The Hoarfrost

Monday 29th December 2014- Hillesley, Gloucestershire

Me, Paddy Garcia, Kate Force One, Magic Dave, Madame Citron and Mr P

IMG_1910All very determined to have a ‘proper’ walk before the festive season closed, so we set out in good time, with lunches packed and a new guide book. Yes it’s true. The shades of Geoffwalks Past were stirred. Nigel Vile’s Pub Walks near Bristol and Bath set out on its maiden voyage, a Cotswold 6.5 miler.

We parked the cars in Hillesley and began the steep climb south towards Splatt’s Barn. The weather was spectacular- icy cold, heavy frost but not a cloud in the sky and glorious midwinter sunshine. Met a friendly dogwalker, who related the story of a carelessĀ  highwayman who went ‘arse over tit’ in the vicinity and lost his ill-gotten gains. A well-placed hole might yield treasure somewhere in the vicinity he reckoned…

IMG_1900As we approached the top, the landscape, and Mr P’s imagination, became dominated by the tower, which we discovered is a 100 foot memorial to General Lord Robert Edward Henry Somerset, a commander at Waterloo. After some dithering about whether to divert to observe the tower close up, we stuck to Nigel’s route, cutting west to enjoy amazing views off the ridge down across the Severn Estuary. We could just see the tops of the old Severn Bridge in the distance, and could also see along the scarp to the ‘Edge’ at Wotton, where we walked in the summer (PG36 intense green).

At this point, our usual issues with ballistics (‘Caution: shooting today, keep to the footpaths’) and dangerous beasts (‘Caution: bull in field’) arose. The first was no surprise, as we’d heard the guns and were seeing large numbers of pheasants flopping and squawking around as they do. The second didn’t materialise, fortunately.

IMG_1909We headed down towards the valley, then followed an unmetalled lane, admiring the scarps and lynchets sculpted by the frost, and the crunchy, icy mud. We stopped for Christmas chocolate in Hawkesbury. There’s something very special about this tiny hamlet with its beautiful church and ancient cottages, I’m always glad to visit.

From Hawkesbury, we looped around Hawkesbury Upton (at which point it became evident that the route was never going to approach the tower, much to Mr P’s chagrin) and then down across a steep valley, still heavily frosted on the dark slope. By now it was lunchtime, so we paused on the sunny side for a magnificent feast of ham, tortilla, turkey sandwiches, french snacks and cakes, crisps, fruit, and even more ham, with coffee and hot chocolate.

IMG_1914Fully replenished, we headed off. Lost the route very slightly- not enough to detract from our liking for Nigel’s directions- but soon found ourselves back on a wide ride, as instructed. Through an extremely beautiful enclosed valley with crystal clear stream, lovely in the afternoon sunshine. Then onto the ‘valley of death’, where we glimpsed a fast-moving beasty (lynx or tiger we thought most likely, less possibly fox). PG and KFO investigated a very dead badger in a hedge, whilst the rest of us considered the unlikely sight of a dead crow buried tail-up in a molehill. An aerial attack gone dreadfully wrong? We can only guess.

Much house envy in the very charming hamlet of Lower Kilcott, and more interesting wildlife- horses, birds, a selection of amusing dogs, including a strange snorting labrador and an ancient hound, as well as some tiny quicksilver trout in the stream (PG very excited).

IMG_1920By now the sun was heading below the horizon and the air was turning icy again. The route took us along a curving lane with high hedges covered in heavy frost. Utterly beautiful, like walking in a giant piece of confectionery. Towards the end, we encountered a misty, frosty field of shaggy highland cattle, steaming in the cold and slurping in a pond.

Then we were back at Hillesley and into the Fleece Inn, a friendly community-run pub, for a well-deserved post-walk pint. I’m not sure there are really enough words to convey the absolute beauty of this walk. Lovely countryside, as only the Cotswolds can provide, but it was really the icy frostiness, the low sun and the quality of the air that made it so special.

We also enjoyed Nigel’s directions, ably piloted by Madame Citron, and the crazy wildlife we saw along the way. The day out further enhanced by Madame Citron and Mr P’s hitchhiker on the way home (this blog cannot do her justice so she remains undescribed), and a lengthy pub crawl/ board game session back in Bristol by some of the party. Marvellous.

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