The summer holidays came and went in a frenzy of job applications, interviews, and finally a new job. There were also family and friends visiting, WarmShowers guests to welcome, and an album about Bristol to get ready for release in September. My outdoors time became limited to evening walks in the city and occasional drives out near Bristol.
So, late in August, during a regular visit to the library, I couldn’t resist grabbing Beyond Bristol: 24 Country Walks by Robin Tetlow when I spotted it on display. I came home, settled with the book and selected a walk. The choice of Dursley was easy. It was just far enough that I wouldn’t go back the following week but still easy to reach.
The very next day, I packed a day bag for my partner and I. We hopped in the car and soon left Bristol behind. City streets transformed into motorway lanes before narrowing into country roads. We missed the car park mentioned in the guide but found a spot in an unremarkable residential street. The sun was shining and it was easy to pretend summer was finally here.
We set off and left Dursley and its shops unexplored. Narrow lanes took us between fields, past grand houses, and finally into the open countryside. We ascended steeply on Cam Peak, as if to escape everyday life we had to exert ourselves and reach higher ground. We stopped for a moment on top to regain our breath and admire the views. To the east lay the rolling hills of the Costwolds with valleys nestled in their crooks, rivers, and copses dotted about. To the west lay the Severn estuary and the mountains of Wales. I stared at them, longing to be back on Offa’s Dyke Path but knowing it would be a while before I could meet it again.
We went on, descending and ascending until we reached the flatter ridge of Cam Long Down. Wales was still visible to the west and I fancied a wild camp in one of the recess of the ridge, watching the sun set over the Brecon Beacons. But it was early in the day and I didn’t have any sleeping bag with me.
We followed the path down, up, and down again. A couple advanced towards us with loaded backpacks and walking sticks. They looked like they were hiking the Cotswolds Way.
‘Beautiful day for a walk,’ the couple greeted us with a clear American accent.
‘Are you on the Cotswolds Way,’ they enquired.
‘Not this time no. We’re doing a day walk around Dursley. Are you?’
They were. We carried on chatting about the English countryside, the USA, and the plans they had for the rest of their time in the UK. We shared names and photos before finally parting ways, them comforted in knowing their destination was in reach and without too much uphill, us knowing we were just at the beginning of our day with plenty more uphill to come.
We traversed a muddy copse to be greeted by the sight of a bench with a viewpoint. But before we could settle on it and consider lunch, a group of walkers arrived.
‘Beautiful day for a walk,’ they greeted us with a clear British accent.
We agreed once more.
With only a light pack on their shoulders, we didn’t enquire if they were on the Cotswolds way but chatted about the beauty of the local area. One of the man turned out to be very local and enlightened us on the best pubs around for a drink, a meal, or both. We took note for the evening. As the conversation drew to a close, they had inched closer to the bench, leaving us with no choice but to go on.
Our disappointment wasn’t long lived though as we happened upon Uley Bury, an Iron Age hill fort, within minutes of having left the bench. We settled at one side of it, our view made of trees, hills, and fields. Everything was coloured green no matter where we looked. Happy with this find, we sat down and unpacked our food.
Our bodies refueled, we hiked down the hill and followed the river Ewelme for a while. The going was easy as we followed the lay of the land chatting about this and that, watching the birds play hide and seek with the trees. We took a turn left and entered the village of Uley. We found a small arts centre adorned by a coffee shop. Tempted by the idea of tea and cake we considered stopping but time was ticking on and we still had a good five miles ahead of us. Soon the map and book instructions stopped matching the land around us and it became clear that we were lost.
We knew we weren’t too lost as Uley was on our route. We only needed to find the old mill. So we walked out of the small back roads in search of a high street. On the way we met a lady gardening and enquired about the mill. Unfortunately she had only recently moved in and knew nothing about it.
Defeated, we reached the main road and stopped for a minute. I assessed the map more carefully. I could see the road, I could see the path we were supposed to be on, and I could see a telephone box not far from it.
‘Let’s walk on, there’s supposed to be…’ But before I could finish my sentence, an old woman came running towards us.
‘I hear you’re a bit lost. You’re looking for the old mill?’
I closed the book and smiled.
‘Yes. Do you know where it is?’
‘Absolutely. You just need to go on this road and follow it until you see a telephone box. There’ll be a junction after that. Turn left, follow the road and take the first left. Follow it for a few minutes and you’ll find the old mill.’
We both thanked her, happy to have confirmation that we weren’t about to go horribly off-piste and that the telephone box still stood erect.
A few minutes on the main road to Dursley from Uley we found the crossing, the first left, the old mill, and a few metres away, our path. We were going through fields once more, going up and around electric wires before entering Coopers Wood, the path muddy under our feet, and our views restricted to trees. The path veered to the edge of the forest, the trees thinning to our left and opening onto the landscape we had walked a few hours earlier. It felt good to see how far we’d come and to know what the land looked like on the other side of the valley.
As we went, both lost in our thoughts, we happened upon a rope swing and couldn’t resist taking turns. Behind us, a young farmer glared at us with envy in his eyes. I hoped he would soon be finished with his day’s work and be able to enjoy the swing.
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the rope, mindful of the grey clouds inching their way in our direction. The woods ended replaced by the outskirts of Dursley. We stepped along quiet roads until the path veered under the trees once more. As we disappeared under their canopy, the rain began to fall. Grudgingly we paused to change into our rain gear, there was less than a mile to go. Soon we were back on Dursley streets, our steps fast as if to pass between the rain drops. But before we could reach the car, the rain intensified and made us run to the shelter of the market place where we had began the walk. We looked at each other, both with the same question in our mind.
‘Do you want to wait it out?’
‘For a bit.’
I sat on the stairs and began perusing the pubs in the area, the list of the local man we had met earlier still fresh in my mind. Unfortunately all of them where in the opposite direction from Bristol. So we headed for a Dursley pub instead. There was no food available, but we had a drink and a rest in the warmth while we let the rain pass before heading home.
Dappled leaves on the Cotswolds Way