We woke up to serious rain, so much so that we had to gear up to sprint the few yards from the annexe to the back porch at Coombe Farm. We were the only guests, and so we had the full attention of Audrey Cole, who not only provided a sumptuous breakfast, but also a wonderful array of yarns. I had difficulty forming a mental picture of her complicated family tree; suffice it to say, she looks remarkably well for a great-grandmother.
We were keen to set off, as we had some serious mileage to cover for the day. So, replete with stories and nourishment, we headed south soon after nine o’clock. It was a pig of a morning with rain, limited visibility, and a strong wind. As luck would have it, our first day of wind found us out in open farmland without the shelter of wood or hedgerow. The wind was coming from the south/south-east – straight in to our faces. The weather accounted for the day’s dirth of photographs!
The first half of our day’s walk took us through a string of villages – Horton, Little Sodbury, Old Sodbury, Coomb’s End, and Tormarton. We didn’t see any of these in their best light as it poured down all morning. Indeed we cheated coming into Horton, avoiding the climb to the fort north-east of the village, and took the adjacent lane. This wasn’t purely to duck out of a climb, but because it was slippy underfoot, and the field ahead seemed to contain cattle of the frisky/loopy variety! We sheltered briefly in St. Adeline’s Church in Little Sodbury, and had coffee from the flask in its porch. The Dog Inn was open in Old Sodbury, even though it was only 11.30a.m. But we felt that we should try and make Tormarton for lunch to make the afternoon walk less daunting.
This proved to be a shrewd move, as The Major’s Retreat proved to be a welcoming hostelry. At the access to the bar, there is a supply of plastic bags to place over walking boots, their philosophy being that walking boots removed are difficult to replace after a relaxing meal. Julia found a matching pair of Lidl’s and looked quite fetching.
We ate heartily. – curried lentil soup, turkey and mushroom pie, and we finished off sharing an enormous bread & butter pudding. I also found another excellent ale from the Uley brewery – Pig’s Ear. We were staying the night in a village six miles down the CW, Cold Ashton. The barman at The Major’s Retreat pointed out that options for eating in the evening were limited in that village. After ringing ahead to where we were about to stay, we arranged to purchase a couple of sandwiches from the pub for our evening snack.
On leaving the Retreat, we discovered that the rain had stopped. Within minutes we were South of the M4 and walking under a blue sky, although the wind persisted and the temperature was cool. The M4 seemed to mark a change in the terrain. We were no longer aware of being on or below an escarpment; the beech woodlands seemed to have been replaced by busy A-roads; the settlements and villages were less in evidence, and certainly there was little in the way of places to eat or put one’s feet up.
The afternoon walk was fairly straightforward, if a little dull. We walked through the village of Dyrham with views of its impressive House and Park. Cold Ashton was nominally the village where we were staying, but in fact to get to Toghill House Farm, it was a further one mile walk down the CW, followed by an overgrown footpath to reach Toghill Farm Barn on the busy A420.
The next 600 metres were horrifying! We had to walk westwards along the A420 and then south-west along Freezing Hill Lane to get to Toghill House Farm. None of this had a pavement or a grass verge. It was a matter of luck that we were not hit or clipped by a vehicle. This is not a B&B that should be listed in walking guides. To get there on foot is dangerous. In addition, there is nowhere to enjoy a meal unless one has access to a car.
The house itself was Country Life charm. Our room was spacious and comfortable. The water coming from the hot taps was lukewarm, but in fairness, there was also an electric shower which worked well. We had an exciting evening watching University Challenge before settling down to our cheese & pickle sandwiches. They were enormous with thick wedges of fresh bread. Well done, The Major’s Retreat! By some distance, you were the highlight of our somewhat difficult day.