We arrive at 9 am as planned outside the Cheltenham theatre. They are showing 'Educating Rita', and we remember what a great film it was with Michael Caine and Judy Walters, and it would have been fun to see it again. Markus sadly is not driving for us this year as, understandably, he is unable to leave Zimbabwe due to COVID restrictions. We have a new driver called Richard who was brave enough to undertake the job of driving us. A hazardous undertaking which he was soon to find out!
All started well as we walked through the elegant streets of Cheltenham, past the racecourse, proudly announcing the first race meeting in October and past the charming train station beside the racecourse, built, I imagine, to serve the racegoers of the day. It is now a locally owned steam train running from Gloucester to Evesham. We hear the train whistles periodically during the day.
Out of Cheltenham through a newly built development where we have difficulty locating the footpath taking us to the next village, so we continue on the road. We have planned to rendezvous with Richard at the pub, but unfortunately, he had decided to walk to meet us on the footpath we were supposed to be on. After a welcome drink, we set off again, having made a plan for lunch where we had arranged to meet our daughter Milly who would walk with us in the afternoon. We set off over a couple of stiles, Tom ahead with Moses. Unfortunately, I tripped and fell, bumping my head and breaking the arm of my glasses which I searched for but failed to find. Tom was long gone! I eventually caught up with him in deep discussion with a lady about the Wokeness of the modern National Trust, oblivious of my plight. I now am the proud owner of a black eye and wonky glasses, a good start!
The area is a maze of different footpaths, which are difficult to detect on my Satnav, and we take several false routes, making Tom very cross, ending up in a farmyard partially lost. We are running late for our lunch date with Milly, so ask Richard to come and collect us, having discovered where we were, by interrupting the farmer's lunch.
After an excellent lunch with lots of restorative laughs, Richard returns us to our route, which he assures us is dead easy to follow. The problem now is that the footpath is obvious, but it is clear that the local authority during COVID has not been ensuring that the farmers keep them open. We are confronted with a maize field, 8 ft high and totally impenetrable. We end up on our hands and knees burrowing through a boundary fence into the adjacent field full of horses. Lots of laughter and a video taken by Milly of Tom on his hands and knees. We are met by the owner who we thought was coming to give us a rollicking but turned out to be charming and thought it really funny seeing three people appearing through her hedge. She showed us how to get back onto the road and the footpath. We return safely to our endpoint at Beckford, and Richard is there waiting for us; bless him. We say a fond farewell to Milly and her dog Koru and drive 11 miles to our hosts, where we will stay for the next 2 nights.
Feeling refreshed this morning, despite my impressive black eye and wonky glasses. Someone is bringing me my spare pair tomorrow, thankfully.
Back to our finish point at the pretty Norman Church of Beckford, which is closed much to Tom's annoyance. It is, however, only 9 am. We spend a much less eventful day, walking partly along quiet country lanes or on footpaths, some of which are across the middle of recently ploughed fields, making walking difficult. Richard drives us to a pleasant pub on the banks of the Avon for lunch before returning to our route.
We have left Gloucestershire behind and are now in Worcester. It is not the prettiest of countryside, rather flat, not helped by the fact that we walk through endless fields of oilseed rape, which at this time of year are very dead looking with black seed pods. Moses disappears after some young pheasants; it is obviously shooting country. He gets himself the wrong side of a wired fence and refuses to return through a hole I have found as he thinks he is in trouble. He is covered with burs when he eventually decides to return.
The final leg of our walk is through the middle of Evesham. It must have been an elegant town in its heyday but now has a distinctive run-down feel about it. Lots of lacklustre shops as well as empty ones and a dire need of new paint on most of the buildings. We debate with our hosts in the evening how to stop the decline in certain towns. Such a contrast to the positive feel of Cheltenham, where we were yesterday. We pass various plaques on the ground pointing us to the site of the Battle of Evesham in 1265. This was a bloody political and personal battle between Prince Edward and Simon de Montfort, who had captured his father, King Henry III. Simon de Montfort is credited with starting the first parliament but was routed in the battle and came to a very sticky end.
We say a fond farewell to our hosts of the last two nights and return to the village of Norton, just outside Evesham. We are joined today by two walking companions of last year, one coming all the way from London by train and taxi.
We hope to be walking on footpaths this morning, but it turns out that much of our route is along a very busy 'A' road, luckily with a safe footpath but extremely noisy.
We make good progress, albeit un-memorable and arrive at Bidford-on-Avon for lunch in good time. Richard had found a really lovely restaurant by the river, and we enjoy a very happy hour of good company, food and wine. Sue, who works for Tom and coordinates all our walks extremely efficiently, joins us, bringing me my spare pair of glasses, bless her.
After lunch, we join the Shakespeare Way along the River Avon, a pleasant walk but surprisingly unkept in places. Our poor friend, David, is wearing shorts and gets very stung. We wonder whether William Shakespeare ever walked this route. If there is any truth in the novel Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, he probably did. We finish our walk at St Peter's Church, Welford on Avon. This is a lovely old village with numerous black and white thatched houses clustered around the substantial Norman church. We return our friends to their car and the station at Evesham.
Last night we stayed in the new home of people we stayed with 5 years ago when we walked from Haye and Wye to Ipswich. They have built a stunning ultra-modern house in a field they owned in the village. She is an award-winning gardener, so the garden added to the uniqueness of the property.
A bit slow to start in the morning back to Welford on Avon, but we did not have any fellow walkers today, so we felt relaxed. The River Avon makes a big loop around the village from where we left it last night. We were intending to join it at the other side of this quite substantial village. All went wrong. Our walk took us across the village down several enclosed footpaths. Somehow, we missed a crucial turning and ended up back where we started at the wrong bit of river. I was not popular as we had to start all over again, adding nearly an hour to our journey. When we eventually left the village, we had a pleasant walk along the river, and Moses enjoyed a number of swims. Eventually, we walked along a disused railway line, past Stratford racecourse where there was an excellent view of most of the track from the the old railway bridge, apparently much frequented on race days!
We have a welcome cup of coffee in an old railway carriage converted to a cafe at the end of the track before heading into Stratford. We had lunch at the Black Swan/Dirty Duck ( the pub has 2 names), opposite the RSC theatre where we have enjoyed many a meal before seeing a play.
Out of Stratford, we walk through the Welcome Estate Park, where there is an enormous obelisk erected by the brother of Mark Philips, a successful Manchester Industrialist who bought the estate in the 19th century and became a Liberal MP. It seemed a bit over the top for not a very historic figure, but I suppose he had the money to do it. The last part of our walk was very hard work along a very overgrown footpath along the river; obviously, it had not been walked for many years, and we emerged at the other end very bloodied by scratches from brambles and from nettle stings. We both wondered why, as two old pensioners, we were putting ourselves through such things. We both, however, agreed it was all quite fun and an adventure!
Day 5We say goodbye to our hosts and return to Hampton Lucy, the location of Charlecote Park, home of the Lucy family and now a National Trust property. We meet up today with our son in law, John, who designed our walk route and also by one of the local farmers, Sue, who knows the area intimately and has arrived with a pair of secateurs to clear one of the footpaths that she knows is in bad condition! I am delighted as it takes me away from having any responsibility for the route today.
We make excellent progress all morning, and the supposedly bad footpath was a doddle compared with yesterday's path. We all agree that Warwickshire is a lovely county, and they get 5 stars for their footpath signs and gates. Richard has identified a pub en route, but unfortunately, it was packed due to a funeral party when we arrived. We end up at a pub at Ashorne, which worked well. We are joined by Sue's husband, John. They then return home, and we are on our own! All well until we cross over the M40, where we are meant to head down a footpath nearby. It was nowhere to be seen. While we are deliberating on what to do, the landowner turns up asking us what we are doing. She has a long story about the footpath having been closed due to the building of the motorway and that the local rambler association had cut her fences etc., letting stock onto the motorway. None of this really much sense as the motorway in this section was built a good 26 years ago, and the footpath should have been reinstated by now, especially as it was still on google maps etc. We did not argue as she made quite a big thing about letting us walk over a field without a footpath to join our route again.
The rest of our route was uneventful, and we finish early at Hanbury.
We spend the night near Burford, an hour away, with very dear friends, so we had an early start to be back In Hanbury by 9 am. We have no walkers today and set off at a good pace along well-marked footpaths through fields of stock. All goes very well, and we are in the middle of deep countryside, with not a road in sight, when we get a call from Richard, to say that in front of us is an HS2 site, with a vast area fenced off and a notice to say the footpath is closed off for a year. We look beyond the trees, and sure enough, there is a huge towering crane. There is no way around it, and we have to retrace our steps to a farmyard some 2 miles back. We arrange for Richard to collect us at the farm. We meet the farmer who has no idea that the footpath had been closed.
Richard takes us round the offending earthworks, and we continue on our journey. All is well for a bit, but they have just finished harvesting, and many of the fields have recently been ploughed, and the footpaths have not been reinstated, which makes walking very difficult, and Tom gets crosser and crosser as he gets tired. Luckily Richard has found a good pub in Napton on the Hill, and his equilibrium improves. Our final few miles are a pleasant walk along the Oxford canal with lots of cheery waves from barges. We finish at Lower Shuckburgh, where they are holding their church fete, so we enjoy a cup of tea and cake before setting off back to Bladon.
We have a day off tomorrow. Hooray!
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