Wednesday 21 November 2012

Daylesford, The Oddingtons, Adlestrop & Chastleton – approx 9.16 miles

Sunday November 18th 2012

Map: OS Explorer OL45 – The Cotswolds

A436 Parking – Diamond Way (S) – Daylesford Hall Farm – Daylesford – Upper Oddington – Lower Oddington – A436 – Adlestrop – Macmillan Way (N) – Chastleton – Adlestrop Hill – A436 Parking

As mid-November mornings go, they don’t get much better than this. A damp and drizzly Saturday afternoon had given way to a clear, cold night, followed by a bright, lightly frosted Sunday morning. Parking on the verge beside the busy A436, it was already clear that today could be something rather special ….

Such reward was, of course, entirely justified. Around this time of year it is our practice book a weekend away with the aim of mixing a bit of shopping (for you-know-what: the festival that dare not speak it’s name – at least until December) with a bit of walking (as a kind of emotional ballast).

Last year we chose Ludlow in Shropshire, and mitigated the purgatory with walks over Harley's Mountain and the Long Mynd. This year, by way of a change, we opted for the Cotswolds – only about 90 minutes away – basing ourselves in Stow-On-The-Wold, that pretty paragon of particularly pointless present purchasing possibilities so perfect for you-know-what. No, I’m not taking the pee: it’s actually quite a good place to find all those nick-knacks, house wares and crafty-type things of little real value and no actual use deemed so essential at this time of year.

Leaving the road, we took the Diamond Way into the estate of Daylesford House, heading first southeast before turning southwest at Daylesford Hall Farm. A “farm” it maybe, but – as you can see – it’s a million miles away from the rotting machinery and six-inches-of-shit found at your typical Pennine hillside hacienda. As we passed through the estate, we were glad to be offered this helpful advice: just think, we could’ve made a costly error had we not opted to use the car this weekend.

Continuing on the Diamond Way, we soon passed the Daylesford Organics farm shop. The estate produces a lot of it’s own high quality, organic meat, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables, sold via the farm shop and restaurant, and there are also lots of crafts and gifts as well. It’s very nice, but doesn’t really cater for walkers, muddy or otherwise.

So we trundled on, leaving the Diamond Way to follow a mix of tracks and field paths towards Upper Oddington. In the glorious sunshine, it was hard to imagine that only yesterday we had walked a gloomy, drizzle-soaked 6-mile circuit from Stow (taking in the villages of Upper Swell, Lower Swell and Maugersbury) and banished the evening cold with a couple of leisurely drinks beside an open fire.

On a narrow lane just outside the villages of Upper and Lower Oddington the church of St. Nicholas sits amongst mature trees. It’s quite an impressive structure – as are many of the buildings in these parts – but is hard to photograph. So we passed by and picked up the Macmillan Way into Upper Oddington, past a horse with an underdeveloped sense of personal space, before back tracking slightly to reach Lower Oddington. Both are quintessentially Cotswold villages, and both have a pub. Unfortunately for us, we were way too early for lunch.

Across the A436 we entered Adlestrop Park. A gentle rise through well laid out grounds soon brought us to the village. Sitting on a bench beside the church of St. Mary Magdalene, we were taking a coffee break when we got chatting to a man who, every Sunday, tends to the church bells, and who let us in for a look round. It’s quite a big church for a small village, with some nice stained glass and a bit of history as well.

Adlestrop, it turns out, is immortalised by Edward Thomas’s wonderful poem of the same name (reproduced below).


Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas 1878 - 1917

It’s easy to form a picture of the hot, still afternoon and the quiet waiting disturbed only by the collective bird song, a perfect pastoral moment. More poignant still, the journey described was undertaken just before the outbreak of WW1, during which Thomas would be killed in action, aged just 39. With our visit being only a week after Remembrance Sunday it was doubly moving. The station may be long gone (falling to Dr. Beeching’s axe) but the memory – through the poem – lives on.

In thoughtful mood, we picked up the path heading northwards along the flanks of Adlestrop Hill. It was a glorious afternoon, with clear blue skies and a little warmth from the sun seeping through.

We passed this unusual tree: I’ve no idea what type it is, but in the sunlight the strong colour stood out.

At the brow of the hill, views opened up to the hills and vales of the main block of the Cotswold Hills. These villages lie on the north-eastern fringe of the area, with the majority of the AONB spreading away to the west and south.

We were now approaching the fifth village of the day, Chastleton: another small agglomeration of fine houses, topiary hedges and rarefied atmosphere. One of the houses – Chastleton House – is a National Trust property, open to the public (but only in the summer months).

A second coffee stop beckoned, so we sat on a bench overlooking the house and grounds whilst enjoying a warm drink.

Soon, it was time to move on. A short spell of road walking was followed by a cut through woodland to join a field path for the last three-quarters-of-a-mile back to the road. Despite the sunshine, shaded areas were still carrying traces of frost – ideal for the cleaning up of dirty boots.

The Cotswolds is a much-maligned walking area, being considered too twee, too “posh” and rather tame by some. It has a not-entirely unjustified reputation for unfriendliness towards walkers and parts can be very muddy, especially in the winter. And true, you are more likely to find walks for the area described in Country Walking than in Trek & Mountain.

But it is still an undeniably beautiful part of the country, if a bit snooty and chocolate-box-y in places. There is plenty of good walking to be found, and we shall definitely do this circuit again.

Thursday 15 November 2012

PPW, TMO & The Morning After ….

Last night had ended sometime early this morning. The great and the good of the village had assembled for the annual Safari Supper: a merry-go-round evening of food, fundraising and fine company, finished off with a gentle wobble home along frost-fringed pavements beneath clear, starlit skies. Dimly, at the back of my mind, I recall the village magazine editor reminding me that deadline day for the Winter edition was only a few days away: was my copy ready?

Here, in Northamptonshire, the council operates a volunteer system of footpath monitoring known as the Parish Path Warden scheme, and yours truly is the local incumbent. PPW duties involve walking all the paths in the parish a minimum of twice a year, reporting any problems, carrying out minor maintenance (for example replacing lost or damaged signage) and acting as local liaison on the ground.

In addition, though, I’ve found myself agreeing to write up a short, local walk for each quarterly edition of the magazine. Which meant Sunday was the only day to do a recce …..

Fortunately, the morning dawned bright and clear. The well-deserved hangover failed to materialise (something to do the sun always shining on the righteous, perhaps, given all the “fundraising” we’d been indulging in last night) so we were up, breakfasted and away by a reasonably acceptable 10.30am.

Today’s walk was an 8-mile circuit taking in the villages of Lamport, Hanging Houghton and Maidwell, along with sections of the Brampton Valley Way (a disused railway line originally connecting Northampton and Market Harborough). It was a beautiful late autumn morning, and the many stands of mature trees were glowing at their colourful best in the sunlight.

Unfortunately, I’d left my camera at home ….

I’d picked this route for two reasons: firstly because I reckon it would make a great circuit for walking off any seasonal excesses on Boxing Day (there’s nothing too strenuous to contend with for those who were overly refreshed the day before), and secondly because it keeps, by and large, to fairly clean, well-surfaced paths and tracks – always a bonus during the muddier winter months.

I say “by and large”: we encountered a three-quarter-mile section, designated as a Byway (or BOAT – Byway Open to All Traffic), which was quite wet and muddy underfoot. Routes with this kind of designation are, as the name indicates, open to access by a variety of different user groups, including motorised traffic. This particular section is subject to a Traffic Management Order (TMO) excluding all motorised traffic except motorcycles, and gated to restrict access by 4x4’s and other large off-road vehicles.

As we made our way we were twice passed by a group of four trail bike riders, all of who were careful and polite, giving us a wide berth and keeping within the law as far as we could see. However, the earth in these parts is quite heavy, and doesn’t drain too well at the best of times. Coupled with that, the wet summer we have experienced this year has left the ground even softer than it would usually be, so it’s not hard to imagine that, come spring, this stretch might be a complete quagmire and likely in need of expensive repairs (probably unaffordable on current ROW budgets).

Now, I don’t want to come across as a killjoy, and recognise that the riders had every right to be there, but to me four noisy trail bikes – churning up the track and shattering the peace and quiet of the countryside – somehow doesn’t seem right, especially one that brings motorised transport into contact with slower-moving walkers, runners, horse riders and cyclists, no matter how legal it may be in the eyes of the law.

The Jeremy Clarkson’s of the world might be happy to ridicule the likes of me and have some smart-arsed put down at the ready, but I’m just as entitled to my opinion as anyone else, and I think off-roading is an inappropriate activity for the countryside.