That afternoon we explored the charming town and photographed its hand-hewn stone houses, some covered with climbing roses and others with thatched roofs perched like well-coifed wigs. We ate the first of many pub dinners together that evening at the Eight Bells Inn, savoring fish and chips or bangers and mash. Then we retired early to our private rooms at the 300-year-old Noel Arms Inn to rest up for our eight-day walk to Bath.
The next morning, after a full English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, kippers and dry toast, we left our bags in the hotel lobby for a taxi pickup, strapped on our little daypacks filled with water and rain gear, and headed across the street to the arched 18th century market hall that stands at the beginning of the Cotswold Way. We posed for a photo there together and then started off down the street in high spirits.
At the edge of town, we found the first wooden trail marker with a distinctive acorn carved on its face. A small arrow on the post, labeled “Cotswold Way” pointed toward a broad hill. For the next eight days, we looked for those markers at every juncture where the way crossed a local footpath or road. While the markers were well placed along the trail, sometimes they were swallowed by tall wild flowers, so we had to refer to the maps Andrew had given us to be sure of our route.
For the first five miles we walked together, three or four abreast, watching our steps as we passed through rich farmland dotted with sheep. We stopped often to take photos of panoramic vistas and to listen to the insistent bleating of baby lambs. Together, we learned how to scramble over stiles and negotiate “kissing-gates” one at a time to gain access to the trail that wove through walled private fields.
Around noon we spotted the Broadway Tower, a five-story turreted structure that sat atop Beacon Hill. Known as a “folly,” the medieval-looking tower was actually built as a viewing platform in the 18th century. Two couples from our group decided to climb the tower to overlook the countryside and see historical museum inside. The other four couples, stomachs grumbling, decided to skip the tower and push on to The Swan pub for lunch in the town of Broadway, which marked the half-way point of our 10-mile walk for that day. After dining on salads or fish and chips, we carried on for five more miles to the pretty little town of Stanton, where we would spend the night.
As we settled into our private room in the 17th century stone-block home that once served as Stanton’s post house, my husband’s cell phone rang.
“We’re lost,” said a man with an American accent.
“Oh dear,” Tom said, recognizing Ron’s voice. “What do you see around you?”
“There’s a long stone wall with an iron gate and a pasture full of sheep. Any idea where we are?”
Ron’s plaintive wail became a running gag throughout the trip, as we strolled through countless walled pastures with sheep. The tower climbers eventually made it to their B & B in Stanton and joined us for a superb dinner at the town’s Mount Inn, which is said to be a favorite dining spot of Paul McCartney and his daughter who lives nearby. A pony-sized dog lay in the doorway like a rolled up rug, but the bill of fare offered a sophisticated menu of fresh haddock, sirloin steak and locally sourced vegetables. Best of all, the English ales were cold. After dinner some of us sat out on the restaurant’s hillside patio with a cold one and watched a sunset that turned the sky the color of amber stout.
Read more of Kay’s travel memoir about a 70-mile walk through the Cotswolds in her next blog, January 1, 2017.