A Trio of English Walks: Part 2 – The Cotswold Way
(Cotswold) Way Out of my League?
I accomplished the Ridgeway in July with no real sense of challenge. I felt strong and loved the feeling of having worked hard. So as any seasoned idiot would do, I got more ambitious and attempted the Cotswold Way. After a busy August during which many colleagues had their annual leave, it was finally my turn to get out and enjoy the peaceful countryside. I planned to start on a Thursday evening and get as many miles in by dark, followed by splitting up the remaining miles over 4 days. This would mean four lots of 20+ mile days. Easy. Enter Stage Left – 1 Idiot named Aidan.
The Cotswold Way: A History
The National Trail website chronicles the completion of the Cotswold Way as a National Trail in 2007, though it had already been a popular path for several decades. It was due to campaigning from the Ramblers Association that the Trail was approved by the government in 1998. The Trail spans from Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire and heads south to Bath, Somerset, spanning a total of 102 miles.
The whole trail could be considered a scenic highlight due to the multiple picturesque Cotswold Villages, or the sweeping panoramas of towns and distant lands. The trail itself passes through several villages, allowing for stops at tea rooms and plenty of chances to buy snacks. The trail does not have much more elevation gain and loss than the Ridgeway, but there are a lot more short sharp climbs and descents.
The Cotswolds are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or AONB and this status has its pros and cons. It has the status as it is beautiful, but it also means the settlements tend to be more expensive. As a result, there is an excess of golf courses, which have plenty negative environmental impacts (more on this later).
The trail was planned to start and end in the centres of Chipping Camden and Bath. I chose to hike South to Bath, as the end point is in front of Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths – both resplendent buildings with a rich history.
Distance – 102 miles
Total Ascent: 10,210ft
Total Descent: 10,584ft
Trip Total Duration: 7 days (including 3 half days)
Planned Mileage Breakdown: 10.0 – 23.0 – 23.0 – 23.0 – 23.0
Actual Mileage Breakdown: 9.5 – 24.0 – Ouch 17.4 – Limps 13.4 – 4 days off – 6.0 – 15.3 – 16.4
Never Night Hiked
With an ambitious schedule set, I had to get my miles in. A typical human loves to comment, “It’s getting dark so early now.” (I also love to comment this myself). The fact I was hiking in September and not July did not cross my mind, as I was enjoying the feel of being on the trail again. The trail had taken me through a couple of villages and along a stream. As I was ascending a small road using my phone to illuminate my way, I knew I had to find a stealth spot to set up camp.
Definitely Too Dark to Hike
I nearly crapped my pants when a horse whinnied nearby, and it took my eyes a moment or two to adjust. Luckily, not long after I came to a gate and sidled along a side trail to a spot where I set up camp. I ferreted through my pack and got out my headlamp and went about getting ready for bed. I managed a quick stretch and found a flat(ish) spot for my tent. This brings me to a few gear changes (some of these are important to my mileage).
The Ridgeway is flat enough to walk with no trekking poles. The elevation profile of this trail suggested that I would want the support to prevent too much calf burning, as well as the balance support. My poles are in the USA with OB so I picked up a cheap pair of poles that really helped me along.
I bought a new pair of leggings and top for sleeping, and also switched out my shirt that was so ripe it could walk on its own for something a little fresher. (I needn’t have bothered as it was smelly after one day!). New Merrells replaced my hole ridden pair and I put 50 miles of day walks into them to break them in prior to the trip.
Finally, I have a new pack – the Atom+. My Osprey is entering its twilight years after 6 months of branches, falls, and rock collisions. A birthday present to me, from me and my parents (a much needed contribution), the Atom+ is my first foray into a lighter pack. I wanted to try something new, and the gear communities have me hooked on ‘upgrading’. To be honest, I bought it almost solely due to the customisable colours, but I did have fun learning to pack and carry my gear in a new way.
Cotswold Way Terrain
The Cotswold Way lies only a few miles west of the Ridgeway so they share similarities. I hiked along lots of grassy paths, circumvented farmland on packed dirt, and walked on paths through towns and villages. The Cotswolds are full of picturesque villages that appear in ‘Visit England’ brochures. As this path is more modern, its design fits many of these dwellings into the schedule. For hikers who are looking to complete this over seven to ten days, you will encounter plentiful accommodation options. Unfortunately, this can be rather expensive for a solo hiker; I had already intended to camp.
The villagers and townspeople along the Ridgeway are fortunate that they are able to hike these paths daily. Many homes are built in the valleys between the hills, providing shelter from the wind. They can also take in the beautiful scenery by walking out of the valley and turning around. For me, these views meant another chance for snacks, or some architecture carved in Cotswold Stone.
The Cotswold Way Experience
This trail is designed to be walked at a leisurely pace with plenty of stops for tourism. With my high expectations upon myself, I knew I could enjoy views, but I had to walk hard. An early start for a large mile day took me through a still sleeping village and into the always alert countryside. Birds busy at work with songs, and farmers tending to their cows kept me company.
It wasn’t long until I reached Belas Knap Long Barrow – a burial mound that is restored to it’s original splendour from 5000 years ago. I couldn’t stay too long as I had to push forward and get to ‘crushing miles’.
That same day, I climbed the highest point of the trail: Cleeve Hill. At 1083ft, It is the highest hill in the Cotswolds. You are able to see Cheltenham, which is the main view of the next several miles. Interestingly, the hill is also a golf course. I dislike golf courses as they are not good habitats for wildlife. They use excesses of water to maintain their greens, and then there is historical elitism within clubs that kept women and minority peoples from joining. On this day, though, I got a kick out of the more natural surrounds, along with many trees and hedgerows for small animals and birds. Sheep were even braving the high winds and mowing the lawns, when they weren’t pooping in sand bunkers.
I enjoyed the afternoon as I navigated the hill line that took me around Cheltenham until I didn’t. The last mile or so my feet were very tired so I found a beautiful spot overlooking the town and set up my ground sheet. I changed into my evening clothes and stretched. I was amongst the hedgerows so that I would not disturb walkers or the grazing cows. Except I did. In my last post I talked about not setting tents up in the middle of a farm field, lest you be harvested by the tractor.
I will now add to this. Please do not camp in a field where cows are at pasture. Though I set up far from the cows, they came my way. With all the luscious grass at their disposal one cheeky cow decided that my ground sheet looked tastier. Perhaps she just liked the grass under my ground sheet, but no amount of gentle shooing or telling off could get her away from me. With a slobbery sheet and a bout of frustration I put my shoes on once again and hobbled away. Once I passed through a gate I found a sheltered woodland spot, though I lost the view as a result.
Putting Ambitions in Front of Ability
With feet patched up and a hearty breakfast of instant oats with cold water mixed into gruel, I was off again. The morning views were beautiful. I walked along to the Trig Point on Leckampton Hill and even made a detour (by accident) to the old Lime Kiln site on the side of the hill.
The Lime Kilns were used for only a short time and now all that remains is their foundation. The many trails around the hill, however, show the old inclines used by the workers who quarried the stone. The Devil’s Chimney is a standout remnant that has been shaped over time, perhaps with help from the workers.
I pushed on into the morning and stopped for a cup of tea and to fill my water bottles at Crickley Hill County Park. I got talking to a guy that was also hiking a section of the Cotswold Way who I bumped into again at lunchtime on top of Coopers Hill. This is where each year people run down a really steep hill chasing a wheel of cheese. He told me about his adventures on the South West Coastal Path, which is now on my list to hike. I pushed on into the heat of the day and arrived in pain at the aptly named Painswick.
In a lot of Painswick
Until now, I had only walked 13.4 miles out of my ambitious 23. My shoes were off and I was eating a bag of skittles and drinking a soft drink. Sugar always gets you through in a pinch. I pushed on towards Haresfield Beacon where I called my dad to arrange a pick up the next day. I wasn’t in the position to continue at my current pace.
I enjoyed the view here and thought to myself about the misjudgement I had made in my ambitious plan. A few years ago I would have felt defeated. Today, however, I felt proud that I put my body’s need over my pride. In the first week of my AT thru-hike I had the same issue. If I needed to rest and go slow, then I would do so. Hobbling again I reached Haresfield Topograph. This shows a relief of the surrounding land which you can see from the vantage point. Families were out enjoying the day, and I spent some time doing the same.
I pushed on another mile and set myself up in a wooded stealth spot. I stretched, listened to music and read my book. Feeling pain in my feet, but joyful from my time in nature I got into my tent to check on my feet. They were not good.
A Blistering Pace No More
‘Hobble’ is the verb to describe the next day. I was very sore and it hurt to put pressure on the right foot pad. The blister had been drained, aired out, and patched up, but that was only a minor relief. I do not remember much about the day’s walk. I took a few pictures, but was mostly focused on moving. One spot that I remembered was Nympsfield Long Barrow – another Neolithic burial site.
I climbed one last short hill and enjoyed the view as I descended into the next town of Dursley where I went home for a long bath, a large meal and the upcoming week of work.
Slow and Steady
The following Friday I jumped in the car back to Dursley along with a new pair of Adidas Terrex Hiking shoes. I was excited to try these out and how they might support my feet. It had taken all week to comfortably put pressure on my wounded toes again. This time I knew to limit my daily mileage. I hiked over a golf course, through woodland, and into North Nibley. I listened to music and enjoyed the views at the William Tynedale monument.
I was again walking along a road in the dark, though this time there was no concern of finding a spot. My mindset had changed to really enjoy the moment. I found a spot close to my third Long Barrow of the trip and had a peaceful evening listening to the wind. An early start and cleanup of my site afforded me the moody autumnal sunrise.
I wondered through countryside and villages. My demeanour was peaceful and content, and I felt grateful to have this opportunity. Also it was dry (another triumph in my opinion).
I stopped for a bowl of chips (or two) at The Major’s Retreat in Tormarton. I spoke to a group of gentleman who hiked together every month. They were talking about how they have had to slow down over time, but they still can go out and enjoy themselves. I resonated with the idea to only push myself to the current limits of my fitness. I will one day be as fit as I was in 2019, but there is no rush to be that fit today.
The Final Day as the Best Day
My final morning found me refreshed with a little over 15 miles to cover. I walked through meadows of wildflowers, across fields and came across my old nemesis – a cow.
Moooooooooo Take 2
I couldn’t access the next field for several minutes as I tried to encourage a grazing cow to move out of my way. Luckily, after a few minutes I was able to get by and continue past a manor, church, and on to the site for the Battle of Landsdown, 1643. The Battle was fought between royalists and parliamentarians on 5th July, led by the two commanders, who were also old friends. The battle included Infantry, Calvary, and Artillery and remains a historic site to this day.
After circumnavigating another golf course (seriously!?!), I stopped at a local cafe for a cup of tea and a spot of live music. The sun was shining and I felt great. It wasn’t much further to go until the end of the trail in Bath. I enjoyed these final few miles in the hills, and spoke to OB on the phone before he went about his day. I descended into Bath, not before one final steep climb through town, and played tourist with a few photos along the way. There were many people out and about (I felt uncomfortable due to the Covid situation), therefore I headed to the train station and went home.
Where there’s a Will there’s a Cotswold Way
I was humbled by my failure in the overly ambitious plans I made. It serves as a reminder that I can’t ask too much of my body; I focused on miles and not the experience, until I slowed down and really enjoyed my time outside. I am not currently fit enough to do both, and that is ok. The warm days gave me joy, and taking time to rest let me read more and listen to the podcasts I hadn’t during my busy work weeks.
Finally, my new shoes were comfortable in some ways and not in others. They were not the pair I needed and so I continue to search for my glass slipper. Any suggestions for a US 14, UK13.5 WIDE shoe that won’t cause overpronation and shin splints would be hugely appreciated.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.