Think Cotswolds, think picture-postcard villages and rolling hills, enticing the walker for a gentle stroll. Try telling that to anyone who has walked the 102-mile Cotswold Way, which in May became Britain's latest designated national trail. I was once told the height climbed along it amounts to ascending Everest, which is hard to verify, but the point is well made: the Cotswold Way never knowingly goes around a hill when it can go over one.
If you don't have the time to walk the whole trail, a good section to pick out runs from the village of Winchcombe to Charlton Kings, on the southern side of Cheltenham, which is well served by buses at either end. The route took its fair share of water in the heavy rains of July, but the paths remained passable, if a little boggy in parts.
In Winchcombe, make your way from the sandstone St Peter's church to Vineyard Street, which leads over the River Isbourne. Just across the bridge, turn right, following the new route for the Cotswold Way as it heads across a field to a gate and then continues on a path to Corndean Lane. Turn left and, after 400 yards, turn right by a brand new fingerpost sign to walk uphill to the left of a cricket pitch. Follow the Cotswold Way waymarker (often a white spot) to the left, through a field, with fine views over your shoulder. On reaching a gate at the top of the field, cross straight over, following the road and signs for Belas Knap. Soon after, turn right uphill through woods, again signposted Belas Knap. When you reach a gate, turn left and follow the field edge before climbing again to reach the top of the field.
Go through a gate and turn left, heading into woodland, from which you emerge by Belas Knap, a 4,500-year-old long barrow. Look out for the false entrance, possibly intended to confuse evil spirits. From here, the path drills due west along a field edge to reach a lane, where you turn left. The path continues for half a mile and then turns right by the ruins of Wontley Farm (the waymarker here is a white sticker: you may see others later).
The path passes underneath electricity pylons, heading for Cleeve Common. Go through a gate and climb for 100 yards before picking up the waymarkers around the common's edge.
The path flies across the broad grassy tracks before descending to a key-shaped sheep wash. It then climbs, with quite a kick, to Leslie Drake's seat, before continuing to the golf clubhouse before turning south to reach a topograph. At 1,035ft, Cleeve Common is the highest point of the Cotswolds. From here, you can see the Malvern Hills, the Black Mountains and May Hill.
The path continues around the edge of the common before bearing right through a bridle gate. After this, ignore the first post to your right but follow the second into the valley. After picking up a field edge and turning sharp left uphill, you soon reach the Bill Smyllie reserve, managed by Butterfly Conservation.
You pass through Happy Valley, but then keep an eye on the waymarkers, which eventually take you out of the reserve by the right-hand path of two forks. After 400 yards, turn right to reach a stile, where you turn left uphill before almost doubling back on yourself following waymarkers for the Cotswold Way.
Pass by a wooden gate and turn left along the field edge to reach a road. Turn left and, at a crossroads, turn right, signposted Whittington. Where the road bends left, go through a gate, following a stone wall, to cross Ham Lane and continue ahead. After 200 yards, the waymarkers take you left, past Colgate Farm and into Dowdeswell Wood Nature Reserve. The path eventually drops you by Langett b&b, which serves refreshments. From here, follow the lane past Dowdeswell reservoir. Find a waymarked gate up to the left, which brings you on to the A40. Here you have a choice: a two-mile walk back into Cheltenham or to cross over to the Reservoir Inn – currently closed – and hail the 801 bus.
DISTANCE: 12 miles
TIME: Five hours
OS MAP: OL45 'The Cotswolds'
How to get there:
Mark Rowe stayed at Hotel du Vin (01242 588450; hotelduvin. com) in Cheltenham, offering b&b in a double room from £162 a night. For bus times from Cheltenham to Winchcombe (20 min), and Dowdeswell reservoir to Cheltenham, contact Traveline (08706 082608.
The Cotswold Way (nationaltrail.co.uk).Reuse content