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Walking in Winchcombe – the mosaic in the undergrowth

September 10, 2018

Reading a walking map of Winchcombe under a tree

I grew up in the Cotswolds so maybe take the area a bit for granted. I’m bemused that people from London fawn over the golden, stone cottages and farming villages that, when I was growing up, were just local communities rather than holiday homes. Places where I dipped my toes in the stream or wandered past in a sun hat are now ubiquitous on Instagram; the town of Stroud – where people and house prices were forgotten – is now described as the ‘Notting HIll of the Cotswolds’, and media people and politicians have colonised some parts of the county.  Still the rugged hills and open farmland of sloping fields edged with Cotswold stone walls, have a down-to-earth feeling that the more manicured countryside of some counties just can’t match in my opinion, and I’m happiest in walking boots drinking in those gentle views.

Winchcombe is a small town in Gloucestershire which you drive through to on your way to Broadway. The name means ‘valley with a bend’.  The streets are narrow, lined with a jumble of dwelling styles, from half-timbered houses, pretty almshouses, Georgian villas, to pastel cottages. We notice that bunting – probably left over from the Royal wedding – unites them as we stroll up North street, and there is an abundance of tea shops. The St Peter’s church clock strikes the hour imposingly.

The town now promotes itself as the walking centre for the Cotswolds and many long-distance paths pass through it including The Cotswold Way, The Gloucestershire Way and The St Kenelm’s Way. My sister is a self-confessed walk geek and has downloaded several from the Winchcombe welcomes walkers site. There are 22 in total and in an ideal world she’d like to tick them off in sequential order. On a very rainy Sunday we set out on walk number one and return the next day, Bank Holiday Monday, to tackle walk number 6. The details of how to navigate these are below. Here are our tales and images from our first two walks which could persuade you why (or why not) to do them.

View over field to the Cotswold hills

Soaked to the skin – Winchcombe to Sudeley Castle

There are two things that seem to crop up again and again when I walk with my sister, so much so that they’ve entered family legend. One is close encounters with cows (more of that another day) and, the other, getting soaked to the skin. A rainy Sunday meant that the latter looked very likely and we couldn’t tempt anyone else to come with us.  A scant 2 mile stroll was perfect for the weather and our mood. Passing pretty cottages and a verdant garden on Vineyard street we were soon walking up towards the drive of Sudeley Castle. There was a bit of excitement as mud splattered, panting runners started to overtake us. We passed Almsbury Lodge, the gate house to the drive, over an elegant bridge, through the grounds, passing the finish line of the run with encouraging supporters, glimpsing the castle over trees. Narrow lanes, viewed from under hooded macs, led us back into the centre of Winchcombe via a charming footpath along the River Isbourne. Even though the rain was casting a misty veil over the fields to one side, we were still able to peer into the back gardens that lead down to the bank, one of my favourite pastimes. More of a wander to get a bit of fresh air into our lungs than a walk but very enjoyable.

Walking boots by a Roman mosaic

The search for a mosaic – Winchcombe to Spoonley villa

As the following day was fine, my sister, aka the walk geek, wanted to return to Winchcombe to tick off another one. Being a Bank Holiday, our trip down Vineyard street and over the fields to the right of Sudeley Castle were flanked by strolling families and dog walkers. Two elderly men asked our advice about their printed off map to Spoonley wood (our planned destination) and as one of them started talking loudly into his mobile phone, we got a spurt on and romped along the first section of the path, mainly over open countryside and along the edge of a wood called ‘No man’s patch’, to leave them behind. Dog walkers and men deserted, it was very peaceful and we paced along until reaching a huddle of ruined buildings with aging brick and peeling paint, called Waterhatch Farm which is just begging to be restored into an ivy clad dwelling. Just then one of the men caught up with us and started bemoaning the length of the walk and how he hoped it was worth it. Again, after politely humouring him, we set off at pace.

Finally we reached Spoonley Wood but could see no sign of the remains of a Roman Villa or a narrow path to the mosaic and, after a bit of a hike uphill, reached some open fields which were perfect for a picnic. Marching back down the narrow trail through the woods we couldn’t spot a single relic and again paused to look at the map. One more foray and my sister worked out that a negligible clearing could be part of the Roman Villa site and set off into the undergrowth, battling stinging nettles until, with a cry of triumph, she found some low wooden posts covered in a corrugated iron roof heavily camouflaged by ivy and brambles.

A canopy covered in ivy and brambles

Crawling under the canopy, we removed pieces of Cotswold stone from the edge of tarpaulin and revealed the treasure.  Having this secret place to ourselves, brushing away some soil and twigs from the edge of this Roman mosaic with our hands was absolutely thrilling.

After covering this precious find, we threaded our way back to the main path encountering a family who were also baffled to its location, so pointed them in the right direction. To our astonishment, the second elderly man had tagged onto their party and was still talking into his mobile phone. We escaped, thankfully, and started our return journey. Due to early harvests, fields were freshly ploughed and the route led us right across the middle of knobbly, brown furrows until we left via a small road and passed a small reservoir that hosted some happy ducks and moorhens. A stunning view of Sudeley Castle lay ahead beckoning us to the end of our walk.

open fields with a view of Sudeley Castle

The view of Sudeley Castle over the fields

A piece of paper was pinned to a gate post:

“some day we will find what we’re looking for

or maybe not

maybe we’ll find something much greater than that.”

A stretching but manageable 5+ miles with fascinating diversions.

Eating and drinking in Winchcombe

Most places are closed in Winchcombe on a Sunday but Food Fanatics was doing a roaring trade. A generous pot of tea and an excellent toasted cheese and ham sandwich – made with well-sourced ingredients from the deli counter – chased all the rain away.

The sunnier weather of Bank Holiday begged for a drink in a pub garden. The White Hart was very welcoming inside with chalk boards, real ale, wooden trenchers and interesting wines. The tables outside, while not picturesque, gave a view of the distant hills and lowering sunlight on stonework. In more inclement weather I’d be happy to cosy up inside.

We’ve resolved to revisit for Sunday lunch at The Lion after peering in the mullioned windows at its broad wooden tables, sparkling glassware and the pretty garden beyond.

So that was our weekend of walking in Winchcombe. We’ll be back as the walk geek is determined to get through more of them. She sneaked off on her own last week for walk no 2, but was thwarted by a field of frisky cows and bull so had to find a diversion. Business as usual (or just desserts).

More information:

Walk 1: Winchcombe to Sudeley Castle

Walk 6: Winchcombe to Spoonley Villa

Download the 22 walks here on the Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers site

Food Fanatics

The White Hart

The Lion

Hiking the Cotswold Way: Stanton, Winchcombe and Cheltenham by Basic Bon Vivant

a country lane leading to Winchcombe

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. crasterkipper permalink
    September 10, 2018 3:27 pm

    Ah, lovely to read of our ramblings & re-live the mini adventures. When messing up walk No 2, I inadvertently did section 1 of the Winchcombe way… you simply can’t go wrong in Winchcombe! 😉

    • September 10, 2018 3:39 pm

      I hope you followed the last link. You might relate to part of their journey!

  2. September 12, 2018 4:43 pm

    This Winchcombe walk sounds like a fascinating journey. Personally I’d rather walk in a light rain than in sweltering heat so this sounds like an ideal trip for me. I’m pinning to save for a someday in the future trip!

    • September 13, 2018 11:02 am

      I do so agree about the heat, especially coming from where I live! The Cotswolds has such a wealth of gorgeous walks. So worth pinning as a reminder for when you visit Gloucestershire.

  3. September 13, 2018 10:32 am

    I absolutely loved reading about your adventures! 🙂
    The mosaic looks so stunning!

    • September 13, 2018 11:03 am

      Thank you. Discovering it under the brambles was a complete thrill.

  4. September 13, 2018 10:47 am

    Finally found time to read your post this morning, just before setting off on another busy/frantic day and all I can say is thank you. An imagined breath of fresh air and a virtual walk with you were just what I need to kickstart my day!

    • September 13, 2018 11:04 am

      What a lovely thing to say. That’s definitely the tonic for me – fresh air in my lungs, a gentle breeze on my face and a beautiful, verdant view ahead.

  5. September 13, 2018 6:18 pm

    On my bucket list! Yes.it’s true we tend to overlook the beautiful that we see everyday, which are simply amazing to the eyes of others. I love walking around my city to get lost and find beautiful corners, too…that’s a lovely mosaic!

  6. October 3, 2018 7:42 pm

    A lovely write up. I was at Belas Knap last year and someone was asking me where the mosaic was. He knew it was under a tarpaulin, I think he must have had this one in mind.

    • November 5, 2018 4:16 pm

      Maybe there are more in the undergrowth waiting to be discovered? An exciting thought

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