It’s fair to say that yesterday’s group walk was one I won’t forget in a hurry! Sadly, due to the circumstances and weather conditions, I wasn’t able to take any photographs of my own this time. Instead, I’m going to try and break-up the text with some images sourced from various sites around the internet (thanks to Zemanta).
This walk was titled the ‘Spooky Walk‘ by the leader and, as if that wasn’t enough to tempt you out of your warm, dry bed on a soggy Sunday morning, it would cover several hills around the Cotswolds, starting in a small village known as Prestbury, just outside of Cheltenham.
I arrived at the meeting point in Bristol on time (10am), yet also concerned that there was no-one stood waiting in the usual spot. This was one area I was able to get a decent 3G signal (to confirm the time and details via. the group’s website) and, after a few minutes, another car did arrive, followed by one van and then another vehicle. As one water-proofed man made his way over to another man holding on to a map, I noticed another figure emerge from under shelter across the road. It was time for me to put my coat on and to make my presence known! I was kindly greeted by other members of the group and, with rain falling all around us, we weren’t keen to wait around too long for any others who probably wouldn’t be arriving (rain was forecast for a large part of the day). As I’d insisted on driving myself there and back (I wanted to avoid people, to be honest), two others soon asked if they could join me for the ride. Despite feeling uncertain, I obliged and we were soon on our way north up the M5.
Actually, the drive was quite enjoyable. We each discovered a mutual love for rock music (my van was dubbed ‘the Rock Bus‘) and I was able to turn to radio up to my usual listening levels. Without a map and only the verbal instructions of the leader to guide us, we arrived not long after the first car and, after kitting up with waterproof gear, we were on our way through the village to begin the brief haunting tour; past windows, walls and churches where spirits are said to have been seen, watching, waiting and walking on.
It wasn’t long before we began our ascent up Cleeve Hill; the highest point in all of the Cotswold hills. Leaving the solid-footing of the country lane, we went on to a footpath that more closely resembled a river, with water flowing down from the hill above. A true test for our gaiters and the weather-proofing of our boots. Many squelches and sliding feet later; we were closing in on the summit, with wind and rain trying to throw us horizontally over the edge. I still cannot believe they have a golf course up there… I’ve heard of crazy golf but this is madness!! Some of the views across Gloucestershire and off towards the Severn were spectacular, amidst all the mist rain and clouds overhead. Taking my already sodden gloves off wasn’t an option so, my camera stayed buried deep within backpack. Passing the trig point and heading down a slope, one member took a fall and slide a good 8ft on his backside! He might’ve been the first but he wouldn’t be the only man to lose his footing…
We marched on for some distance, gradually making our way downhill, before we came to another slippery slope in amongst a gathering of trees. Second in the line only to the walk leader, I made the mistake of following exactly in his (worn) footsteps and so, I was next victim to take the fast option down the slide! I went on for a good four-to-six feet before a log came to my rescue. I couldn’t feel any pain as I returned to my feet. Even standing still for too long proved to be a problem though. Watching others make their way gingerly down the same slope (without falling, I might add) somehow left me picking myself up again… Without having moved a single inch!
It must’ve been early afternoon by this point because we were soon looking for a sheltered rest stop, in and amongst the trees. People were hungry, a little thirsty and wanting to pause momentarily. Mostly, we were very cold and almost soaked right through. Standing still for too long is not ideal when you’re in this situation. I remember wrenching my gloves to release a half-pint of water in each. My hands were still cold with fingers uncoordinated. Getting those gloves back on again was a right struggle. We had to keep moving and pushing ourselves up another hill did help to get the blood pumping and to help keep us warm.
Further on, along an ‘easy’ stretch of path with water either side of a central ridge, I found myself with elbows on the ground! I’d already plastered my left-side; now, it was time to paint the right. Little did I realised at time; this one did hurt. I assume it was only the numbness of the cold that hid the pain in my ankle until I got up this morning. Well, it’s actually quite nice to be ‘the one who falls over’. That’s two walks out of five now! We all knew that someone was going to go; I hope it kind of removed the ‘pressure’ from minds of the others…
This walk was intended to finish at around 18.00, when we would have completed a round-trip back to the car park in Prestbury. That previous hour was spent in near-darkness, as the sun was taking its resting place in preparation for a busy Monday morning. Fortunately, we did have three torches between eight of us (I completely forgot about mine, despite purposely buying it on the Friday). We were anticipating the end would arrive in only another couple of miles. Street lights of the town and its neighbouring villages were clear to see. As it wasn’t getting any brighter in the sky and the rain had been persistent for several hours; our leader decided to take a deviation from the planned route, in the hope of dodging some of the most treacherous paths, with our acute visibility.
We soldiered on for another three-hours! Up and over hills, across fields, in to one farmyard and back out again, before realising that we’d actually gone back on ourselves! Our next plan was to follow the lights towards the nearest village, which still happened to be Winchcombe. From there, we were directed to a near by pub (the first wasn’t serving at this hour – or, maybe they just didn’t like the look of us all; shaking, damp and drenched in mud). We were welcomed in to another public house just down the road, where we were able to warm up and begin to thaw as we awaited our bowls of chips. After peeling off my gaiters and laying my coat on the chair to save the upholstery from the mud covering. Five minutes under the hot tap was enough to restore the flow of warm blood to my hands but the cold have left them in a swollen state, which I’d not seen before! A couple of others had the same experience.
I need to buy a pair of waterproof gloves (I have two pairs of warm ones) and some trousers wouldn’t go amiss either, after this experience. My boots are still soaked though and I’ve noticed the insoles are now loose, which is likely to be a pain, unless I can stick them back down… Water was running down my trousers and in behind the gaiters, you see.
After a bit of time in the pub, we ordered a taxi to collect the four drivers, so that we could return to our cars and then head back to the pub to take the others home. It wasn’t the cheapest option but, it saved another four-to-five miles of walking along a road. In the dark, cold and rain! That one-hour return drive to Bristol was a long one and I can only imagine they had a similar experience in the other shared car. We were all very tired yet so far from where we wanted to be at that time of night. Leaving the pub, we were instructed (by the Irish woman behind the bar) to head north for Tewkesbury in order to reach the M5 at junction 10. She said it was quicker than heading back through Cheltenham… I had my doubts but, she seemed adamant and I was willing to try a new route (we almost got lost on the way in from the motorway). It was dead simple and we were soon heading south again – until we reached a short stretch of police action and traffic calming, which we would’ve avoided had we returned to J11. It didn’t slow us down for long. What was worse was the continual 50mph enforcement slightly further south, with the continual roadworks in the area (they were present when I last visited Gloucester a year ago).
Not long after we passed the junction for Thornbury (our penultimate exit), I noticed a car over take us that looked identical to the one belonging to the walk leader, who had departed five-minutes before us and presumably, headed straight for J11… The number plate also looked familiar (I used to be terribly obsessive at remembering them) and I noticed the side and rear windows were all steamed up, as if to suggest the car was loaded with a group of cold and perspirating hikers… I guess the insistent Irish woman was also very wise! 😉
It is a walk I would do again on a day with less rain and perhaps an earlier start, as there are some spectacular views to be had and hill-climbing is something I always enjoy. To be honest, none of these hills felt as steep as others I have climbed, which is reassuring. I managed to have brief conversations with a few new people and I took an instant liking to one girl who had joined us for our very first walk… I only hope this experience hasn’t deterred her from joining us again soon!!
I hope this all reads okay. I was nodding off after getting two-thirds of the way through it last night and there’s always the risk of breaking continuity and mis-placing thoughts and ideas during a prolonged break. There probably are aspects I’ve forgotten to include and I’m sure I could delve deeper in to other areas as well. For the near future, I’ve decided not to go straight in to any long walks (over 10-miles) unless the conditions are reasonable and I’m better kitted out for the rain. Perhaps I’ll make an exception for local walks but, I’ll try to stick to the shorter ones, I think (having to wake and get up early on a Monday morning is another factor).