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AROUND CHELTENHAM ON FOOT | A SLOW ADVENTURE FOR THE VIEWS

This post about my solo two-day hike around Cheltenham was originally written for and published by Thryve as part of their Everyday Adventures series in December 2018. Unfortunately, their website is no longer live, so I have re-published it here on my own blog (with a few tweaks because I couldn’t resist) so that it remains available to read.

Sat on Cleeve Hill looking down at my home and office.

In Need of Adventure

Earlier this year I relocated from Lincolnshire to Gloucestershire. A big move that, to cut a very long story short, took a lot more time, effort, and energy than I ever imagined. I mean, I knew it was going to be a big deal, moving house is one of the most stressful we do in our lives.

But I guess I didn’t realise just how much I would have to exchange my usual level of outdoors fun and adventure – and for how long – for the associated paperwork, packing, unpacking, painting, shopping, sorting, and everything else. And it’s all been a bit much.

A few months down the line, once I’d gotten to know my way around my new job and just about got all the boxes unpacked, I booked a little time off work with the sole purpose of having an adventure. I wanted something that wasn’t the day job, or anything to do with new home stresses, some time to slow down a bit and reconnect with what I love about life.

I wondered about walking the Cotswold Way, the idea of walking my local National Trail is very appealing. But while we can’t always do the big things, it is always possible to find smaller and equally fulfilling adventures that give us what we need to keep our spirit topped up.

Looking Up at the Hills

I sit at work and catch glimpses of the Cotswold escarpment. The highest point in the Cotswolds AONB, up on Cleeve Hill and Common, is just a handful of miles from both my home and office front doors. Having lived here just over six months, I decided it was about time I stopped looking at the view longingly, and became part of the view.

I was already no stranger to Cleeve Common. It’s somewhere I love to head for short walks and to take in the views. Just as I can see the hill from home and work, I can see my house and office from the top. There is something super special about that in itself – standing as high up as you can get and looking down over my world.

You can also pretty much see the whole of Cheltenham from up there. And it was one Sunday afternoon stood by the topograph that the idea to circumnavigate Cheltenham on foot was born.

Walking Around Cheltenham

There is an official Cheltenham Circular Footpath marked on the Ordnance Survey map, which a friend recommended to me. But that stays down in the valley, and I wanted the views, so I went rogue. I put together a circular route that combined bits of the Cotswold Way, Gloucestershire Way and Cheltenham Circular Footpath. Instead of sitting at home or at work looking pensively at the view, I would be up in that view looking back down at my normal life.

Starting and finishing at my own front door, I would walk the 35-or-so miles over two days, sleeping in a basic camping hut at the half-way point. In the world of adventure (sorry… “Adventure”), my solo hike was small fry. I wouldn’t even be carrying a tent.

But to me, at this point in my life, it was exactly what I needed. When you hike, especially on your own, there is no-one else to do it for you. The steps are yours, the effort is yours, and therefore the reward is yours. I’ve not lived here long, and this was my opportunity to explore, discover and learn more about my new home.

With the forecast looking rather excellent for late October, I put on my new pack, filled with everything I needed for two days hiking, and headed out of my front door. I’m fortunate that it doesn’t take long for me to feel like I’m in the countryside. The first task for the day was to get up onto the Cleeve Hill, which involved a country lane with a 1:4 ratio ascent. My lungs and legs weren’t entirely ready, but they made it to the top with only a small amount of complaining.

The majority of my first day would involve me staying up on the escarpment and following the line of the hill along and round to the south of the town. Other than two or three valleys, which would involve descents and ascents of varying incline, I would have more-or-less uninterrupted views back at where I live and work.

Day One

As tends to happen when I plan my own walking routes, I tagged on an extra semi-circle before I reached the summit of Cleeve Hill proper, in order to check out a couple of things that looked interesting on a map.

There is an old Hall and Tithe Barn marked on the other side of Cleeve Common that I couldn’t resist the extra couple of miles to take a look at. And I’m so glad I did – it turns out the views from the other side are equally as grand as they are over Cheltenham – countryside for miles and miles, sand dune like hills, and not a soul in sight. 

The promised cool, crisp and clear day did not disappoint. Once up on the summit that I can see from home and work, I could indeed see right back. Being a solo hike, and one of a length I knew I could very comfortably do before nightfall, I was able to stop and take plenty of time when the views were at their best to make the most of being up there. The next time I plan a long-distance trail, I’m going to make sure I do it over sufficient number of days to really enjoy the hiking – I’m no runner, I don’t like to rush anywhere, slow is good.

I followed the Cotswold Way south from Cleeve Hill all the way to Leckhampton Hill, another stunning location for views across Cheltenham and, in fact, all around. The walking was varied, the terrain easy enough, and I discovered a couple of woodland areas that I will certainly be returning to for a wander another time. I reached my camping hut before dark to discover it had a heater in it, what luxury. After feasting on freeze dried food I had the most excellent sleep – hiking is definitely good for me.

Day Two

Day two was nowhere near as easy to navigate. I continued along the Cotswold Way to Crickley Hill, which is another hill with outstanding views. It was there I left the National Trail to start my loop back around the other side of Cheltenham.

Once I was off the National Trail, the way markers were further apart and the footpaths were much less well maintained. Some even impassable. At one point I found myself on the wrong side of a brook having not seen the footbridge to cross. I’d walked half a mile before I realised the little blue line on my map was on the opposite side and had to backtrack, but even having noticed my mistake it was difficult to find the footbridge because it was so overgrown with brambles. A bit of bushwhacking later I’d crossed the brook to find myself in the middle of a field of really big horses staring at me… I think I’d made a bit of surprised them by appearing from the centre of a bush!

Whereas the first day had been all about the hills and views down over Cheltenham and the Cotswolds, with nature reserves, woodland, and rolling hills, the second was much more about fields and meadows and a much more urban environment. There was farm after farm, much of it with cows, sheep and horses which all seemed incredibly interested into what this strange lady was doing wandering through their patch. Clearly not a popular walking route.

The meadows were beautiful to see in October, just after the harvest as the fields are being prepared ready for the next crop. I have to admit I did prefer the natural beauty and ruggedness of the National Trail up on the ridge to the east, but the man-made beauty of the farmland still had its charm. Even with the odd rain-filled bath and burnt-out car.

A Full Circle Adventure

For the last couple of miles of my walk, as I completed the circle and headed back towards my own front door, I could see that summit of Cleeve Hill once again, this time bathed in the golden light of autumnal dusk. My hike around Cheltenham, inspired by my view of that very spot from my office window, had given me a real opportunity to get to know it from every angle. And I think it will always be a very special place, somewhere to look up to when I need a moment, somewhere to go when I have a moment.

I arrived back home just 36 hours after I left, having walked 35 miles and the best time. I enjoyed my own company, took plenty of time over the walking, and was very pleased I’d decided to book the time off work.

This adventure wasn’t about pushing myself to my limits and giving myself a risk-filled adrenaline rush. Rather, it was about taking myself away from my normal, giving myself a break, exploring my new home, and allowing myself to slow down just a little bit. Adventures come in all shapes and sizes. This one was personal.

This is exactly what I wanted. What I needed. To be stood up high, looking down at the sprawling and busy town. I was out of earshot of the hustle and bustle, but I knew what it was like down there. Things are different from up here, they are calm and quiet and I can be as pensive as I like without being accused of day dreaming.

This post about my solo two-day hike around Cheltenham was originally written for and published by Thryve as part of their Everyday Adventures series in December 2018. Unfortunately, their website is no longer live, so I have re-published it here on my own blog (with a few tweaks because I couldn’t resist) so that it remains available to read.

I also published a gear list for this short two day adventure around Cheltenham: Everything I Took on my Two-Day Hike.

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