The Cotswolds I: Bath to Stroud

Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 31, 2010

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Monday, May 3, 2010

With its crystalline turquoise seas, much-displayed black flag, and distinctive linguistic heritage (most notable in the number of place names beginning with 'Tre-'), Cornwall felt like a different country that England had plundered for its pasties but not quite managed to assimilate. By contrast, the Cotswolds are quintessentially English countryside: rolling hills criss-crossed with hedgerows and dotted with forests, little clusters of stone cottages with steep tile roofs, and blue "Vote Conservative" placards.

The Cotswold Way runs through (and up and around) some of the prettiest bits, doing its circuitous best to follow the line where the Cotswold escarpment drops down to the Severn valley. This produces a lot of stunning views, and also (in our case) a lot of shortcuts. Like many LEJOGgers, we decided that since we were already walking across the country, we could get by with the Cotswolds' greatest hits rather than the full box set.

We started in Bath, fresh from a few days' break in London and Leeds (to meet our new niece), and newly joined by R and W, two more American adventurers. As recommended by our mutual friend L, we splurged on a couple hours at the Thermae Bath Spa, which among other delights pumps Bath's natural hot spring water up to a rooftop pool - the perfect place for a sunset soak. We loved it, especially the four scented steam rooms (spearmint, tea tree, citrus, and sweaty feet - the latter possibly unintentional).

We were braced for lots more wet walking, with a week's forecast that varied mostly in whether the rain was supposed to be light or heavy. Remarkably, although we did get a little sprinkled and had 20 minutes or so of walking in a downpour, throughout the week the rain mostly missed us, consistently arriving just after we stepped into a B&B or lunchtime pub.

The hilltop views were fabulous, especially once we reached the area around Wotton-under-Edge and North Nibley. The village names were also consistently entertaining (Chipping Sodbury wins the prize for place name most likely to be mistaken for a swear word).

Our friend L, undeterred by the hassle of finding us on Exmoor, rejoined us in Wotton. Attentive readers may note that we have had a disproportionate number of Yankees joining us for the trip so far (3 to 0 of all other nationalities, with one repeat US visitor and 2 more Americans soon to arrive). This is perhaps appropriate, as the first recorded End-to-Ender was an American, Elihu Burrit, who walked from Land's End to John O'Groats in 1863. There may be something especially American about looking at a map and asking whether anyone's yet bothered to walk from corner to corner - a lingering side effect of a country shaped by the myth of "the frontier" even after it's run out of frontiers?

Anyway, L travelled with us as far as Stroud. There we caught the train to Oxford, said goodbye to R and W, and spent a nice rest day at L's place.
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