A reader of this blog could be forgiven for thinking my sole source of physical exertion in the Cotswolds is lifting a wine glass to my lips. But husband and I do make use of our bicycles or hiking boots most weekends, and so I thought I’d add the occasional entry covering a particularly good ramble or cycle route, starting with our figure of eight walk last Sunday from Snowshill to Stanton and back.
Distance: 8 miles (approximately)
Duration: If you are walking with your partner, allow half a day for this ramble. If your walking group consists of only women, you can slice off an hour thanks to your intuitive sense of and ability to ask for directions. If your walking group is all male, best not to make any plans for the rest of the day and do remember to bring a GPS enabled mobile phone.
Difficulty: Moderate with some steep sections, especially if you accidentally veer off the path
Snowshill is that rare thing in the Cotswolds, a village with a name that sounds as picturesque as it really is. Other Cotswolds villages are laden with less charming names. Upper and Lower Slaughter come to mind, as do Northleach, Eastleach, and Lechlade which together form a triumvirate evocative of leeches and lecherousness. And then there’s my favorite: Cold Slad. (I wonder how often the final “d” on the sign to Cold Slad has been spray painted into a “g” over the years, misleading countless men with a fetish for heartless sluts.)
1. We start where we intend to finish: the pub. After fortifying ourselves with a ploughman’s lunch at the Snowshill Arms, we headed left out of the pub and walked along the road past Snowshill Manor, now a National Trust property. I have not been inside yet but apparently the former owner was a compulsive shopper/collector and the Trust has preserved his hoarded assortment of bikes, clocks, costumes, toys, art, and other objects that struck his fancy as he left it. If you’ve started to fight with your partner over directions at this point in the walk, it may be best to cut your losses and just pay a visit to the Manor or the lavender farm further up the road.
2. Beyond the parking lot there is a stile and signpost for a public path on the left hand side of the road. Follow it through the sheep field and down into the valley. If it is spring, this is an excellent chance to coo about just how cute lambs are and just how thick and skittish they grow up to be. Cross the stream and follow the path up the other side of the valley until you reach a dirt road running parallel to the woods. From here you can look back across the valley and admire Snowshill and the Manor and, in the other direction, the top of Broadway Tower. Take a right along the dirt road, which will be the last time that day your partner and you agree on the route, and follow it along the woods until it starts to curve around to the left.
3. Here you will have some choices, the clearest of which would be to join the well delineated Cotswold Way just off to your right. You may find, however, that your partner would rather argue about whether or not it is necessary to cross a field of bulls in order to progress to Stanton, throwing his or her Ordnance Survey map to the ground and accusing you of being antagonistic in the process (not that I know anyone who has done this). Best just to smile calmly in the face of this sort of behaviour and wait for the tantrum to pass before starting to make slow but firm progress in the direction of the Cotswold Way (which yes, I know, is where you suggested you head all along). You’ll have a good stretch of tense silence along The Cotswolds Way, punctuated by the occasional outburst that causes other fellow ramblers to hang well back. This is ok as asking them for directions at this point would be perceived as further proof of your “antagonism.”
4. After a while you’ll reach a crossroads where, if you’re lucky, a pink nosed, fluffy lamb will have broken loose from the adjoining pasture. This will give your partner a chance to “rescue” it before it succeeds in strangling itself by headbutting the wire fencing in its futile attempts to get back to mama ewe. Your partner’s ensuing feelings of heroism will help disseminate any lingering resentment towards you for having a good sense of direction. Pointing out that any old fool could see where to go just by using Broadway Tower as a landmark is not advised at this juncture, as it would jeopardize your credibility when it came to influencing the decision to go right and continue on the Cotswold Way into Stanton.
5. This is a lovely leg of the journey, where near-tame, chocolate coloured cows and their calves swirl around you on the path. Careful though. In your state of bucolic bliss you may impulsively suggest a shortcut that takes you off the Cotswold Way, through some woods, and down a muddy, precipitous decline into Stanton. Don’t be alarmed when you end up by a house called Shenberrow, a name that happens to appear at a different place on the map, a place you are pretty sure you passed about ten minutes ago. The Ordnance Survey people throw these kind of red herrings in from time to time just to make sure you’re paying attention. You’ll soon know you’re in Stanton when you arrive at a little of triangle of a green with a ceremonial coach light hanging from a wooden post. The church is to the left, and the pub is to the right. Naturally, you should head right.
6. The Mount Inn does what it says on the tin and delivers panoramic views from its two patio areas. We had long been planning a visit as the landlords are transplants from an excellent inn, The Plough in Cold Aston, nearer to us. Sure enough, Pippa the so-friendly-and-enthusiastic-she’s-practically-American hostess, was there. It was evident from the familiar, cream-laden dishes spelled out in curlicue writing on the chalk board that her partner, the chef, was also there. We drank Diet Cokes on the shady back patio before heading up and out on the path just behind and to the left of the pub.
7. The route out is more efficient than the improvised route in, and within twenty minutes you’ll be back to the site of Operation Lamb Rescue. This will stir up good memories in your partner so that he or she is susceptible to your final route alteration (my, you’re brave) which takes you off the Cotswold Way via some National Trust signposted woods. Soon you’ll be in another sheep field, then head right on the road all the way back into Snowshill. The pub may yet to be reopened for evening service but check around back and the barmaid may just serve you a pint of SBA and a ginger beer to enjoy in the garden, as she did for us.