Once again, we woke up to blue skies and bright sunshine. And again, the day started with a tasty, satisfying breakfast. We left the Cleeve Hill Hotel by the back gate, directly on to the slopes of the Cleeve Hill escarpment.
This sudden, steep ascent certainly woke us up! On reaching the Cotswold Way at the 17th tee of the lofty golf club, we could see that our pristine blue sky was being threatened by a curtain of grey spreading from the south and west. It wasn’t long before we could clearly see rain over the flat lands below. We prepared for the struggle of donning our wet weather gear. But fortunately, the rain seemed to veer to our right – the west; as it happened, we remained dry all day. Walking-wise, our journey from Cleeve Hill to Leckhampton involved following the high land, skirting Cheltenham to its east and then south. So path-finding was easy – we kept the spa town to our right and below us!
The morning views of Cheltenham were crystal clear, its race course in the foreground. At Prestbury Hill Reserve, we stopped for coffee, sitting on a bench overlooking a curious turquoise monstrosity of a building on the edge of town; how did that get approval? Not far beyond Prestbury Hill, we came upon a disused quarry, obviously acknowledged locally as an unofficial repository for detritus. Hence, within the space of a few minutes, our vision of The Cotswolds as a set for a rural version of The Truman Show had been well and truly destroyed!
And yet, despite these blots on the landscape, it was clear that we were in the land of the well to do – large ugly cars (strange that the well-heeled go for these behemoths – the term “Chelsea Tractor” doesn’t really convey their deliberately aggressive repugnance) and well-tended fences with signs threatening potential transgressors. This area really highlights the fact that England is a country divided between the “have nots” and the few “have shitloads”. Today our prime minister, at his party conference, said he intended, if re-elected in 2015, to significantly increase tax thresholds for basic rate and higher rate taxes. This would be an overt gift to the “have shitloads”. This not only highlights the arrogance of a prime minister who cries crocodile tears when confronted about his commitment to the NHS, but it makes one weep for the lack of credible opposition! Who is going to stand up for the majority, when politicians of both major parties aspire to having big, ugly cars and having a place in The Cotswolds?
Where did that come from? Well……..I’m glad that I’ve got it off my chest! Let’s be fair! Mr Cameron isn’t evil, he just doesn’t…….well, he just doesn’t get it – i.e. the risk/benefit assessment of encouraging the development of such a deep socioeconomic divide through this green and pleasant land. Fortunately as these dark thoughts permeated our conversation, we were walking south, descending through Dowdeswell Wood, and approaching a restoring-our-faith-In-human-nature moment. We happened upon Langett! Langett is described in our Trailblazer guide to the CW as a walkers’ oasis! It’s a bungalow, from where a couple provide hot drinks and snacks to weary ramblers. We had a cup of coffee sitting on their lawn, trying to keep track of their dog and bantam fowl. The couple share an enthusiasm for The Cotswold Way; the husband remains a ranger; the wife has but recently retired from running a B&B, her clientele were predominantly CW walkers. Reluctantly, we left Langett, crossed the A40, and climbed up around Lineover Wood. The ground was wet here, and presumably had caught the rain that we had seen from Cleeve Hill earlier in the day. At the top of the wood, we took a sharp right, following a dry stone wall south west, and continued in this direction down Wistley Hill to Seven Springs near the A435/A436 interchange.
Seven Springs has a pub by the same name – and very little else. We sat down and had a drink; the menu didn’t inspire us. So we moved on pretty swiftly. On the other side of A436 from the pub, in a dell by a lay-by are the springs themselves – apparently always productive even in the driest of times, and seen by many as the true source of Old Father Thames! Our final climb of the day brought us back up onto the Cotswold Ridge; the escarpment facing west is particularly precipitous at Charlton Kings Common; the subsequent descent through dense woodland to Leckhampton was correspondingly steep.
Leckhampton, a southern suburb of Cheltenham was to be our place of rest for the night. We were staying in Collum End Rise, in a family home on a small estate. We initially felt like we were invading the family’s space, a feeling rapidly dispelled by the warmth of the welcome proffered by Shelagh and Chris. In the evening, Chris gave us a lift to a pub, “The Brown Jug“. Situated on the road into Cheltenham from Leckhampton, it proved to be a good choice. It was run by young people, who provided good food (steak & Guinness pie; chicken roast with ratatouille; sticky toffee pudding; an interesting cheese board), fine ales (Wadworth and an ale brewed in Great Yarmouth), and a relaxed, friendly ambiance.