Our last night of hiking the Cotswold Way had us hike through some rather scenic areas, including Hawkesbury Upton, Little Sodbury (with another nice Iron Age fort: a “Bury”), and Old Sodbury. After stopping in Old Sodbury at the very pleasant Old Dog Inn for a pint of beer, we then crossed the splendidly beautiful and manicured Dodington Park, which is now owned by James Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame). And then we found ourselves pulling into one of the last towns on our walk, Tormarton. Tormarton is a very quant little village with stone buildings and a very impressive older church (St Mary Magdalene, which predates the Norman Conquest), and even a healthy selection of B&Bs, most of which caters to the Cotswold Way hiking crowd. What it doesn’t have is a lot of dining options: Our B&B didn’t offer dinner, and the town really has only two restaurants, one in the hotel just outside of town, and the pub. So, we took off our boots, put on our town shoes, and headed in to The Major’s Retreat, the local pub. The Major’s Retreat is not a fancy pub, and doesn’t aspire to be one of the trendy gastropubs, either.
Our next meal stop on the Cotswold Way was the town of Wotton-Under-Edge. Another town that’s been a Market Town for centuries, it draws its name from the fact that the town sits right under the Cotswold Escarpment, looking up at the limestone and hill edge of the escarpment. The town is pleasant enough, with a few nice historic sites (like an old Alms House), and for those hiking the Cotswold Way, offers up pretty much the last grocery store before Bath. When it comes to dining establishments, however, there are only a handful of options, but really, they did seem to make up in it in quality. The local Eagle Steakhouse looked quite excellent indeed, although our late lunch back at the The Old Spot Inn made us look around for some lighter fare. We were tempted by the pleasant smells coming out of the India Palace Tandoori, but, in the end, decided to check out the more modest Royal Oak Inn.
While in my previous review of Ben’s Takeaway I had mentioned some of the decline of Britain’s rural pubs, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the successes. As we continued our hike on the Cotswold Way, while the weather was a bit dreary, the pub situation got substantially better. After checking out some Iron age barrows and forts at Uley Long Barrow and Uley Bury, we descended into the village of Uley (home of the quite good Uley Brewery) and then headed into Dursley, which is one of the larger towns along our hike. Being a market town (complete with an impressive Market House in the center of town), Dursley also has quite the active beer scene, with several active pubs and a very active CAMRA group. So when we came across The Old Spot Inn right on the trail, we decided that we had walked enough during the day to warrant a late lunch.
With the assistance of the most-wonderful Contours Walking Tours, our hike from Painswick to Bath took us through some of the more charming towns of rural Gloucestershire, with us staying nights in Kings Stanley, Wotton-Under-Edge, and Tormarton before getting into Bath proper. So after a fairly long day of hiking, around dinner time we pulled into Kings Stanley. A former mill town, Kings Stanley is one of those little towns that, in the modern age of the automobile, is close enough to Stroud that it’s a bit hard for the town to maintain its own businesses. Indeed, there are basically two business establishments in Kings Stanley. The first is the Kings Head Pub. Unfortunately, The Kings Head is one of those spots that introduced us to something we had heard about a lot in the media, the declining state of the Pub as an English institution. Our hiking guide, based upon the fairly famous UK Ordnance Survey Maps, identified all sorts of pubs along our hike, but the truth of the matter is that most of these pubs are no longer in business, and many that are still around aren’t exactly in their heyday. The Kings Head is one of these… it used to be a pretty popular establishment. It’s now open only a few nights of the week, and, despite what various guidebooks had told us, was no longer serving dinner. But the reluctant publican would go back into the kitchen and round up some plates and utensils if requested so that you could eat take-away with your pint. So that left us in a bit of a conundrum. The owner of the B&B offered very kindly to arrange transport back to Stroud to check out the Fleece Inn, but after 14.5 miles of hiking, we decided to check out the other offering of Kings Stanley, Ben’s Take-away.
And now for another abrupt change in venues… Last Fall, Carol and I were headed off to England to meet up with relatives and celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Like last year’s trip to Réunion, we always like doing a hike, and this time we decided to do a rather long one, hiking the southern half of the Cotswold Way hiking trail, hiking from Painswick (a quiet little Gloucestershire town) to Bath, a distance of approximately 85 miles as we hiked it. It also gave us a good opportunity to catch up with my sister-in-law’s family, who live in the area. One of our big goals in visiting them again was to visit the Stroud Farmers Market. A lot of towns in the area are traditionally market towns (from way back historically, when only certain towns were designated as such), and Stroud has one of the more vibrant markets with a very impressive list of vendors (alas, one of the vendors I had wanted to see, Trealy Farm, whose owner I had met in Reykjavik of all places, is there on the opposite week from my visit). Particularly, this was a good stop for our trail preparation, since we were able to secure quite a few provisions for the trip, like some good charcuterie, some cheese, and some other trail snacks. But one of the vendors that was spoken highly of by our hosts was Pippin Doughnuts.
Our next stop in England was going to visit my brother’s in-laws’ new house in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. After a ~2 hour train ride across England, the train enters into a tunnel and emerges into the rolling hills of Gloucestershire. After being picked up in Stroud by my brother’s father-in-law (Paul, who I will refer to now by name to avoid saying that phrase over and over) and settling into their house in Sheepscombe, they invited us out for a pleasant walk in the country as we made our way to one of the local pubs, the Woolpack, down the road in Slad.