Cheltenham to Bath Cotswold Way walk, July 2018

Introduction

I live in Cheltenham, the self-proclaimed "centre for the Cotswolds". The Cotswold Way national trail, a circa 100 mile (161 km) long-distance footpath linking Chipping Campden with the city of Bath (mostly following the Cotswold escarpment), goes over nearby Leckhampton Hill and Cleeve Hill, where I regularly go walking.

In May 2015 I walked from Cheltenham to Chipping Campden, the northern terminus of the Cotswold Way. Since completing this northern stretch of the Cotswold Way, I've wanted to walk the much longer section from Cheltenham to Bath.

In July 2018, much of England was basking in sunshine, clear skies and high temperatures. The three or four day window of good weather that I'd been looking for (not very diligently, it must be said) was finally there. I took the plunge, and on 10th July, I set off.

Where is this?

The map below shows Cheltenham and Bath, and also includes Oxford, Bristol and London for context. The Cotswold Way route is shown in light red.

Map showing
    the Cotswold Way with some nearby villages, towns and cities

Map data: © OpenStreetMap contributors, SRTM | map style: © OpenTopoMap (CC-BY-SA)

Day 1: Cheltenham to Stonehouse

Distance walked:50.3 km (31.2 miles)
Average speed:5.8 km/h (3.63 mph)
Ascent:600 metres

I left my flat just after 9 AM, walking along Cheltenham's High Street, and then through Sandford Park and Charlton Kings to reach a path leading up to the Cotswold Way on Charlton Kings Common.

Joining the Cotswold Way on Charlton Kings
    Common

Joining the Cotswold Way on Charlton Kings Common

As you can see, it was a beautiful, bright, sunny day. Since I've been to this area many times before, I rushed on without really pausing to admire the scenery. After all, my walk had only just started in earnest.

If you find yourself on Charlton Kings Common, and walking in the same direction I did, don't forget to turn around—otherwise, you'll miss this view over to Cleeve Hill (the highest point on the Cotswold Way):

Looking towards Cleeve Hill
    from Charlton Kings Common

Looking towards Cleeve Hill from Charlton Kings Common

The Cotswold Way continues through Ullenwood, taking walkers into this beautiful wood or forest:

Wood/forest near Ullenwood

Wood/forest near Ullenwood

I soon found myself at Crickley Hill, the first of many National Trust properties I would pass through on my walk:

Entering Crickley Hill

Entering Crickley Hill

When I tell people about my walk, after expressing a mixture of admiration, surprise and bewilderment, they often ask "did you do that for charity?" or "did you camp?". I walked for the fun and the challenge, but was also keen to use it as an opportunity to improve OpenStreetMap, a collaboratively edited and freely usable map of the entire world. The Cotswold Way is very well-mapped on OpenStreetMap, but I did correct a few minor mistakes, and added several adjoining paths.

On the subject of camping, the places which the Cotswold Way goes through are largely rural, but not particularly remote. The nearest town or village is usually not that far away, so no, I didn't camp.

Crickley Hill offers a good, unspoilt view of common Cotswold scenery:

View from Crickley Hill

View from Crickley Hill

National Trails, the organisation responsible for managing the UK's national trails, uses a very similar picture to this to promote the Cotswold Way.

The Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the second largest protected area in England (after the Lake District).

Another view from Crickley Hill

Another view from Crickley Hill

From Crickley Hill, long sections of the Cotswold Way go through woods or forests. I saw a small deer just off the path at one point.

By now, I was starting to get a little tired. The distances on Cotswold Way markers started to seem noticeably longer. "Three miles to Coopers Hill?!", I asked myself.

The incredibly steep (almost vertical in places) Coopers Hill enjoys some modest fame for being associated with the wonderfully eccentric local tradition of cheese rolling. Every May, a whole Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down the hill, with anyone crazy enough to compete rolling, sliding or otherwise making their way down the hill after it.

It's hard to show just how steep the section of the hill used for this is. Here's what it looks like from the bottom:

Looking up Coopers Hill

... and here's what it looks like from the top:

Looking down Coopers Hill

Imagine standing at the top of this hill and hurtling yourself down. It's certainly not for the faint-hearted. Injuries are common. By the way, all the winner gets (aside from the glory) is the cheese itself. There's also an uphill race for kids.

At Coopers Hill I allowed myself a short (about five minutes) break. Until this point I'd only had water and snacks on-the-go.

Soon I was off again, heading towards Painswick Beacon. This iron-age hill fort (also known as Kimsbury hill fort) offers excellent views across the Severn Vale. Yet, if you follow the Cotswold Way strictly, you'll miss the best viewpoint. I cannot understand the reasoning behind this omission.

Marker or topograph on Painswick Beacon

Marker or topograph on Painswick Beacon

View from Painswick Beacon

View from Painswick Beacon

Another view from Painswick Beacon

Another view from Painswick Beacon

Panoramic view from Painswick Beacon

Panoramic view from Painswick Beacon

I allowed myself another short break at the beacon. When I continued south towards the town of Painswick itself, I was on (for me at least) uncharted territory.

Cotswold Way marker/fingerpost sign near Painswick

Cotswold Way marker/fingerpost sign near Painswick

By the time I reached the charming village of Painswick, with its Cotswold stone buildings and quirky shops and cafés, I had walked 35 km (21.7 miles). I'd been walking for about six hours and was low on water. (I'd brought about 2.2 litres with me.)

Charming buildings in Painswick

Charming buildings in Painswick

Cotswold Way marker post in Painswick

Cotswold Way marker post in Painswick

I went to Olivas (or Oliva's perhaps, I'm not sure). This small, quirky café and restaurant has a Mediterranean feel to it, with a few unique touches such as clocks made out of old vinyl records on the wall. (Yours to buy for £15.)

Inside Oliva's in Painswick

Inside Oliva's in Painswick

The selection of cakes and pastries looked very inviting. I had chocolate orange cake which was tasty. Staff also kindly refilled two of my water bottles, putting some ice in one.

Tasty chocolate orange cake

Tasty chocolate orange cake

Slightly cursing myself for not planning the hike better, I set off again after a break of about 25 minutes.

On my way out of Painswick I came across an unusual sculpture titled "Footpath heritage".

The inscription reads:

This memorial is dedicated to Tony Drake MBE 1923-2012 to commemorate his 60 years work for The Ramblers Association opening up the footpath network in Gloucestershire and throughout England and Wales, and as principal creator of The Cotswold Way.

Good on him!

Painswick marks the midpoint of the Cotswold Way, and just outside the town lies this marker which is bound to rouse mixed emotions among most walkers:

Marker showing 55 miles (88.5 km) to Bath

Marker showing 55 miles (88.5 km) to Bath

I continued to Haresfield Beacon. The final climb up there was difficult in my by now rather tired state, but the views were amazing.

View from Haresfield Beacon

View from Haresfield Beacon

Panorama from Haresfield
    Beacon

Panoramic view from Haresfield Beacon

I noticed this interesting 3D terrain topograph near Haresfield Beacon:

3D terrain topograph near
    Haresfield Beacon

From Haresfield Beacon, it's a simple, easy downhill walk to Stonehouse, partially through vineyards, which surprised me. If you look closely at the picture below, you can see Selsley Common on the other side of the valley, where I would continue my walk the next day.

Walking down to Stonehouse, with Selsley Common faintly visible on the other side of the valley

I didn't stay overnight Stonehouse—instead, I took the train back to Cheltenham so I could sleep in my own flat. It felt a little like cheating, but it wasn't. It actually increased my total distance as I walked back to my flat from the station.

Day 2: Stonehouse to Wotton-under-Edge

Distance walked:39.2 km (24.4 miles)
Average speed:5.2 km/h (3.23 mph)
Ascent:700 metres

After a hearty breakfast I left my flat at 8:50 and set off for the train station to take a train back to Stonehouse and continue my walk where I left off the day before.

After a short delay, I arrived in Stonehouse just before 10, and was on my way to rejoin the Cotswold Way.

Just south of Stonehouse, the Cotswold Way forks, giving walkers a choice of two routes. One is shorter and more direct, while the other, which runs alongside the Stroudwater Navigation canal and then continues up to Selsley Common before the paths merge, is longer and more challenging.

Cotswold Way forks in two near Stonehouse:
    choose wisely

The Cotswold Way forks near Stonehouse: choose wisely

To me (having walked both, in the name of research!), the choice is simple: take the longer route via Stroudwater Navigation and Selsley Common. It's tougher but Selsley Common is beautiful and was one of my highlights of the walk. Don't dwell on the steep ascent to Selsley—after all, it's only one of the many hills on the Cotswold Way! Incidentally, the Cotswold Way's official guidebook also recommends taking the longer route.

Walking along Stroudwater Navigation was pleasant. I also surveyed some other paths around here so I could add them to OpenStreetMap later.

The Cotswold Way alongside Stroudwater Navigation

The Cotswold Way alongside Stroudwater Navigation

Lock on Stroudwater Navigation

Lock on Stroudwater Navigation

Leaving Stroudwater Navigation
    behind and starting the climb to Selsley Common

Leaving Stroudwater Navigation behind and starting the climb to Selsley Common

The final steep climb up Selsley Common

The final steep climb up Selsley Common

"What is a common exactly?", you might be thinking. Like many, I had the misconception that a common was publicly owned and could be used by anyone. Commons (in England at least) are places where rights of common (grazing or collecting firewood, for example) were practised by "commoners", who either owned no land, or a small amount of land near or adjoining the common. Although generally privately owned, through use since "time immemorial", rights of way have been established across many commons, and some are designated as open access land, allowing people to walk freely anywhere on the common. Many commons are still used for grazing today.

The Cotswold Way across Selsley Common,
    with All Saints Church and Frome Valley in the background

The Cotswold Way across Selsley Common, with All Saints Church and Frome Valley in the background

Apologies for including an almost identical picture, but I do have a soft spot for walking signs and marker posts:

Cotswold Way marker post on Selsley Common

Cotswold Way marker post on Selsley Common

Me on Selsley Common

Me on Selsley Common

Panoramic view from Selsley Common

Panoramic view from Selsley Common

The next section of the Cotswold Way runs through woods or forests for quite some distance.

Pleasant walking through woods

Pleasant walking through woods

After a while I reached Nympsfield long barrow, an ancient burial site dating back to 2800 BC.

Nympsfield long barrow

Nympsfield long barrow

Nearby is Coaley Peak, which offers amazing views over the Severn Vale.

View from Coaley Peak

View from Coaley Peak: note the River Severn in the background

Me at another viewpoint near Coaley Peak

Me at another viewpoint near Coaley Peak

While having a well-deserved break, I spotted the Tyndale Monument (a tower) on a hill across the valley. My heart sank a little: I realised that I'd need to descend to Dursley in the valley below, and then climb up the hill on the other side to reach the tower. It reminded me a bit of seeing Broadway Tower from a distance when I hiked from Cheltenham to Chipping Camden on the Cotswold Way several years ago.

No rest for the wicked though: I soon set off again, walking through more woods to get to Cam Long Down, another hill. The final climb was a real leg-burner, but what views from the top!

Climbing Cam Long Down
Climbing Cam Long Down

Climbing Cam Long Down

360° panoramic view from
    Cam Long Down

360° panoramic view from Cam Long Down

Somehow, even this panorama doesn't do justice to the views from Cam Long Down. I shot a short video (and yes, I need a gimbal) which hopefully shows off the beautiful scenery better. If not, you'll just have to visit Cam Long Down yourself!

Panorama video shot at Cam Long Down (no sound)

Next to Cam Long Down is a small hump-shaped hill named Cam Peak. The Cotswold Way skirts around the edge of the hill, so I went on a short detour up to the top, and admired the views before returning to the Cotswold Way and walking down to Dursley.

As I got into Dursley itself, I started thinking how varied the Cotswold Way is. The southern part of the route cannot match the quaint and charming towns and villages of the northern part of the route (think Stanway, Broadway and Chipping Camden). Dursley has a market hall which looks similar to the one in Chipping Camden but otherwise it's more of a "normal" town, choked with traffic.

Dursley market hall

Dursley market hall

Dursley would have been a sensible place to stop, and I'd actually been offered a bed there for the night. However, I'd declined it because I'd planned to walk to Wotton-under-Edge, past Dursley. I realised that although I walk a lot (I aim for 300 km or 185 miles per month), I don't walk such long distances over hills day after day. I should have taken more time for my walk.

I left Dursley a road marked with a 20% (1 in 5) gradient. Yet another leg-burner!

Soon comes another part of the Cotswold Way which divides walkers: a route which goes round the edge of Stinchcombe golf course. There's a short-cut to skip this circa 4 km (2.5 miles) part of the route completely. The consensus seems to be that walking around the golf course isn't worth it, and I'm inclined to agree. At only a few points along the route is there a view, and even then, not that great given the high standards that walkers will have become accustomed to.

Had I skipped it though, I would have missed my namesake bench:

Nick's bench

Nick's bench

Up next is yet another steep climb, this time up to the village of North Nibley. Just before the start of this steep climb, a kind resident whose house borders the Cotswold Way has set up a tap to offer free water to walkers. A rickety old fridge outside was full of bottled water, on sale at 50p per bottle.

Water for Cotswold Way walkers

Water for Cotswold Way walkers

The steep climb leads to the Tyndale Monument (also referred to as Nibley Knoll), a tall tower at the top of the hill. The tower was built to honour William Tyndale (born nearby), who translated the New Testament to English. His reward? Condemned to being burnt alive for his act of heresy, as it was regarded by those in power at the time. (Allowing people to read the Bible themselves and form their own ideas just clearly wouldn't do.)

Approaching the Tyndale Monument

Approaching the Tyndale Monument

The tower is always open, and admission is free. It's possible to walk up the very narrow spiral staircase to the top, and admire the views over the countryside on all sides. The stairs seemed to go on forever.

Narrow steps inside the Tyndale Monument

Narrow steps inside the Tyndale Monument

View from the tpo of the Tyndale Monument

View from the top of the Tyndale Monument (where did the sunshine go?)

After a break I walked about 3 or 4 km down to Wotton-under-Edge. I got to my hotel, The Swan, just before 7. It's more like a pub with rooms. I got the last room apparently, and my tired legs certainly noticed the stairs on the way up.

Room at The Swan, Wotton-under-Edge

Room at The Swan, Wotton-under-Edge

I went to The India Palace restaurant for dinner where I got a chicken jalfrezi with a plain naan. It was good. Staff also offered me a complimentary dessert: vanilla ice cream with a separate dish containing one of the sweet cake-type balls ("angoori gulab jamun"), similar to what I tried on a work trip to India a few years ago.

Chicken jalfrezi with naan Angoori gulab jamun

Dinner at The India Palace

Day 3: Wotton-under-Edge to Tormarton

Distance walked:32.3 km (20.1 miles)
Average speed:5.2 km/h (3.23 mph)
Ascent:360 metres

In some ways, this was the toughest day of the walk, despite not having that much climb. The past two days had evidently taken their toll a bit.

I left the hotel later than that I'd like, but since the hotel is almost on the Cotswold Way route, I didn't have far to go until I was back on track at least.

I left Wotton-under-Edge on yet another leg-burner of a slope up to Tor Hill. On the way I actually saw some other people who were walking the Cotswold Way. (So far, I've mostly seen local people walking their dogs or running, and only a handful of walkers.) One person held a copy of the Cotswold Way guidebook, and told me that she was indeed walking to Chipping Camden, the northern terminus, about 80 miles away.

The scenery on this day's walk didn't have the long-ranging hill-top views that I had on the earlier days, but that's expected as the escarpment tapers down towards Bath.

I came across this rather unusual road sign:

Frog and toad road warning sign

I've never seen a sign like that. I did look out for frogs and toads nearby, but didn't see any.

The Cotswold Way passes the Somerset Monument, which is not open to the public.

Somerset Monument

Somerset Monument

Even though I'd had a huge breakfast and had only been walking for a few hours at this point, I was struggling a bit. I diverted off the Cotswold Way to the village of Hawkesbury Upton. I sat down at a picnic table on the village green and rested for a bit. I then went to Hawkesbury Stores, which is perhaps a good model of how a small, community-run shop can survive. It kept pharmacy prescriptions for people, and had a good selection of products at prices which weren't as high as I expected. My staple cereal bars were getting less and less appealing, so of most interest to me were the loose sweets (complete with old-style white paper bags to put them into), and the cold drinks. I bought a few sweets (nowhere near enough) and a can of 7-Up, and continued on my way, feeling better.

Hawkesbury Upton post office

The tiny, rather charming and forgotten-by-time Hawkesbury Upton post office

I passed through pleasant fields on my way to Old Sodbury.

Field of wheat

Field of wheat with a slightly threatening sky

I passed this interesting-looking tower, and was a little surprised to learn that it is a folly, constructed solely for some birds (who only nest in buildings).

Tower constructed for birds to nest in

Tower constructed for birds to nest in

At Old Sodbury, the Cotswold Way goes through the grounds of St. John the Baptist Church. (It's very common for public rights of way to go through church grounds, as historically people would have walked to church.)

St. John the Baptist Church, Old Sodbury

St. John the Baptist Church, Old Sodbury

The church has leaflets for walkers, encouraging them to visit the church or just have a break there:

Church leaflet for walkers

On the subject of breaks, by this point in my walk I found myself taking them a little more frequently!

The churchyard also has a sign warning people about snakes, who I can imagine might like to bask in the sunshine on the gravestones.

Snakes in a churchyard!

From Old Sodbury, the Cotswold Way continues through the beautifully kept grounds of Donington Park (owned by none other than James Dyson—yes, the vacuum cleaner one) and then on to the village of Tormarton.

I stayed at Windylands B&B just north of Tormarton. It was pleasant and comfortable.

Bedroom in
    Windylands En-suite
    bathroom in Windylands

My room at Windylands B&B, Tormarton

Day 4: Tormarton to Bath

Distance walked:29.5 km (18.3 miles)
Average speed:5.5 km/h (3.4 mph)
Ascent:257 metres

After a decent night's sleep I went downstairs for breakfast. I had cereal before being brought a plate with a huge portion of scrambled eggs, and two rashers of bacon. I also got what seemed like half a loaf of toast. If that wasn't going to fuel me up for the final day of my Cotswold Way hike to Bath, I don't know what would!

I left the B&B at 9:25 and set off for Bath. To cross the M4 motorway, the Cotswold Way follows a road out of Tormarton, but before long it returns to the countryside.

Pleasant countryside on my way to Bath

Pleasant countryside on my way to Bath

The route skirts the edge of Dyrham Park, another National Trust property. I got a peek at the impressive-looking house and then continued on my way.

House in Dyrham Park

House in Dyrham Park

This is a good reason why you, if end up walking the Cotswold Way, should not follow my example. Take your time and stop at interesting-looking places like these.

Holy Trinity Church in Cold Ashton is rather charming and photogenic:

Holy Trinity Church, Cold Ashton

By now, dark clouds loomed large on the horizon, in the direction I was going. I'd been very lucky with the weather for my whole walk up to this point, with no rain at all, plus lots of sunshine.

As I approached the site of the Battle of Lansdown, light rain started. Walking along the edge of the calm field, it was difficult to imagine that this was the site of a bloody, pivotal battle in the English Civil War, on 5th July 1643. The Royalists won the battle (with a pyrrhic victory), but lost the war.

Site of the Battle of Lansdown

Site of the Battle of Lansdown

The rain soon stopped and I made my way to Prospect Stile, a viewpoint looking towards Bath.

I expected an easy downhill walk to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath, but the Cotswold Way had a few final tricks up its sleeve. The route leads down into the Weston suburb of Bath, and then up to Primrose Hill on the other side of the valley, before weaving its way to the centre of Bath, passing some of the city's most famous sights on the way.

Walkers are led through through Victoria Park, and then alongside the famous Royal Crescent. Students celebrated their graduation on the lawn in front of the crescent, tossing their hats in the air.

Royal Crescent, Bath

Royal Crescent, Bath

The Cotswold Way continues through Bath Circus and then continues south for the final stretch to Bath Abbey, with the start/end marker stone outside the imposing church's main entrance. I arrived at 3 PM.

The square outside the abbey was extremely busy, and coming after days where I'd spent hours at a time alone, in peace and quiet, with just myself for company, was somewhat of an assault on the senses. I patiently waited my turn to snap a picture of the marker stone with the abbey door in the background.

I made it! Me outside Bath Abbey with the Cotswold Way marker stone

I made it! Me outside Bath Abbey with the Cotswold Way marker stone

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

I admired the famous Pulteney Bridge, which has several shops on it. It reminded me a little of a similar bridge I saw in Florence.

Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge

River Avon

River Avon

Back at the square outside Bath Abbey, someone shouted "hello!" at me. It was another walker who I'd passed earlier in the day, and the day before on my way out of Wotton-under-Edge. We congratulated each other.

The Roman Baths, one of the city's most popular attractions, is just a stone's throw away from Bath Abbey. The huge queue had now disappeared, so I reluctantly paid the £16.50 (about 18.50 EUR or $21.20) entrance fee.

The baths are centred around the Great Bath, a large bath in the middle of the complex. Originally this had a tall roof, but that has long since fallen.

The Great Bath

The Great Bath

Visitors can walk around a terrace, looking down to the Great Bath below. The complex includes a sacred spring, dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva. The baths are a glimpse into Roman life at the time, and there exhibits describing many facets of that. Evidently I need to improve my attention span, as I found myself getting a little bored at times. That was most likely exacerbated by tiredness and/or dehydration though.

The Great Bath with Bath Abbey in the background

The Great Bath with Bath Abbey in the background

Me at the Great Bath

Me at the Great Bath—my fellow visitor photographer pulled off somewhat of a miracle by getting a picture of me without anyone else in the background, but deliberately took the picture at this angle...

At one point, you can see steam coming off the water from the hot spring. The waters in the bath are rather warm. (Touching the water is prohibited, so don't tell anyone!)

Lead was used extensively throughout the baths: for pipes and to line some of the baths and reservoirs themselves. Before we think too smugly of how the Romans' love of lead contributed to their downfall, we should remember that we added it to our petrol before realising that was a bad idea. Also, it's increasingly clear that our reliance on plastic is causing us (and our environment) all sorts of problems.

I found the exhibits about Roman coins interesting. The coins themselves (some dating to about 50 BC) were very well-presented, on thin sticks or stalks in a brightly-lit display cabinet. Unsurprisingly, forgeries were common, even then.

Roman coins on display

There are many other exhibits, including one about how the large, heavy stones used in the building's construction were lifted. This was an interactive, scale model exhibit. Two stones of the same weight were suspended from ropes (made from hemp) using pulleys, one with only a single pulley and the other with three pulleys. Visitors are encouraged to pull on the ropes and compare which is easier. The one with three pulleys is far easier to lift, but the rope has to be pulled much further.

The baths weren't just about bathing. Signs explained how bathers tried to outdo each other by having more expensive or lavish oils massaged into them.

I left the baths and then went to Smashburger for dinner. It was reasonable.

Dinner at Smashburger

Dinner at Smashburger

That concluded my adventure. Overall it was challenging, exhausting and great fun!

I took the train back to Cheltenham and had a good night's sleep. After taking it easy for a day or two, I was back to my normal walking speed!