After COVID?

July 12, 2022 at 10:00 pm | Posted in England walks, Gloucestershire walks, Worcestershire walks | Leave a comment
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‘Time Flies’ I’ve said it before, and to be honest it’s a kind of excuse for not having done something, but in the last five years quite a lot has happened. My previous blog(s) mention knee problems and Lo , they got worse, and after two arthroscopies I ended up having a total knee replacement in 2017. The op went very well, but unlike the previous ones, I decided to take the physio requirements rather more seriously, so I was up and walking moderate! distances in less than two months. I have been keeping a log of all my walks for the last couple of decades and had been regularly walking over a Thousand miles a year but NOT after the knee replacement and that year I was down to just over five hundred. It has increased a bit since then but I doubt whether I shall ever get back to four figures, but the good news is that I am still walking on a regular basis, although not with the LDWA whose walks are mostly too long and too fast for me. The good news is that I have joined a new walking group lead by an interesting character, Bruno, who has a rolling programme of walks, mainly in the Cotswolds and every Tuesday, alternating between long and shorter distances.

Who ever?, wants to write about COVID, but like most keen walkers, I have managed to get out and about with quite a degree of success. During the first lockdown, I managed to hear that the government had decreed you could drive out to your place of exercise so long as your exercise was longer than the drive. So I was able to drive out to the village of Andoversford, which is almost a gateway to The Cotswolds and sort out lots of different lengthy walks. On an early walk, I arrived at the remote village of Hawling , only to find signs saying that the village was closed to walkers. Crazy, but I did later learn that there had been a fatality involved locally. The downside of the pandemic is that most walking clubs, mostly plan their walks some way ahead, and COVID and the early restrictions on group numbers, meant that most people were just sorting out their own little group walks, which they soon got used to. The result of this is that clubs are now offering their members the opportunity to do this, within the group through online contact, which is called Meet Up. This Luddite has never managed to get on the site but then I have enough walking anyway.

My other great interest- Woodland- has also not been much affected. In the early days, when driving the ninety miles or so down to Somerset, I made sure I was in my working clothes and had a spade and tools in the back of the car in case I got stopped, but I never did. However, I did find looking after both woods rather too arduous, especially since most of my time was being spent in the lower wood, where we have our commodious cabin, now with a woodburning stove, added a couple of years back, so last year we decided to part with the top wood and put it on the market. It sold quite quickly to a local couple who wanted to have more space for exercising and training their sporting dog. Unfortunately the sale coincided with the large upturn in property prices but we were happy with the result at the time, and it’s no good looking back!

And now for something rather different! That you may have already spotted on the new menu added to this – PILGRIMAGE WALKS. In my advanced years, I have not gone all religious but prefer to adopt an old adage ‘Curiosity does, no less than devotion, pilgrims make’. This came about through a very old friend of mine who is The Chair for the parochial council of two local churches in North Gloucestershire. One of them is at the rather uninspiring village of Stoke Orchard which is between Cheltenham and Tewkesbury. The clue is in the name of the church, which is dedicated to St James. In the 1950’s and 60’s amazing wall paintings were uncovered under centuries of whitewash, which show St James’s travels to Compestella in Northern Spain and where his relics lie. Outside the porch to the church are quite a few Votive signs which had been inscribed by pilgrims passing through or maybe starting a pilgrimage from the village. So, my friend Roger, pointed them out to me and said’ You’re a long distance walker and you must know nearly every track and footpath in the county, so where do you reckon the pilgrims came from and where were they going?

There is certainly a burgeoning interest in Pilgrimages, and the annual numbers making their way to Compestella, on any of ten or more different routes through France and Spain, now exceeds the numbers from medieval days. Pilgrims arriving at Compestella can acquire a certificate or scroll to show that they have walked at least a hundred km past official way stations and part of the minimum distance covered can also include starting from England.

In our ‘little’ island we have nearly a thousand delineated walking trails and there are about a hundred that are dedicated to a Saint or have a religious or Pilgrimage emphasis. There is definitely quite a strong Pilgrimage history in North Gloucestershire but very few trails. So, ever the enthusiast, yours truly, is now finding links between the local places that pilgrims are known to have travelled.

We, that is Roger Grimshaw and myself, are starting with a circular Pilgrimage trail around Tewkesbury taking in Tewkesbury Abbey, Stoke Orchard, and Deerhurst. More details are on our new Pilgrimage page and this circular trail has just been opened. We have also produced a colour leaflet which is available from the churches and Abbey on route. You can also download it here.

My Pilgrimage interest was further increased when I heard from a lady about a remote church in Worcestershire that had connections. This was just outside the village of Pirton, which is quite close to the NT estate of Croome Park. I looked it up on the relevant OS map and found that it lay on an almost straight line of footpaths, bridle ways and minor roads between Worcester and Tewkesbury and may therefore have been on route for pilgrims between these two major places of worship.

As a long term project, I am now looking at a possible modern pilgrimage route that will start at Worcester Cathedral and then proceed south east linking up many well known places with pilgrimage background to finish up down on the south coast at either Southampton or Portsmouth. My unofficial idea for a title would be ‘A Way to Wessex’

From The Wyche Way to my beloved Blackdown Hills

November 10, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Gloucestershire walks, Herefordshire walks, Shropshire walks, Worcestershire walks | Leave a comment
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Time flies when you are busy and I’m afraid it was way back in 2013 since my last proper blog. To be fair I have posted news of two new books, The Wyche Way and Striding Around Ross in the meanwhile. It’s been an eventful time but regrettably not all good news in that in 2014 my right knee started to pain me, in sympathy with the left knee, on which I had keyhole surgery in 2010. The same surgeon did tell me that no two knees are the same and of course he was proved right, when after the op, the right knee was still not up to any of my longer (LDWA) walks.

Guy Vowles Dumbleton war memorial

Resting on the good knee at Dumbleton war memorial

I still had quite a lot of work to do on The Wyche Way but fortunately this was organized, in reasonable stages, and I was able to do my final recess, and also the waymarking, without too much problem. We were originally hoping to open The Wyche Way in the Spring of this year to coincide with The Malvern Walking Festival but not only were we not quite ready but Kington Walkers also said that they would like to make it the focal point of their festival in September.

For a small little unsung town Kington has a great deal of enthusiasm for walking and they really did us proud. They organized Kate Ashbrook, who is The President of The Ramblers, to officially open the trail and all the local newspapers carried advance notice of the opening. The weather was fine on the day and there was a crowd of over a hundred milling around the Market Place. Speeches were made by the lady Mayor of Kington, Kate Ashbrook, and I managed a few words as well. I led the walking party off on the first stage followed by 60 local schoolchildren who were just doing the first couple of miles. Nearly at the end of this stage, just before Weobley, is a fine old timbered house called The Ley, which has some Elizabethan origins. I received an email from the owners about a month before the walk saying that they had heard of this inaugural walk and would the party appreciate some tea and cakes, which certainly made a very nice finish to the day.

Broadway Tower - one of the impressive monuments you can see on The Wyche Way

Broadway Tower – one of the impressive monuments you can see on The Wyche Way

The book has been very well received and we have got copies into over ten shops and tourist information centres along the route (you can also buy it here too!). We have received quite a lot of interest from walking groups who are making plans to include it in their programmes for next year. It has also been adopted by a new Worcestershire walking holiday company Black Pear Walking Tours, so the future for the trail looks bright.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had been able to get back to my timber trade roots by purchasing a small piece of woodland in the Blackdown Hills. I had an unofficial option at the time to also purchase another adjoining piece which I did in 2014. I have named them Upper and Lower Harding Woods, after an old Somerset family, whom my family married into in the mid 1800’s. The lower wood does not have so many quality trees but does enjoy great views across to the The Quantock Hills in the north. We have had to do quite a lot of work to establish a new vehicular entrance but there is a short footpath that crosses this wood so we have widened it and provided a stone surface, which was rather fitting, in that I was therefore able to improve a footpath, rather than being critical of the condition, as I have often done on walks in the past. We have also cleared quite a few of the obiquitous birch trees to further improve the views and where I intend to put up a rather larger shed (could be a lodge) in the Spring of next year so that even if I cannot walk quite so much as I might like, I can easily travel down the motorway, and seek solace in my woods.

New Year – New Walks – And a New Direction?

January 31, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Devon Walks, Gloucestershire walks, Herefordshire walks, Pub walks, Worcestershire walks | 1 Comment
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Tasting at Broome Farm

Tasting at Broome FarmStriding around Ross

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had sold out of my Ross Round walking book and have decided to republish it but in a larger format. I approached several publishers without any success but one of them gave me some good advice; ”Where is your new market?” and ”Will the old customers buy another issue which sounds the same”. So, I have renamed it ‘Striding around Ross’ and there are now five interconnecting walks totalling over 50 miles and that includes The Ultimate Ross Round (URR) which is a conglomerate of the Original Ross Round (ORR) plus an extension over May Hill, which makes it up to a marathon distance, and which I still have (forlorn!) hopes of making a route for a major challenge walk.

The previous Ross Round book was self-published and I was resigned to repeating this but then discovered my previous printers were no longer in business. However I then discovered, that the Winchcombe Way walking book had been published digitally and got in touch with local printers who have done a really great job on my book with the advantage that the digital process allows the whole format to be viewed almost as one proceeds.

Fox trap on Aran Mountains

Fox trap on Aran Mountains

The Wyche Way

I have also been busy walking over The Wyche Way, which I have mentioned previously, and which is to be walked by Cheltenham Rambling Club over 6 easy stages later this year. I have been accompanied on the walkovers by Jim Mason, and as ever, Anne Ochala.  Jim has been particularly keen since he is involved with The Walkers are Welcome initiative in Winchcombe and we have discovered that Kington also belongs as well as Bromyard which is close to the route. We have met up with several of the committee members in Kington and have recently learnt that there may be a new walking centre for Herefordshire, hopefully to be established in Kington, so that apart from The Offa’s Dyke path, and the new Arrow Way, they are also interested in promoting The Wyche Way.

Kington is a really rustic little market town, and the first three stages of The Wyche Way pass through rather typical and flat Herefordshire countryside. However,  just when you think it may get a bit boring, you discover an unknown Roman road, a new timber frame house being built out of plantation timbers (as shown on Countryfile) and all sorts of other unexpected gems so that it has been far from boring. During stage two we caught glimpses of the Malvern hills in the distance ahead and at our lunchtime stop on Stage 4, which is as far as we have got so far, we enjoyed a very good break in The Wyche Inn, just below the main ridge of The Malvern’s, which was typical of Herefordshire, having no frills, but offering plain good value.

 Guys Wood!

The last bit of really interesting news is that at long last, I have hopefully acquired a piece of woodland, and what is more, in a really interesting and good walking area, The Blackdown Hills. For those of you who do not know, the background to this is that when we sold our business, nearly twenty years ago, my friend Brian Wright said “why don’t you invest in some woodland. Your family have been in the timber trade for three generations so put something back in?”  I guess at the time, I still had my business hat in place, so we ended up buying another property in Cheltenham where we initially ran a gallery, but which, was later leased out. We sold the property in 2010 and my mind went back to Brian’s original suggestion. The best woodland in the country is mostly part of an estate or a farm and small parcels are not only hard to acquire but relatively expensive with prices rising steadily over the last decade.

Guy in the wood

Guy in the wood

During the last two years I have probably looked at about twenty pieces of woodland. One of the very first which I unsuccessfully tendered for, was the aptly named Walkers Coppice. Fifteen acres of really superb woodland with many prime oaks, situated neat Woodstock and owned along with seven other much larger lots by The Duchy of Cornwell. Actually the position was not the best, being in rather too well populated countryside and rather too close to London. The vendors accepted an offer for the whole estate which made my bid (second best anyway) worthless.

So, where are The Blackdown Hills? It is an unfortunate fact that many people only know where they are by a motorway, so in this case it is necessary to head south on the M5 and then just past Taunton one can see a striking monument up on the wooded hills to the left. This is the Wellington Monument, built to commemorate the famous general, which is situated on the western edge of The Blackdown Hills. This AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty) is not that large and stretches ten miles in a south easterly direction down to the attractive town of Honiton, previously famous as a centre for lace making.

The supposed mantra for a lot of property purchases is position-position etc. I was always looking to get away from it (Gloucestershire) a bit but The Blackdowns are an easy one and a half hours driving, and only just over another half hour to the coast and sea. The aforementioned Brian at Lyme Regis is also less than half an hour way and should be able to help administer any work on the woodland. The woodland is only eight acres and all walkable. (unlike some other jungles I have inspected).

The Blackdown Hills are quite sparsely populated but there are a few interesting villages and apart from the nearby AONB office there is also an East Devon and Blackdown Hills Woodland Association which I plan to join and which offers all sorts of advice.

You may therefore see a little change in direction during the next year from your scribe but whatever, you should still be receiving more news of walks, pubs, and now woodland!

The Palladian Way book launches

May 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Bath walks, Buckinghamshire walks, Gloucestershire walks, Oxfordshire walks, Wiltshire walks | 2 Comments
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I’m delighted to announce that The Palladian Way book is now available to buy.  To get your signed copy right now go to The Palladian Way page.

The Palladian Way book

The Palladian Way book

We have almost finished way marking the route so its ready to walk!

If you are interested here is a summary of the book from the media release.

The Palladian Way – Walk through Middle England’s Greatest Estates

Local walker Guy Vowles launches his third walking guide The Palladian Way.

The Palladian Way is a 125 mile walk through England’s finest Palladian estates in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

Palladian architecture, though often forgotten, is a popular classical style responsible for one of the world’s most famous buildings, The White House. Here in Middle England, we are lucky enough to have some of the finest examples of Palladian style. From the stature of Stowe House in Buckinghamshire to the intricacy of Prior Park near Bath you will be invigorated and inspired by this long distance walk through some of England’s finest countryside and estates.

Guy Vowles’ book, The Palladian Way, gives a step by step guide to this architectural trail, with coloured photos, illustrated maps and recommendations for eating, drinking and overnight stays. When of interest, Guy delves into local history and influential characters of the period such as the famous landscaper Capability Brown, The Mitford Girls and Flora Thomson, author of Lark Rise to Candleford.

The Palladian Way is now available for purchase at £9.99 through Guy Vowles’ walking website, https://guysrambles.co.uk/palladian-way/.

Guy’s first ever blog

September 16, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Posted in Gloucestershire walks, Wales walks, Walking festivals, Worcestershire walks | Leave a comment
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Guy’s Rambles- first ever blog. Is a Blog a kind of digital diary? In which case where do you start? The beginning of the walking year sounds sensible- so here goes!

2010- A painful start to the new year and decade. Memories fade fast but who can forget all the snow we received just after last Christmas. Walking in snow and high drifts is awfully hard work and I had two long walks here in the Cotswolds before starting off in January to do the St Kenelm’s Way which is a ‘modest’ long distance trail of nearly 60 miles from outside Birmingham down to Winchcombe. I was accompanied by Phil Heneghan (with whom I had walked another of Gerry Stewart’s Long Distance Trails, The Wysis Way – also in foul conditions two years previously). Phil was told by his wife “you must be mad to go and do this walk” but I didn’t have to consider any advice since L was off on a skiing holiday (better use of snow!).

I left my car in Winchcombe the previous day where a friend said it would be quite safe in a main street and she would keep an eye on it until I got back. We took the train up to Birmingham and on to Hagley for our start and that part was really quite enjoyable! The first day down to a Travel Lodge on the A38 outside Droitwich was only about 16 miles but even so it was almost dark before we finished and not helped by the fact that Gerry had now (on his 4th trail) decided to dispense with any way marking signs. Travel Lodges are deceptive places and advertise rates at from (in small script) £29.00 a night but that is for TWO consecutive nights at a weekend so ours was actually £49 and didn’t include breakfast. It was whilst I was trying to fit my long and large frame into a 5ft bath that I felt an alarming twinge in my left knee. The next morning Phil commented on my “pegleg” descent of the stairs and asked “will you be OK for walking”.  I replied “of course- it will wear off!” 

It was supposed to be about 19 miles to Pershore, our next overnight stop and progress was slower and slower as Phil helped me over stiles and we eventually walked most of the afternoon along snow covered lanes rather than the uneven countryside and got into Pershore in the early evening. The good news was The Angel Hotel was vastly superior to The Travel Lodge and was even the same price and included breakfast.  It also had a full sized bath. We were joined for a drink by Phil’s brother, in a great little local pub called The Brandy Cask which has a fantastic range of it’s own brewed beers. Phil’s brother, who lives quite nearby, saw me hobble up to the bar to get the next round, said “You would be mad to try and walk tomorrow” and I had to agree. He then offered to collect me and run me back to Winchcombe. What a true Gentleman.

More snow fell overnight but Phil seemed unperturbed and set off for the last stage of 20+ miles on his own although I said I would come out in the car to Dumbleton to the brilliant café there to see how he was getting on! I called in at the antique shop in Winchcombe where Heather Holmes worked and over a cup of coffee she said my car seemed OK although it was well covered in snow. Alas it was not so, in that someone had skidded into the side of it with more than a few hundred pounds of damage- still to be rectified 6 months later. I drove back to Dumbleton and met up with a Zombie like Phil, who had had to get through 18 inch high snow drifts on Bredon Hill and would have turned back if he could have seen where he had come from! He still wouldn’t give up and eventually walked on to Hailes Abbey where in the gloaming I picked him up. We are planning to walk this last stage together in September when the weather should hopefully be a lot better.

Predictably the knee really stiffened up and I made an appointment with a physio in Cheltenham who said that she thought I had torn a cartilage and that I should have a MRI scan to confirm it. We have a brilliant facility- The Linton Clinic- here in the town and by paying privately (no point in hanging around for weeks) I got the scan and results just a few days later. It appeared that apart from a small tear there was also some signs of arthritis and loose bodies floating around in the knee cap. The big question is to operate or not to operate? The specialist said that the tear might heal itself within a month or so and that if they operated it would be several (at least) months before I could get back to long walks. Additionally I knew several other friends who had had the knee clean up operation (Arthscopticy) which had not proved to be a long lasting success and my walking companion Anne Ochala had also recently walked on through a cartilage tear although she is only half my weight! So- a couple of weeks later- with a walking pole- a knee bandage and quite a few pain killers I ventured out for a little 5 mile walk around Leckhampton. Not very easy or comfortable and it wasn’t until February that I managed to walk over 10 miles. The reason I was rather “pushing it” was that I had booked in for The Crickhowell Walking Festival at the end of February and had also booked a cottage for the week so that I had to see if I was up for it!- Find out more in the next blog – walking in Wales.

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