The Great British Walk

A personal record of my three month walk of the full length of Great Britain from north to south with written journal and photographs. Tracklogs for GPS units and for use with Google Earth are available for download for each stage.

Stage 58: Birdlip to Painswick

Google Maps Open Source Maps

Statistics and Files
Start: Birdlip Finish: Painswick Distance: 7.0 miles (11.3 km)
Time: 3-4 hours Climbing: 257 metres Total Distance: 796.3 miles
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Birdlip
Start: Birdlip Finish: Painswick
Distance: 7.0 miles (11.3 km) Time: 3-4 hours
Climbing: 257 metres Total Distance: 796.3 miles
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)


Stage 58 of my Great British Walk was, at just seven miles, one of the shortest days of them all and quite a delightful one after 22 miles of walking on the previous stage. This stage was also the third day of seven on the Cotswold Way National Trail which took me from Birdlip to Painswick. The walk was through woodland practically all the way. Half way into the day I did come to a clearing with a hill famous for being the one which is used for a very famous annual cheese rolling event.

(Note: My walk of the Cotswold Way was a part of my Great British Walk from the north coast of Scotland to the south coast of England)

Stage Report

After two days crossing the exposed northern and western edges of the Cotswolds which geographically are a series of steep limestone escarpments I knew today's walk was going to be somewhat different. Would I get any of the grand views I had enjoyed on my Cotswold Way journey so far? Such as the ones from Crickley Hill across the Severn valley to South Wales when walking into Birdlip. Maybe not so far but surely there would be some to feast my eyes on.

Holloway in Witcombe WoodHolloway in Witcombe Wood
Clearing in Witcombe WoodClearing in Witcombe Wood

There were no long distance views to be had on the immediate start of my walk from Birdlip which took me through the dark passage of Witcombe Wood. It was not long before the hard trail which began at woodland level sunk six feet into the depth of a Holloway. I love walking along holloways but I seldom get the chance to do so. These sunken paths caused by years of footfall and vehicular passage over soft ground such as chalk and weald are a characteristic feature of the landscape of southern England, the West Country and west Wales. On the hard gritstone ways, heather moors and peat lands of the Pennines and north where I often roam they are very rare indeed. So I enjoyed my walk along the Holloway. though this one was not the best example. It was too wide to form the secret ecosystem of the holloways further south which I was yet to encounter.

View to Witcombe ParkView to Witcombe Park
Left to natureLeft to nature

The walk through the dark interior of Witcombe Wood took me a good couple of miles with my company being the tall uprights of the trees to my left and to my right. Sometimes though I did get light relief from small clearings and from points where the path came close to the northern edge of the wood. The first time came to such an opening I could see across to Witcombe Park, a lush area of green set upon a rolling hillside. The next time I looked out from the wood it was due north across a flat area of land in which sat the water worlds of the Witcombe Reservoirs. Beyond the reservoirs was the large Cotswolds village of Brockworth.

Woodland path in Cooper's Hill WoodWoodland path in Cooper's Hill Wood

Witcombe Wood has a very dense canopy with 80-100% of cover which is dominated by beech with also ash, sycamore and oak. That is why it was dark for me as I walked through while there was the occasional glint of light filtering in from the outside. The understorey of the woodland was a melange of wych elm, hawthorn, field maple, holly and lots of uncut grasses. The clearings were left to nature which is how I liked it.

After a couple of miles walking through Witcombe Wood left it and entered Cooper's Hill Wood. Not that anyone would notice, it was very much the same. The wood led me to a larger clearing and to a scattering of properties in the hamlet of Cooper's Hill. From here I got a good view of Brockworth and to the big grey skies of rushing cloud above the village.

Cooper's HillCooper's Hill
Brockworth WoodBrockworth Wood

It was so quite in Cooper's Hill as I walked through. Much as it will be for probably every day of the year except one when the hamlet is overrun by hordes of people. I had arrived at the site of the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake event. The annual festivity is when the empty hillside I was stood looking at on my left is crowded with people. Why? To watch or participate in the cheese rolling race when a round of Double Gloucester Cheese is sent rolling down the hill and then sporting entrants are given the go ahead to race, roll or career down the hill as fast as they can with the intention of claiming the cheese for themselves. Though there are other cheese rolling events in the country and indeed in the world this one is the original and the most famous.

I could not climb up the hill, it was out of bounds and covered in the ugly signage and tape you would see at roadworks which was probably placed to let the grassland of the hill recover from the carnage. Hence I took no picture of Coopers Hill from the bottom of the bank, see this picture of a mad rush down the hill instead. Instead I climbed to the top of the hill via the Cotswold Way up through Brockworth Wood. Once up the short steep climb I popped out of the woodland to stand on top of Cooper's Hill and imagined how I would get down the hill as quickly as possible to claim the prize. Not likely I thought and turned to continue my chosen course of achievement by continuing my Cotswold Way journey through Brockworth Wood.

Pope's WoodPope's Wood
Anacamptis pyramidalis, the pyramidal orchidAnacamptis pyramidalis, the pyramidal orchid

From Cooper's Hill my walk through Brockworth wood took me across to Upton Wood and through Rough Park Wood to Cranham Corner and into Pope's Wood. While I had walked those sections of my walk the weather had changed dramatically. The sweeping cloud of the morning had given way to bright warm sunshine. The woodlands were less dense than earlier when I had been in Witcombe Wood so the sun often hit the paths uninhibitedly and warmed me nicely. It was a gorgeous afternoon walking in the pretty broadleaved woodlands in this central region of the Cotswolds.

When I had reached Rough Park Wood I had entered a National Nature Reserve which extended into Pope's Wood. A sign said "These woods are part of the Cotswolds Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve which includes some of the best beechwoods in Europe. The woods are being managed to conserve a wide variety of plants and animals including orchids, buzzards and silver-washed fritillary butterfly, whilst continuing to produce high quality timber". It was a lovely walk through the woods and while I did not see any buzzards I did spot a few butterflies and a lot of pretty and delicate flowers like Anacamptis pyramidalis, commonly known as the pyramidal orchid. (Note: I had to look the Orchid up after I had returned home. Otherwise I would have called it a pretty flower. Sometimes I wish I was more adept at telling one from another then I could tell you exactly which species of fauna or flora I actually saw).

Path near Painswick BeaconPath near Painswick Beacon
Yews in St Mary's churchyardYews in St Mary's churchyard

Though there was no threat of rain the clouds returned as I emerged from the woodlands of the nature reserves and walked south from pope's wood into the open parkland to the north of Painswick. As I walked along the Cotswold Way I passed close to Painswick Beacon Hillfort which I could see a little further up to my right. I thought about climbing up to it but declined, instead keeping to the route of the Cotswold Way. It was not even noon but after two long days of 40 accumulated miles while carrying a 15 kg backpack I wanted to get to Painswick as soon as I possibly could and do a some afternoon sightseeing in Painswick, the Queen of the Cotswolds. On a steady descent towards the town I passed Painswick Golf Course and then passed the site of a quarry where high fencing crammed me in on a narrow path between the quarry site fencing on my right and a drop into woodland on my left. More golf course, the edge of a church and grounds and yet more golf course led me into the suburbia of Painswick.

St Mary's Church, PainswickSt Mary's Church, Painswick

The outlaying streets of Painswick were pleasantly arranged, clean and tidy. The centre of Painswick was something else entirely. Gorgeous is too simple a word. Sumptuous, dazzling, handsome and fine. That will do. Built of mellow Cotswold stone from the local quarry I had walked past the town's many beautiful buildings gobsmacked me as I strolled around the quaint and narrow streets of the central area. St Mary's Church dominates the centre of town and the renowned churchyard with its 99 attractive yew trees got me gaping too. I was so glad I had made the time to explore Painswick. Having checked into my hotel and dropped off my cumbersome load I explored at leisure. I also took delight in the enjoyment of a lazy tea shop afternoon. I reckon I had earned it. Seventeen miles lay ahead of me tomorrow including a few climbs but that could wait until exploration of town was done, a tea time rest, a few beers, food and a good nights sleep.

Today had been a good day, short in walking time and distance covered but interesting all the same. As I have mentioned before, I love walking through British woodland and the deciduous broad leaf woodland which I journeyed through for much of this day in the Cotswolds was very fine indeed. The sight of some unusual and delicately pretty flowers within the woodland was a joy. And the Holloway. walk at the beginning of the day gave me an early taste of more captivating sunken pathway walks yet to come. Finally, I had never thought I would walk past the very hill where the famous Gloucester Cheese rolling race was held. It was another of those unexpected bonuses on my Great British journey.

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