"A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare" - William Henry Davies
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Whenever I set off on a new walk I do get the collywobbles. I guess it’s a mixture of driving down roads I do not know; using a Satnav that seems to have a programme built into its hard drive that I cannot find and therefore cannot change which has to be called “As the Crow Flies” because she doggedly takes me down the most obscure, nigh on impassable tracks to reach my destination when perfectly good roads are available; having no idea where I am going to park or if parking will be available; and finally walking footpaths unfamiliar to me and, to be frank, consistently and infuriatingly getting lost.
I realise that there have been intrepid explorers who have crossed seas and continents to explore unchartered territories with not much more than the stars to guide them. I further realise I am after all only walking around the Cotswolds, alongside numerous other folk with an OS map in hand and a phone in case I need rescuing. But I still get the collywobbles and I do consider myself intrepid nonetheless.
So my Satnav did not fail me. I drove up the most perpendicular road known to man, with the sides of my car brushing hedgerow left and right, trying to note passing places as I ascended and praying I would not need to reverse back down to one. I met 3 cars and on each occasion was fortunate enough to be alongside a layby but was so stressed by the time I reached the summit that I nearly drove home. In addition, the postcode that I had entered had apparently, according to my deviant navigator, been part way up the hillside so I now did not know where I was going. I winged it, turned right, chanced upon a large layby where other cars were parked, pulled in and decided to start my walk from there. How intrepid am I! Satnav and parking nailed in one fell swoop. Now the walking bit……….5 hours later, I kid you not, my voice recording says “Thank God, I’ve finally found my car”. As you will see in the walking instructions, upon returning home I established a more sensible route to the starting point of the walk, am able to offer 3 different parking options no less, and after 2 visits, managed to put together a circular walk that should only take about 2 – 2 ½ hours. Collywobbles vanquished until the next time.
Whether you start and finish here or arrive mid-way through your walk, this is definitely a spot to relax, selecting one of the many benches available or throwing a rug down on the grass and sitting and staring for a while.
When ready to move on, the walk moves away from this most tranquil of spots and takes you to the side of the B4066 - a very busy road which unfortunately does reappear at several points throughout the circuit. This is the only black mark against the walk, compensated somewhat by the fact that each roadside visit is fleeting and is a matter of safely crossing to the other side to set foot upon the next footpath leading you away into more beautiful countryside.
And so it is that you very quickly pass through a gate, hop over a stile and enter a field lined with Yarrow that leads you to the picturesque village of Nympsfield. I mooched around the village a little first as I am always keen to grasp the opportunity of visiting previously unknown spots such as this with a view to potentially adding them to my list of future retirement boltholes. I was not disappointed. A very pretty church, cottages covered in Wisteria with monikers such as Loom Cottage and Weavers Cottage and the all important village pub, the Rose & Crown.
And so to the walk itself. I was very pleased with myself for the first section which went without incident and was most enjoyable, as it should be. I did however start my walk from the layby walking towards Coaley Peak. As my walk instructions begin at Coaley Peak, I guess my blog should mirror this, so I have juggled my voice recordings accordingly.
Coaley Peak is a Wildlife Trust site that offers a vast expanse of picnic area, houses an ancient monument ie Nympsfield Long Barrow which is the remains of a Neolithic Burial Site, and offers views across the Severn Vale that are simply breathtaking, and being 778 feet above sea level, this is not surprising.
It is here, just past the pub and before you cross the next stile into fields that I was privileged to witness numerous House Martins swooping and diving around my head, some disappearing under the eaves of houses either side of me. Whilst taking a picture of one of their many nests made from mud pellets and grass, I captured two of its inhabitants peering back at me. Captivating. Love moments like these.
More fields to be crossed, followed by another road; a more minor road than the B4066 but still reasonably busy. A few carefully considered steps and it's gone, forgotten, left behind you, as ahead you descend quite steeply to the next section, that dips in and out of beautiful woodland; this is one of the most tranquil passages of today's outing.
This is also one of the spots that swallowed me up. In fact both of the sections that together added 2 1/2 hours to my first outing were in woodland which I find quite disorientating. There are so many intersections and branches to the pathways that are as complicated to follow on the map as they are when presented in front of you that, after choosing 2 or 3 different options I was no longer sure whether I was facing North, South, East or West.
If you have ever watched Bear Grylls' TV series the Island, quite regularly the hapless, wannabe Robinson Crusoes set off into the jungle to find food, water, shelter (before the producers have to actually tie up dinner for them to find) and, after wandering aimlessly for hours wind up back where they started. So it was with me. At one point I entered the wood via a stile, walked for what seemed like an eternity, climbing, descending, retracing steps, cursing my persistent, punctilious, prattling Pacer proclaiming how far I had come and how long it had taken me, and finally stumbled upon the stile over which I had entered the wood about 1 hour previously. Disheartened? No! I am an intrepid explorer. As it goes, I finally exited the woods just along the road from the intended pathway, only to cross the B4066 and enter the next section of woodland that was to test my map reading skills once more, or lack of them, and add another hour to my already weary limbs. I also eventually managed to exit these woods at the layby where I had parked my car but resolved that a return visit would be needed in order to untangle the jumble of paths I had stumbled upon/along and refine the walk instructions.
I therefore parked up in the layby a couple of days later and, as I have done on other projects, walked backwards to join up with the section of the walk I had been happy with and then returned notating the twists and turns, stiles and gates, paths and roads.
Forgetting the stress of the previous visit, and back to the descent into the woods, as I have said, this passage is so tranquil and all sections of woodland included in this circular route, both here and on the path from the layby to Coaley Peak, were carpeted in the most glorious wild garlic. (see note added below). The delicate, white stars set against glossy, green foliage line the pathways and the tell-tale aroma fills the air. It is rather lovely.
Also as already stated, this section dips in and out of the woods, finally crossing a stile that takes you into the most beautiful meadow. There is not so much a path as a flattened, furrow flowing amidst the wildflowers. I imagine Tess of the D'Urbervilles wandering through the meadow, her hand brushing over the tops of the tall grasses and dandelions. In this section I saw a Muntjac galloping across the fields, and a Buzzard lifted itself out of the hedgerow directly infront of me holding a doomed rabbit in its claws.
At the bottom of the field is a very muddy patch, which looks to me like it must always be particularly muddy as someone has constructed a precarious path of pebblestones to help the traveller negotiate his or her way across without sinking. It did occur to me, looking at the large expanse of mud, that this could be my Dawn French moment. Fortunately it was not but have your camera at the ready just in case. Shame to miss a "You've Been Framed" opportunity.
After crossing that darn B4066 again there is a very steep climb up to another pretty, hillocky meadow. If butterflies take your fancy I would stop a while and wander around the top as I saw Holly Blues, Small Coppers and one Brown Argus and I am told that this particular spot is butterfly rich, so a visit in June would definitely reap rewards I think.
The path dips into the layby and then exits again leading you away from the road and back into woodland. This section of the woods is particularly magnificent. Immediately on your right are some impressive looking cliffs with caves that I would definitley have wanted to explore in younger years. And further along, slender trunks of trees standing tall on either side of the path with their branches and leaves forming a canopy above your heads really do conjure up the image of a cathedral.
There is another Neolithic Burial ground near these woods which I believe you can actually enter as it is recommended that you bring a torch with you to this end. It is called Hetty Pegler's Tump...... ooh matron! I did not however locate it on my visit. Perhaps you might try to find it.
As for this excursion, there is one more visit to be paid to the B4066 just in case you were missing it and then back up to Coaley Peak. Job done. Hope you enjoy.
27.5.19 - I revisited this walk with my husband who followed my instructions to make sure they made sense. I made a couple of adjustments as a result and in fact altered the walk to make it entirely circular as there had been one section where steps had to be retraced. A major change in only 1 week was that the wild garlic flowers had all but died back. I can highly recommend doing this walk whilst the garlic is flowering as it added another dimension to the woods so maybe something to think about next year. It is still a lovely walk without.