We live in the Cotswolds, or rather in a Cotswolds town. We like walking, but we don’t go nearly frequently enough. Funny how when something’s on your doorstep you make less effort. Today, however, the sunshine was glorious, rain forecast for the rest of the week and we would have been VERY SILLY not to go. Even the drive was pretty good, all the roads are dressed in autumn silks at the moment.
So we went to our favourite dry valley. These gently curving valleys abound in the Cotswolds and were formed during the ice age. This one has a sign on the first gate saying “This is a bridle path – NOT a gallop!” If I were on horseback I’d be severely tempted…
As you walk up the gentle slope there is mixed woodland rising to your left – ash, beech, oak, birch – and to your right a wall of glorious beech trees (Fagus sylvatica). It’s a walk that’s good in any season.
I think of this valley as the valley of licorice allsorts sheep. Today, as well as white ones and brown ones I could see Herdwicks, Zwartbles, one that looked like a Soay sheep, one that was at least part Jacob’s… and everything between.
Even without visible wildlife it’s hard to look where you’re putting your feet, luckily the ground is pretty even and well-drained most of the way. As you climb the valley it narrows slightly and gets a bit more scrubby, there are hawthorn, blackthorn and field maple and soon you find yourself in woodland which consists mainly of coppiced hazel, with a few sycamore, ash and so on along its border.
We had been accompanied up the valley by a flock of about 14 long-tailed tits and could still hear them as we ducked under the hazel branches. They were joined by great tits and an angry wren. Suddenly there was a loud altercation above our heads and a woodpecker bounced away, with a flash of red knickers. I looked up and Mrs Great Spotted Woodpecker was still there, she’d obviously won the argument.
Meanwhile, Chris was looking for squirrels. There were a lot of them and they were very fat. As were the plentiful rabbits. He likes squirrels.
Towards the top of the valley there are a couple of different ways back. We chose to walk a short but steepish way up the road, where there were lots of sloes and I wished I had a plastic bag with me so that I could collect some. I began to long for a slug of sloe gin.
At this point there’s a motley collection of buildings: some nice farmhouse/cottage/barn combinations and a pretty ghastly large modern georgianesque house, dominating the southward views with its porticoes and pediments.
As we slogged up the hill I was beginning to keep an eye on the angle of the sun. I wanted to get back to those beeches before the light left the valley. At least by now we were walking in a beech plantation, but the straight lines and neat logpiles were not what I was after.
I love beech trees. There was a statuesque one I used to go and talk to on one of our regular dog walks when I was a child. They’re still my favourite. When I die I want to be buried in a cardboard box under a beech tree, like a dead cat. I love their muscular trunks, their luminous young foliage, their autumn glory.
For now there were thistles. “It’s been a good year for thistles,” I remarked. “Is there anything it hasn’t been a good year for?” said Chris.
I was stumped for an answer and turned back to taking photographs of sheep with glowing ears
At last we were back at the dry valley. Only now we were high on its north-eastern side. The low sun was showing off the curvy contours of the land and turning mounds of old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba) into glowing apparitions.
We plunged in. The best thing about this walk is when you arrive inside the wood just as the sun shines straight across the valley, making glorious stained glass windows of the trees. We’d timed it almost perfectly.
I’ll stop talking now and just bombard you with pictures…