High up in my Hermit’s Cave I have a clear view of The Cotswolds. More exactly, a clear view of the northern escarpment that rises south of Stratford upon Avon and runs south westerly towards Cheltenham. Rising some five hundred feet in places, It separates the alluvial Vale of Evesham from the high Cotswold plateau; seperating the fertile plain below from the stone-walled sheep country above. The escarpment forms a natural weather barrier, forcing the prevailing south westerly winds up causing rain or, occasionally, snow. Sometimes clear, sometimes lost in cloud. Rain squalls sweep eastward soaking the vale below while the top of the escarpment can be iced with frost and snow.
SHWF and I pause close to the highest point of our walk. The hardest part over, we decide it is time for refreshment. We share a bench; Christmas Cake; fortified coffee and nips of Talisker. Perfect! The weather, too, is perfect especially for January. The sky, sapphire blue, the temperature around zero: frost lingering in the shadows and untrod corners.
Our ascent began at the Medieval St Lawrence’s Church in Mickleton and proceeded uphill, wading along a bridleway and then left and up the steepish rise through a field to Baker’s Hill. Here we find Joe Barry’s Chair. Beautifully carved bears support the seat and the back decorated with a leopard. We walk on into Bakers Hill Wood of Beech trees atop the escarpment with views over the vale. Close to the path we discover a self portrait of a convalescing Belgian soldier, carved on a trunk. A poignant reminder.
Emerging from the wood we swing left and walk, keeping to the field edges. Then, through a Holly plantation emerging at a welcome bench, where now we sit, enjoying our repast and planning the rest of the walk. Restored, we depart the pretty hamlet of Hidcote Boyce and head across the fields towards Hidcote Bartrim and the stunning National Trust gardens at Hidcote Manor.
We now begin to descend, gently at first, through a beechwood parallel to the Hidcote Manor driveway. Then more steeply; much more steeply down a narrow valley and through an incredibly muddy gateway. We had to wade through 15 – 20 meters of mud here before it reluctantly gave us up to the next field. Here the path descends more gently. But the mud had not given up. Oh no! We had another, ankle deep slough to struggle through before our final return to our starting point.
Somewhat cleaned up, we awarded ourselves lunch at the Kings Arms. A lovely warm, beamed pub with open fires and happy chatter. More importantly, an excellent pint or two of Butty Bach and the best Apple and Parsnip Soup I have ever tasted. Like warm aromatic velvet with a final sweetness from the apple. Gorgeous.