At what was an unearthly hour, huddled in Winchcombe Library car park an amazing turn-out of over 30 from the Tewkesbury office congregated in the persistent rain to start our 18-mile voyage of discovery over the Cotswolds. Spurred on by the strong enthusiasm to tackle any challenge, in the usual Kingsbridge-way, and the outside possibility of seeing the start of England v. Argentina game, the team set off with blistering pace.
Guided by our very own Bear Grylls and Ordnance Survey maestro ‘JD’, the team plunged on into the grey mist.
After an initial gentle 20 minutes incline, suddenly the slope became somewhat more demanding as we scaled the treacherous west face of Salter’s Hill. The light-hearted chitchat morphed into panting and the (occasional) deliverance of an expletive. With those up the front having beautifully polished the ascent, those down the back managed to put in some movements that would have made Torvill and Dean proud. Alas, the lack of a flat surface, a complete absence of any finesse and the aforementioned (occasional) use of expletives may not have afforded a full showing of 10-out-of-10 scores. Oh – if only we had packed our crampons, rope (9mm x 60m length – recommended) and our pulley and belay/rappel device our going would have put Chris Bonington to shame.
Once we had peaked, despite the desire to plant a flag as some sort of token to recognise our conquest in the face of adversity, conversation turned to whether it was in fact too early to open the refreshments (provided by Messrs. Gordons & Co Purveyors of Fine Liquors and Tonics to Her Majesty the Queen). The tranquillity of the setting and the ambience was undeniably serene, albeit somewhat compromised by the heavy panting of some members of the team experiencing ‘sporting activities’ for the first time in a while.
Onward into the mist, the team ploughed their furrow. The gloomy conditions were offset by the extremely enjoyable conversation, light-hearted banter and that Kingsbridge camaraderie – plus the always-present effervescent glow in the distance of Mark’s trousers shining as if some beacon for his trailing flock.
As Team Kingsbridge pushed through the less-than-welcome conditions of steep ascents and muddy fields shrouded in a blanket of low cloud and drizzle, it was difficult to push from the thoughts the parallels, on this day of 11 November, of those less lucky than ourselves who had fallen 100 years ago in conditions far worse than we were momentarily enduring. Whilst the mud, rain and challenges for ourselves were, at times, demanding, our ‘ramble’ across the Cotswolds paled into insignificance compared to what those tragic-many suffered on the battlefields of northern France during World War 1. Lest we forget.
After a relentless and continuing ascent, we finally reached Camp 1 (at Stumps Cross) and were greeted by the very welcome waft of bacon baps furnished by Janet and Anna. Rounded off by packets of Jaffa cakes and lashings of sugary-drinks to power the team on the next leg of its journey. At this point, we were joined by young-Sylvie ably guiding from her control post behind her dad. A joyful, and very vocal, addition to the team, Sylvie always seemed to have some comment to make on any matter at all – even if not asked (a hereditary trait we believe!).
By now, we were well and truly in heart of the Cotswolds where every vehicle that crawled past us on the small stretch of road was a four-by-four with the driver wearing the Sam Rickard-tweed regalia as a matter of course and the matching flat cap. The number of four-by-fours, though, was dwarfed by the number of horses, and riders, immaculately turned out that sped their way past us with the doff of their hat. This we reciprocated. Albeit with the slight blemish of Charlie’s comment that the Master was mounted on a pony rather than a horse. Maybe technically correct but it was not the time for such a discussion.
At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day in a somewhat appropriate backdrop of a lonely field on the top of the Cotswolds, the team observed a respectful two minutes silence (over the background noise of Sylvie in deep-sleep).
After a slight inadvertent foray into a local National Trust wood, the team continued on the right course (I stand by the fact that this was a deliberate ruse of JD to allow some gap to open between the Master and ourselves).
Reaping the rewards of the relentless climb, we finally started the meander down towards Stanton. The rain abated and some view was now just discernible as the mist lifted. Undulating hills and the green damp countryside were now visible in the distance. At the back of the group, JD and Nathan discussed how the scene was almost reminiscent of a Hobbit film and Gandalf and Bilbo would enter onto set such was eerie nature of the view. At this point, I am not sure if it was the impact of Newton and the sheer gravity of the descent but I somehow found myself accelerating away from this conversation – as riveting as it was!
Stanton Village Hall – that oasis of replenishment!
Bang on cue, we slumped into the Village Hall to a wonderful-spread of sandwiches, cakes (and jelly babies) – and an exceedingly welcome rest. Despite the initial conviction that there would be no alcohol-pauses, Stanton Village Hall bar probably had the best day’s takings since 1978 when the sharp rise in fuel prices stopped people leaving the village.
Ignoring the lure of a large television screen (the rugby only being two hours off), warm comfy seats, a bar – and the remaining bags of Jelly Babies – the team finally left the welcome haven and reshod themselves with damp footwear for the return leg to Winchcombe.
For this section of the journey, we were joined by Samantha, Barley and young-Freddie and young-Freddie’s push bike. Freddie’s sheer determination was much to be admired (as was his mother’s patience) but, alas, there was a slight mismatch between the equipment that Freddie had been issued, i.e. his push bike, and the somewhat demanding terrain (and a mudguard perhaps?). Whilst Freddie valiantly continued on (additionally laden-down with a large collection toy cars in his pockets), the ploughed field was his final undoing. Whilst not wishing to return to comparisons of the Great War, Fred’s bike probably was not hugely dissimilar in weight to those first tanks that would have struggled across similarly-muddy fields (the British Mark V tank at 29.5 tonnes).
The team passed the magnificent Stanway House (alas not with time to pause to witness the fountain) – now with Sophia and a somewhat-excitable Lottie on the team.
Having wrestled Freddie’s bike back from Liam, and with legs aching, the final goal was within our grasp. 15:00 was upon us and the boys were still distant from their viewing of their beloved rugby match. At this point, there was a clear break in the team as the aforementioned strove on to catch what they could of the game and those others who were resigned to continue at a speed consistent with their flagging ability.
We returned back into Winchcombe to the rude awakening of vehicular traffic which seemed almost a shock after the hours of the silence of the hills. The locals were in awe as the bedraggled platoon, led by our not-insignificant mascot of d’Artagnan, made the last push back through the village to The White Hart.
At last, with objective achieved – and the iPhone App stating 28km (17.5 miles) – we were able to relax and reward ourselves with the odd beverage and sustenance from the wonderful food provided. Pumped up, and with adrenalin flowing, a considerable number of those present said that we should do another walk – although the discussion over when this should happen was somewhat more-vague.
We extend our considerable thanks to Jon (our man at the helm) for all the organisation, his prior weekends of reccies – and for getting us safely round. Likewise, to Janet and Anna who provided a logistical support team that the Tour de France would have been proud of. Never have bacon-butties been so well received. Finally, to both Ross and Tanya (absent thru justifiable excuses) who expended probably as much energy and suffered a much pain as we did in their organising the event.
One must not forget the extremely well-behaved posse of man-and-woman’s favourite friend who also accompanied us on the walk and whose numbers (in my mind) seemed to ebb and flow from two-or-three to what seemed bordering on a pack of 20.
A final extension of gratitude to Matt who was kind enough to lend out his gloves to a needy-cause.
Roll-on the planning of the next sortie!