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Second tranche of the birthday present, and to celebrate I decide to have a trip to the top of the Cotswolds. I checked the forecast before I left and it looked good. Lucky for me I always carry the kit for any weather.
Initially I though of heading for Bourton on the Water, then back via Buckle Street to Condicote and then take a right Moreton. Looking at the conditions on leaving Oxford, while riding the train to Moreton I changed my mind. It's going to be hell through the Slaughters!
I consulted my chronological walking timetable (which gives me every combination of public transport from Banbury to move across the area) and instead boarded the bus for the "dryer" top of the scarp at Chipping Campden.
Chipping Campden – and specifically, the market hall just down from where the bus stops outside the town hall – is the starting/ending point of the Cotswold Way. I'll follow the path out of the town and all the way to Broadway Tower – where it dives off the escarpment down to Broadway.
The town was full of ramblers. I though that meant the paths would be too. In fact I found, climbing the hill, that the paths were empty. The rain had driven them back into the shelter of the tea shoppes of the town.
Unfortunately it's half past two. Ideally I want to be on the 7.45 train from Moreton. I have to shift, but on the newly rain-washed mud of the Cotswold Way that's going to be difficult. Not enough traction to maintain a fast speed.
I was late leaving as I decided to switch from my light Winter pack to my heavier Summer pack. Extra water. Different spec. of wet gear (more waterproof but not as warm). And with some extra food storage/preparation capacity to allow long (12-hour) day trips instead of short (3-4 hour) walks. I still have the standard extras: first aid kit, small saw, flysheet, hat, gloves, toiletries, repair kit, etc.
As a result of the upgrade I've got 12 kilos on my back instead of the 7 kilos I've hauled for the past five months. That wasn't immediately noticeable, but became so as the day passed.
Crossing the ridge to Dover's Hill gave a wonderful view 'home' – the Irondowns escarpment from Hellidon all the way to Whichford Heath. Although that's nothing compared to the view on the over side, from the top of Dover's Hill, to the west.
Use the scroll bar to pan across the panorama.
Use the scroll bar to pan across the panorama.
I paused on Dover's Edge for lunch, looking down on north Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and south Warwickshire. On the far side of the Severn Valley, running up from the Forest of Dean to Shropshire, a large storm was obscuring the view. Pity, as on a clear day you can see to Radnor Forest in the heart of Powys.
Beyond Dover's Hill the paths were liquid mud. The problem wasn't so much slipping, as being unable to walk at full speed because of a lack of traction to hold my boot to the ground. Climbing steadily towards Fish Hill, Broadway Tower getting progressively larger, the cloudscape started to build, and become blacker. The storms were heading here.
Just over the A44 the storm hit. For about a minute or so hail the size of marbles bounced off my head. Then the came the freezing cold rain. Under the cover of the the trees I put on my wet gear (not the common/expensive walking-style kit, but the cheaper latex-based kit they sell to farmers in Wales) and plodded on towards Broadway Tower.
By now the sky was black above and the visibility began to fall. At over 1,000 feet, this is a bit of an exposed space to pause – so I sheltered in the lee-side of Broadway Tower for my second 'own-made', industrial strength hummus sandwich (which also works well as fly repellent) and a drink.
The man in the Tower shop came out looking glum. His customers were stranded in their cars in the car park. Even the fact that the nuclear bunker (the ROC station next to the tower) was open didn't tempt them out of their metal and glass cocoons.
What was brilliant though was the effect of the dark slab of cloud above me.
In the distance the long flank of the Black Mountains fifty-odd miles away – from Hay Bluff down to Blorenge – was clearly visible on the horizon, bathed in sunlight. And across the Forest of Dean, right up to the Dumbleton Hills in front of me, the topography of the lower Severn and Wye was racked up in receding shades of green and dark grey (see picture 8 above).
Being 'under the weather' isn't necessarily all bad.
Setting out a passer-by said it was 5pm. The train leaves in less than three hours, and it's taken two and a half hours to do less than five miles cross country.
I'm not going to be able to take the pleasant cross-country tracks from Snowshill to Sezincote and Batsford. I'll lose the sun well before I reach the town. Instead I opt for the slightly shorter road route – over 8 miles – non-stop all the way back to Moreton.
At this point freezing cold rain didn't matter. Keeping at my 3½ mph road-walking pace the rain helps to keep me cool inside my waterproof layer.
Beyond Snowshill Hill the rain stopped. Then before Far Upton Wold the sun came out. I stripped off the waterproof layer and, dry beneath, carried on pretty much non-stop to Bourton on the Hill.
Here I paused for a drink, admiring the sun which now shone on the honey-coloured stone of the church nestling in the hillside. I could wait for the bus, which would be another half an hour, assuming it was on time. If I did I'd get cold waiting at the bus stop, as even though the sun was shining the temperature was still low.
I pressed on plodding persistently down the pavement.
As a reward for my persistence, beyond Batsford the hills on the other side of the valley began to glow in the red of the sunset, and the birds emerged in the hedgerows to sing a sweet evensong. Even though a long road-plod is mind-numbing, it made a good end to the day.
The last bus passed me just as I was entering the town – it wasn't worth waiting after all.
There was a funfair in Moreton, so I skipped the chip shop as the queue was down the street. I arrived at the station with ten minutes to spare before the 7.45 train. When it arrived I stiffly sat down on board, ankles smarting from the non-stop hard tarmac, and enjoyed the wonderful sky-scapes of the sunset as I travelled back down the Evenlode valley.