and heading off along Bell Lane/High St. in a roughly south/south westerly direction.
High street is quite long, a ribbon of settlement stretching out from the village centre, meaning there was a fair bit of road and pavement walking to start with. But that didn’t matter, as many of the houses and cottages are of attractive Cotswold Stone construction; an eclectic mix of buildings; some large and imposing some small and quaint, some detached, some in terraces and some accessible via pathways raised up above the road.
It was a nice easy start to the walk, being gently downhill, but that had to change!; so after passing Day’s Lane (off to the right) and Brook Lane (off to the left) and after passing Vine Cottage we took the next right side road. This was really more a posh drive way than road and we had to paddle across cross a mini flood flowing across the junction, the water having broken out from the adjacent garden’s brook. The driveway rose gently beside an extensive garden with lawns and ponds rising up to a very impressive looking property (Warren House I think it’s called). A short while up the drive we branched off to the left to rise up through some woods, but this didn’t last long as we soon reached a farm track heading up through the middle of some boring ploughed fields. The rise warranted a degree of effort from me, not so much because it was overly steep, but the gradient was significant enough and it did seem to go on for longer than it probably was; I definitely need to get fitter.
As we gained height some wide views opened up behind us (but I had to turn around to see them), nothing overly spectacular, but the feeling was much more airy than before, and the openness continued for a while as the gradient leveled off and the track led us through a few more fields to reach the A44 main road (Called Five Mile Drive here). We had to take a right along the roadside verges for a very short distance, before turning left to pick up a path on the opposite side of the road, heading roughly in the same direction as before (approx south westerly).
The track, hard with frost, narrowed somewhat, with rough grasses growing down the middle forcing us to walk one behind the other as we started to descend towards an area of woodland which was soon exited to enter a grassy field. The extent of the recent rainfall was very apparent with an impromptu, not normally there, stream having to be crossed. My great long legs did this relatively easily (with just a little splashing) and once over I found a loose log to position in the new watercourse for the others to use as a “stepping stone” (my apologies to Jenny for nearly splashing her in the process!!!). The field then led us down to meet a farm track, where we again had to negotiate some surface water, which wasn’t too bad, but you could see the stream had been in quite a state of flood not long before. After the soggy field and little bit of paddling the rock hard frosty track was quite a welcome change and we soon reached and passed a building to reach a minor road in a shallow valley. After crossing the road into a grassy field we stopped for a short refreshment stop.
One of the ladies then kindly took the opportunity to comment about my blog, she’d obviously read some of my previous posts (in particular my Hatton Locks walk) and she was most complimentary about my writings, even to the point of saying it was romantic in style. Well, I’m not used to such praise, it’s an odd feeling how modesty juxtaposes with a little pride. It is gratifying to think someone likes your work though. Enough of that, we had a short hill to climb, heading up the side of the field through some scrub hawthorn. It felt like we were heading more or less in the same direction as before, but by now we’d swung southwards heading into an area on my map called Bourton Downs. We crested the rise where we joined another farm track running down the side of a Leylandii hedge.
Now, you’ve probably got an image of a garden hedge of about 6 or 7 feet high – Well, this one was a tad bigger than this, difficult to say just how tall but, at a guess, at least 35 to 40 feet high and really thick in depth as well, obviously being used as a wind screen. I’ve read that these trees can grow to 115 feet tall and maybe more (that’s a lot of tree). If there’s ever an advert to persuade people to never plant Cypress Leylandii Trees in their town gardens then this should be it – Apart from these plants wanting to be huge stand alone trees, they are also in my humble opinion very drab ugly trees – Don’t do it! Please find a better, more apt, prettier thing to grow.
The puddle strewn track continued on the flat, passing what looks like it could have been an old WW2 concrete bunker before starting the descent of a grassy sheep field. It’s kind of funny that the rolling hills and valleys of the surrounding farmland, although quite pleasant, were usurped by some quite dramatic broken cloud cover, highlighted by the low sun we were walking towards. Before reaching the bottom of the slope we turned left, to again rise, still on the grassy field to skirt what became the top edge of an attractively curving valley below us on our right.
The open views were soon to end though as we headed into another area of woods (known as The Warren) and immediately picked up a narrow path. The surrounding trees and scrub had obviously protected the path from the frost, resulting in lots of unavoidable slippery mud instead of a nice hard surface to walk on … To be honest this bit of the walk was just a bit ughy! However we soon descended to pick up yet another track and conditions underfoot improved accordingly – at least for a while – For at the bottom where the track met a minor road [near Hinchwick] there was an extensive area of sticky churned up mud to negotiate, the mess being fed with water from an adjacent flooded field. Conditions soon improved though, crossing the road into a grassy field. Turning eastwards now, we had a reasonable length of uphill and a gradient enough to raise a bit of a sweat and tax the old leg muscles a little. Behind us, the attractive buildings and enclosed grounds of Hinchwick Manor added to the view, perfectly proportioned in the landscape.
I was quite happy to have a little breather at the top of the rise where the route crossed a stile. On the other side, the route eased to almost flat again, now skirting alongside of some mature beech trees slightly raised up on an earth bank. I like beech trees! especially the way the surface roots of older trees break out from the ground, gnarled and twisted, mirroring the shapes in the branches above.
A little way along here, the line of trees and earth bank/ditch were shaped into an arching semi-circular clearing, where a lone monolithic lump of slate, pointing to the skies, stood proud, isolated in the wide landscape but protected at the same time by the half ring of trees. Slate in the midst of Cotswold limestone felt very odd; it turned to be a memorial to Hase and Michael Asquith. The inscription on the back in deep shadow reads “HE WHO SHALL TRAIN THE HORSE TO WAR SHALL NEVER PASS THE POLAR BAR” and attributed to WILLIAM BLAKE. Later I found this to be from his poem The Auguries of Innocence. The rather odd quotation intrigued me especially the meaning of “THE POLAR BAR”. A trawl on the internet really proved just as baffling, as many people seem to be as equally bamboozled as me. It’s a fairly obvious anti-war sentiment, and I assume the Asquiths were horse lovers. I suppose the overall sentiment is that not passing the “polar bar” alludes to never going to heaven.
Moving on, we then had a short but quite steep descent into a small valley, and then immediately had an equally short but steeper climb directly opposite to climb out of the said valley … again heading for more woods. My poor old knees certainly didn’t like the drop and I was pleased I’d taken a walking pole to help ease the strain; the climb up wasn’t half as uncomfortable, and the terrain eased again as we reached the top of the rise with a bit of a surprise for us.
Well, we emerged out onto a race track, a horse racing race track, well actually a horse racing training race track, complete with white painted railings and a pristinely manicured sandy surface, looking like someone had very carefully raked the sand smooth and flat, although this would easily have taken a month of Sundays to achieve, so in reality it was obviously done by some kind of machine.
We now had easy walking alongside the race track until we reached a dilapidated run-down ruined group of farm buildings (so run down it’d be quite a renovation challenge, even for a grand design TV type project). The sandy race track abruptly ended here, to simply merge into a conventional farm track; this in turn easily led us down to a minor road and then, after a left turn, down to the A424 main road.
A right turn, for just a few yards, and then a careful cross over, brought us into yet another small area of woodland, the obvious path quickly taking us past a small fenced off odd quarry area and thence on to a junction of minor roads heading off in three directions. We ignored the sign to Sezincote / Bourton-On-The-hill and the one pointing to Stow-On-The-Wold / Broadway, instead heading off down the road towards Longborough / Morton-In-Marsh. The minor road bought us down into the village of Longborough (½ a mile according to the sign-post) and the promise of a pub to coincide with our lunch stop.
So this ends the first half of the walk … If you’d like to hear about the second half, please see my next diary which will follow soon.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings …. If you’d like to comment on my diary or any of my pic’s please feel welcome. I’d love to hear from you.