|Two days after a wind-driven Carneddau walk with Postman, I contemplate still-aching legs and the promise of a sunny spring morning. Promising myself not to walk far, the pull of the hills is too strong as usual and I find myself taking the short bus trip to Dowdeswell, where I finished my last section of Cotswold Way. This has the unfortunate distinction of being the lowest point of the route today, so I’m faced with an immediate climb.
The ascent is not too steep at first and I startle a deer on reaching the treeline, a good omen for the day I think. As the path reaches Lineover Wood, one of the lovely beech hangers that characterises the Cotswolds every bit as much as the limestone escarpment, there is little noise but birdsong. Some of the trees here are a few hundred years old, ancient in beech lifespans. Aching legs begone, it’s going to be a lovely day.
Reaching a field at the edge of the wood, the worst of the climb over, I leave the Cotswold Way route along another footpath, heading southwest. From here the view opens up beautifully to the north, where Cleeve Hill
fills the skyline, with Cheltenham spread out below to the northwest. The reason for my temporary diversion lies just over the crest ahead of me, in the next field.
Lineover long barrow has suffered greatly over the years. Now resembling an elongated round barrow, there is little to paint an obvious family resemblance to its near neighbours at Belas Knap
. But pause a little longer – the positioning gives away its undoubted blood ties, perched below the highest point of the hill, but enjoying extensive views over the edge of the escarpment. Typical Cotswold-Severn long barrow location in fact. I’ve not been here for about 18 months, the grass is cropped shorter than on my previous visits. The barrow still stands to a height of over a metre and various large pieces of limestone can be seen resting here and there on the mound. There is no livestock in the field today, although the hardened prints around the field edge indicate that cows are still the usual occupants. The only real detraction from a visit remains the horribly busy A436, where I doubt many of the drivers ever notice the long barrow they pass in an eye-blink. The inevitable crump of shotguns can also be heard, far off. Still a worthwhile stop-off, an old friend to revisit, renew acquaintances and share some time together.
The Cotswold Way has been re-routed since my Explorer map was published, so it now comes up to the corner of field in which the Lineover barrow stands. From here it heads back into the woods, and what lovely woods they are too. Sunlight filters through the canopy, all is well in the world. Towards the southwestern edge of the wood, work on restoring a beautiful drystone wall is ongoing, a party of volunteers hard at it as I pass. The re-routing of the path means that a section across the steep slopes of Ravensgate Hill is now avoided, as the path clings to the lip of the escarpment instead. Out of the woods, the view north opens instantly. Although it’s hazy today, there is a good retrospective of my last walk over Cleeve Hill and towards Bredon Hill across the border in Worcestershire. Ahead, the steep scarp of Leckhampton Hill now looms, the easier dip slope of which will represent the next climb of the day. The Malverns are a distant smudge of blue. The top of Wistley Hill is a terrific place to stop awhile and drink in the views (and some water).
The route turns almost south, dropping fairly sharply towards Severn Springs (a place crying out for some watery folklore, I would think), where a busy road crossing over the A435 awaits. This done, I’m climbing again, more gradually this time, as the route makes its way northwards up Hartley Hill, offering yet more fine views over Charlton Common and back towards Wistley Hill.
Coming from the east (unusually for me), old quarrying scars blight the first approaches to Leckhampton Hill, but the views over the escarpment are particularly fine, despite the haze today. After a couple of bridle gates, the path eventually comes to some rather enigmatic earthworks stretching away from the fort, their overall layout and purpose not really clear. Following the path onwards, it soon reaches the northern section of the ramparts proper. This is the best-preserved part of the defences, and a walk to the northern tip offers a terrific aerial viewpoint off the near-vertical quarried cliffs and across Cheltenham. I can indeed see my house from here (well, my street anyway). Although I’ve been up here many times now, there is always something new to see. In this case, it’s the northern rampart, below the lip of the escarpment, much more clear of vegetation than I have seen before.
I sit up here for a while, perched high above home and contemplate my choices. I had intended a short walk after the North Wales efforts earlier in the week, but the day is still young and the sunshine is calling me onwards. Besides which, this is one of those parts of the route where ending here would require an otherwise unnecessary climb at the start of the next walk. I decide to press on, at least as far as Crippetts
Leaving the fort, I head down to one of the many quarries hacked into the hillside, this one serving as a carpark now. I hunt around unsuccessfully for fossils, but to my astonishment, tucked into a crevice in the limestone, I find a pile of chalk-covered flint nodules, some quite large. Nothing worked that I can see, but I have always thought that flint was alien to this part of the Cotswolds, any flint tools being imports from the eastern downs (or further afield). Not so, it seems. Well, you live and learn.
The path runs south now, then west past Ullenwood to the woods that bracket the wonderful Crippetts long barrow. I don’t stop off for long today, it’s not long since my last visit and I have decided to carry on to Crickley Hill. I’ll just say, once again, that this is a fabulous long barrow, well worth your attention.
My last visit to this fine site was in falling snow and a black and white world. Not so today. The walk through the woods of Crickley Hill Country Park to the northeast is lovely, sun streaming down. I stop at the Visitor Centre briefly, it’s usually been closed when I’ve been here before and it’s worth a look to see the information boards, together with some prehistoric finds and a model reconstruction of the site.
The site itself is quite magnificent, probably the best hillfort encountered so far along the Cotswold Way as, unlike Cleeve Cloud
and Leckhampton Hill
, it hasn’t been so badly damaged by quarrying (although it hasn’t entirely escaped). The Way passes through the impressive Iron Age ramparts that cut off a large wedge-shaped promontory. Inside this, various hut circles are marked out by concrete posts, although there’s nothing else remaining of them. The main features of the view today are Robinswood Hill and Churchdown Hill
, two conical outlier of the Cotswold escarpment. The Malverns are but dimly seen through a haze more reminiscent of summer.
The most enigmatic part of the site is the circular feature at the northern end of the Neolithic earthwork, although little remains of it now. The circle, 8 metres across, was enclosed by stones and had a central hearth. “Ritual” purposes abounded, no doubt. From the western tip of the promontory, my route ahead comes into view for the first time, Barrow Wake across the steep-sided valley that now houses the A417, with Birdlip Camp
, Witcombe Wood and Cooper’s Hill beyond. The Mother River, the Severn/Hafren, lies broad and glinting to the southwest.
It’s busy here today, as you’d expect on such a lovely day, and before long the impulse that pushes me onwards, away from the crowds, comes back. The Cotswold Way turns back along the southern edge of the promontory, where the ground falls away most steeply, before leaving the fort into yet another delightful beech wood.
The peace and quiet are soon cut through by the looming prospect of two rather nasty roads to cross, the second and worst of which (over the A417) has to be made twice to allow a detour to another rather unmissable site passed by the Way, Emma's Grove round barrows.
Like nearby Crickley Hill
, my last visit here was in a worsening snow fall. The contrast couldn’t be more extreme today, coming to the barrows in lovely spring sunshine, every footfall releasing the scent of wild garlic.
The disadvantage of a spring visit, even after such a late winter, is that the barrows are quite overgrown and much of the vegetation is of the brambly kind, trying to trip me up and making even a walk around the two barrows quite a challenge. Don’t bother coming in high summer! Actually the barrows repay the effort, the larger of the two is as fine an example of a sizeable Bronze Age burial mound as you will find in these parts.
By now my path is both far from home and far from a bus stop, with Shurdington far below the Cotswold edge the only reasonable prospect if I leave the path now. I decide instead to plough on, to make the most of the lovely weather. After a second dice with death on the A417 (I’m not exaggerating this, it’s a horrible road to cross here), I leave the road and find myself back on the open escarpment at Barrow Wake, which offers fine views, especially across the valley back to Crickley Hill. My next stop-off, Birdlip Camp, is straight ahead, a jutting wooded promontory.
After a rather up and down walk along the face of the escarpment, it’s something of a relief to reach the trees that mark the promontory fort, where I'm greeted by the rat-a-tat of a woodpecker looking for lunch. The Cotswold Way enters the wood at the single rampart, which is at its most impressive at this northern end. It has been damaged by quarrying; there’s a big pit across the path outside the camp. Aside from this feature, there is little visible to indicate the presence of Iron Age occupation. The interior is covered in trees, albeit a light deciduous wood that allows plenty of visibility through the site.
The ground falls away very steeply on the north and south sides – my path runs to the end of the promontory and then back along the opposite side. Reaching the southern end of the rampart, there is hardly anything left of the earthwork here. It’s a pleasant spot on a sunny day, but don’t expect to be blown away by the visible remains.
And that concludes the prehistory for the day. My earlier plan (well, about plan C or D by now) had been to leave Birdlip by the steep road off the escarpment, dropping down to Great Witcombe. But this would mean a couple of miles off the path that would have to be repeated in reverse next time. Despite rather tired legs by now, I decide to carry on round the escarpment through Witcombe Wood to Cooper’s Hill, where I will be within a spit of the bus route home. This proves to be a good choice, the sunlit woods and general downhill trend of the path making for very pleasant walking indeed. Somewhere in the woods above me is West Tump long barrow, my favourite woodland site of the Cotswolds, but she warrants her own visit and is very difficult to leave, so I eschew that option and press on.
The final flourish of the walk comes courtesy of a break in the trees above Witcombe, where a magnificent vista is revealed, from Churchdown Hill and the Malverns, across the Witcombe reservoirs back to Crickley Hill and my earlier route. I finally stumble down to Brockworth, very tired but entirely satisfied by the day spent on these pretty hills. From here on, I will be turning my face away from home, towards the Severn and the southwest. Plenty for next time then.
Posted by thesweetcheat
6th May 2013ce
Edited 8th May 2013ce
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