Day 2: Stanton to Cleeve Hill

Let’s talk breakfast.  This “English breakfast” has me baffled.  This morning, I sat down to more food than I probably normally eat during an entire day.  A starter of “whisky porridge” four pieces of toast, fried in butter, two poached eggs, two good sized pieces of highly salted ham, two sausages, a grilled tomato and bunch of mushrooms.  I opted out of the baked beans.  That doesn’t include the prestarter starter of fresh fruit and yogurt.  I started by filling my bowl with yogurt and few berries and sat down with my tea.

God, this yogurt is good!  Wait, it’s not yogurt at all, it’s pure cream.  Good lord, how do these people not have heart attacks by 12.  I assume this English breakfast is more like, “on holiday” breakfast.  There’s no way people can eat this much.  There’s enough fat and salt content to produce a whole pig’s worth of sausage.

At any rate, I started my day full.  The road out of Stanton was serene.   Mostly pastures, the landscape gave way to a storybook scenery complete with palatial manors and creepy forests.  One charming feature of this walk has been the kissings gates.

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From here, I climbed a pretty big hill.  Excited about my achievement, I took this picture.

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At the top of the hill was a few miles of farmland and open pasture.  Coming down from the hill and passing a ruined abbey, I started to experience intense pain in my right Achilles.  I wrapped it with an ace bandage and trudged on to the town of Winchcombe where I enjoyed a quick lunch and a few beers.  Achilles a’blaze, I set off up another steep incline to an ancient long burrow and down another steep descent to my stop for the night at Cleeve Hill.

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Winchcombe

I learned the stingray shuffle, an essential gulf coast maneuver, from my wife.  Today, I discovered how to do the sheep shit shimmy.

I had a strange encounter as sat down for dinner at the restaurant in Cleeve Hill.  When I got lost yesterday on my way to Stanton, I ran into a long haired, 20 something, roving music festival worker.  He helped point me in the right direction.  Coincidentally, he had a friend moving to Flagstaff to go to NAU.  As I sat down for dinner tonight, I heard a group of guys behind me say “Hey! That’s the guy!” and sure enough, my free-spirited friend was among them.  I can’t imagine how he ended up nearly 20 miles from where we met, as he was headed in the opposite direction.  We shared a few drinks and had a good time as the sun set.

Another day down.  Tomorrow, 16 miles.  Exhausted.  Foot status: 3.  Happiness: 9.  The best picture I’ve taken yet:

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Feeble footed forbearance for fried food and friendly free spirits.

How Quiet is Quiet?

The bell rang ten times at Stanton’s only church.  A church older than the first settlement at Jamestown.  I sat on a wooden park bench in pitch black, save for the illumination of a street lamp older than my state, with its soft yellow light barely giving form to the hedges, likely older than the furthest generation in which I can trace my heritage, in front of cottages built by wool barons but now occupied by millionaires who disappear with the sunset.

It’s so quiet that I can hear the subtle crackling of tobacco as I draw on my cigar.  The quiet clink of my steel flask as I drop the lid is almost deafening.  This is it.  This what I came for.  This little strip of grass, flanked by Disneylandesque manicured shrubs, has not been altered by modern times.  This park bench still entertains the sounds of shoed horses – at least as much as cars.  This has not been fabricated.  It has been preserved.

On stiff legs, I hobble and wobble and swagger back to my inn in perfect serine darkness, extinguish my smoke and say good night to Mr. Elijah Craig.

How can I describe magic?  Pure alchemy.  What an amazing evening of solitude.

I spent the pre-dusk portion of my evening at Stanton’s only restaurant, the Mount Inn.  Amazing beer and food that were trifling compared to the view.  IMG_2023

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The sun setting behind the spire of Stanton’s church

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Tomorrow, 13 miles through Winchcombe and on to Cleeve Hill.  Day one: unmitigated success.  Smoking, sipping in silence. Satisfied in Stanton.

Day 1: Chipping Campden to Stanton, 10 miles

The 2-hour train ride from Paddington station to Moreton in Marsh was uneventful.

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When I arrived in Moreton on Marsh, I was immediately approached by an unlicensed taxi driver who was looking to take someone to Chipping Campden.  I politely declined after he quoted me a price of 20 pounds.  Chipping Campden was only 6 miles away and my train fare was a mere 15 pounds.  I set off looking for the bus spot and when I finally found it, I discovered there is no bus service on Sundays.  Luckily, I had a pub guide, which directed me to a close establishment, where I enjoyed my first (and second) real ale of the trip.

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The publican gave me a number for a local cab and soon I was off, twisting and turning through the countryside on my way to Chipping Campden.  The driver, a Cotswolds native, was very enthusiastic about my trip and told me a couple cool stories.  Total cab cost 8 pounds.  Score.

My Chipping Campden inn was part 17th century pub, part Indian restaurant and part b&b.  I had a quick pint, checked in and headed to a more upscale pub for lunch.  After a bite and a beer, I roamed the village for a couple hours.  Every twist and turn in the road revealed new wonders.  This place is brimming with character and history.

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After my little walk, I crashed for a few hours, woke up, and had dinner and promptly went back to sleep.  I think my family in London showed me too good of a time the previous night.  I was beat.

I can’t begin to describe how excited I was to get on the trail this morning.  It’s hard to believe something I looked forward to for so long was finally starting.  I practically pranced to the stone that marks the beginning of the trail.

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In about 10 minutes, I found myself outside the village, climbing a steep hill.  At the top, I was treated with my first, of many, sheep pastures.  The next segment of the path was relatively flat, crossing through wheat fields and pastures.

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Overlooking Chipping Campden

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About three miles into the trail, I came upon Broadway Tower and climbed to the top.  On a clear day, you can see 12 counties.

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It’s another two miles to the village of Broadway, almost all down hill.

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Broadway was another beautiful village.  I stopped in a pub for lunch and had a few beers.  On my way to Stanton, I made a wrong turn and walked about a mile before I realized I was no longer on the right trail.  Unfortunately, that mile was all downhill so I had to go back up a steep hill to get back on the path.  Normally, this kind of detour would make me all grumpy but today, I didn’t mind being on the trail for a little longer.

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A picture of a person minutes before they realized they are lost

Describing the path thus far is a little hard.  Today I went through open country with huge vistas, down to flat farmland, through numerous woods and down old country roads.  Every part was unlike the previous parts.  It was exactly what I was hoping for.

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I’m currently lying on the bed in my Stanton inn.  I don’t think I’ve heard a car for an hour, but I’ve heard at least four horses trot by.  Birds are chirping and the breeze is rustling the trees.  It’s bliss.  I’m off to explore Stanton now.  Here’s a short video of what it looks like right when you enter the village.

Arrival

I arrived at Chiping Campden, the official start of the Cotswold Way, yesterday. This place is beautiful. Utterly breath taking.


I’d like to describe it in detail but Wifi and cell signal is sparse, so I’m pecking this out  on my phone (which I managed to shatter yesterday) over breakfast.


Before jet lag caught up with me last night, I managed to visit three pubs and sat down to a nice Indian dinner.


  

I am minutes from starting the hike.  Flask is full, cigars at the ready. Belly butterflies bounce before boldly bounding Bathward.

Of Fantasy and Fantasy Writers

In my late teens, I read the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis.  It begins:

THE LAST drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road. A violent yellow sunset was pouring through a rift in the clouds to westward, but straight ahead over the hills the sky was the colour of dark slate. Every tree and blade of grass was dripping, and the road shone like a river.

This little nugget was my first introduction to the concept of a British countryside walking tour.

Here’s how these walking tours work: there are many publicly protected “footpaths,” often hundreds of years old, that honeycomb the British countryside.  Anyone sticking to these footpaths is free to stroll through otherwise privately owned lands.  Many of these footpaths are dotted with cozy inns strategically placed a day’s walk from each other, which grants the walker assurance of a warm meal and a place to stay at the end of a long day.  Often such tours span numerous days.

Something about this inn-hopping, English countryside hike resonated with me.  Get up in the dewy morning.  Eat a hearty breakfast and hit the rolling countryside.  Forests, ruins and ancient drystone walls.  Pastures, sunsets and kissing gates.  Did my ancestors ever trod paths like this?  Did they travel lightheartedly across the countryside to some forgotten purpose? hp_cw Over the decades, the desire to take one of these hikes became so strong that I began to consider it as a kind of aimless pilgrimage.  Sustenance for my metaphysical me.  There’s a sense of connecting with the real past.  Touching the things my ancestors touched and experiencing the raw beauty of nature in the same way they must have.  I want to sit in a slouching 17th-century pub, ceilings too low for my stature, and drink a pint a traditional beer and listen to a folk song and forget about the last 200 years.  I want to get lost in history.

To that end, I’ve booked my fantasy holiday to southwest England to walk the Cotswolds Way.  The Cotswolds Way is 102-mile footpath that starts in the medieval market town of Chipping Campden, weaves through a couple dozen or so quintessential English villages and ends in the Georgian city of Bath.  Nine days and eight nights. Each morning, I will start out at a country inn and walk anywhere from 10 to 17 miles to another country inn.  Along the path are numerous sites of interest, including neolithic settlements, medieval ruins and English civil war battlefields.  And there will also be an abundance of pubs. cotswoldmap I’m going alone, because as Lewis wrote:

Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to… [a] farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned.

One wayfarer wandering without words.  I intend to chronicle my adventure here.  If your August is slow, come along for the stroll.