Cotswold Round 2009

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 9 - Shenington to Shutford and Afterthoughts


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Day 14 - Sunday 21st June - GPS 15 miles

Shenington to Shutford (My Daughter's House) via Banbury

My wife was travelling down to meet me today, so to save time in my walk, I decided to have a lift back to the route at Shenington where I left it yesterday. In general, I try to avoid lifts to accommodation on my long distance walks, trying to do everything on foot, but there are times and circumstances when this is not very practical or convenient, so I am not pedantic about it and make exceptions at times. In theory, I only had about 12 miles to walk today from Shenington or 14 miles from Shutford, but if yesterday’s experiences were anything to go by, I would probably do a few miles more because of guidebook mileage errors and possibly by making mistakes in route-finding.

Sunday is not a day when most people want to be up early and I didn’t want to put any pressure on the family in this respect, so it was 9.20 by the time I had had breakfast and got back to the route at Shenington. The weather was much as it had been for the past few days: cloudy and cool with a few bright patches and the chance of a shower or two. I had to negotiate the nettles again to rejoin the way, getting a few more stings, but I was almost immune to them by now, having had so many on the walk.

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Village Green and The Bell Inn, Shenington
Bell Inn, Shenington
Thatched cottages in Hornton
Hornton
Village Green, Hornton
Village Green, Hornton

Soon the route started to follow the waymarked D’Arcy Dalton Way as it headed across to the lovely village of Hornton. The landscape was pleasantly undulating with good, open walking though some of the paths through fields were rather uneven and awkward for my feet, which were still suffering from blistered heels and a few other aches and pains. On the way to the next village of Horley I passed through a llama farm with a large group of young ones. They didn’t seem to be bothered by people and stayed quite close to the fence by the path enabling me to get some photographs from quite close by. Horley, like most villages around here, has lovely houses built from the local stone. In this case they were strung out for quite a way along the road rather than being built in estates, though there were a few more recent developments off the main road. However, local planning tends to be fairly strict and requires houses to be built of the local stone to be in keeping with the older buildings.

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Llamas near Horley
Llamas near Horley
Fishing Lake near Drayton Golf Course
Lake near Drayton
The Roebuck next to a thatched cottage in Drayton
The Roebuck, Drayton

By 11.45 I had reached a fishing lake just before Drayton Golf Course and this made an ideal place for a rest and an early lunch break. There were several fishermen around, some with their families, though I can’t imagine it being very exciting day out for wives and children. I have always got the impression that men (it generally seems to be a male dominated pastime), go fishing to get away from their families, so it was somewhat unusual to see families involved here. At the other side of the lake was the edge of the golf course with golfers coming and going, playing their shots.

At 12.20 I was off again, having done about five and a half miles so far. It took me a little while to get myself back up to a moderate walking pace again as my feet were complaining again. A rest of half an hour or so is enough for all the sensation to come back to the nerves, so it is like starting off afresh until the pain gets numbed again after a period of walking, whereas a short break of five minutes would not require the same period to get going again. I soon reached Drayton with some more interesting buildings of local stone, some with thatched roofs, but then I was into the outskirts of Banbury through housing estates and a park to reach Banbury Cross. At least this route was better than just following the main road, though it was not the most picturesque part of the walk.

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Banbury Cross
Banbury Cross

Banbury Cross marked the end of the Cotswold Link and the start of the Cross Cotswold Pathway which would take me back to where I had started two weeks earlier, thus completing the Cotswold Round. I stopped for a short rest and a few photographs before making my way back out of Banbury heading towards North Newington. As I reached the outskirts of Banbury, there was a section in my guidebook that I had crossed out with a note saying ‘see amendment sheet’, as the route changed was too much to pencil into the margin. Unfortunately, I had left the amendment sheet in my other rucksack at my daughter’s house. The reason for the route change was that the gates to the water tower were now locked because a new housing estate had been built blocking off the path at the other side. I tried to find my way around on an overgrown path, but just ended up on a main road going the wrong way for a while until I was able to work out where I was. After doing an about turn, I was able to find a path leading up the hillside to rejoin the route towards North Newington.

The route then started to drop down again and I encountered another fox just before entering some woodland. It started raining a little, but I was sheltered from most of it by the trees. Just before I came out of the wood, I decided to take advantage of the shelter to have a rest and to finish off the rest of my lunch before walking the final leg back to Shutford. The rain soon eased off, and I set off again at 15.00. From North Newington, I had some difficulty finding the right path to Broughton. At first I took a wrong path and had to head across to meet up with the road to get back to the route further along. Even then, I missed the first point where the route crossed the road, probably because the stiles were well hidden in hedges, but I was able to find the next point where it crossed the road again.

The route doesn’t go through Broughton itself, but through Broughton Park, which overlooks Broughton Castle. I diverted a little from the way to get a closer look at this fine moated castle, where lots of people were paddling around in little coracles and having great fun. Heading back up the hillside, I rejoined the route to Fulling Mill Farm and then met up with the old Roman Road to take me back to where I first started. I was feeling very weary towards the end, not because this had been a particularly long or difficult day, but because of the discomfort of walking for the last few days with painful feet and the extra strain that it puts on the system. Once again, I had walked a greater distance than indicated by the guidebook, though I had wasted some of this when I missed the way in places. The main source of error in mileage is in the Cotswold Link guidebook, which underestimates distances by about 20 percent – a significant amount to add to a day’s walk. The Cotswold Way and the Cross Cotswold Pathway guidebooks both seemed to be fairly accurate, bearing in mind that GPS mileage is always slightly greater because of minor wanderings off the route here and there.

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Broughton Castle
Broughton Castle
Leat at Fulling Mill Farm
Leat at
Fulling Mill Farm
Route of Roman Road towards Madmarston Hill near Shutford, where I joined the route at the start
Roman Road to
Madmarston Hill

I got back to my daughter’s house to a warm welcome and congratulations for having completed the walk, though I didn’t really consider it a great achievement, having done many other more difficult walks in the past. My wife had arrived earlier by train, so it was good to see her again and to have a family meal together before we left the following day to drive down to London for a day watching the tennis at Wimbledon – a birthday present to my wife from our two daughters.


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Afterthoughts

I did have some reservations about this walk when I was planning it. The Cotswold Way seemed like a good walk, but I was not so sure about the other parts that made it up into the Cotswold Round. The attractions of making it into a circular walk were that it would extended it to two weeks, it simplified the travelling, and it enabled me to pay an extra visit to my daughter’s family, where I could take advantage of accommodation at either end of the walk. However, much of this extra walking was disappointing as far as the scenery was concerned, and a lot of it was tedious and boring, with considerable stretches of walking though field after field, often on relatively flat land with few interesting features. Most long distance walks have a few sections like this that have to be embraced in order to get from one good part to another, but generally these are either only a few miles or a day’s walk at most. With the Cross Cotswold Pathway, a large percentage of the walk fell into this category and sections of interesting walking were few and far between.

To compensate for the less interesting scenery in these other parts, I had anticipated that there would be a lot of picturesque towns and villages along the way, but in reality there were not very many that were particularly good. Lower Slaughter was very picturesque, with the river running through the middle of the village, and Castle Combe was also particularly attractive, especially as it was surrounded by more hilly scenery, but not many more come to mind. True, nearly all of the towns and villages were being built of the local stone and often had a number of thatched buildings as well as a church, but most were not all that memorable and were passed through quite quickly. Whilst trying to get as many photographs of the walk as I could, the most interesting features were often the churches and it started to look as if I were trying to make a catalogue of Cotswold churches rather than of the walk itself. I did pass a number of stately homes and, had I allowed more time, I could have looked around these in more detail, especially as I could have visited some of them with my National Trust card at no extra cost. Generally, however, I couldn’t spare the time and the only National Trust property I actually visited was the Roman Villa at Chedworth.

There were a few other interesting places such as the arboretum at Westonbirt and the Kennet and Avon Canal on the approach to Bath but my main interest in walking is to enjoy the beauty of the countryside, particularly where there are hills, valleys, cliffs, lakes, rivers and other such natural features, and in this respect I was rather disappointed.

When looking at the long distance trails are put together by the Macmillan Association, one has to remember that their main purpose is to raise money for their cancer charity by promoting sponsored walks. Most people do these walks having had close involvement with someone who has benefited from their nursing care. As such, their interest is more in fund raising than in getting the most enjoyment out of a walk. They may not have a keen interest in the countryside or walking, and may not appreciate the extra challenge and potential dangers of hilly or mountainous terrain. The Macmillan Way provides a coast-to-coast route along safe and easy paths without going through any remote or exposed places and is, therefore, quite well suited to inexperienced walkers who are looking for a challenge walk. The Cotswold Round merely links a large section of this to either end of the Cotswold Way for those who want to encompass the National Trail into a circular walk.

The Cotswold Way itself, is a much more interesting walk, with far more ups and downs and good viewpoints, though it does have a few limitations. Basically, it follows the escarpment to the east of the River Severn and most of the views are across the Severn Valley towards the distant hills and mountains of Wales. Although there are many fine viewpoints, the view does not change very much from one viewpoint to the next: the same distant features are seen time and again, only changing very gradually as the walk progresses. Each one of the viewpoints would be fine on a single walk, but there is a sense of déjà vu at each of the many toposcopes along the way.

Although the Cotswold Way is very undulating in places, it seldom reaches any great height, the highest points being little over 1,000ft (300m) above sea level. As such, most of the walking would not be really classified as upland walking, though this is not to say that there is not a lot of fine walking over much of its route. However, the disadvantage of the lower level walking is that much of it is below the tree line and there are lengthy sections of the path where views are obscured by trees with just an occasional open view from time to time. This is why I tend to prefer walking over higher level terrain, as there tend to be less obstructions to the view.

One thing that did make itself evident, was that walking without detailed maps is a risky business, even on walks that are quite well waymarked. It only takes a small lapse of concentration to miss the route and then it becomes very difficult to find the way to rejoin it without going back to the last place known to be on it. Even then, if there is some ambiguity or uncertainty about the directions, without a detailed map, these are very difficult to resolve. A set of 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey maps are the ideal thing, but these can prove very expensive to cover a whole walk, as well as adding extra weight. A compromise is to use 1:50,000 maps, which at least show all the footpaths and other main features, though they omit field boundaries. However, in conjunction with a GPS, which can give an accurate grid reference, I generally find them quite adequate and the route can usually be covered with considerably less maps.


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