— The Bookseller
Planning your walk
When to go
Autumn that name of creeper falling and tea-time loving,
Was once for me the thought of High Cotswold noon-air
Ivor Gurney, Old Thought
While English weather is hardly predictable, at least some generalisations can be made. Statistically, the months when the weather is least likely to be inclement are May to September, but statistics – as we all know – can be very misleading. The air temperature at this time is generally at its warmest, with frosts unlikely from the end of May. Rain, though, is another factor. Some years can see continuous rain for several weeks and parts of the path will become impassable. While it’s tempting to think that this is only likely to happen in winter, the last widespread flooding in Gloucestershire was in the summer of 2007, with 2008 running a close second. Conversely, April and October often bring days that are bright and breezy, when the walking and the surroundings are at their best.
The weather in spring is as unpredictable as the rest of the year. In April, it can be warm and sunny on odd days, but seldom for sustained periods. Although the spring of 2007 upset all the record books, conditions are more likely to be changeable, with blustery showers and cold spells reminding you that winter has only just passed. On the other hand, the days are long, and less rain falls on average in spring than at any other time of the year. This, coupled with the milder weather of May and June, and the proliferation of wild flowers early in the year, makes it one of the best times to tackle the trail.
July and August are the traditional holiday months and the conditions can be especially good for walking, with generally mild temperatures and still many hours of daylight. This, however, is also the time when the Cotswolds experience a surge in visitors, especially around the tourist honeypots of Broadway and Bath. Fortunately, most of the trippers won’t be out in the fields and on the hills, so here at least you can leave the hordes behind.
Many connoisseurs consider autumn, especially early autumn, the best time of year for walking. September and October can be lovely months to get out on the trail, especially when the leaves begin to turn. That said, although the air temperature usually remains relatively mild, October can see the first frosts and rain is an ever-present threat.
Only the very hardiest of souls will attempt the Cotswold Way in winter. The days are shorter; once the clocks have gone back at the end of October, until mid March, you will need to be at your destination by 4.30-5pm to avoid walking in the dark. Cold weather, wind and driving rain are not the best recipe for a day’s walking, although a crisp winter morning takes a lot of beating.
If you’re planning to walk in autumn, winter or early spring, you’ll need to take into account how far you can walk in the available daylight. It will not be possible to cover as many miles or to be out for as long as you would in the summer. The table (right) gives the sunrise and sunset times for the middle of each month at latitude 52º North, which runs through the Cotswold Hills, giving a reasonably accurate picture for daylight along the Cotswold Way. Depending on the weather, you should get a further 30-45 minutes of usable light before sunrise and after sunset.
FESTIVALS AND ANNUAL EVENTS
The following events may need to be considered when planning your walk since all will affect the availability and sometimes price of accommodation in their area. Two with a particularly strong impact locally are The Festival in Cheltenham in March, and Badminton Horse Trials in May. In addition to the following annual fixtures, it’s as well to be aware that weekend events held at the Prescott Speed Hill Climb (www.prescott-hillclimb.com) outside Winchcombe between about April and October can put a lot of pressure on the town’s resources.
- Cheltenham Folk Three (www.cheltenhamtownhall.org.uk/whats-on/festivals) Folk music comes to town for three days in mid February.
- Bath Literature Festival (bathfestivals.org.uk/literature) Ten days at the beginning of March see Bath’s literary scene come alive. Literary greats such as Antonia Fraser, Kazuo Ishiguro and Andrew Motion were among those at the 2015 event.
- The Festival, Cheltenham (cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk) Formerly known as the National Hunt Festival, this four-day event in mid March is one of the racing calendar’s highlights – both in racing terms and socially – culminating in every jump jockey’s dream, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Tickets are hard sought after and accommodation throughout the area is often booked a year ahead. If you have no choice but to walk in this week, make sure you plan well ahead.
- Wotton-under-Edge Arts Festival (ï€º www.wottonartsfestival.org.uk) This ten-day festival takes place around the end of April and early May.
- Cheltenham Jazz Festival (www.cheltenhamfestivals.com) A week of jazz is celebrated at the end of April/early May.
- Annual Cheese Rolling Cooper’s Hill (www.cheese-rolling.co.uk) There’s still strong support for this wacky village event, traditionally held on the last May Bank Holiday Monday; see box p119.
- Badminton Horse Trials (www.badminton-horse.co.uk) Hugely important among the riding fraternity, this five-day event takes place east of the trail near Old Sodbury in early May. Accommodation is limited in this area, and guesthouses, pubs and hotels for miles around get prebooked months in advance: you’ve been warned!
- Chipping Campden Music Festival (campdenmusicfestival.co.uk) A local two-week festival dedicated to classical music, based in the town’s St James’s Church.
- Cotswold Olimpicks, Dover’s Hill, Chipping Campden (www.olimpickgames .co.uk) Friday after the last May Bank Holiday, followed the next day by the Scuttlebrook Wake; see box p81.
- Winchcombe Walking Festival (www.winchcombewelcomeswalkers.com) A series of graded walks and evening events taking place from Friday to Sunday over the penultimate weekend in May.
- Winchcombe Festival of Music & Arts (winchcombefestival.co.uk) A week-long celebration of local talent held at the end of May.
- Bath International Music Festival (bathfestivals.org.uk/music) For two weeks at the end of May and early June, the festival showcases music ranging from classical to jazz and folk.
- Cheltenham Science Festival (www.cheltenhamfestivals.com) Held over six days in mid June.
- Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival (garden-events.com) Three days of foodie heaven in Montpellier Gardens; mid to late June.
- Cotswold Way Relay (www.cotswoldwayrelay.co.uk) It might be best to avoid walking on the last Saturday in June. For details, see box p31.
- Cheltenham Music Festival (www.cheltenhamfestivals.com) Popular two-week festival at the beginning of July with international artists playing an eclectic mix of primarily classical music.
- Cotswold Beer Festival (ï€º www.gloucestershirecamra.org.uk/cbf) One of CAMRA’s national beer festivals, usually held at Postlip Hall outside Winchcombe over the last weekend in July.
- Cheltenham Cricket Festival (www.gloscricket.co.uk/cricket/cheltenham-cricket-festival) Founded in 1872, the festival is held in the grounds of Cheltenham College around the end of July/early August.
- Artburst (www.painswickartsfestival.com) Painswick’s inaugural Art Festival in 2015 looks set to continue during the first week in August.
- Frocester Beer Festival (www.frocesterbeerfestival.com) Two days of tasting, music and camaraderie, held near Stonehouse; August Bank Holiday weekend.
- Cheltenham Comedy Festival (cheltenhamcomedy.com) A week of fun and laughter towards the end of September.
- Cheltenham Literature Festival (www.cheltenhamfestivals.com) This ten-day festival in mid October goes from strength to strength, attracting authors as diverse as Salman Rushdie, Terry Wogan and Steve Backshall.
- Dursley Walking Festival (www.dursleywelcomeswalkers.org.uk) A four-day festival focusing on walks around the little town of Dursley.
- About the Cotswold Way
- Planning your walk
- Using this guide
- Sample route guide: Birdlip to Painswick
- Stage Map and Trail Profile sample
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