Cotswold Way, part 1 – Chipping Camden to Stanway – 12 miles (19.5km)

If you, like me, enjoy walking around in the Cotswolds you will have encountered signposts with the famous acorn and walked along part of the Cotswold Way many a times… but have you ever had the itch of walking the whole length of it? I thought about it many a times, I have bought books, read articles, seen photos… and if there is one thing that this pandemic has taught me, it is to grasp any opportunity when it presents itself… and so I began…

The trails extends for 102 miles from Chipping Camden to Bath (or from Bath to Chipping Camden if you’d rather do it Northbound); I was looking into how it came about and I was surprised to learn that it celebrated its 50th birthday in 2020, I thought it was much older than that… The idea of the trail was suggested by Gloucestershire Ramblers and it is part of the National Trails network. Given that I live closer to Chipping Camden, that’s where I started from, nothing more scientific than that. Also, there are numerous books, and OS maps, of this trail, I chose to follow and bring with me Walking The Cotswold Way by Cicerone Publishing. It was small enough to fit in my jacket pocket, the explanations were very clear and seemed accurate and it has a map of the whole trail in booklet format at the back. I have to point out that the signposting for the trail is however excellent and the map wasn’t really necessary. (I like to carry books with me – as security blanket – and I like to learn things about the places I pass by… I never listen to music when I walk either… so there)

Chipping Camden. Oh wow. What a beautiful, beautiful village! My guide called it the loveliest of all the Cotswold villages and they weren’t kidding… honey coloured buildings (oolithic limestone…you’re welcome), immaculate gardens, a beautiful 17th-century market house, (which is the official starting place of the trail btw)… a delightful church and remnants of Jacobean gates and banqueting houses…. it boasts the 2nd highest density of listed building in the country, unsurprisingly. It is worth another visit for sure. I began my walk from the lovely St James’ Church, whose tower is in the top 50th most beautiful church towers in England, for you trivia geeks like me.

The gorgeous Almshouses (below), just down from the church where built by Sir Baptist Hicks, a rich silk merchant.

The whole town is a delight…

Another interesting nugget of information for the literature fans out there is that the author Graeme Green lived here for a few years, and it was here that he wrote his novel ‘Stamboul Train’. In this house:

The trail leads uphill out of town and I was incredibly lucky with the weather, fresh but sunny. Perfect walking weather, and like I have already said, the signposting was brilliant, so no excuses not to do this! (one thing to note though: the old metal posts give the distance in km… while the new wooden ones give them in miles… don’t ask me why…)

The First interesting place you arrive to is Dover’s Hill where from, on a clearer day, it is said you can see for 60 miles across the Worcestershire Plain. It is dedicated to Captain Robert Dover, a rich – and eccentric – lawyer who, in 1612 organised here the first Olympic Games (which included leapfrog and shin-kicking and I would totally vote for the two sports to be reinstated in the current ones, what do you think? 4x100m relay? boring… let’s do it leapfrogging!!). Joking aside it’s a fabulous place for a picnic and dog walking (and child-walking too), and if you’re a member of the National Trust, you don’t pay for your parking!

But you must you carry on walking… the trail doesn’t walk itself…

…and carry on some more till you get, after about 5 miles or so – to one of my favourite places in the whole of the Cotswolds, Broadway Tower… (it’s the tallest ‘point’ of the Cotswold, although Cleeve Hill claims the the highest ‘ground’ of the Cotswolds….)

… how beautiful?…
…It was designed in 1798 by James Wyatt for the sixth Earl of Coventry, in a Norman style with three rounded turrets…

You walk the long path downhill (… the knees…) towards the town of Broadway.

It doesn’t look steep… trust me… on a sledge you could break the sound barrier I’m sure of it…

The town of Broadway doesn’t need any introductions, and it’s nice to rejoin civilisation for a while as the trail takes you across town… just keep on eye on those acorns and you’ll be fine.

After that you’re in the countryside again…

and that’s me, just to prove that I did really do this… I look in pain, but I wasn’t… I need to work on my selfie game…

The trail then begins the final descent into Stanton, the path following the steep contour of a cleave, which, I learnt yesterday, is a small dry valley, (you’re welcome again), and reaches meadows with views of the Vale of Evesham in the horizon

And then you’re in Stanton, you’ve walked 10 miles, finished your chocolate, your coffee, your delicious lunch and are wondering why on earth you told your husband to pick you up in the next village, when here would have been just fine… (note to self, remember the age of your hips, woman!). (Note to self no 2, never make such a decision when walking gently downhill, gravity is a greater deception than you imagine).

So… you keep walking… and Stanton makes it easy because it’s pretty picture perfect. Imagine a quaint Cotswold village… and there it is. Seriously, it could be a Disney set.

… No rest for the wicked… nor for the misguidedly ambitious mid-life rambler… two more miles to go…

And these were probably the most beautiful two miles of the day…

I finally stopped in the hamlet of Stanway, which once again proved to be simply divine. Again I need to go back because at this point all I wanted was to stop and take my shoes off, frankly. There is a stunning Jacobean house, Stanway House, owned by the 13th Earl of Wemyss. It is normally open to the public, but due to the ‘C’ word, it won’t be visitable this year, which is an incredible shame. Just perusing the website makes your jaw drop… sigh…

The story of the house is really interesting, and I’m lifting it from the Cotswold Guide‘s website for you:

The house was given to Tewkesbury Abbey by Mercian leaders Odo and Dodo in 715. Supporting four monks, it was the only remote property owned by the Abbey until the 12th century. The Abbey held onto the property for eight hundred years until it passed into the hands of the Tracy family. who are almost unique in England for having owned land since before the Norman Conquest.
Richard Tracy, who led the dissolution of Hailes Abbey, took over the lease for Stanway House from Abbot Segar in 1533. In time he was able to buy the freehold, which he left to his son Paul, who was made a Baronet in 1611. Paul began to rebuild the house, incorporating some of the early Tudor features. On his death it passed to his son, Sir Richard Tracy, who added the gatehouse (
right photo below) in 1630. It was Paul’s grandson, Sir Humphrey Tracy, who finally completed the building in 1640. Sir Humphrey was a Royalist supporter and had to pay heavy fines to avoid the property being confiscated after the Civil War. The Tracy line continued until 1817 when the house passed to Francis Charteris, 8th Earl of Wemyss and 4th Earl of March. Francis’ mother was the great granddaughter of Ferdinando Tracy and the present resident, Lord Neidpath, is a direct descendent of Francis. Thus the house can claim to have been in the same family for over 450 years.

And because I know you’re waiting anxiously for a cute fact about Stanway, I have a good one: JM Barrie (author of Peter Pan) loved this spot so much that he donated to the village the adorable thatched cricket pavillion on stone mushrooms which I didn’t photograph because at this stage I was slightly tired and delirious.

But I did take a picture of this house because… hello?

Well… if you’ve made it to here, well done! You’ve walked 1/10th of the Cotswold Trail, in fact, walking it might be quicker than reading this post… Do like I did, go and have a bath with a cup of tea to recover.

Also… Odo and Dodo? Priceless.

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