Monday, 9 June 2014

Sapperton and Daneway

Sapperton Church

Over the years I have been well served by walks from the Jarrold Pathfinder series of books and I have found that they provide a useful introduction to areas that I don’t know in particular.  Now that we are walking more often as a family group it makes sense to take some of the stress out of working out routes by taking a guide along with us & using one of the walks if we have a spare bit of time. 

Buttercup Field
For this particular walk we found ourselves in exactly that position as we stopped in the Cotswolds on our way to visiting a friend in Shropshire.  We used guide number 6 for the Cotswolds and picked out walk 12 as one that we would like to try out.  This would give us a blend of history and countryside as we walked the area around the village of Sapperton.

We started at Sapperton village church, dedicated to St Kenelm, a saint I have never previously heard of but certainly a hero in these parts as he was a local saint venerated in mediaeval times.  We decided to save looking at the church in more detail until the end of our walk.  This was supposed to be a fairly easy walk round but became unexpectedly challenging almost straight away as we were a little confused by the directions.  The path led from directly behind the phone box in the village and crossed a stile in the hedgerow just beyond.  We then turned immediately to the left to head along the side of pastures that were clearly used for the grazing of horses (judging by the fencing), although there were none in evidence.

Wild Garlic
The navigation problems soon out of the way and we faced a different challenge.  Clearly this area had had some significant rainfall for the paths were pretty stodgy in places and almost impassable in places.  We were soon looking pretty brown and we’d barely even started!

Despite the mud the sounds of the birds and smell of the wildflowers and especially the sweet smell of May blossom filled the air.  We passed the substantial house of The Leasowes, rather tucked away in the valley below.  Every now and again we got the glimpse of a view into the distance and along the valleys that cut their way through the plateau of The Cotswolds.  Eventually our narrow muddy path gave way to a meadow filled with buttercups that was a feast for the eyes.  As we paused to enjoy the view a caterpillar dropped on my wife’s arm and this caused a good deal of interest from all of us.

Fording the River
We dropped down into the Frome valley and forded the river.  The path down was treacherous and how we didn’t come out of it without slithering down on our bottoms is beyond me.  At the bottom of the valley we got a glimpse of Pinbury Park, a large and imposing 16th Century house built for Sir Robert Atkyns, the county historian in 1712.  The surroundings are probably little changed since then.

Pinbury Park

After fording the river we had a steep but sort climb up through the woods.  The air was thick with the scent of wild garlic, which grew in profusion everywhere under the tree canopy.  Of additional interest was the fungi that lived on the trees, not a sight you expect to see during spring months.

Tunley Cottage
At the top of the hill we passed through open fields and eventually on to a road.  By now the woodland birdsong had been replaced by the unmistakeable sound of skylarks, one of my favourite songs in the countryside.  We were now headed along a road, which was mercifully quiet and provided a welcome respite from the mud.  For awhile the road headed along the plateau but soon descended into another wooded valley, which characterise this part of the Cotswolds.  We didn’t head too far down the valley though, turning left at Tunley Cottage, a house that looked suspiciously like a holiday bolthole.  The path led straight across the back garden, which was a little disconcerting and we were rather pleased that no-one appeared to be at home.

Daneway Valley
Our onward path had us cross a number of flower filled meadows that were strangely devoid of animals before we crossed into an area of scrub filled mostly with hawthorn trees.  After a few metres we were treated to the marvellous view of the Daneway valley, named after the large house that occupies it.  This house, which the walker will only catch a glimpse of, dates back to a similar period as Pinbury Park earlier and the two houses seem to have been linked at some point in the past, principally to house a family that was having remodelling done at the other location.  The valley was a riot of colour and especially yellow, green and white as the predominating blossom colours of the time.
Horse Petting

We walked along the valley, finding another field of friendly horses as we did so.  One of the ponies was most unusual in that he had the most amazing looking blue eyes.  They were all most anxious to make our acquaintance and the girls were only too happy to oblige with handfuls of luscious grass from our side of the gate.  We could still be there if it was up to the girls, but I eventually persuaded them to move on and we disappeared into Siccaridge Wood Nature Reserve.  Sadly for us the muddy paths came back, but by now the sun had properly come out and it was really quite warm.

Thames and Severn Canal
The section through Siccaredge Woods was largely downhill and all alongside the path were wild flowers (and some not so wild, like columbine) that the local butterflies were going crazy for.  We also got a glimpse out into the wider world through the trees at a couple of points.  The path was much more popular now too as we met several other walkers coming our way when previously we had not seen any on our travels.  The path descended more steeply at the end until we got to the bottom of the valley and found the defunct Thames and Severn Canal, originally designed to provide a direct water link between the two great rivers.
Former Canal Lock

This old route was never a great success and water supply seems to have been a problem from the start as no reservoirs were built to provide water storage.  Certainly the towpath that we followed for the next mile or so was in rather better condition than the waterway it served.  We were reaching the summit level as we headed eastwards and all along our route we could see the remains of the old locks.  In fact the drops to the bottom were rather precipitous in places and we made sure to keep well back away from the crumbling edges.  We stopped for a brief while to enable a quiet walk for we managed to unwillingly meet up with a family who were rather loud and obnoxious along the way.
Daneway Pub

After a mile or so of canal walking we found the pub called The Daneway.  This old place would once have been a useful watering hole for the canal people but now seemed to be a very popular place for pub lunches.  We were very full from our breakfast so did not indulge but we did stop for a drink and I had the wonderfully named Old Prickly, a beer specially brewed to help out the Hedgehog Preservation Society.
Sapperton Tunnel

From the pub we had a short walk along the towpath a little further to find Sapperton Tunnel.  This was the longest canal tunnel for many years when it was first built and even now it remains the fourth longest in the country.  There are plans for restoring it but this would be a monumental task for in places it has collapsed.  We climbed back up the hill just beyond the tunnel through one of those wonderful buttercup and daisy filled fields we had been admiring all day and back into the village of Sapperton.  We had a look around the churchyard before finding our way back to the car, but we were so brown and muddy that we did not think it a good idea to go inside and spread our mud around.  The outside appeared to be undergoing some restoration but we still admired the fine windows that are said to date from Queen Anne’s time.

Climbing Back Into Sapperton
This was a very fine walk spoiled only slightly by the mud and so care should be taken to pick a dry time to get the most from it.  A stop at the Daneway pub is to be recommended and although I cannot vouch for the food the portions looked plentiful and tasty from the other visitors who were there at the same time as us.

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