Cirencester to Chipping Campden- 16th to 19th August 2013
The walks covered just under 40 miles in 3.5 days using parts of the Monarch’s Way, The Heart of England Way, The Macmillan Way and Diamond Way. Route planning was done by Graham using OS map OL45 The Cotswolds and websites ‘Where’s the path’, ‘Streetmap’ and ‘Streetview’. The walks were co-lead by Malcolm, Bob and Graham. Photographs were taken by Don and John T (see Photo Gallery). This report was written by Graham. Friday - Cirencester to North Cerney - about 5.7 miles Saturday - North Cerney to Northleach - about 9.5 miles Sunday - Northleach to Stow on the Wold - about 10.5 miles Monday - Stow on the Wold to Chipping Campden - about 12 miles
Friday 16th By 1pm most of the group of 55 arrived at our accommodation , the Royal Agricultural University RAU in Cirencester, where in 2008 and 2009 we had stayed for the first two parts of our previous venture on the Thames Path. Starting our walk at 1.45pm, we left the car park to follow a route north around the west side of Cirencester, passing the freshly trimmed highest yew hedge in the world, by the entrance to Cirencester Park.
With the River Churn to our left we passed by the quiet suburb called Bowling Green and caught sight of a post with the Monarch’s Way sticker. A path to the next road brought us into Baunton , the first of many very pretty villages we were to find. There was a Manor house, a Mill and a little Norman church with large 14th C wall painting of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child.
A byway took us north under a high road viaduct and a wooded path to a quiet road crossing at Perrott’s Brook. A friendly local in his Land Rover who stopped to let us pass, said that the sight of us reminded him of a group of ducks waddling along!
Around the edge of a large wheat field, the path eventually brought us to our destination, North Cerney. With the sun still shining we had plenty of time to relax with drinks at the Bathurst Arms before the Alexcars Coach turned up to return us to the RAU. The Driver called Bryan, remembered us from our last visit in 2009.
Saturday 17th Next morning the coach picked us up at 9.15am and dropped us back at North Cerney. The route continued along the Churn Valley then close to the riverbank, Monarch’s Way turned sharply and steeply uphill through the edge of a long wooded section that skirts the village of Rendcomb. This bit certainly tested our legs and lungs! After that we were grateful for a bit of flat road walking and easy paths through cropped and open fields and changing to the Macmillan Way through to Chedworth . Deep in a valley this is another picture book Cotswold village. We ambled along admiring the houses and bypassed the church to find a short steep uphill then a downhill path to Chedworth Woods. A group of our ladies detouring for a comfort stop, said they had the best scenic view back and across the Village!
In the Woods we descended a fairly steep rubbled path passing under a disused railway bridge to Chedworth Roman Villa where we stopped for lunch. Heavy rain at midday was forecast, so just in case we managed to find shelter under an awning and the National Trust cafe. Of course we had tea and coffee and some tried the Lardy Cake which is often found in the West Country. There was no time to go round the Villa, but we had a reasonable view of it from the boundary and the exhibition model gave a good idea of its original size. There is a mosaic floor and a Victorian shooting lodge in the grounds houses a museum of finds.
Fortunately the heavy rain did not come so we carried on along a flat forestry track running by the River Coln, which we crossed at Yanworth Mill. Soon we could see a grandiose building and private estate called Stowell Park. Pausing by the road for a drink stop it just started to rain so we donned our waterproofs for the first time. As we climbed the short road hill past the entrance to Stowell, the rain ceased for the next mile of easy road walking before a taking a grassy by-way through Winterwell Farm.
Crossing a minor road at the entrance to the intriguingly named Cats Abbey Farm, the by-way continues east as Helen’s Ditch. Soon we turned off north to gain a full view of the buildings of Northleach and its impressive church on a hill. Descending the two grassy fields was easy (avoiding cowpats) and as we appeared in the town market square it started to drizzle. This was no problem as many of us naturally took to the tea shops and pubs before our coach pick up time. Others had a good wander around the market place area where there is a Mechanical Music Museum and of course the Church. The latter has some impressive windows and the floor is inlaid with a collection of memorial brasses, marking the tombs of wealthy wool merchants whose endowments paid for the church. That afternoon there had been a wedding and the remaining floral displays were spectacular.
Sunday 18th Back to Northleach, we left the market square in bright sunshine to follow the minor road to Farmington. Then taking an easterly path downhill to a bridge crossing a stream, we climbed the short Bunkers Hill to pass behind the Old Rectory and Church for a short break. The Church tower was notable for have two clocks, one with the conventional two hands and the other below (presumably much older and far less accurate) with only one.
Passing through the Village, Monarch’s Way joins Diamond Way going north then north east over gently undulating fields. A flock of sheep bleated loudly at us as we disturbed their grazing. Eventually we took another break after crossing a bridged stream at Broadwater Bottom, to view a fair number of red kites circling above. They are commonly sighted in the Chilterns but now seem to have found habitats on the Cotswold too.
Another short hill climb and arable field paths brought us to disused quarries at Gom’s Hole. From here the Way follows an easy downhill path across several grassy and cropped fields to Bourton on the Water, where we stopped for lunch. Our peaceful walk was suddenly interrupted by the enormous number of tourists in the town. There was hardly any place to sit on the grass by the River Windrush which passes alongside the main street. Despite this we all got served in the pubs and cafes and after an hour we gathered at the church to resume our walk.
Continuing north on the Heart of England Way we passed through another attractive village, Lower Slaughter. Its name comes from the Old English ‘slohtre’ which means marshy place. (Slough has the same derivation). The church here is Victorian but was built to look older to match with other village buildings. On reaching Kirkham Farm the stile into the next field was blocked by a herd of cattle which seemed a bit overexcited. Fortunately we found way round them and got clear before they began running around the field still making a lot of noise. Thinking back on it this was quite a hazardous situation to be in and we should be very wary of any similar encounters in future!
Crossing the River Dikler at Hyde Mill we could see the path ahead going uphill through the grounds of Nether-Swell Manor with its very modern horse stables. As this was the last hill of the day we took our time and stopped to look back over the Cotswold scenery. Shortly after, we had to walk the pavement along the busy A424 to reach our finish and coach pick up at Stow on the Wold. The market square here is surrounded by old coaching inns, cafes and antique shops. There is also a Victorian Hall, a medieval cross and a set of stocks on a small triangular green. At one time the narrow walled alleyways or ‘tchures’ running into the square were used to funnel sheep into pens for the market. There is a more chilling history as on March 21st 1646, this was the scene of the last battle of the English Civil War, where the Roundhead army slaughtered the remaining Royalists.
Monday 19th Our last and longest day from Stow started in fine weather again. Following Monarch’s Way, north east, we passed Stow Well, an ancient water source, then onto another picture book village called Broadwell. We stopped by the impressive Manor Farm house adjacent to the church. On entering the church we found one man and his dog busy tuning the organ. Were they intending to play Bach or Bark?
Up the road we came to the even more impressive Donnington Manor, where the path follows the boundary of their ‘HaHa’ ditch and wall atop with statues of dogs. In a clearing beyond a wooded path we stopped for a morning break, then moved down a track leading into Longborough. The houses along the main street are very attractive and there is an Opera House at the south end where they put on a Summer festival. On the Heart of England Way we followed a long field boundary into the open parklands adjacent to Sezincote House. Built in 1805 the name comes from ‘Cheisnecote’ a blend of French and Old English meaning ‘home among the oaks’. The house style has an Oriental theme with an onion dome and from a distance we could see an orangery sweeping around one side. Apparently the Prince Regent once visited here which gave him inspiration for the design of the Brighton Pavilion.
We had a picnic lunch in the park grounds before moving up to Bourton on the Hill and the local pub for a very pleasant drink in their sunny garden with nice views. Continuing north on a gentle uphill, then a downhill we came to a viewpoint overlooking Blockley. This was once a centre for silk processing and today houses Britain’s biggest manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars. The village is very picturesque and as we walked down and up past the church we were unable to go in, as there was a TV crew filming an episode of Father Brown.
Passing Bell’s House, a narrow steep road took us out the village on the other side. We stopped by woods for a break and a view back before carrying on down across open landscape to a minor stream. The short climb up the next hill took our breath away before we found a hidden path through woods to a long track leading to a stone quarry. Lorries were moving enormous blocks of stone and kicked up dust as they went by. There was bit of confusion where an extension to the quarry was not indicated on the OS map. Things improved when we reached the head of a little valley at Campden Hill Farm and moved across to a long downhill bridleway leading to Broad Campden. On the way down we could just see the church at Chipping Campden over to our left.
Broad Campden was to be our last picturesque village on the walk. Passing by lovely little terraced houses and through an alleyway we emerged to a cropped field with an easy path to Chipping Campden, now seen clearly ahead. Soon we entered the High Street of the Town through the archway of the 16th C Noel Arms, a onetime coaching Inn. Still with plenty of time before our coach pick up, most of us sought out the pubs and tea shops along the High Street. It was also rewarding to just wander along looking at all the magnificent buildings, notably the 17th C open Market Hall with its uneven stony floor where dairy farmers once sold their produce.
At 5.15pm the coach arrived to take us back to Cirencester for the last time.
To conclude, our few days walking in the Cotswolds were very enjoyable helped a lot by the fine weather. We had no serious problems with route finding, although in places the signage could be improved. The RAU is an ideal accommodation base for groups exploring the Cotswolds and Alexcars provided a friendly and efficient coach service at reasonable cost.