England: May-June 2019

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England: May-June 2019

Post by bobcat » July 3rd, 2019, 5:16 pm

We were a month in England going different places in the south and west and getting a few walks in (I never heard the word “hike” used). It’s a bit different over there, of course. The U.K. (England, Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland) is a little smaller than Oregon and has 66 million people (anyone here who complains about crowded trails and roads, etc., should count themselves extremely fortunate). The Ordnance Survey maps are detailed and very useful: on any walk of minimal length you’ll be crossing private property and need to stick to the route even when there’s no trail. So it’s across fields, over stiles and through kissing gates, dodging cows (plus a couple of bulls) and thousands of sheep, navigating quaint villages, passing ruined castles, Bronze Age barrows, and Neolithic tombs alternating blue skies and periods of drizzle . . .


We spent a few days with friends in an old farmhouse south of Shrewsbury. Our first excursion was a loop around the Stiperstones, a high moor of highly weathered Ordovician quartzite. At the high point of the Devil’s Chair, witches used to convene and share trade secrets.

Lone tree, Stiperstones.jpg
Hebridean sheep, Stiperstones.jpg
On the Devil's Chair, Stiperstones.jpg
The Devil's Chair, Stiperstones.jpg

On another walk (not hike!), we sauntered around the open moor of the Long Mynd in search of a couple of Bronze Age tumuli known as Robin Hood’s Butts (I saw them on a map and had to find them, but they were hardly distinguishable from the surrounding field).

View west, Long Mynd.jpg
Tina at Robin Hood's Butts, Long Mynd.jpg

One evening we navigated out of the farmhouse via Ordnance Survey across fields, streams, even across a lawn and through someone’s barnyard, following a legitimate “public pathway” until we actually got lost and had to walk back via a road.

Megan crossing footbridge, Batchcote Stream.jpg
Crossing a barnyard, Batchcote Stream.jpg
Cows in a field, Batchcote Stream.jpg
Stilishness, Batchcote Stream.jpg

Beachy Head

Beachy Head is England’s highest chalk cliff and also it’s #1 suicide spot. Of course, they’re still not going to erect even a token railing to separate the idiots from the hereafter, but there was a suicide watch vehicle presumably stocked with a knowledgeable counselor. There are two lighthouses. The one on the cliff got obscured too often by low-lying fogs, so they built another at sea level.

View to the Seven Sisters and Seaford Head from Birling Gap, Beachy Head.jpg
Belle Tout Lighthouse, Beachy Head.jpg
Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare), Beachy Head.jpg
Beach Head Light, Beachy Head.jpg


Yes, droves of people arrive here on day tours from London and a shuttle takes you to the 5,000-year-old monument itself if you don’t want to walk. Looking at the Ordnance Survey, however, I found a route that circled from Stonehenge itself to several other Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in the area.

Stonehenge began as a circular earthwork, or henge, and over a period of 1,000 years major additions were made by at least three different cultures. Later arrivals, such as the Celts and the Romans also made use of the site, but its original purpose is up for speculation although there are burial remains from the earliest period (the Celts and their Druids came 2,000 years after the large sarsen stones were erected).

From the east side of Stonehenge.jpg

From Stonehenge itself, we walked down the Avenue, a Neolithic causeway which, in its time, would have been an exposed blazing white chalk walkway about 30 yards wide and two miles long leading up from the River Avon. It is surmised that Neolithic people used this as a ceremonial route when approaching Stonehenge, which is silhouetted against the skyline as you make the final approach.

Approaching Stonehenge on The Avenue.jpg

We walked across a buttercup-blossoming cow pasture to a collection of Bronze Age barrows (tumuli) and then meandered down the route of the dismantled Lark Hill Military Light Railway, constructed in World War I. Then it was on to Woodhenge, another circular monument from the Neolithic age. Woodhenge dates from around 2,200 BC and was formed with 168 standing wooden posts (the postholes are the evidence) now replaced by low concrete facsimiles. At the center of Woodhenge is a child’s grave: the child had a split skull and was probably a sacrifice.

Cows in pasture, New King Barrows, Stonehenge.jpg
Trail sign, Old King Barrows, Stonehenge.jpg
Jack at child's grave, Woodhenge.jpg

Across from Woodhenge is Durrington Walls, the largest henge in Britain, which forms an earthwork circle above the Avon. It was here that the construction crews for Stonehenge probably lived and the actual footprints of 4,500 year-old houses were discovered in 21st century excavations. We then hiked back across sheep pastures, passing the Cuckoo Stone, a local rock which became the site of a Roman shrine. The last part of the loop took along part of the Cursus, another wide avenue dating to about 3,600 BC (before Stonehenge) that exposed the chalk substrate and which may have been a ceremonial avenue.

The Cuckoo Stone, Durrington Walls.jpg

The White Horse

There are several “modern” iterations of chalk hill figures in the chalk downs, but the Uffington White Horse is the real thing. The horse is highly stylized but is at least 3,000 years old. In fact its outline consists of trenches three feet deep that were filled with crushed chalk. The entire figure can only be seen from a couple of miles away. In the vicinity is Dragon Hill where the dragon that St. George (the patron saint of England,) slew lay down and died. Also nearby is Uffington Castle, the earth remains of an Iron Age hill fort.

Approaching Dragon Hill, Vale of the White Horse.jpg
Looking over the White Horse, Vale of the White Horse.jpg
The White Horse on a sign, Vale of the White Horse.jpg


We did a four-day walk in the Cotswolds arranged by my wife and a couple of friends. If there’s a hiking version of glamping, this was it. Our luggage was picked up each day by people we never saw and delivered to a B & B in the village where we would spend the night.

Day 1 took us out of Cheltenham, once a spa town that rivaled Bath, to the top of Cleeve Hill, the highest point in the Cotswolds at a mighty 1,083 feet. We shoved sheep out of our way as we headed to Belas Knap Long Barrow, a Neolithic burial mound with four chambers. The remains of 38 people have been discovered here. Heading downhill, we passed Sudeley Castle, residence of Henry VIII’s sixth wife Catherine Parr (the one who survived him) to spend the night in Winchcombe.

Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham.jpg
Cow barrier, Queen's Wood, Cotswolds.jpg
Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa), Cleeve Hill, Cotswolds.jpg
Above a beech copse, Cleeve Hill, Cotswolds.jpg
Common sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia), Belas Knap, Cotswolds.jpg
Approaching Belas Knap, Cotswolds.jpg
Interior view, Belas Knap, Cotswolds.jpg
Near Humblebee Cottages, Winchcombe, Cotswolds.jpg
Looking to Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Cotswolds.jpg
On North Street, Winchcombe, Cotswolds.jpg

On Day 2, we exited Winchcombe on the Cotswold Way, and first visited the ruins of 13th century Hailes Abbey, demolished at the bidding of Henry VIII in 1539 during his rampage against the Catholic Church. Then it was up over another hill and down across lush slopes to Broadway, where we stopped for the night.

View back to Winchcombe, Cotswolds.jpg
Looking over the main part of Hailes Abbey, Hailes, Cotswolds.jpg
Jack at kissing gate, Wood Stanway, Cotswolds.jpg
Thatched edifice with fox, Stanton, Cotswolds.jpg

Day 3 sent us up a hill to the Broadway Tower, a folly conceived by famed landscape architect Capability Brown at the end of the 18th century and constructed for Lady Coventry. We crossed fields of rapeseed and wheat and passed through beech woods before ascending Dover’s Hill, which offered views north to Wales and Shropshire. The night was spent in Chipping Camden.

Animal Act, Broadway, Cotswolds.jpg
View back to the Broadway Tower, Cotswolds.jpg
In the beech forest, Fish Hill, Cotswolds.jpg
Rapeseed field, Fish Hill, Cotswolds.jpg
At the top of Dover's Hill, Cotswolds.jpg
The Market Hall and High Street, Chipping Camden, Cotswolds.jpg

The last day sent us through the village of Blockley, and then we took a three-mile detour to visit Sezincote House, built in 1805 for an executive of the East India Company to resemble a Mughal edifice. After this, we found ourselves plowing through a field of fava beans to end up in Moreton-in-Marsh for the night.

Looking to Blockley, Cotswolds.jpg
Pond at Sezincote, Cotswolds.jpg
Persian Garden and Sezincote House, Cotswolds.jpg
John in the fava field, near Moreton-in-Marsh, Cotswolds.jpg

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Re: England: May-June 2019

Post by walrus » July 3rd, 2019, 7:20 pm

How delightful! I've always wanted to see that horse...

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Don Nelsen
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Re: England: May-June 2019

Post by Don Nelsen » July 3rd, 2019, 7:39 pm

Great TR and pics. Looks like you had a wonderful time and thanks for posting this.

"Everything works in the planning stage".

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retired jerry
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Re: England: May-June 2019

Post by retired jerry » July 4th, 2019, 6:39 am

yeah, nice report. That woiud be interesting to see all those places in person

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Re: England: May-June 2019

Post by jdemott » July 4th, 2019, 7:08 am

Great report! Looks like a fun trip.

I recall the problems of finding my way on public footpaths across private property. In many places there is no indication of where the path leads, so I'm sure I was out of bounds at times...I was a bit anxious but no one ever objected.

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