Monday, August 27, 2012

7 Days on the Cotswold Way

Our friends from Brooklyn (R.A. and M.A.) called us a few months ago and asked if we were up for joining them for  a week of hiking the Cotswold Way in northwestern England. Without hesitation, we answered, "Hells yeah - oh, and what and where the heck is the Cotswold Way?"

For those who don't know, the Cotswold Way is a 102-mile-long footpath located about 3 hours west of London. It starts in Chipping Camden, passes through appropriately named Englishy towns such as Birdlip, North Nibbley, and Wotton-Under-Edge, and ends in Bath. Most people start hiking the Cotswold Way in Chipping Camden and travel from north to south, but we hiked it from south to north (Bath to Chipping Camden).

My only experience with the whole hut-to-hut hike type of thing was in Nepal, which was a bit different from this trip (to say the least). The Cotswold Way is more of a pub-to-pub than hut-to-hut type of trip. Our friend R.A. arranged the entire trip to perfection, thanks again R.A.

And MAN we lucked-out with the weather, I am owed some serious good-weather Karma after this year in London. It really only rained heavily one day when we were in a forest and partially covered by the tree canopy anyway. NICE!

Hotels are quite cheap in the Cotswold countryside, we spent between £45 and £75 per night per couple. Pub food and beers are relatively cheap too, which is saying a lot given how much our group drank (well, excluding me - I have that small liver problem, ya know). We used a luggage transport service, which was really only a few bucks per day, but was totally worth it given the unpredictability of the weather and our long hiking and drinking days.

What is there to say about a typical day? Well to start with, the natural scenery is just as spectacular as the man-made stone Hobbit-ish villages, fields, and hedgerows. Plus there are adorable sheep, an assortment of miniature ponies (stop it with your mesmerizing pony-cuteness), horses, dogs, chickens, and bunnies. Here is how the days generally went down:

- Full English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, beans, toast, and mushrooms......oh my
- 4 hours of walking
- Pub lunch and beers
- 5 hours of walking
- Beers
- Pub dinner
- Early to bed

 Since no one wants to read a day-by-day blog about that, here is a REPORT CARD instead:
  • Ashton Cider: A
  • The woman at the bar who gave Dave an Ashton Cider bar-towel for his pub: A+ 
  • Meeting locals: C (the racist old farmer and Listen-To-My-Woody-Allen-Impression Richard)
  • Picnic lunch outside of Hailes Abbey: A
  • Traveling to Stratford, England to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see Henry V - but missing the show: D+
  • Getting a full refund from Stratford, Ontario's Shakespeare Festival people when we told them we were actually in Stratford, England - Canadians are the best: A+
  • Getting to see Comedy of Errors for FREE at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England (this was after they heard our sad story about about booking the show in Ontario) : A+
  • Lack of taxis and pubs in Stanton after 15 miles of walking, sad: C-
  • Having a room in the hotel above the pub: B+
  • Trying to sleep in the hotel room above the pub: D- 
  • Blackberries along the trail that were *just* coming into season: B- (still mostly too sour, boo)
  • Pam at the Valley Views B & B, she did some of our laundry for us and folded it with love: A
  • Non-pub dinners at Five North Street in Winchcombe and Russel's in Broadway: A

Dave pouring the Ashton Cider, he's a natural.

Hailes Abbey audio tour, I do love an audio tour.

Local beers, cheeses, bread, and ham. Divine.

At mile 47, about halfway - yes Dave always wears the same thing.
Yet another adorable Hobbit-like pub in another adorable Hobbit-like town.

Yup, adorableness.
At the finish in Chipping Camden, now get me a beer.

Grace and style, Amie and M.A.

So, ya think you want to hike the Cotswold Way? Do it! Here are some of the deets from our trip if they help:
  • We used the Volunteer Inn luggage transfer service in Chipping Camden, and they were really accommodating and flexible.
  • I would say that 7 or 8 days is about perfect for the trail, I wouldn't do more than 16 or 17 miles in a day. There are some hills out there for sure.
  • We stayed at the Dog Inn in Sodbury, Black Horse Inn in North Nibley, Valley Views B & B in the Middleyard (owned by the fabulous Pam), Royal George Hotel in Birdlip, Rising Sun in Cheltenham, and Crown and Trumpet in Boadway. All are nice places, though the Crown and Trumpet was a bit loud at night. 
  • We mostly ate at small pubs but spoiled ourselves with two actual "restaurants", which I HIGHLY recommend - Five North Street in Winchcombe and Russel's in Broadway.

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