Monday, September 28, 2015

The Cotswolds: Our 25-mile Hike

The Cotswolds. This beautiful part of central England is the stuff of folk tales, with its picturesque villages dotting the countryside.
The old shops and cottages, built from honey-colored Cotswold stone create a storybook setting and the village names only add to the charm: Moreton-in-Marsh, Bourton-On-The-Water, Milton-Under-Wychwood, Upper Swell, Lower Swell.  
Me in front of our 17th century hotel,
The Kings Arms
And because its history is so well-preserved (70% of all new construction must use Cotswold stone), big-name chain hotels are frowned upon. So we stayed in a 500-year old coach inn at the highest point of the Cotswolds, the historic wool town of Stow-on-the-Wold.

Day 1: The town of Stow-on-the-Wold dates back to the 12th century but its settlement was mentioned in the Domesday Book, in 1068. During the 18th century the wool trade here had become so lucrative, more than 20,000 sheep could be sold in one day.
We arrived mid-day with enough time before check-in for lunch and a stroll around town. Its central market place has long since given way to parking spots but the cozy feel still lingers, and  a market springs up once a month with local vendors hawking their wares. 

The small but lovely St. Edwards church has a set of doors wedged between two thick trees like something out of Middle Earth. And on the north end of the village is an old set of stocks used long ago to house “villains and knaves and drunks and hooligans and foreign folk of unsavory appearance.” I ruled myself out, thank you very much.
Decisions, decisions.
After lunch we made a quick walk down to the neighboring village of Maugersbury, population 149. I think there were more apple trees than people.
Back in Stow, we checked into the King’s Arms Inn, then spent the rest of the day antiquing, window shopping and walking hither and yon. All told: an easy 5 miles.

Day 2: After a full English breakfast at the inn (egg, sausage, back bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, grilled tomato, black pudding and fried bread), we headed out early for a hike through some of the muddiest trails we had been on. We made it down to Upper Slaughter then on to Bourton-on-the-Water, a lovely town with the sweetest little bridges I’d ever seen.  

One of several footbridges in the village of Bourton-on-the-Water

Burford Village
I publically confess here and now that after walking 6 miles, we took a bus back to Stow, hopped in our car and drove to the villages of Burford then Northleach, where a parish volunteer strongly suggested we drive another mile to see the church at Hampnett with its surprising interior. How could we resist?
By the time we returned to Stow, we were ready for dinner and a pint. Or at least half a pint.

Day 3: It was time to stop lolly-gagging and take a proper hike. The entire English countryside is criss-crossed with an intricate network of footpaths. On top of these are about a dozen major trail ways, one of which is the 100-mile long Cotswold Way.


Up to this point we’d hiked the minor footpaths but now it was time to go big. We got on the Cotswold Way in the village of Broadway, and for the next 7 hours hiked an up-and-down curvy loop through the villages of Stanton, Stanway, and Snowshill then back up to Broadway.
Fourteen miles of scenic beauty that included climbing the equivalent to 98 flights of stairs. For me, a personal best and well worth every step.
There are over 4,000 miles of these dry-stack stone walls in the Cotswolds alone.

Beautiful cottage and roses in Stanton. This village was a sugar cookie of sweetness .
On the last leg of our hike, headed back to Broadway. Until next time . . .

Back at the inn I had a good long soak in the tub followed by a broken sleep, thanks to several loud drunks and hooligans whooping it up at 3:00 a.m. in the court yard. Some things never change, el oh el. Time for a new set of stocks, perhaps?

For many, many more pictures of our Cotswold holiday, please click right here.
Not sure why, but there was a kangaroo on top of this thatched roof. A kangaroof?