Originally, this was to be a blog about my preparations to enter the TGO Challenge in 2012. For a variety of reasons that didn't happen, so this has now become the repository for my outdoor musings.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Cotswold Way - Part III

I had hoped to knock the Cotswold Way off over the winter and spring. For a variety of reasons this didn't happen. Weather, time, moving house: excuses I know, but valid ones!

One of the perks of moving is that our new house is only about a ten minute walk from the Cotswold Way, so this leg would actually be walking home (and rather splendidly the next leg will start from my front door!)
Last Wednesday I set out at about half seven to walk up to the main road, where I would catch the number 46 bus to the outskirts of Cheltenham. Rendezvousing with Chris, my walking buddy for the day in a pub car park (strangely prophetic of the day ahead) we drove up to my finish point from the last leg. Sadly, roadworks meant the road up the hill was closed so we had to park much lower than we wanted to. This added an extra couple of ks to our day, but seeing as it wasn't going to be too strenuous we grinned and bore it.

This particular stretch, from Leckhampton to the outskirts of Cranham, was fairly wooded, which in light of the hot sunshine was well received by us both.

Skirting around Leckhampton Hill we picked up where I had previously left off and wended our way towards Crickley Hill.

Looking West from Crickley Hill

We availed ourselves of the ice cream purchasing facilities at the small but interesting visitor centre before pressing on. Shortly we came to the most unpleasant bit of the Cotswold Way so far.

The A417 runs below the trees before heading up and over the horizon.

The A417 has to be crossed, and then you walk up the hill alongside the nose-to-tail traffic for a few hundred metres before you can peel off in to the fields again. The crossing is a real life-in-your-hands moment. Yuck. Nestled in the elbow of this exceptionally busy junction is the Air Balloon pub. We were early so it was shut, but frankly I cannot understand why you would want to stop here.

Looking back at Crickley Hill

 We pressed on towards Birdlip through most pleasant woodland.

Most Pleasant woodland.

Below Birdlip we spied some crags tucked away in the woods. Always on the lookout for new climbing spots Chris peeled off left for a look. Sadly our hopes were dashed. We realised that what had on first glance looked like an exciting little spot to while away a few hours was in fact a chossy death-trap! The stone was flaky and hollow sounding with scarcely anywhere to put pro. If you did manage to get off the ground you ran the very real risk of pulling down tonnes of loosely stacked rock on to you and you foolhardy belayer.


We gave it a miss and headed on. To console ourselves we headed up to the village of Birdlip where by happy chance we found the Royal George. As it was only just 11 (ahem) we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We ordered some beer, and a couple of ciabattas. We were momentarily perplexed when the barmaid asked Chris how he would like his chicken cooked. He decided on "Thoroughly".

After we had rested and aired our feet for a bit we decided we must press on. We dropped back down the hill and picked up the well waymarked trail again. 


Catching lovely views of our route so far we strolled through the woods on our way towards Coopers Hill. If you have ever seen footage of the charming English custom of cheese rolling, this is where it happens. It is a very steep bit of hill, and the Cotswold Way passes below it and then, after a painfully steep climb, the top of it.

Looking down the cheese rolling slope.

A couple of notes here. As you come out of the woods below Coopers Hill, the Harveys Cotswold Way map shows a cafe. Whilst we saw the building and the signs, it certainly didn't appear to in use any more, so don't count on it. A further point is that the waymarking post at the top of the hill points towards two fairly close paths. We took the left hand one which as it turned out was the wrong one. Go right! After a brief and not unpleasant detour we were soon on the right road, and headed on through the woods towards the A46, and the Royal William.

Further refreshment was taken here, before we dropped back down to my place after a very relaxing twelve mile stroll along the edge of the Cotswolds. 

The next leg will start taking me in to unfamiliar territory. Hopefully not such a long break between updates!

Chris, I hope you don't mind but I nabbed a couple of your Instagram pics..?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Inov8 Terroc 330 stitching

Nearly a year ago I bought some Inov8 Terroc 330s. This was going to be quite a departure for me, as I'd always used boots for hill and mountain walking. Browsing blogs and reading tales of lightweight derring-do seemed to indicate that this was the way forward. My only previous experience of "hiking" trainers was with a pair of TNF Hedgehogs which destroyed my feet on a charity walk back in '09 (Linky) So it was a bit of a leap of faith.

I loved them! A three day backpack in the Cairngorms, walks in the Brecons, on the Cotswold Way, occasionally on the bike; they were great. Cool and light obviously, but with the extra benefit of connection to the ground. Very often I find myself stumbling when wearing boots as my feet are "stiff" and heavy. With trail shoes this was no longer a problem. Foot placement seemed much more precise, and I didn't miss the ankle support, or weight, of my Scarpa ZG10s (good boots, and lightish for what they are, but still twice the weight of the Terrocs).

Sadly the "Curse of Inov8 Stitching" struck. Despite what I would consider to be fairly light use, the stitching on the outside edge of the shoe ripped. Casting about online it appears that this is not uncommon on Inov8 footwear. What to do, what to do? Well, I'm not flush enough to write these off and drop another £90+ on a different brand, and to be honest, I would expect a premium product, designed for offroad use, to last better. I mean, I had a cheap pair of Nike trainers that I used for work everyday for a year nearly, to the point where I had worn the soles through, and the uppers were still together!

So I emailed inov8, who said my first port of call should be the retailer. So I popped in to Up and Running in Cheltenham, who said they would see what they could do. A week later I got a call saying inov8 would replace the shoes, and four days after that they were in the store.

Following the advice of Colin Ibbotson (@tramplite on twitter) I seam-sealed them immediately when I got home, hoping that this might protect the stitching, and prolong the life of the shoe. Watch this space!

So, many thanks to Up and Running, and to Inov8 for good customer service. I would be interested to hear about the success or otherwise of seam sealing shoes. Please leave a comment.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Cotswold Way - Part II

In my previous post, when I said sometimes it's right on your doorstep, I wasn't kidding. This morning I walked down to the main road, caught the 606 to Winchcombe (cost £2.10) and ten minutes later was setting off up the hill towards Belas Knapp. It was very convenient.

Chasing The Acorn

As before, I'm not going to go over the route in great detail, just point out some of my observations that may be helpful to those following in my footsteps.

Interestingly, although the weather has been mild and unsettled, the going under foot was generally very good (apart from one section which I'll come to shortly). Very rarely was the ground slippery, more often than not I could feel the lugs of my Inov-8s biting into the surface. Probably the worst section overall was across the top of Leckhampton Hill, which had caught the rain a bit more heavily than the rest of the route. On top of a very hard base there was a centimetre of slippery mud that was pretty treacherous.

As before, route finding was very straightforward. The Cotswold Way is well signposted and the path was clear to follow. My only beef would be that occasionally the route loses hard-won height for no discernible benefit. I think the worst example of this is on Cleeve Hill. Cleeve is the highest point in Gloucestershire at 330m, and although the path doesn't quite hit that high point, it's not far off. Yet as you head south towards the three distinct radio masts, the path drops down the side of the hill. This section is quite pleasant, but then you enter the Bill Smyllie Butterfly Reserve and things become less so. Initially this isn't too bad, but then you climb and the path leads you through a narrow valley, the bottom of which gets chewed to hell by horses and cattle. It's lined with thorny trees, there's no view and the going underfoot can be abysmal. I had the misfortune to cycle through here when it was particularly wet and it was truly, truly horrid.

The Valley of  Death

What make this particularly galling is (1) you're going to need your hillclimbing energy later on, and yes, I am looking at you Lineover Wood and Wistly Hill, and (2) you can bypass it very easily. If you want to do as much of the official route as possible, then carry on in to the butterfly reserve, but rather than heading in to the valley, climb up to the left and follow the clear path until you merge once again with the route. If you would rather not lose too much height, then instead of dropping off to the right before the radio masts, continue on to them. Go through the gate and walk about 200m along the road until you come out of the trees, where you should spot a small gate on your right. Through this into the butterfly reserve, stay above the small copse and again, aim above the valley for a much better path.

For those of you interested in the hostelry potential of the route, and I know there are some of you out there that will be, this is going to be a tough section. In fifteen miles today, I didn't go through anything that could be described even as a hamlet, so shops and pubs were thin on the ground. Don't completely give up hope however. On top of Cleeve Hill there is, bizarrely, a golf course. And where there are golfers, there will be a clubhouse. And this clubhouse is open to the public. It advertises hot and cold food and drinks, so could be worth a stop. I can't vouch for quality as I didn't stop, but beggars can't be choosers. A little further on you can drop down to the road to the Rising Sun which is an oddly named pub, facing west as it is. Again, I didn't stop as the climb back up to the route is pretty gruelling. Next, the Harveys map shows a pub close to the crossing of the A40, bad news, it's not a pub. The Reservoir Inn has had many changes of ownership over the years, and it's never really thrived. It's now an Indian restaurant called Koloshi which could be good but probably isn't going to be the long-distance walkers first choice, if indeed it's even open as you pass.Then you've got the pub at Seven Springs. I'm not going to link to it, as I don't particularly like it. I have found the staff to be disinterested, the place grubby and the food very average. It's one of those "big plates of unexceptional food" type of pubs. Your choice. And that was it for pubs. It's ironic really as for large parts of the day you're looking down on Cheltenham and environs, a town crammed with exciting opportunities for revelry!

If you're camping, there are places that would hold a tent, although I would add that Cleeve and Leckhampton in particular are very popular with the local cyclists/walkers/dog walkers/power kiters/horse riders, so you may need to hunt around off the beaten track.

I can (honestly) see my house from here...

It was an interesting days' walk: Cleeve and Leckhampton Hills are places I know very well, having walked and cycled over them a great deal. Linking them together as part of a longer route is a different experience and involved seeing them in a totally different way.

In total, I reckon I've done somewhere in the region of 35 miles in my two walks, so I'm about a third of the way to Bath. 

Keep posted for the next thrilling instalment!