My friend Fiona and I hiked the Cotswold Way over six days in April this year, and in recent weeks I’ve been reliving the memory of that National Trail in a series of adventure journal blog posts (start here if you’ve landed on this one first). Today I bring you my memories of our last hiking day, in which we started in the ancient settlement of Old Sodbury, and ended in the beautiful Roman city of Bath.
The Cotswold Way doesn’t slack on the last day – the route is crammed full of interesting places, views and features. And a lot of busy main road crossings!
We wandered through Dodington Park, the home of Mr Dyson, past the important milestone of crossing the M4 (over a bridge, naturally), and took an officially signposted diversion which meant we missed the first of what should have been three trig pillars of the day. We had triple Dyrham’s; Dyrham Park, Dyrham village, Dyrham Wood – in the latter we signed the famous Cotswold Way message book. All before lunch.
Then we had the small matter of walking around a massive battlefield, bagging Hanging Hill trig pillar at 235m above sea level, skirting the edge of Lansdown Hill Golf Club and Bath Racecourse to Prospect Stile, around Kelston Round Hill, and up and over Penn Hill. While that’s where the countryside ended, we still had to walk through Weston, up to Primrose Hill, down High Common, past the Royal Crescent, before eventually ending the day at Bath Abbey.
Not Short or Easy
I think you get the picture – this wasn’t going to be a short or easy stroll into Bath. The Cotswold Way line I’d plotted in OS Maps, along with the Cicerone guidebook we were using, suggested a tiny bit under 19 miles. But we had 21-miles on the clock by the time we got to Bath Abbey. And it really felt like it.
The distance wasn’t helped by the weather. It did put something of a dampener on things, especially after lunch. It was a bit of a disappointing way to end the 100-mile hike, to be honest, as it meant the last few miles were a real wet-through trudge into the city. I guess I’d hoped we’d be meandering down from Penn Hill and winding our way through the outskirts of Bath chatting away about our memories of the hike while enjoying the iconic architecture of this large Spa town. But no, we squelched our way to the end, muddy and in need of a sit down.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself… let me take you back to waking up in Old Sodbury and do this Cotswold Way adventure journal properly.
Cotswold Way Day 6
Thursday, Old Sodbury to Bath, 21 miles
It was a bit warm in our room at the Cross Hands Hotel in Old Sodbury (which was the story of the whole week), but I slept reasonably well for a change. Unfortunately, Fiona did admit she’d hardly slept at all, which sucks as a bad night really does mean you start the day with low energy – and we both knew we had a big day ahead of us.
We were in the breakfast room at this Greene King Inn at 7.15am, where I had a pot of tea and some poached eggs on toast. To be honest it wasn’t a patch on the eggs on toast I had at Forthay B&B the previous morning, but it was fine, and it was included in the room rate so that does help the enjoyment of a mediocre breakfast! I was also able to fill up my flask with tea, which is always a bonus – and boy would I enjoy that tea later that day!
We were hiking away from the inn by 8am. Re-joining the Cotswold Way was first on our list; we crossed back over the A46, retraced our steps along Hill Lane to the A432, and picked up a little footpath which took us to meet the official route at Upper Coombs End Farm. While Fiona and I were keen to complete the Cotswold Way from beginning to end, neither of us are purists, and were quite happy to miss a half-mile section of trail where it made sense.
Not a Hoover in Sight
The landlord in the pub at Hawkesbury Upton the previous afternoon had warned us we needed to be careful when walking through Dodington Park. He told us that hikers have been stopped by security guards when they’ve strayed off the marked footpaths even just a tiny bit, and told of one who was told off for having a wild wee on the land. This manor house and its large and impressive grounds are owned by James Dyson, and he clearly doesn’t want people wandering where they shouldn’t.
To be fair, the waymarking was excellent. It didn’t exactly match with the footpath line on OS Maps, but it was clearly marked and very easy to follow – if you go wrong here you are simply not paying attention to what’s in front of you! I mean, the footpath signs were something in themselves – little brass-coloured plaques on short white posts, very nice indeed.
The grounds were really quite beautiful; a mixture of manicured garden with tall hedging and well-kept fencing, thick woodland, and rolling marshy meadows being grazed by sheep. Can you imagine calling somewhere like this your own private back garden? No, me neither – I’m just very grateful that trails like the Cotswold Way exist so I’m able to access and enjoy places like this on foot, even if it’s without being allowed to stop.
Thankfully, or not, I can’t decide as chatting to Mr Dyson’s security guards might have been an interesting start to our Thursday, we didn’t see another soul as we meticulously followed the marked path through Dodington Park. It took us all the way over to the A46, the third of our busy main crossings of the day.
Official Diversion at Beacon Lane
After walking through Tomarton, we crossed the M4, and picked up a farm track which took us between fields, almost parallel with the motorway, and over to Beacon Lane.
On reaching the T-junction with this track, there was an official temporary diversion to the Cotswold Way very clearly marked, so instead of turning right on Beacon Lane, we turned left. Looking it up on the National Trails website, it cites “ongoing safety concerns” as the reason.
Reading between the lines, it looks like it is to move the need to cross the A46 (again) a little further away from the motorway junction, to where the road is narrower and the visibility better. I hope the diversion wasn’t as a result of an accident involving a Cotswold Way hiker, but I fear it was, and I suspect that this temporary diversion will become permanent if that is the case.
Of course, we dutifully followed the diversion, which took us across a lane, and through a field of rapeseed which was taller than me. I did my best to breathe as shallow as possible, but I had no hope – we were both absolutely covered in yellow pollen after that short stretch, and it really did get in my lungs! But every cloud and all that, it’s probably one of my favourite photos of the whole hike!
We picked up Wallsend Lane and then Dunsdown Lane, where we passed a large compound with 40 or 50 pretty little sports cars parked up – and there was quite a trickle of Porsches coming down the lane to join them. Apparently, this is Cameron Sports Cars, an independent Porsche specialist. It’s not all Iron Age hill forts on the Cotswold Way!!
The Three Dyrhams
We took great care crossing the A46 (main road four of the day, not including the bridge over the M4, of course), and met back up with the official Cotswold Way route at Badminton Plantation, right on the edge of Dyrham Park. Unfortunately, the diversion meant we missed out our first trig pillar of the day, but being safe is much more important than bagging a hill summit.
After a short kind-of-lunch stop (and drinking that tea I’d made at breakfast), sat looking at a hillside covered in strip lynchets, we skirted around the edge of Dyrham Park, a National Trust-owned ancient parkland with 17th century house and garden – and a filming location for BBC’s Poldark. We didn’t go into the grounds (the entrance is on the A46, which would have been quite a detour), but we were able to catch sight of the very impressive entrance to the manor house through the gates on the Dyrham village side. I wondered why we didn’t spot any deer as we wandered on by, but apparently, due to bovine tuberculosis, the whole deer herd had to be culled in March 2021.
More undulating farmland followed, before we headed up hill through Dyrham Wood. This was an absolutely gorgeous woodland, bright green in colour thanks to all the wild garlic. It smelled amazing, and looked even better. It was here we found the famous Cotswold Way message book, and so took a moment to sit and write something we hope will make other Cotswold Way hikers smile when they read it.
No Pedestrian Access
After crossing the A46 again (main road crossing number five!), we met up with the A420. My pre-hike research told me there’s a café just a little bit further up the road here, serving all day breakfasts (yes please!). As this was just about half way through our miles for the day, we were banking on a decent break and a hot meal to set us up for the last few miles into Bath.
Ells Kitchen Café is situated at Folly Farm just outside Cold Ashton, and we could just about see the entrance in the distance. With no pavement along the main road, we walked along the verge for a short stretch before the route became far too dangerous for two hikers to navigate. There was no way for us to get there on foot safely. They’d do well to add some kind of signposted pedestrian access from the Cotswold Way, because they would be sure to see quite a lot of hikers stop by.
Sans hot food in our bellies, we walked into Cold Ashton, which was a very pretty village with a lovely church and manor house. Honestly, manor houses are two-a-penny in this part of the Cotswolds, this was our third of the day! We chatted with a local man who commented on the weather – we knew all too well we were already very fortunate to have missed the heavy rain that was forecast, knowing it would catch up with us sooner or later.
Back across the A46 again (honestly, this road does get in the way somewhat!), we walked down the very steep at times Greenway Lane, past a garden centre selling ‘special plants’ (no idea…), before heading up to Lansdowne Hill.
The Battle of Lansdowne took place here on 5 July 1643. I was reliably informed by my Dad, that while the Royalists forced the Parliamentarians to retreat from their hilltop position, they suffered so many casualties and were left so disordered that they were forced to retire.
It was during our short break in the shelter of a stone wall at the top of the hill, taken in lieu of our café stop in Cold Ashton, we felt the first spots of rain. In hindsight, I should have put on my waterproof trousers at this moment, but the light drizzle lulled me into a false sense of security, and I failed to notice just how wet I was getting until it was too late to bother.
The weather closing in was a real shame, as we should have had beautiful views, including some glimpses of Bath itself. Alas, we walked through the pretty Beach Wood, bagged the trig pillar at Hanging Hill (235m), and picked up a footpath which took us around Lansdown Golf Club and around Bath Racecourse, all in the rain.
The low cloud and persistent heavy rain did a good job of dampening our spirits. I don’t think Fiona will mind me saying we both found it to be a bit of a misery! We put our heads down and marched around Kelston Round Hill and towards the outskirts of Bath, wanting the whole thing to be over. Our last countryside hill of the day, Penn Hill, might have only been 121 metres above sea level, but it felt like a mountain in that weather; a very squelchy mountain!
Straight into the Coffee Shop!
It felt like we’d been chucked into the centre of urbanisation at the bottom of Penn Hill; all of a sudden, we were surrounded by houses. What could have felt like a horrible shock to the system was more than a little welcome, though, as on the other side of the road stood a very opportune coffee shop. Late lunch? Absolutely yes!
The Western was exactly what we needed. We spent an hour drip drying in the lovely bistro and coffee shop (we apologised profusely to the lady serving us!), drinking good coffee, and eating homemade soup and flapjack (one after the other…!). It was honestly the best break, and, without a doubt, meant the last hour of our Cotswold Way hike was an awful lot more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. A sit down and a hot milky beverage really can work wonders.
Eventually we did get ourselves motivated enough to do the last 2.5 miles – around an hour – to the finish line. If you’ve been to Bath, you’ll know that it’s not a flat city, and it felt like the Cotswold Way was having the last laugh as it took us up the very steep Primrose Hill, a combination of tarmac footpath through residential areas, and slippery grassy footpath across Parkland.
We walked along the top of Primrose Hill, and down Sion Hill and High Common, into Royal Victoria Park. The Cotswold Way makes sure you see all the best bits – the Royal Crescent, the Circus, the Guildhall, and finally, Bath Abbey.
Photos with Tourists
The end of the Cotswold Way is marked in the same way as the start at Chipping Campden, with a circular plaque made from limestone with a brass icon set in it, created and hand carved by Iain Cotton. The marker in Bath has an Old Testament quote, from Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand ye in the ways and see, ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” It does seem fitting.
I was rather hoping to be able to celebrate finishing our Cotswold Way hike in a similar way as we started – with a photograph of the pair of us standing in front of the Abbey with the plaque at our feet. Regrettably, apart from being the specific spot at which our pilgrimage ended, it is also where those on walking tours of Bath gather to hear their guides tell stories of this beautiful city. Absolutely no issues with tourists getting close enough to hear their guide, but it made having our moment at the end of our very long hike that little bit more difficult.
We laughed about the situation with another couple who finished within a minute or two or us, and exchanged taking photographs of each other, doing our best to create enough space to capture the scene, before giving up on the ‘perfect shot’ and leaving the square to the large groups. To be honest, we were completely drenched, getting cold, and very much ready to take our boots off. We didn’t have the energy or desire to hang around to see if the tour groups might disperse after a few minutes – instead we vowed to return later once we’d freshened up a bit.
A Night in Bath
When we made the decision in the planning stages to do the hike in six days rather than seven, we decided we would treat ourselves by spending the night in Bath. This would give us the opportunity for a bit of an explore before we needed to head home. If I’m honest, the real reason we were staying over was so we could have brunch in Bath, it seemed like the most appropriate way to celebrate our achievement. At this particular moment, though, with us both standing in the centre of the city completely wet through and tired from our exploits, staying the night was the best decision our past-selves had made going into this thing.
We walked around the corner to check into one of Z Hotels city centre properties. I’m not sure if you’ve stayed in a Z Hotel before, this was my first time, but the idea is to provide a small but perfectly formed base to explore the city. Somewhere to wash and sleep with modern comforts, not somewhere to while away hours relaxing in luxury.
Compact Living with Z Hotels
My room, which cost me £50 for the night (we booked a room each), was certainly very compact. But it had everything I needed. The modern, brightly lit airy room had a big and comfortable bed, massive telly, desk and chair, ensuite with a very nice shower, and enough space to unpack and sort out my gear. The room was just big enough to fit the bed in with it touching walls on three sides, but there was quite a bit of floor space between the shower room (with its not-quite-opaque glass walls) and the bed.
The rooms are technically for two, and they would work for a couple without much luggage, but I’d say Z Hotel Bath is best for individuals who want to be central. I was pleasantly surprised, and would be happy to stay in a Z Hotel if I find myself on my own in a city centre again sometime.
It didn’t take us long to decide what we wanted for dinner. Pizza, we wanted pizza. Easy. I am nothing if not predictable sometimes, and was very grateful there was zero resistance from Fiona on that front. We did find a local independent, though – it would have been a shame to come to a city like Bath and go to a chain restaurant.
We went to Dough, a local pizza place with a couple of locations in the city (we ate at The Corridor). There was a fantastic welcome, and a strange ‘do I know you’ conversation with our server. I had the Smokey, which had smoked ham and mozzarella on a smoked bread base, drizzled in garlic oil. It was absolutely delicious, exactly what I was craving, and a very fitting way to end our day six experience.
Reflections on Cotswold Way Day 6
When writing my journal at the end of day six on the Cotswold Way, I desperately tried to keep my reflections to the 21-miles walked that specific day, rather than the experience of completing the National Trail. And that is what I will do here as well, keeping my thoughts and feelings regarding the Cotswold Way as a whole for my next post, which will be focused on our celebratory brunch in Bath and the journey back home.
I should say, though, that I sat in my large comfortable double bed that evening, with music playing in the background, feeling more than a little chuffed with myself. Hiking 108-miles (our mileage total) in six days is not too shabby. Yes, my legs were very achy, I was incredibly tired, all my kit was wet, but I felt good and happy. Maybe even a little bit proud.
Back to the Old Sodbury to Bath leg of the hike, and my lasting memory is of it being a beautiful day that was easy underfoot, simple to navigate (especially through Dodington Park and even along the diversion), and nice and varied on the eyes. I said at the top of this post it was crammed full of things to see, and it really was. There were manor houses, rolling hills, gorgeous woodland, a massive battlefield, ancient farmland, pretty villages, roman ruins, a Racecourse, two trig pillars, and a bunch of yellow urban architecture to finish. The Cotswold Way really does give you heaps back for your effort.
Highs and Lows
My highlight of the day was the one- or two-mile section walking up through Dyrham Wood, where we found the box containing the message book standing proud on the side of the trail. The woodland was the best shade of green I’ve ever seen, and signing the message book made the whole hike feel more real somehow – it’s strange what helps to solidify experiences and make moments stand out. I loved sitting for a short while reading what other people had written, and giving some thought to my own little message. I wonder who has read my entry since that Thursday at the end of April?
There are two things that stand out as making the day a bit more miserable than I’d have liked. The first was the number of busy roads we had to cross, especially having to cross the A46 what felt like a thousand times. Ugh to busy roads, and ugh to no pedestrian crossings. At least two of those crossing locations are crying out for something a bit more structural than having to stop, look, listen and think; they’re building a pedestrian bridge at the Air Balloon roundabout (see my day three post), Highways should consider something similar here as well.
Linked to the busy road moan is the fact we couldn’t safely reach our intended indoor lunch spot, which was so needed – I’m still disappointed about that now, I was very much looking forward to an all-day breakfast!!
The second misery was the rain. Honestly, the last two or three hours would have been SO much better if it had been dry – and even better still if it had been sunny. I feel like we missed out on the last set of promised views, and it was hard not to let that ruin my whole memory of finishing the Cotswold Way. The fact that we had no choice but to hide inside our hoods and march the last few miles into Bath also meant the shared experience of hiking a National Trail together got a bit lost somewhere for a bit. I know, I really know, that you can never do anything about the weather, and you must choose to either like it or lump it (or go home…); I chose lump it, and wish now I’d put more effort into creating some cheerfulness.
Having said that, the fact the weather was so pants, and we’d not had a proper lunch stop, meant that coffee shop at the bottom of the hill in Weston came at exactly the right moment. You should have seen us – we were filled with so much joy even before we walked in the door. Right place, right time, and good coffee! We made the most of that stop, whiling away nearly an hour, and as a result were able to do the last two or three miles in a much better frame of mind.