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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cotswold Way

Getting there is Half the Fun

Having seen very little of the country we are living in, Samantha and I decided to go to Bath. We also decided to walk there.

Actually, it was Sam’s idea. On Easter Sunday she told that she was thinking of walking Cotswold Way, a hundred mile trail through the English countryside, from Chipping Campden to Bath. It sounded like fun, so I decided to join her and we set out on April 3rd, with no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We each carried a backpack containing a pair of jeans, several shirts, lots of socks, and a Nalgene bottle. Between the two of us we also had 3 small bags of chocolate, a large bag of raisins, a Ziploc baggy filled with cheerios, a jar of peanut butter, a butter tub filled with crackers, and 12 granola bars. Tied around our waists we each had a light jacket and a sweatshirt. We also had various medical supplies (Band-Aids, Neosporin, etc) and other miscellaneous things (sewing kit, toothpaste, sunscreen, duct-tape). I am pleased to say that we carried nothing superfluous, as we used everything in out bags at some point or another. Thus packed, we took a train to Moreton-in-Marsh, and a bus to Chipping Campden, where we began out journey.

A lot happened on our trip, more than I’ve really had time to process, so I’m only going to post the notes I took each night after we stopped hiking. If you want to know more about anything, just let me know.

Day One
“We have no idea what we’re doing, do we?”

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Time spent walking: 4 hours, 12 minutes
Ground covered: 10 miles.
Destination reached: Stanton
Stayed at: Shenbury Hill
Ate at: Mount Inn
Famous Sights: Broadway Tower
Goals Achieved: Reached Stanton

10 Things We Learned:

1.) In small towns, it is perfectly acceptable to ride you horse down High Street.

2.) People in the countryside are friendlier than people in the city. We received four verbal greetings from total strangers in one day! This is about how many greetings I’ve received during my whole stay in Oxford.

3.) Its okay to open gates on people’s land—and to climb over stiles. Much of Cotswold Way is on public footpaths and bridle paths, many of which cut across sheep pastures. In order to keep sheep from escaping, the most common gate on the Way is called a kissing gate, which only one person can get through at a time (click for picture).

4.) Sheep don’t stand still so you can pet them. They do, however, come numbered, so you can count them.

5.) Sheep make weird noises. Very, very, weird noises, ranging fro your basic baaaa, to gurgling, coughing, and hee-haw.

6.) Sam’s stomach makes strange noises. This means she is hungry, and will not last much longer if not fed (we discovered this a little too late, which is why we only made to 10 miles).

7.) Keep your eyes on the path. Otherwise you might trip and fall in the mud. Not that I had any personal experiences with this or anything…

8.) Its hard to find a good walking stick. Which might explain why the Cotswold Way accessory is an aluminum walking pole.

9.) Backpacks, no matter how light you packed, get heavier the further you walk.

10.) Youth Hostels are not to be found on the trail, and Bed and Breakfast-es are very surprised if you show up without a reservation (we got smarter after the first experience and started calling ahead before we showed up).

Day Two:
“How far are you going?”
-Customary hiker greeting

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere…
-Wm. Shakespeare, Midsummer’s Night Dream

Time spent walking: 7 hours, 29 minutes
Ground covered: 20 miles.
Destination reached: Dowdeswell
Stayed at: Langet
Ate at: Reservoir Pub
Famous Sights: Hayles Abbey, Belas Knap
Goals Achieved: Pet a sheep (Sam), Saw ruins (Me)

10 Things We Learned:

1.) England is mad of mud and sheep. Mostly mud.

2.) Don’t walk backwards uphill—its not easier if you fall and roll back down (again, no personal experience of this…)

3.) There are two trail markers for Cotswold Way: Acorns and White Dots. The signposts with acorns are much more helpful.

4.) Cleeve Common is not a town. It’s the top of a very, very tall hill. (Cleeve Hill, on the other hand, is a town. Go figure.)

5.) Cotswold way is just a trick to make people walk in circles.

6.) 20 miles is a very long way to walk (I guess I should have known this already, having once ran 13).

7.) Pubs can be hard to find.

8.) While it’s okay to open gates, if you have to climb a fence, you’re probably going the wrong way (this is related to #7). However, I do have awesome James Bond moves.

9.) Landladies at B&B’s are really cool. There’s a whole sub-culture that’s grown up along the Way.

10.) Grey squirrels are not welcome in English gardens.

Day Three:
“Your navigational skills are somewhat suspect.”
-Landlady at Thorne

Dimidium facit, qui coepit, habet. Sapere aude, incipe.
(He who begins, has made it half-way. Dare to be wise, begin)

Time spent walking: 8 hours
Ground covered: 20 miles.
Destination reached: Painswick (Halfway point of the trail!)
Stayed at: Thorne
Ate at: (Something’s) Arms
Famous Sights: Cooper’s Hill (sight of annual cheese rolling festival), Devil’s Chimney, Witcombe Roman Villa
Goals Achieved: rolled, danced around a maypole on top of a cheese rolling hill, saw (Roman!) ruins

10 Things We Learned:

1.) 20 miles is still very far.

2.) England is still made of mud.

3.) Frozen rain is not fun to hike through.

4.) It is possible to get lost (at least, slightly turned around) on “England’s best marked trail”.

5.) Cheese rolling hills are not fun to climb up, hence our decision not to roll down it (we’d have to climb back up it again).

6.) The middle of nowhere is somewhere along Cotswold Way. The only sign of civilization was a tree with an arrow on it. There wasn’t even a sheep field.

7.) You walk slower after two full days of walking.

8.) While a good walking stick is hard to find, it is very useful for pulling yourself uphill,
keeping from rolling downhill, and pole-vaulting over puddles.

9.) Its hard to find a place to stay when there’s a rugby match in town.

10.) 400 year old houses are really, really cool. And have steep staircases.

Day Four:

Sam and I were prepared for a lot of things, but not this:

Having made it half-way, we decided to head back home. Our landlady wouldn’t hear of us hiking through the snow in just our sweatshirts, so she drove us to Stroud (one of the few towns on the Way with a train station), and we caught a train back to Oxford. So, the trail didn’t beat us, but the weather did. Don’t worry though. Sam and I aren’t quitters, and are already planning to take a long weekend to visit Bath and hike back down the rest of the trail.


Anonymous said...

Reading your blog is like going on vacation!

Joanne said...

ooh that sounds fun....i am glad that you took notes like in all those travel novels...

Anonymous said...

Emma, Bath is beautiful! Your walk sounded amazing! I know you are enjoying are amazing!
Kristin Abel

Kit said...

Hi Emma,

One of the gates you described was shown on a PBS British show last week and I thought of you. Had it not been for your blog I wouldn't have known about the gates when I saw it in the show.

Aunt Kathy