What’s going on?

When Rosie and I finished the cross-Ireland walk for the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Appeal you could be excused for thinking that we were unlikely to do anything like that again. However, there was a curious dissatisfaction that accompanied our journey back to England and the germ of an idea grew in Rosie’s mind that we could have extended the trip so as to finish on the Atlantic Coast near the town of Clifden. Clifden is particularly significant in that this was the town that her father grew up close to in the 1920s.

Let’s face it, there is no easy way of walking fifty miles but Rosie has managed to discover that the two ends of our proposed journey, Galway and Cliden, are connected by a railway line that is no longer in use. Now, railway trains do not like hills so the assumption can be made that if it is possible to walk along the track of the old railway then the fifty miles might not be all that difficult. All I can say is never make assumptions!

What we have discovered is that much of the route is walkable, but there are sections where the track has been “privatised” by farmers, or is blocked by vegetation, or is impassable because bridges have been removed. Seems like a good set of reasons to shelve the idea, but Rosie is made of sterner stuff and so we are setting off on February 20th to “walk the line”.

We’ve not been idle since last March and I’d like to tell you about some of the walks we have completed during the past twelve months. Some have been long distance and others have been shorter. We have revisited old favourites, have ventured to completely new parts of the country and have completed a shortish walk across the volcanic landscapes of La Palma in the Canary Islands. To start you off I’ll tell you about a walk we did just after returning from Ireland in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds.

The rolling landscape where Gloucestershire shades into Oxfordshire is thickly woven with footpaths and studded with villages of mellow gold stone. In this north-east corner of these delectable hills you can walk in classic Cotswold countryside, but without those camera-clicking Cotswold crowds.

So, on a brilliant day of blue sky and early summer weather, Rosie and I set out to explore this overlooked corner of the Cotswolds. From Stonesfield, a tiny village way off the beaten track, our route took us up among big yellow fields of oilseed rape whilst an invisible lark poured out song like the trickle of a brook. Views were big and broad, with a heat haze softening the dark green of spinneys and windbreak woods.

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The start of the walk at Stonesfield Church

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Down in the valley of the River Evenlode, swallows skimmed under bridges and along cowslip-lined lanes The farmland here is environmentally friendly and all around lay evidence of a countryside loved and cared for, its wildflowers and birds given the elbow-room they’re so often denied in more intensively farmed regions.

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The River Evenlode

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Hedges of cow-slip

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Environmentally friendly farming

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At North Leigh we went into St Mary’s Church to admire the north chapel with its fan vaulting and richly carved 15th-century alabaster tomb of Sir William Wilcote and his wife Elizabeth.

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Over the chancel arch hung a splendid medieval Doom painting. I’ve never seen one before so this was a real bonus on a walk that was full of its own interest. The panels showed the Saved and the Damned, naked and prayerful, with a coal-black Devil and his red-faced acolytes jeering the Damned into eternal fire.

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Outside, all seemed a dream of peace – horses cropping the meadows and the smooth gurgle of the Evenlode round its meandering bends, as we made our way back up the old cart track to Stonesfield.

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Conclusion? The Oxfordshire Cotswolds really are beautiful country.

Next time we are going to La Palma in the Canary Islands to walk across a volcanic moon-scape and to peer into one of Europe’s largest calderas.

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