Musings from Cotswold Trails (Day 3): Naunton & Guiting Power

We hiked along the Gustav Holst Way on today's Cotswold trek. ©Laurel Kallenbach

We hiked along the Gustav Holst Way on today’s Cotswold trek. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Day 3 of our English countryside walking adventure (arranged by Cotswold Walks)  happened to be my birthday, and the 6.5-mile route from Bourton-on-the-Water to Guiting Power held many delights.

Much of our path during the day followed the gentle River Windrush, which sometimes seemed to be more of a brook than a river.

At the beginning of our morning ramble, a swan flapped over the field we were walking through as it descended for a water landing. The air on the magnificent white bird’s great wings made a hollow, whooshing sound. I don’t recall ever seeing swans flying before, so this long-necked bird seemed like a good-luck omen for the day.

That was fortunate, because about an hour later Ken and I encountered gigantic cows with sharp horns. They grazed peacefully on the opposite side of a wire fence and the Windrush, which had dwindled to ditch size, but their gazes seemed hostile. We stopped to take a picture, but a mean-looking bull took offense and started advancing toward us as if he meant business, so we moved along quickly.

The hills overlooking Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

The hills overlooking Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

Today the terrain became more hilly and scenic, and flat fields gave way to woodland. And imagine our delight when we discovered that we were walking on part of the 35-mile trail way called the Gustav Holst Way, named for the composer who’s best known for The Planets. Born in the Cotswolds, Holst spent much time—like us—ambling through the hills and countryside of this region, which he memorialized in his pastoral “Cotswolds” Symphony in F major. (I’m listening to it as I write.) I got so carried away singing the Dargasson jig tune from Holst’s St. Paul Suite that we missed one of our turns.

The sign to Taunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

The sign to Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

We didn’t go far off course—less than 50 yards, thanks to the detailed instructions provided by Cotswold Walks—so we quickly got back on track again, and soon I was humming the “Greensleeves” theme that weaves through the end of that piece. (Yes, the Cotswolds Way has great appeal for classical music geeks like us!)

A Rest in Tranquil Naunton

Hiking up and down hills offered us the chance to take in the impressive vistas of medieval villages from a higher vantage point. We met a couple, who were also doing the Best of the Cotswolds circuit, so we hiked with them for about half an hour on the trail that morning. Just before noon, our little group spotted Naunton and decided to have a quick look-around at this town of about 300 people.

A house beside the River Windrush ©Laurel Kallenbach

A house beside the River Windrush ©Laurel Kallenbach

As we arrived on foot, we first saw a large dovecote, a structure with 1,176 dove-sized holes that dates back to the 1600s. (The Cotswold Walks guidebook said that back in the day, the meat of young doves was a dish for the wealthy, so that accounts for the popularity of names like “Dove Cottage” and “Dove Lane.”)

Black Horse pub, Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

Black Horse pub, Naunton ©Laurel Kallenbach

Naunton sits in the valley beside the River Windrush, and there’s a very pretty path right along the water with willows and lots of lovely riverside cottages to admire.

Ken and I sat along the banks for a rest and nibbled on snacks, then we wandered over to the Black Horse Inn, a traditional pub where our friends decided to have lunch. We didn’t eat there because we’d planned to have a late lunch at the next village.

Keep on Trekking

Refreshed, we continued on toward Guiting Power. Ken and I crossed through a pasture where a horse followed us all the way to the gate. I think she was hoping we had a treat, but we’d already eaten our snacks. For a while, we had a light drizzle—almost more of a heavy mist—that warranted our rain jackets for 10 minutes or so.

Hollyhocks in front of a cottage built from Cotswold stone ©Laurel Kallenbach

Hollyhocks in front of a cottage built from Cotswold stone ©Laurel Kallenbach

Right at 2:00, the Warden’s Way path took us through a cornfield where the tassels were as tall as Ken. When we emerged from the stalks, we caught our first glimpse of the crenelated tower of Guiting Power’s Anglican church, St. Michael and All Angels, which dates back to Norman times. Sheep were grazing in the surrounding pastureland, and though it was tempting to stop and admire, we vowed to return later because we were famished and in need of a beer.

We checked first at the Farmers Arms, a traditional-style pub that served things like fish-and-chips with mushy peas and steak-and-kidney-pie, but the kitchen was already closed. So we kept walking up the hill to the Old Post Office, which has a café, but it didn’t serve hot food after 2:00. So we vowed to return at teatime and continued up the road to the Hollow Bottom Inn, located on the edge of town with views over pastoral fields that were bordered by traditional, drystack-stone fences.

The postmistress took a break at the Old Post Office in Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The postmistress took a break outside the Old Post Office in Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

This more contemporary gastro-pub serves some chef-inspired creations. We started with a local microbrew ale and then ordered a perfectly spiced (with tarragon, we surmised) Coronation Chicken Wrap and salads filled with the bounty of local gardens in late August. (Many restaurants in the Cotswolds serve local and organically produced food.)

The menu also offered an interesting story about the origin of the phrase “wet your whistle.” Apparently during the Middle Ages English pubs served ale in ceramic mugs that had whistles baked into them. When you needed a refill, you blew the whistle so the barmaid would come and “wet your whistle.” True tale or just pub lore? Either way it’s a fun story.

St Michael's and All Angels presides of the village of Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

St Michael’s and All Angels presides over the village of Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

While we were eating, the couple we’d hiked with that morning checked into the inn. Whimsically, we wished we were doing the same, but because it was the day before Bank Holiday weekend, Guiting Power’s modest number rooms were booked months in advance, so we were being picked up by a taxi and returned for the night to Bourton-on-the-Water at 6:00.

(There were pros and cons to this arrangement. On one hand, it was more efficient because we didn’t have to pack up our suitcases before departing on our morning walk. And we didn’t waste time settling into a new hotel or B&B. However, we also didn’t have the experience of spending the night in this distinctly cute town.)

A pretty doorway in the town of Guiting Power ©Laurel Kallenbach

A pretty doorway in the town of Guiting Power ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Glories of Guiting Power 

After lunch, Ken and I explored Guiting Power, a sleepy, two-street village with just a few shops, the two pubs, a town green, the café/tea shop/post office, and a handful of pretty stone houses. The “tourist” description of Guiting Power is that there’s not much to do there other than have a pint and a bite, but the fact is that we love little towns like this that slumber under the sun on a late-August day.

In fact, I will say it: When I’m in love with a village, I just know I belong there, and Guiting Power stole my heart that afternoon.

Maybe it was the way hollyhocks and roses and purple flowers framed the doorways and windows of those stone cottages, attracting buzzing bumblebees and flittering butterflies.

Toasting my birthday at the Old Post Office ©Ken Aikin

Toasting my birthday at the Old Post Office ©Ken Aikin

Maybe it was the sheep grazing in the pastures around the church as we sat in the cemetery and gazed upon the countryside.

Maybe it was the joy of having chocolate cake and a birthday cappuccino at the outdoor table at the Old Post office while watching the locals  walk their dogs. We bought some stamps and basked in the sun and wrote  postcards.

Really, that’s about all Guiting Power had to offer—and it was heaven. No traffic. Very few tourists. Just the simple joy of spending a quiet afternoon in the prettiest of Cotswold villages. And lots of beautiful flowers.

Flowers Guiting Power ©Laurel Kallenbach

Brilliant flowers in the village of Guiting Power ©Laurel Kallenbach

Guiting Power was exactly what Ken and I had dreamed of when we were planning our walking trip through the Cotswolds: and here we were at this perfectly perfect village on my birthday! I can’t imagine a better present.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

I couldn't help but hum Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze" when I beheld this view. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I couldn’t help but hum Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” when I beheld this pastoral view on the edge of Guiting Power. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Wandering the “Venice of the Cotswolds”: Bourton-on-Water

The banks of the River Windrush are lined with restaurants in Bourton-on-the-Water. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The banks of the River Windrush are lined with restaurants in Bourton-on-the-Water. ©Laurel Kallenbach

My husband and I arrived by foot from Lower Slaughter in Bourton-on-the-Water—yet another lovely town in the England’s Cotswold Hills. It was 4:30 p.m., which seemed to be the tourist rush hour. All the tea shops were overflowing with people sipping Orange Pekoe or cappuccinos and forking down fresh-baked cake. An entire busload of visitors was huddled en masse to get their picture taken on one of the picturesque footbridges that arch over the River Windrush. Their guide was wading in the river, hamming it up. What had we stumbled into?

Hydrangeas, Bourton-on-the-Water ©Laurel Kallenbach

Hydrangeas, Bourton-on-the-Water ©Laurel Kallenbach

While it’s true that Bourton-on-the-Water is a popular spot, I have to admit that once again, town emptied out by 5:30, and everything got a lot quieter—and considerably prettier and more enjoyable.

A bit footsore, Ken and I found a bench with a lovely view of the river with its bridges, which give this town its “Venice of the Cotswolds” name.

We watched little kids play in the sleepy river. A miniature boat race—featuring homemade crafts constructed out of leaves and anything folks could find—was taking place.

It felt wonderful just to sit and drink in the ambiance of the place. No rushing, no worries, no ponderous thoughts—other than wondering where we would eat that night.

Ken just loved the regionally brewed beer at the waterside Kingsbridge Pub. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ken just loved the regionally brewed beer at the waterside Kingsbridge Pub. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Soon our stomachs propelled us in search of food and drink. After checking menus at several of the many eateries, we settled on the riverside Kingsbridge Pub and thoroughly enjoyed a fantastic Hobgoblin IPA (from the Wychwood Brewery in nearby Oxfordshire), which we sipped on the outdoor patio. Although the Chicken Tikka Curry wasn’t quite as memorable, the views of the water in the golden light of early evening more than compensated.

Our accommodations in Bourton-on-the-Water were at The Lawns B&B, hosted by the affable owner, Angie. We had a spacious room, which was quiet and restful, despite the B&B’s location by a fairly busy highway. (It was also a 10-minute walk from the center of town, which wasn’t a problem, but we were a bit tired of walking by that point.) Some aged sheep in retirement—put out to pasture, so to speak!—grazed right outside our window.

Angie’s delicious English breakfasts were cooked to order—a Continental breakfast was also on the menu—and everything was served in the home’s cheery dining room.

A tradesman's sign for the town goldsmith. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A tradesman’s sign for the town goldsmith. ©Laurel Kallenbach

It was a pleasure to spend two nights at The Lawns, especially because we had space to spread out. It also meant we didn’t have to unpack and pack again in the morning. Because it was nearing Bank Holiday, when inns and bed-and-breakfasts fill up, we walked to the next village, Guiting Power (see my next post), and were picked up by a taxi service and returned for the night in Bourton-on-the-Water.

Click here for more information about Cotswold Walks, the company that arranged our delightful village-to-village walking vacation. For general information about the Cotswolds region, visit its tourism site.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

A boy watches the River Windrush drift by. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A boy watches the River Windrush drift by. ©Laurel Kallenbach

New Uses for England’s Old Phone Booths

During my walking vacation in England’s Cotswold Hills, I was glad to see that the iconic red British phone booths were still located in the villages. But now that everyone carries a smart phone, people have had to be creative—and they’ve given the old phone booths new lives and new purpose.

The phone booth in Upper Slaughter now houses a defibrillator. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The phone booth in Upper Slaughter now has medical applications. ©Laurel Kallenbach

One booth in Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, now housed a defibrillator. You can use your phone to dial 999 for an ambulance, but you can’t jumpstart your heart with your mobile device.

Stanton now sports a bright-red Information booth. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Stanton now sports a bright-red Information booth. ©Laurel Kallenbach

In Stanton, another beautiful village in Gloucestershire, the red phone booth—located right outside the Old Post House—was now acting as a miniature Tourist Information Center. Step inside and you can pick up brochures on local attractions and find contact information for area restaurants and hotels.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

Walking in the Cotswolds Day 2: The Beautiful Slaughters

Day 2 of our Cotswold Walks idyll: Stow-on-the-Wold to Bourton-on-Water (via Upper and Lower Slaughter)

Lower Slaughter, a village on the banks of the River Eye ©Laurel Kallenbach

Lower Slaughter, a charming village on the banks of the River Eye.  ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, the names of Upper and Lower Slaughter—which we visited on our second day of walking in the Cotswolds—sound alarming, but if you’ve read Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling or Notes from a Small Island you already know that English country towns often carry strange appellations. (And for the record, “Slaughter” comes from the Old English word for a wetland—“slough” or slothre—meaning a “muddy place.”)

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

During our second day walking the “Best of the Cotswolds” loop, the highlight of our 7.5-mile hike was our arrival at these two villages. The walk began with a trek through farm after farm, field gate after field gate, dodging cow patties the size of hubcaps.

How is it possible we were walking across private farmland? In Britain, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act gives people access to “mountain, moor, heath, or down”—within reason, of course. We were almost always on established trails, and usually we could see where other hikers had already plodded across or on the edge of fields. We were respectful of the livestock and crops—although the corn and hay had already been harvested by late August.

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Waiting for us after all the farm crossings were two jewels of Cotswold villagedom. First we came to Lower Slaughter, a small village populated by stone cottages built along the slow-moving River Eye.

Lower Slaughter is best known for its 19th-century flour mill with its picturesque waterwheel and chimney. The Old Mill is now a museum and gift shop—which also happens to sell some wonderful ice cream. We had lunch outdoors at the River Café and watched the ducks as we slurped our soup and tucked into sandwiches.

The steeple of the 13th-century Anglican church, St. Mary’s, presides over the town, and its clock bells add to the village’s timeless feel. An occasional bench makes a nice place to sit and take in the scenery. We could hardly take a dozen steps without snapping a photo, especially after the sun peeped out.

St Mary's Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

St Mary’s Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s something irresistible about willow trees beside the water and Cotswold-stone cottages with flower boxes full of bright blooms.

(Cotswold stone is honey-colored sandstone that’s been quarried in the region for centuries and used to build houses and churches.)

At one pretty cottage, a couple was hanging swags of international flags for the upcoming Bank Holiday Village Fete.

After enjoying the views of Lower Slaughter, we continued our walk—yes, through more fields—to Upper Slaughter, a little less than a mile away. Along the way were some glorious trees, including age-old oaks and horse chestnuts that looked like massive green haystacks with pendant nut pods.

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

This village was—is it possible?—even smaller and a bit more posh than Lower Slaughter. Every cottage had climbing roses and flowerboxes; every stone was perfectly situated.

We wandered about Upper Slaughter and ambled into the Norman St. Peter’s church, where the list of priests/clergy stretches back to the 1200s.

We returned to Lower Slaughter to continue on our route to Bourton-on-Water, and in the process of passing through a kissing gate we noticed a plaque commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in July of 1981.
Charles and Diana plaque, Lower Slaughter©Laurel Kallenbach

It was a bit sad considering it was just a week before the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. Ken and I shared a smooch at every kissing gate we passed through during our trip, and we thought about how much happier we were than that infamously unhappy royal couple.

PS: What’s a kissing gate? It allows people, but not livestock, to pass through it. The hinged gate swings between the two sides of an enclosure, so only one person can step through it at a time, and they can kiss across the gate.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter         ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter's Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter’s Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach