A belt-and-braces foray

On foot: the Slad Valley, near Stroud. By Duff Hart-Davis
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The Independent Online
There is only one thing better than walking to a pub - and that is walking from a pub as well. When I set out from The Woolpack, in the Slad valley near Stroud, aiming for the Black Horse at Cranham, high in the wooded hills to the north, I deliberately made it a belt-and-braces foray: if my strength gave out at the Black Horse, I could settle down and seek a lift back to my car; if all went well, I could complete a circle and return to The Woolpack.

Slad is celebrated as the home of Laurie Lee: here he was born, here he wrote Cider with Rosie, and from this deep, wide valley he walked out one midsummer morning to conquer the world. The Woolpack is still his local, and he is to be found there most days.

Of more consequence to the walker are the pub's excellent food and beer, not least splendid ales from Uley Brewery, just over the hill. The latest of these, Severn Boar, is a knockout, and at 6 per cent alcohol a worthy successor to the notorious stupefacient Pigor Mortis: as somebody remarked, a couple of pints of Boar, and you will probably find yourself doing a circular walk, willy-nilly.

You can leave a car outside the pub and walk from there. A better alternative, though, is to drive a mile uphill to Bull's Cross, a small intersection, and park in the lay-by. Then you have only a few yards of tarmac before a footpath dives off to the left through scrub and grassland.

Catch the view while you can. Far out across the valley to the left, the slender spire of Painswick church rises gracefully from a cluster of grey houses. Then you are into the woods proper - Blackstable Wood, to be precise - and very fine it is: slender, well-thinned beech trunks rising like the columns of a cathedral.

From the wood, the track climbs right-handed across the slope: take any right fork which offers itself, to gain height. At the top the path runs level until it reaches a gate at the end. There, bear right, up on to the metalled road, but at the next little crossroads take the left-hand lane, towards Sheepscombe - though only for 100 yards or so. Then turn right into the trees, through a patch of nettles, on to an unsigned path which follows the contour, in and out, for more than a mile along the top edge of Elder Hill, Beech Wood and Piper's Wood.

Slots in a muddy patch remind you that this is fallow deer country, and that the rut is on. Probably the deer are watching you go by from the safety of some thicket.

At the end of the wood, the path debouches on to a bridleway which runs right-handed up to Ebworth Farm. After a couple of hundred yards on the road, fork left across a big, flat field, fizzing with larks. Head for the radio mast at Overtown Farm, and thence straight along the lane to Cranham.

Up there, the walker feels as if he is on top of the world, with the brashy stone of the Cotswold plateau showing through the soil; yet still more woods roll and tumble on the horizon, and at this time of the year the sight of autumn reds and golds blazing on the huge, forested bank behind Cranham is one to make you stand and stare.

At the Black Horse, a small and friendly pub, you may well succumb to the beer and the haggis with bacon or the fisherman's pie. If you feel fit to carry on, strike out straight past the car park, up the track on to Cranham Common, over, down, left and right round a fishing lake, up through Saltridge Wood and steeply down to the hamlet of Sheepscombe, where, as if by magic, you come to earth right beside the Butcher's Arms.

Fortified yet again, you plunge down and up again through the village, following signposts for Stroud. Thereafter you can either bear left on a footpath, back up into Blackstable Wood, and follow the track along the bottom edge, or keep to the lane, which leads back to Bull's Cross.

The distances are about five miles out and three-and-a-half back - but be warned: the route is far from flat, and it will take at least three hours, besides creating a very considerable thirst.

Maps: sheets 1089 and 1113 of the Ordnance Survey Pathfinder series, two-and-a-half inches to the mile.

Pubs: The Woolpack in Slad (01452 813429) is open from 11am to 3pm on Saturdays, other days 12pm to 3pm. The Black Horse in Cranham (01452 812217) opens from 12pm to 2pm on Sundays, 12pm-3pm on other days.

Outward route

l From Bull's Cross walk uphill 50 yards, then turn left at footpath sign. Cross two stiles, and proceed into wood.

l Keep to the right across slope, taking any possible right fork. At end of wood bear right on to Tarmac road.

l At next crossroads turn left, then almost immediately right into trees on unsigned path. Follow path through top of wood, keeping as high as possible. At end, take right turn up bridleway to minor road. Then fork left at footpath sign across field. Rejoin lane sign to Cranham.

Return route

l From Black Horse take path over Cranham Common. Follow footpath signs round fishing lake.

l Go through gate into wood and make a steep climb, along track beside stone wall. Then walk down, over rough grass, into Sheepscombe.

l Back on the Tarmac road follow signposts for Stroud, then either bear left at footpath sign into wood, or follow lane, back to Bull's Cross.