Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Cotswold Trek

Martina and I planned three days in Winchcombe so that we could walk and hike the many paths around here, including parts of the Winchcombe Way and Cotswolds Way. The weather has had slightly different ideas.

Thursday we arrived in Cheltenham and were picked up by the owner of the cottage we rented. It made it so much easier than finding our way to the cottage via bus. The drive was full of the rolling hills and gorgeous countryside we were after. I felt so excited to get started, ignoring the rainy weather forecast.

Our cottage is in the center of Winchcombe, and it is just as homey and quaint as I expected. There's a gas fireplace for if it gets chilly in the evening (we've had it on every night for warmth and coziness), a cute back garden (haven't got much use out of that), a great downstairs living space and two upstairs bedrooms. The kitchen is just big enough for us to cook our meals, prepare our endless cups of tea, etc. verdict: would totally rent this place again.

After we settled in and had a cup of tea, we chose a quick one hour walk and went out. It was overcast but the perfect temperature. The walk took us around Winchcombe, passing and ending near Sudeley Castle, just up the road. There were sheep and dogs, flowers and gorgeous houses. It gave us a great sense of the valley where the town sits.

We then decided to take advantage of the first day and went into Sudeley Castle. We had 2 1/2 hrs to see the exhibition, house, and gardens, and we barely had enough time. There are many Tudor connections here: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn came here, Katherine Parr (Henry's last wife who survived him) lived and died here, and Elizabeth I came here many times. So, it's historic but still a private home. Like at Hatfield, you could get up close to be room and see the various artifacts. Petty great stuff.

Outside, the gardens are gorgeous. There are a few, and they are mostly traditional style with Celtic knot patterns and fountains. Bright and colorful flowers everywhere. Part of the house was burned down thanks to Oliver Cromwell, and the ruin of that part of the house still stands. Then, there is the chapel where Katherine Parr is buried. Simple and small with a marble tomb reinstalled in the 1800s.

We meandered into the gift shop and meandered right home. We'd been walking for four hours. It was time to eat and chill.

Friday we woke up to a very wet day. It chucked it down at a steady pace all day and all night, hammering on the sunroof. This wasn't Chicago style summer rain, but rain that fell at a consistent "you'll get drenched if you go out" rate.

So we hunkered down to a day of long chats, teateatea, and food. At lunch we ventures down to the cute pub, The Lion, and ate their tapas lunch specials. It was so relaxing to sit, eat, chat, and chill in the cosy pub with a mixture of old and new decor. We then window shopped our way through the small shops in town, enjoying the novelty of a new place with potential treasures. On the way home, we stopped at the local church, which was having a book sale. Books of all types were spread out on the pews of the church, and we browsed while looking at the church. Another night with the fireplace on, food, and a movie.

Today we woke up to clouds and some blue sky and no threat of rain. Our plan was to do two hikes that appeared to meet up ish with each other, to see the Belas Knap burial mound and the Spoonley Roman villa mosaic floor.

The first hike up to Belas Knap was easy to follow and took us along the Cotswold Way. We met some sheep (who had some of the most pathetic bleating sounds I've ever heard), enjoyed gorgeous views of the countryside, and generally found it a good challenging and short morning hike.

Belas Knap itself is not much to look at, but it dates from 3000BC. It's basically a mound of earth with various stone arches that was a burial ground. When it was excavated in the 1800s, at least 40 skeletons were found. It's on a high hill. So the views were also sweeping

We followed the trail down,and we thought we were following our map to the next trail. The map, however, told us it would connect with the other trail at the wrong spot. So we walked up at least a half hour in the wrong direction before stopping for lunch and heading back. Thank goodness for the cell phone's navigational ability to confirm we were in the wrong place.

So we head back and manage to find the right trail that had been incorrectly described in the walk guide. Finally, we knew where we were. The problem was that trail markers disappeared, and we were left to just read the descriptive text on our map and keep our fingers crossed.

We reached the path to the Spoonley Roman Villa mosaic, and it wandered through thick, muddy trail. Just when we were about to head back, we saw something. Hidden through the overgrown forest floor was a small iron roof. Underneath it were two plastic tarps with rocks weighing them down. We removed them and lifted up the tarp to find a gorgeous mosaic design underneath. What a cool thing to be able to visit out at the actual spot. A piece of old Roman Mercia at our fingertips.

We then retraced our steps to the main trail and experienced the most frustrating part of our hike. The path led through a field but it was soon indiscernible through  the high grass. Since the grass was so high the markers, if they were there, were hidden. We finally found a farm road which made me super relieved; it went downhill and in the general direction of Winchcombe. Finally, after several hours, we saw a farmer in his jeep and asked him if we were headed the right direction. We were, by some miracle. He'd had several lost hikers show up at his house that day, due to incorrect trail markers.

I could have cried when I saw Sudeley ahead of us. Almost home, in one piece, with only sharp thorn scratches. I iced my knee and drank tea, our bodies aching a bit. Turned on the gas fireplace, ate dinner, and chatted. Tomorrow we both move on different places, and today was a long but enjoyable day. I can barely keep my eyes open!

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