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Away Walk June 2024

On Tuesday morning The Cocked Hat Inn adjacent to the A46 Coventry Bypass was the pre-planned 9.15 am meeting point for the traditional breakfast for the six Wyvern Probus members who were setting off for their three-day walking trip in the Cotswolds. These six intrepid travellers were Charles Stewart, Michael Stephens, Patrick Holligan, Chris Mitchell, Gordon Squires and Richard Ward.  First to arrive, ahead of time, were Michael and Patrick closely followed by Charles and Richard. We four went in to order breakfast whilst awaiting the arrival of Chris and Gordon. Some twenty minutes later Chris and Gordon arrived, somewhat harassed. Chris’s sat nav was ‘playing up’ and had ‘misled them’. However, Gordon reverted to the tried and tested method, of asking for directions in a Post Office.

 A full and tasty breakfast for the very reasonable cost of £9.95 per head was enjoyed by all.  We had used the same venue, researched by Charles, last year and the price had not gone up - great value. An hour or so later we set off for the Swan Inn in Swinbook which is situated by the River Windrush about two miles from Burford. The three cars arrived in fairly close proximity and we were able to check in and were given keys to very comfortable rooms.  Apart from our walking boots we had dressed for our first walk that morning but we had to conduct an important survey first, check the quality of the beer. This we duly did, with a satisfactory result.

The three walks which we had planned to conduct all started from the Swan so the cars could remain parked up. Tuesday afternoon’s walk took us through the very attractive village of Swinbrook where we were able to enjoy viewing some very attractive properties and their pretty gardens. We also observed two large Cotswold stone buildings being renovated, at some considerable cost, and now owned by an American billionaire. He has also bought 400 acres of land in the area. Leaving the village, we crossed a couple of fields before reaching the isolated church of St Oswald, Widford, surrounded by the tell-tale humps of the medieval village it once served. Having visited the church, we retraced our steps to the gate by the cattle grid from where we should have been heading into the dry valley of Dean Bottom.  Then our first, and to be fair, our only real navigational error occurred. We set off in totally the wrong direction but we soon recognised our mistake and returned to the gate by the cattle grid. Patrick approached a local farmer who was busy spraying thistles in the field who kindly pointed us in the right direction. The very attractive, wide, V-shaped valley was tree lined on either side and looked as if had been recently mown for hay or silage. After about a half-mile, steady ascent, we reached a minor road which we walked along for about 300 yards before entering a narrow tree lined path. After a while we reached some isolated cottages from where we continued along a metalled road till we reached a Bridleway leading to a Byway. We turned into the bridleway and walk for three quarters of a mile to meet a road junction. We descended down a steep lane (Ninety Cut Hill) and at the bottom of the hill we took a footpath over a stone stile with Swinbrook about half a mile away. This particular stone stile was the most difficult we encountered as there was a steep drop to deal with!  Crossing two more fields and two more slab stiles we found ourselves back at the Swan having completed a 4-mile walk in about two and a half hours. The pub was extremely busy that first evening and despite a longish wait we ate a very enjoyable meal with a few libations both prior to and during a very pleasant evening.

Wednesday was a dry, coolish day but with some nice sunny intervals in a warmer afternoon. We met promptly at 8.30 am for breakfast served by a cheerful and helpful young lady. ‘Crews front’ was at 10.00 am when we set off for the day. This was a seven-mile circular walk to Burford and back. The first part of the walk covered some of the ground we were on the day before. This included walking through Swinford but this time we stopped to visit St Marys Church. Buried in the churchyard close to the porch are three of the six Mitford sisters, Nancy, Unity and Diana. Their parents and a fourth sister Pamala are buried elsewhere in the churchyard. There is an amazing monument to the Fettiplace family in the church; six effigies in two triple tiers. Leaving the church, we continued into the narrow lane and then the field to reach the dry valley of Dean Bottom   As we walked up the valley, Gordon and Richard were imagining they were playing up the fairway and whether to use a fairway wood or perhaps a five iron! This time when we reached the road we turned left and walked towards Fulbrook. Luckily there was very little traffic on the road. In Fulbrook Chris produced his Moroccan Headgear which he thought might amuse the citizens of Burford - he soon had second thoughts!  Fulbook is almost a suburb of Burford which we entered crossing the narrow bridge over the Windrush and we were now in the very busy High Street. After two unsuccessful attempts at finding a suitable hostelry Gordon suggested the Lamb which we promptly repaired to. Here we rested a while enjoying a refreshing pint and some entertaining conversation. Temptation to stay longer was resisted and our next task was to find the route out of the town for the return journey. We knew we had to be by the church and when we got there Patrick obtained the details we wanted from a church guide. The afternoon was now sunny and warm. We found our way through the town and arrived at the Burford road which we had to walk along for about half a mile before joining a footpath which took us down to the Windrush. This was a very pleasant part of the walk, close to the river on a meandering path through a meadow. We were getting close to the village of Widford when we met three couples of a similar vintage to ourselves. The wives had first met as college students and this was a regular reunion. They were staying at the Swan but this Swan nested in Minster Lovell. We next walked through the small settlement of Widford, crossed the Windrush once more and turned onto the final leg of out walk back to Swinford.

Discarding our walking gear some of us thought a cup of tea and cakes might be the thing but this was not something the Inn provided so what was the alternative? We sat in the garden with the bantams clucking around us and had a couple of beers instead. It was a most pleasant and amusing hour or two prior to our changing for dinner. The evening went well with a very nice meal and speedier service. The table next to us was occupied by two Belgian couples. One of the men was a highly placed official in a Belgian Archery Society with connections to an English Guards Regiment. They were attending the Trooping of the Colour on Saturday.

Thursday, the day of departure, was breezy but dry, but rain was forecast by about midday. Having breakfasted we paid our dues, packed our bags and set of at 10am for our third and final walk.  We climbed the stone stile opposite the Swan and set off across the field in the direction of Asthall. Crossing another stone stile, we entered another field and reached an old stone bridge We climbed another style, crossed the bridge and walked down the road into the very attractive village of Asthall. Here we found a red Telephone Box that was connected and still in operation, and must be one of a very few that are left. We next visited the church, a splendid and well-maintained building. Adjacent to the church was a magnificent mansion which we soon discovered was Asthall Manor. The house was hosting an Open Day including various functions throughout the day, we did not linger long. We then walked into a tree-lined road and into a farmyard leaving on a farm track with sight of the busy A40 in the far distance. The sky was cloudy and there was a threat of rain in the air so wisely we decided to about turn and retrace our steps back to the Swan and our cars. As we got to the final stone stile at the Swan, we met a delightful American couple who were setting out on the walk which we had aborted. We wished them well.

We had enjoyed a very varied, entertaining and companionable three days that had passed all too quickly.

Richard Ward

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