Good Wholesome Fun: the Cotswold


23-25 May 2008

The Cotswold Way is a long-distance walk through the quintessentially English scenery of the Cotswolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty around 1.5 hours from London.  I highly recommend the trail as all the hard work has been done for you on the National Trails website - it details public transport options, accommodation and route distances. We decided to tackle the last three sections from the Georgian spa town of Bath over a long weekend.

Day 1 - Bath

The chaos of London's Paddington station gave way to the spectacular scenery of Didcot Parkway an hour later. NOT. Bored with waiting for our connection to Bath, we decided to take random snaps of ourselves on the platform. The train was packed when it arrived but the kind station manager let us sit in first class when he saw us all squashed up in the buffet car corridor.

Our cute B&B Astor House was perched high on the hill about 15 minutes walk from Bath city centre, and was decked out with florals and carpet in the bathroom (a strangely comforting feeling under your feet). As we trooped into the town centre in search of a pub, we discovered that it was the opening of the Bath International Music Festival and the festivities included fireworks, outdoor music and silent grey-facepainted figures roaming around with musical notes held on sticks.

We managed to find a pub which wasn't full - because it was evidently the hotspot for the middle-aged partygoers of Bath. So forgettable I can't even remember the name.

Day 2: Hawkesbury Upton to Old Sodbury (to Bath) - 9.5km

Steps walked: 23,444      Number of times lost: 3

I'm not sure how people can eat a full English breakfast on a regular basis, as all that stodge made me feel extremely lethargic, and after an hour-long bus ride from Bath to the start of the Cotswold Way, I was practically asleep.

I perked up as the weather was ideal for a hike - sunny with a slight breeze. We walked through the most delightful scenery - rolling green hills, silent dainty villages, cheerful buttercup meadows, sheep farms filled with jolly spring lambs and green woods - and reached our final destination for the night, the village of Old Sodbury, in good time. Except the usually hyper-organised Jetsetting Joyce had evidently forgotten to make a booking at Sodbury House, and the mood sombered as we tried to find accommodation for six people on a Saturday night during a long weekend. The situation was looking like it was going to involve tents and the dodgy Portcullis (or Port Cutlet according to Jenny) Hotel, until the Bath YMCA saved us, and with great relief we made our way back to Bath and hot showers.

After a solid day's hiking, we were extremely excited to be able to get a booking for The Salamander, as its blackboard advertised this quote from the Sunday Times "The only pub food worth eating in Bath". However, we should have listened to Huy's misgivings when he pointed out that there was a notice in the window advertising for a chef. The food was poor - the driest pork cutlet ever, grey overcooked lamb, guinea fowl with the distinct taste and appearance of chicken and overuse of dried herbs and paprika decorations. We didn't dare try the desserts and embarked on a fruitless search for an open supermarket so we could stock up on drinks and cake instead. Luckily, the hostel vending machine and the hilarity of Eurovision saved the night.

Day 3: Old Sodbury to Cold Ashton - 13.5km

Steps walked:  25,398       Number of wet pairs of shoes: 6

The weather did not look promising in the morning, but six hardy souls took a taxi back to Old Sodbury to complete the next segment of the Trail. The scenery was again quite varied - we passed through swinging wheat fields, neat pastures, beech forests and the back of Dyrham Park and its grand manor. Although the day was accompanied by more mud and a correlating increase of whinging and bitching from Huy.

Cold Ashton was not even a village, more of a crossroads and Toghill House Farm was a lovely restored 17th century building where monks on a pilgrimage to Glastonbury used to rest and apparently even Joseph of Arithmea stayed there. Inside, the decor was again floral chic. Tim and I shared a nice room with a canopied bed, Jenny and Brendan's room looked like a flower bomb had exploded inside (pink matching wallpaper, curtains, bedspread, linen and mirror frames) and it included a sitting room with another two beds and an army of teddy bears on the window sill. Huy and Michael drew the short straw with a kiddy attic room with a sloping roof so low that Michael couldn't even stand up straight in the shower.

Again we were extremely excited to discover that the whole of the Cotswolds had apparently decided to dine at the Rose & Crown pub at Wick - the food must be good! Unfortunately, the Cotswolds would not prove to be a culinary hotspot for us - we should have known when the specials menu was so extensive that there were twenty-three desserts; Jack of all trades, master of none. Everything looked the same and was served with mash and boiled vegetables. At least the waitress was refreshingly honest - the spotted dick and the scone bread and butter pudding did prove to not be very good. Thank God for the congenial company.

Day 4: Cold Ashton to Bath

Over another oily full English breakfast (I've never eaten fried bread before, and now I know why - I could actually taste the oil seeping out), we decided that the blustery wet morning was a sign we should take the next train back to London. Even the thought of soaking our old bones at the Thermae Bath Spa wasn't tempting given we'd be freezing in the rooftop pool.

Obviously the damp conditions and walking didn't seem to put people off the Cotswolds - our next expedition may involve the other end of the Cotswold Trail, Chipping Camden, and the famous Pudding Club!