Suitably refreshed, we continued towards Hawling. The landscape in these parts may not be as dramatic as some, but it is undeniably pretty. Many of the villages grew out of mediaeval settlements, sited, no doubt, because of the natural springs that well up around here. Built predominantly from pale honey-coloured Cotswold stone, these villages seem almost a part of the landscape, nestling into the wooded hillsides. It’s no surprise that many choose to escape to here – man has done so since the Iron Age.
Turning northward, we followed the trail towards Roel Hill Farm and the highest part of the walk at around 300m. We saw a Wheatear hopping along a dry-stone wall, in exactly the same place as last time we did this walk. Roundabout, the fields were full of newborn lambs, and one came to visit us close up, nuzzling at our fingers. The Cotswolds has long been a prosperous area and sheep central to that prosperity – in the 15th Century their wool was sometimes referred to as Cotswold Gold. Fortunes were made, and the grand buildings of the region built with the proceeds. It is no wonder that these villages get used by TV companies as a backdrop for genteel English dramas – this really is the middlest of Middle England.
The peace and quiet was shattered somewhat as we joined Campden Lane and found ourselves battling against a tide of mountain bikers competing in the 2011 Hell of the North Cotswold event. By the time we had reached Lynes Barn we must have exchanged greetings with most of the several hundred entrants – the Hello of the North Cotswolds, perhaps, in its own way just as gruelling as the race. Credit where it’s due, though, they were polite to a rider, thanking us for stepping aside to let them through.
Beyond Lynes Barn it all quietened down again, and a section of road walking followed. To our left, the ground dropped away to Winchcombe in the valley below and Cleeve Hill hazy in the distance.
At Slade Farm Barn we left the road and made a beeline over a low hill to Ford. This is horse country: only a few miles from Cheltenham with its longstanding horseracing connections. As we crested the hill we could see the village below and the gallops spread across the hillsides beyond. We decided to call at the pub – the Plough Inn (Racing UK’s Pub of the Year, no less) – for lunch and a drink. By now, it was quite warm and we had worked up a thirst.
Then it was time to head back. First we took the path across the fields to Temple Guiting, then it was Diamond Way all the way to Guiting Power. Unexpectedly, a Roe Deer (?) was running in the field beside us, cut across the road a few yards ahead of us, leapt the hedge and bounded away over two more fields. We held our breath; time seemed to slow - this magical moment took only a few seconds. Moving on, we cut through the edge of Guiting Wood, carpets of flowers beneath the trees, and followed the track beside the river Windrush past shady pools.
The final mile into the village passed easily enough. Then it was time to head for home and reflect on a lovely walk on a glorious day.