Wednesday, 15 August 2007

A Wednesday walk

Well the weather has been pretty appalling most of today. It said “heavy showers” and it turns out they were not kidding, though it would be interesting to see the definition of “shower” that they used.

We were determined not to be daunted by this so we set off to do another walk downloaded from the Country Walking site. This one, “Cleeve Hill” (or 2636 to its friends) was classed as moderate, 9.6km/6 miles, 3½ hours. This is a very very good walk! It knocks spots off the curate’s egg (oops, danger, mixed metaphor) that was Monday’s walk.

Why’s it so good, do I hear you enquire? No? Well shame on you, and I am going to tell you anyway, so do put the kettle on or something.

  • It’s got hardly any road
  • It’s got good erm ah USPs, to whit:
    • A fabulous long barrow
    • A stunning view from a high(ish) hill
  • Lots of variety
  • Lots of up and down
  • Generally splendiferous
  • Not over easy, but the navigation works!
  • The GPS stuff even sort-of works.

We parked in a layby provided for visitors to the long barrow, Belas Knap. A quick blast up through a wood and along a lovely upland pastureish thing and we were at the barrow. It’s really a very very good one, in a fantastic state of preservation. (That is, I hope it is a fantastic state of “preservation” rather than a fantastic state of “Restored by Enthusiastic Victorians”. No doubt Uncle Google will know.) It’s got a grand entrance which is a fake, a couple of other ways in, standing stones – the works. It’s huge. They found 38 burials in it. You have to see it – it’s mind-blowing.

People had lit a fire on top of it, leaving a big burnt circle – a move of which I strongly disapprove, but they or others had also lit candles in some of the alcoves, and left flowers on what you might, with the Eye of Faith, see as a kind of altar or maybe memorial stone in one of the large openings. These activities would probably not endear them to archaeologists either but do not seem to dramatically damage the fabric (some soot and candle wax was evident) and I cannot bring myself to condemn them as strongly. It’s maybe just confused hippies but there is something quite touching about the thought that someone has used it for something more than just a tourist visit: more of a real use or something? It’s a tricky one – English Heritage would hate me for even thinking this, I fear; they might be right to do so. Hmmm.

Leaving Belas Knap we set off up a field, gaining height the whole time. Half way up this, when we were at pretty much the most exposed point, the heavens opened. I will not bore you (assuming you’re still awake now anyway) with the whole saga but I merely wish to note the following.

  • If you are ever with me on a walk, and it starts raining, and I go off into some macho fantasy of being all big and tough and managing without waterproofs, because I will be, like, OK, then you are to SLAP me smartly round the head a couple of times and say in a clear and firm voice: “Remember Belas Knap!”. That should do it nicely, thank you.

So following some serious rain and some very annoying sorting out of wet clothes by a very stupid bloke, we were ready to press on. In another kilometre or so we hit the derelict Wontley Farm and were disconcerted to see yet more rain very threateningly sweeping in, so we invited ourselves into the remains of a barn and sat out the worst of it, for about half an hour. We gave serious consideration to turning back at this point, but I am so glad we didn’t. It really was torrential – the tracks outside turning into rivers etc. Poor Daisy does not like this very heavy rain a bit and always adopts a rather mooey, put-upon expression. Odd really given the breed’s heroic outdoor image: she’d make a very strange sheepdog if every time it started raining she remembered an urgent appointment with her favourite sofa. Oh well.

Meanwhile, the rain eased off a bit so we left the farm and pressed on up in only light rain. Unfortunately as we got higher this became light cloud and then closed down to very limited visibility. We were supposed to be aiming for some comms masts and they’d vanished, of course. In the end I gave up with the map and used the GPS, which I’d programmed with the downloaded data from the CW website. This is not a flawless process and there are important safety caveats. I should write this all up sometime but the executive summary is – don’t be clueless with your GPS and let it navigate you into trouble: know where you are. But we were careful and fairly clueful and – also importantly – the ground favoured this approach, so I was quite happy to let it guide us with bearings between its waypoints, which were many and pretty well-plotted. As if by magic we suddenly found the comms towers looming out of the mist and there we were in the right place – the first time I have used a GPS quite that much on a walk. Like I say, it is far from perfect, but I was still quite impressed. Dealing with the same situation just with map and compass would have been quite difficult since there were no landmarks and pretty much nothing to check your position with – one path junction looks pretty much like another, and you never know what they have and have not mapped.

Then came the good bit. Just like in a CW article, after all this gloom and wetness and nil-visibility the cloud suddenly lifted, the sun came out, and there we were right on top of this lovely hill. A classic moment. We’d navigated right onto a lovely bench-and-isolated tree place mentioned in the walk so stopped there for lunch, with a truly amazing 360° view including Cheltenham and much round it. We immediately lowered the tone (though fortunately we had the place to ourselves) by draping it with wet clothes, people, dog, walk leaflet etc. (Memo to self: investigate waterproof inkjet paper. Map := papier maché, not good.)

We could see horrible weather all over the place, much of it tanking around at our eye-level, but mercifully it left us alone till we’d had lunch, visited the trig point, and were starting down, when it got going again a little bit. I should explain that the “high place” USP of this walk is the eponymous Cleeve Hill, whose proud boast is that as well as the highest point in the Cotswolds it is the seventh highest peak in southern England. Ah bless! This strikes me as one of those Department of Modest Claims things like “Best Baritone in Sheffield” (of which more some time) but believe me, as a trueblooded Englishman (well actually erm oh never mind) I stood a little taller, my back straight with pride, at having scaled southern England’s seventh highest peak, and gave the Sherpas a shilling, a Coronation mug and a half-holiday. But, non-grandiose claims apart, it is very very nice up there and the views, given the incredible luck of finding them clear for half an hour, were just fantastic.

I don’t want to start a class war item again but I’d have liked this hill even more had it not had a golf course all over it. I mean, sure, you don’t have to look at it while appreciating the view, but even so – or is it just me? Fore!

With the weather closing in again and my mashie-niblick threatening to get caught in my caddie’s plus fours (you know how it is) it was time to leave the summit, or “tee” as it is perhaps better known. Oh alright I will stop it now <goes off making Muttley noises: vassle sassle frassle etc>.

On the way down we encountered yet more sheep. (I have not mentioned their ubiquity. They are ubiquitous. Ubiquity is, like, their thing, this being the Cotswolds, and them being ovine. Also they have refused to pay me a small fee for an occasional favourable mention. But please assume that every paragraph has several sheep in it, perhaps a flock or two in certain cases.) Anyway, yet more sheep were indeed encountered and I was very pleased that it was possible to walk Daisy through them off the lead without incident. It does require a massive effort on the part of person and dog, and I do not counsel trying this at home. But it worked this time for us, and I truly felt that she was a Good Dog.

The descent from the summit into what the leaflet calls a “chalk gorge” was incredibly nice – it was such a pretty little valley to be in. From there it was all harmless, pleasant and pretty straightforward walking, with one nice wooded bit and a stream for Daisy to lie in. There was a pretty strenuous (by my standards) ascent out of this which was also interesting and rather beautiful and where we saw some amazing fungus. We had one tricky bit where the footpath, passing through a farmyard, was occupied by about a billion sheep, sealed in with gates and blocking the way entirely. I had visions of us having to turn back or wait two hours or something. I went ahead to talk to the farmer while Deb and Daisy were inspected closely by four tough-looking working collies, whom Daisy kept at bay with a stream of sophisticated city abuse learnt in the meze bars and pizza houses of Muswell Hill. The farmer was incredibly nice, admired Daisy (sort of) and advised us, to my astonishment, just to plough right through the sheep letting ourselves in and out of the gates at the ends. I’ve never done anything like this before and it was quite scary but the sheep were pretty cool about it, just moving out of the way, and Daisy was very good – but no, we did not have her off the lead for this bit!

Just as we got back to the car (after a really quite short bit of road) it started to tip it down again. We went for tea and some shopping to the Hayles Fruit Farm, and had our faith greatly restored after yesterday’s OTT Sloaniness in Daylesford. Hayles Fruit Farm is the real deal and I would not swap one visit there for a hundred to the Daylesford place – no sensible comparison is possible. So we had a nice cream tea overlooking a fantastic bird table which attracted more species than I usually see in six months. There were three or four varieties of tits, a dunnock, robin, chaffinch, nuthatch (yes really!) two little warbler type things with smart black hats on, various unidentifiable little brown things and, later, a rather stately pheasant tidying up at ground level. This was wonderful. And so was the down-to-earth and excellent farm shop where we bought loads of nice stuff.

And that’s pretty much it. It rained ludicrously much again on the way home but it’s a bit easier to tolerate when you’ve got a tin roof over your head and dry shorts on the other end, believe me.

After we got home it faired up again, as it does. I wrote most of this sitting at the kitchen table, glancing up from time to time at the view across the valley, the whole place looking fresh and lovely after the rain. Pretty unbeatable stuff.


  1. The Power of Guiting

  2. A Wednesday walk

  3. Strawberry Yoghurt - Daylesford Creamery organic yoghurt with strawberry compote

  4. A Thursday of Longwalkness

  5. Incidental moments of deliciousness

  6. Friday (mostly) in Oxford: a sort of Missed-the-Gig-a-Blog™

  7. A Cotswolds Saturday, another concert, and the road homeward

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