Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gary and Garett Awad and Michael Cahill on the Cotswald Way

This is a journal of the travels of Michael Cahill, Gary Awad and Garett Awad to the Cotswolds in Western England and to St. Andrews and Edinbrugh. In Scotland during the part of September and October, 2013.
Posted by Gary: Michael and I traveled via BA 278, arriving at Heathrow terminal 5 the morning of Sunday, September 22. We picked up the Airliner bus to Oxford just outside the terminal. Travel time was about an hour. We arrived just 50 yards from our hotel, the Old Bank Hotel, conveniently located on the High Street, where we were soon met by Garett and Hillary. Had a very tasty brunch in the hotel’s restaurant followed by a tour of Oxford with them, including a great overlook view of the town from St. Mary’s Tower and a beautiful Evensong Church service at the ancient Christ’s Church.
Along the way we stopped at the Rose Café for arguably the most delicious scones in England. Topped this off later in the day with a wonderful dinner at Gee’s restaurant, all within walking distance of our hotel. The Old Bank is an excellent hotel for a subsequent visit. Beds were delightfully comfortable, the food in the restaurant was very good and the parking around back was most appreciated by those who drove (we didn’t).

Monday: September 23 Oxford to Chipping Camden

Posted by Gary: The next day we had a delightful breakfast at the same Rose Café with another helping of scones, before stopping at the ATM, and then we took a one hour taxi ride to Chipping Campden, from where we will begin our journey along the Cotswalds Way, a 102 mile walk through many of the most beautiful villages in the English country side . We will finish our walking adventure in the ancient Roman town of Bath, from where we plan to travel by rail to Scotland to enjoy several rounds of golf on some of the classic courses in St. Andrews and in East Lothian near Edinburgh.
In Chipping Campden we stayed at The Court B&B, a grand old house just off the High Street, which was built in 1613. Jane Glennie is the proprietor of The Court and she represents an unbroken line of ownership since that time. Jane’s stepbrother is the writer director of Downton Abbey and he was there a few weeks before at the home for a wedding party. Not surprising then that the home is full of period furniture and paintings almost as old as the village. I felt like I was walking into the home of Miss Havisham from the Dickens novel, Great Expectations. Out back were several acres filled with trees heavily laden with delicious apples, along with ducks and chickens. We toured the town, including the 600 year old St. James’s church and cemetery, and then we stopped at the Badger Café for tea and scones later in the afternoon. In the evening, we enjoyed a tasty dinner at the ancient Eight Bells pub, washed down with a perfect local bitters beer called the HBP. In its heavy oak beamed floor is a small hatchway covered by a transparent door to display a hiding place for the Catholic priests who were persecuted during the Reformation period of Henry the Eighth. From the hiding place is a tunnel that will take you to the church several blocks away.

At Gee's Restaurant in Oxford

Day one of the walk: Tuesday, September 24 Chipping Camden to Stanton 10 miles

Posted by Gary: Next morning, after a hearty homemade breakfast, we began the first leg of our walk in a cold morning fog up Hoo’s Lane past Snow White thatched roof cottages and into several single track lanes, stiles, fields of sheep, meadows, and muddy footpaths. The single track, often rocky path led us into open fields, along ancient walls of Cotswalds stone and into the village of Broadway (five miles), where we stopped for lunch. We set out along mostly a single track path to our next stop at the Shenberry Hill B&B in the village of Stanton. Along the way we made a wrong turn and turned what should have been a 10 mile walk into a 13 mile walk before reaching our destination. Along the way, however, we enjoyed some beautiful views over the English countryside and stopped at a tower overlooking Broadway to view wonderful vistas. The path continued past many herds of grazing sheep who moved out of our way or totally ignored us, as well as goats, plenty of pheasants, and some horses and cows.
After settling in at the Shenerrow Hill B&B home just off the single track before entering Stanton’s lone High Street, we enjoyed a sumptuous dinner at the Mount Inn pub, the only eatery in this village. Best to book in advance, which we had fortunately done. Again, the local brews were a special treat, along with the baked salmon.

Day two of the walk: Wednesday, September 25 Stanton to Cleve Hill 13 miles

Posted by Gary: We did 13 miles of the Way today from the picturesque village of Stanton to our B&B at Cleve Hill called the Malvern View. We began our walk at 9:15 this morning going through open fields of freely grazing sheep, goats, cows, horses and even bulls, who I was sure kept a wary eye on us. All of the grazing animals had total disregard for the trail. Consequently, we became quite adept at recognizing the different kinds of animal poop, which littered our footpaths. Climbing through hillside fields, we were blessed with wonderful views of the English countryside, including distant villages, lush fields of green and gold, crisscrossed by hedge groves and forests. Often the woodlands provided us with a canopy of green to shade our single track paths. Along the way we stopped for a brief lunch in Winchcombe. Our path also took us past an ancient burial ground from 3600 BC, which we were able to explore. Often,  we enjoyed some of the ruins and structures from the earliest of English history, dating as far back as 900.


Day three of the walk: Thursday, September 26 Cleve Hill to Birdlip 17 miles
Posted by Gary: From the Malvern View B&B we set out in separate groups after our hearty English breakfast. Garett started earlier, determined to do the entire leg on foot. Michael needed to be at our next stop, the Royal George Hotel in Birdlip, by 2 pm, so he decided to taxi part way to Seven Springs and pick up the Way from there, thereby cutting this leg down by about a third. My aching muscles and the cold, blustery morning told me I should go with Michael in sympathy, much like I had given up a weekend apple fast with Bill and Hazel Nassir when Bill had to end it early due to a bout with gout in his foot. Somehow, “in sympathy” sounds like the British cordial way of saying, “who wants to do 15 miles after 13 miles the day before, anyway?”
Once we sorted out our direction from Seven Springs, we soon met up with fellow walkers Simon and Claire who were doing the Way in only six days, so this segment for them was to be 19 miles to Painswick. They had previously walked all 214 mountains of the Lake District and had crossed the island a couple of times before. Serious walkers, indeed. In fact, however, we had seen very few other walkers on the Way so far, in this off season (rain is predicted for later in the week).
Some of the highlights of this segment included watching a sheepdog herd with incredible dexterity and concentration her several dozen sheep into a corral for sheering. The views from the Cotswalds escarpment were breathtaking, with lush green meadows and thick bordering hedge groves and forests hiding small stone villages. Following the trail up to Crinkley Hill and along ancient walls of hand laid Cotswald stone and footpaths through a forest of 250 year old Beach trees, we came to an overlook that found us confronting a whirring drone hovering just above us and checking us out, its four propellers allowing it to hover for several minutes with its video camera buzzing, as I questioned to no one in particular as to where it was coming from. Could it be Scotland Yard or MI-6 looking for suspicious characters? I mean I hadn’t shaved in several days and looked rather scruffy, right? No, as it turned out, it was a couple of younger chaps with a remote controller directing it over and around us. Oh, poop, I was hoping for a more exciting story to tell you (forgive the expression, but here on the trail it seems more appropriate than the more vulgar American equivalent with fields full of it — the herds of various kinds of sheep being the most efficient of eating and pooping machines).
We reached the Royal George by 2:30 pm, having started by around 10 am, so it was relatively easier day. The Royal George is quite a nice hotel with an outstanding pub which offered us some worthy local beers and a good salad for lunch. Garett soon arrived, having made the walk at a far faster pace than he would have done with us.

Day four of the walk: Friday, September 27 Birdlip to Painswick 7 miles

Posted by Gary: This leg of the trip again began in a cold, blustery morning, taking us along the Cotswald escarpment and into Witcombe Wood, with its heavily shaded forest pathways sprinkled with crumbling moss covered ancient Cotswold stone walls. Along the way we caught sight of a dog about the size of a small Jack Russell terrier, who thought he was a lumberjack, carrying a Beachwood branch about twice his size. Much of today’s wooded footpaths from Cooper’s Hill and through Brockworth and Buckholt woods were covered in autumn leaves. Tomorrow’s forecast is for cold and heavy rain with these pathways likely to turn into mud pits. My boots are breaking down so I need to find some glue and tape because replacements are highly unlikely at our next stop, the village of Painswick.
Before reaching Painswick we passed beside an old quarry, with it’s carefully hewn golden Cotswalds stones and then through the Painswick golf course, passing by the fifth and thirteenth tees. Painswick’s Falcon Inn, where we rest tonight, is a 16th-century Coaching Inn which looks very much the same today. The accommodations were clean and comfortable and the hospitality generous. Well worth a second visit if stopping here again.
Across the street from the Inn are the grounds of the village’s St. Mary’s Church, where there are planted 99 carefully sculpted yew trees amidst the cemetery tombstones. The Church was built in 1086 to support this very early wool based economy. A stop inside the church afforded us a few moments to appreciate a small choir practicing. We maneuvered the narrow streets past small shops, cafes, B&B’s to a small Quaker cemetery and church with the year 1706 etched into its stone frame above a door now closed off with cemented stones. We capped the day with a delightful dinner in the Inn and contemplated our 15 mile walk tomorrow. 



Day five of the walk: Saturday Sept 28, day five: The leg of the walk from Painswick to Nympsfield  14 miles
Posted by Gary: On a brisk, overcast morning, we set out on the route from Painswick to Nympsfield (15 miles) with the threat of rain in our forecast. We were soon on trails and footpaths through woods and open fields, then along hillside escarpments with expansive views over the Cotswolds valleys. We often shared the fields with grazing sheep and cows.
Some of the highlights of this 15 mile walk included the shaded footpaths through the Standish and Stanley woods, coming upon a beautiful Welsh horse with its young rider and several dog walkers with some nice breeds. After one of several windy uphill climbs we were upon Heresfield Beacon where we could take in a 360 degree view of the countryside. It had a 2500 bc Iron Age stone pillar indicating the sight of a settlement from that period. Along one wooded pathway we came upon an ancient well with its old English etching in its protecting walls calling for those “who feeleth the desireth to pullith water from this cistern to do so with thanketh be to God for his mercy” or some such.
Later we followed a footpath through a mature cornfield with fully- grown corn stocks well above our heads. Then we came upon an open field with a herd of bulls who were protecting some calfs along our footpath. After a brief staredown, they decided to charge us, so we made a hasty retreat behind the stile (gate) we had just come through, deferring to their obvious weight advantage. Finally at the 300 year old Rose and Crown Inn for dinner and lodging, we settled in for a well deserved rest, the rain still threatening to arrive sometime in our upcoming walks.

Day Six of the walk: Sunday, September 29 Nympsfield to Wotton Under Edge 11 miles
Posted by Gary: This segment of the walk took us from the village of Nympsfield to the town of Wotton Under Edge. Despite the continued forecast of inclement weather to come, we left the 400 year old Rose and Crown Inn on a cool but sunny morning, the rain apparently holding off for another day. In fact, it turned into a glorious Sunday morning as we moved toward Coaley Hill along some pastures where we had to negotiate a herd of cows before entering Coaley Wood through a tunnel of trees and skirting the village of Uley. Along the way we saw a 5000 year old neolithic burial site off stone walls before taking on one of a number of steep climbs to capture some magnificent views of the farming communities and villages tucked into the puzzle of farms with their borders of hedgegroves and woods.
Among other walkers and their dogs out for a stroll this Sunday morning was a scout group and some horse riders. We learned a little more about the species of horses and dogs popular with the locals. We stopped at a Sainsberry in the town of Dursley to pick up a picnic lunch to eat along the route, where Michael claimed to have eaten the “best chicken sandwich ever”.  After another climb to expansive 360 degree overlooks we dropped down into North Nibley before beginning another climb to the Tyndale monument, a tall stone obelisk with steps inside for those, such as bird watchers or parachutists whose view from below was not enough. With none of us willing to negotiate the 121 steps inside of it, we proceeded on down through Westridge Wood and into Wotton Under Edge.
Day six ended with a delightful dinner at our stopover, The Swan Hotel, and an episode of Downton Abby on the telly. This nine room hotel is very pleasant. We are briefly tempted to stay for another day, but we are quickly disabused of that thought for two reasons: The waiter at our breakfast picked up an unwanted sausage from one of our plates with his fingers (don’t know what other breakfast plate it found later) and the 15 mile walk to come. With rain still in the forecast and yet to arrive, we must make haste to get to our next stop in the tiny village of Tormarton. Two more days to our final destination in the Roman city of Bath and after that the golf links of Scotland beckon.

Day seven of the walk: Monday, September 30, Wotton Under Edge to Tormarton (14 miles)
Posted by Gary: Day seven began at the Swan Hotel in Wotton Under Edge in another cold grey morning with the threat of rain again in the air. We moved along hillside fields with grazing sheep and dromedaries, reaching hilltops with expansive views before we descended into often dense woods. We continued along rocky, then soft footpaths across ancient stone bridges over brooks with ducks and swans. We were constantly wary of the stinging nettles, but welcomed the occasional bushes of sweet blackberries. We came upon a group of elderly walkers at the end of a steep climb that took us along more hillside fields and into more forested tunnels. Sometimes we would step aside for the occasional riders on sleek horses with mud flaps on their ankles. Another grey day with the threat of rain remained just that, although some rain caught up to us just as we reached our next stopover, the Portcullis Inn, a 400 year old pub in the village of Tormarton, pop. 200.  However, we were forced to wait for the Inn to open its doors until the owner, Roy, a Peckniffian character who Dickens could have modeled for any of his stories, woke up from his afternoon nap.
Now, some note must be made of the Portcullis Inn, which shall forever live in infamy in the memorable journeys of these three travelers. This had been Garett’s recommendation, because it had been a stopover place for him when he was a college student in London some eight years before. Now, even he regretted this token nostalgia to his student days. The Inn had probably not been adequately cleaned or properly maintained for some time (maybe since its birth) and we were forced to endure the stay, even though it was only for one night. Tormarton didn’t offer us much in the way of alternatives (Garett pulled out his silk cocoon that night to protect himself from possible bedbugs).  Roy laughed when I asked him if he could supply a banana with my breakfast the next morning. After the dinner, however, we decided not to abuse our culinary sensibilities any longer, so we elected to leave the next morning before Roy could manage his leisurely awakening.  He did manage to give us a bagful of apples he had picked from a nearby tree to take with us, but many of them remained uneaten because he had the sniffles and a heavy cough during the entire time he was pontificating about the best route to take on the trails to Bath. He did make us note the myriad cobwebbed pewter and lead mugs covered in dust that were hanging from the ceiling of his bar, pointing out that it had been unfortunate for the government to force pubs to use glasses that offered drinkers the ability to see their beers as well as taste them.  Well, poop for him.
Portcullis Inn will forever live in our memories as the one place to remember if you are in an unkempt youth hostel and feel things couldn’t get much worse.

Day eight of the walk: Tuesday, October 1, Tormarton to Bath (15 miles) and the final leg of this 102 mile walk.
Posted by Gary: We left the Portcullis Inn on a grey rainy morning. Yes, the rain finally arrived like a wet sneeze that had been ready to blow for days, and it almost blew us over. Now I know a rainproof poncho doesn’t make a lot of sense with a brisk wind blowing it askew often enough to leave other parts of you exposed to the patter of raindrops. Mercifully, the rain relented after about an hour and gave us intermittent respites for the rest of the day. Consequently, the dirt trails and footpaths remained relatively hard, which made the walk a little easier. I fully expected to be in ankle deep mud for part of this leg of the journey, which would have finished off my boots in quick order. Yes, my Lowa Renegade GTX mid height boots are indeed falling apart, the Vibram rubber sole splitting away from its body on parts of both boots. They had begun cracking by mile 47, and for this final leg of fifteen miles I held them together with string so I could take them back to REI.
Despite the rain we made good time, with fewer hills to climb and mostly open fields of crops, grazing herds of sheep, cattle, and, yes an occasional bull to stare down as we walked perilously close by. In case you are wondering, when I say open fields, I do mean that, with the trail taking us into these grazed pastures, not around them. In one instance, I learned that when you have the kind of rain poncho that fits over your backpack, the big hump that’s created. which makes you look like a hunchback to a human, can make you look like another cow to another cow, or more unfortunately for me, another bull, so I had several of these creatures following me until I reached a stile that took me to the next field. I learned to quickly take off the poncho before entering a field with a bull, despite the rain.
We were blessed with several beautiful vistas, shaded woods hiding streams and ponds, more moss covered walls of ancient Cotswald stone, and open grassy fields, some of which were marked with the stone pillars memorializing some auspicious event or battle in English history. One such landmark was the battle of Landsdown Hill in 1643 between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians during the English civil war. Along the way, we picked up many chesnuts from some beautiful trees and picked blackberries for desert.
After about eight hours, we arrived at the Cranleigh B&B to a delightful and warm shower before heading downtown for a well deserved celebratory dinner. We completed the journey along this most beautiful of trails!

Next stop, St. Andrews in Scotland, this time by train, PS, my boots had survived the journey, but just barely.



Day twelve of the trip: Wednesday, October 2, a travel day from Bath to Scotland
Posted by Gary: After a hearty breakfast at the Cranleigh, we boarded the train to Kings Cross, London, where we connected to a train headed north. Destination: Leuchars, where we taxied the short distance to St. Andrews. Caution: we were forced to pay an outrageous premium for the second leg of our train travel because it was a same day purchase, compared to a payment we might have made the day before. Such are the hazards of travel in countries where the rules of engagement are not readily provided or discernable.
By the end of the day, we were ensconced in the Scores Hotel, very close to The Old Course. This is the course we will play tomorrow, after winning a time slot in a lottery. Some golf enthusiasts wait from 3:00 AM to get into a foursome on this oldest of golf courses in the world, so were very fortunate to have this opportunity to play it.
The Scores was disappointing in several respects. Mediocre food for a hotel near The Old Course. A lack of amenities in the room, e.g., wash cloths, limited hand soaps, and a door key that worked only intermittently. Our first two night stay in a hotel was accompanied by a lack of bathroom supplies like soap for the second day.

Day thirteen of the trip: Thursday, October 3, Golf day on The Old Course at St. Andrews
Posted by Gary:  Legend has it that golf was invented here by a few bored sheepherders, who needed only their staffs and a few stones. The earliest recorded mention of the game dates to about the 15th century.  This links course still has the grasses that might have fed sheep and other animals. Since there is no more grazing here, you don’t want to hit a golf ball into them unless you feel that you can use your golf club like a thrashing machine. 
As an 18 handicapper, I surprised myself (and my caddie) by playing par golf for the first five holes, but soon fell back into my old habits, especially after the wind picked up and the drizzle started. Oh well, I wouldn’t look good in a green jacket anyway (only golfers would understand that lame joke).  The course is noted for among other things, its pot hole bunkers, its lengthy green with two flags for each of the front and back nines, and of course its famous stone bridge connecting the two parts of the fairway on the eighteenth hole. 

Day fourteen of the trip: Friday, October 4, Golf day on The New Course at St. Andrews
Posted by Gary: We were able to squeeze in another day of golf at the adjacent New Course, appropriately named only because it is only 120 years old, but the weather was not as kind for a good portion of he day, with heavier rains making the play difficult.  As soon as it was over, we left for Leuchars for the train to Edinburgh and the Chambers apartments in the old city.

Day fifteen of the trip: Saturday, October 5, a day of playing tourist in Edinburgh
Posted by Gary: OMG,  The Chambers is a wonderful apartment building located in a small courtyard down a narrow Close, just off the Royal Mile and across the street from St. Giles Cathedral in the heart of the city. In addition, it was a short walk from the RR station. I would unreservedly recommend it for any families visiting Edinbrurgh. We had a two bedroom, two bath apartment with a kitchen, and the most modern of amenities, including a smart TV,  dimming ceiling lights, a washer and dryer (much needed after our walk), and it boasted a private balcony as well. First class all the way, definitely worth a revisit, and a welcome respite for the three nights in this architecturally world class city (the city is designated a World Heritage city by UNESCO).
We spent the day on two theatrical tours of the underground vaults, where people lived and died 600 years ago in horrific conditions, and (in the evening) the haunted (tour guides did their best to give everyone a fright to help justify the freight) underground caverns and old cemetery of the church just off the Greyfriers Bobby square.  In addition, we visited sights in the new city, including the royal palace, and a hilltop with an unfinished Parthenon look alike from which to view the city and its prominent location on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.
Garett’s back forced us to cancel the rounds of golf planned for tomorrow in East Lothian, so we planned for another day of touring around the old and new cities of Edinburgh. We were not disappointed, because there is just so much to see in this historic venue.

Day sixteen of the trip: Sunday, October 6, another day of touring around Edinburgh
Posted by Gary: Sunday found us taking a literary walking tour with Allen Foster, a knowledgeable Scotsman with some wonderful stories about the many familiar writers who found their inspiration here. Among others were. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott,  J.M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ian Rankin, Thomas Carlyle, and J.K. Rowling. We visited the sights where many of them lived, studied,  wrote or imbibed in their favorite pubs.
Some examples included stories about the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes (University Professor Joseph Bell), the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver (friend of his who lost a leg in the Crimean War),  the inspiration for many of the names used by Rowling in the Harry Potter books (the many Potters in a nearby ancient cemetery, McGonagall,  Dumbledore, and the Dursleys, among others).
Later in the day, we toured the National Museum, then attended a whiskey tasting seminar, which included a sampling of some of the regional single malts. After a wonderful dinner at one of the best eateries in town, the Angels With Bagpipes restaurant (probably made tastier after our whiskey tasting session), we briefly visited three recommended pubs looking for a bagpipe concert: The Royal Oak, the Captain’s Bar on South College Street, and the Sandy Bell Pub in Greyfriar’s Bobby.
After a full day, we settled into our apartment to pack and prepare for travel home the next day.