I was early as I approached Winchcombe for a walk on Cleeve Common in Gloucestershire on 17 November. This meant I could stop on a side road, look across at the town with the hills beyond and see where I would be walking. It was a rare, sunny, cold November day with all the promise of a great walk ahead.
In Winchcombe I met my friends from Hereford: Marika Kovacs, Arthur Lee and Duncan Smart. We were also joined by Rob and Sheila Talbot who live in Winchcombe and are responsible for its status as one of the best Walkers Are Welcome towns. You will have read elsewhere on this blog of my walks with my friend Marika, who is visually impaired but is fearless about where she walks and is deterred by nothing. Unfortunately, Arthur was not able to walk with us but he joined us at various points along the way.
We set off across the field to the impressive church, and Sheila showed us the dents in the wall from musket shot. This was fired during the Civil War by Oliver Cromwell’s troops against the royalists who held nearby Sudeley Castle. We helped Marika to feel the indentations.
Then we walked down the magnificent high street of Cotswold stone, and turned off onto a field path alongside the River Isbourne to Postlip Mill. We passed the industrial works on a wide, newly-created path, and crossed fields to a row of cottages at Postlip.
Marika had no problem with this walk; there were not many stiles but when we did come to one we gave her a little guidance and she was over with no difficulty.
We joined the Cotswold Way and, by climbing up the hill, were able to see over the wall of the Postlip tithe barn.
Soon we were out on Cleeve Common, the largest expanse of common and access land in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is a magnificent limestone grassland, managed by the Cleeve Common Trust. We met Arthur at the golf clubhouse and had lunch together. Then we set off again, to the toposcope which is almost on top of the common (the actual top, a few yards away, is the highest point in Gloucestershire). The toposcope had indented words and diagrams which were helpful for Marika.
We went on to the lone beech-tree (the highest tree in the Cotswolds), surrounded by a stone wall with memorial plaques on it. When people make a donation to the Cleeve Common Trust towards the management of the common, in memory of a friend or relative, they are entitled to a plaque on the wall. Here we all took photos of each other.
Marika managed to take a photo of the rest of us, once Duncan had lined it up for her, by pressing her nose against Duncan’s phone. It came out well.
While it was glorious there in the sunshine, with the view west towards the Severn estuary, the Black Mountains and the Malvern Hills, time was moving on and so we set off again, along the Winchcombe Way to the deserted Wontley Farm.
From there we walked north-east and then east to the unassuming Belas Knapp. This is a low, grassy dome on the edge of a field, tucked under the woods of Humblebee How. It is a neolithic long barrow thought to be about 5,500 years old. At least 38 people were buried in the four chambers.
It has a false entrance which was used for ceremonies. Here the limestone is arranged in narrow rows. Sheila helped Marika to feel the rock, and she ran a pen down it to generate a musical sound.
It was getting dark as we reached Corndean Lane, where we met Arthur again. The final stretch was over the fields where we saw a magnificent sunset. By the time we reached Winchcombe it was dark.
A perfect day.