Day 3 - Longhope to Longford via Gloucester
THE original route of the Gloucestershire Way had you finish Day 2 at the top of May Hill but there are several objections to this, not least the fact that you are basically stuck on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere and yet more walking is required to get off it.
  I would recommend stopping Day 2 at the former Nag's Head and then putting up at the Farmer's Boy, saving May Hill for when you are fresh to enjoy it in the morning.
  And enjoy it you will because this is a fantastically varied day's walking and May Hill is a wonderful way to start it off. Inevitably, there is a stiff climb up but it is not too brutal and there is ample chance to take a breather and to look back at the land dropping away as you gain height.
  Navigation is easy and soon you will get your first glimpse of that distinctive crown of trees at the top of the hill. I have climbed May Hill multiple times for family picnics and to generally embrace the fact that this wonderful place is on my doorstep. Returning from holidays in Devon and Cornwall, it is a beacon of home from almost as far south as Bristol and is a celebrated West Country landmark.
  The crown of trees were planted to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 and they give the hill its distinctive look. Ponies and cattle crop the grass up here and don't be surprised if a horse wanders over to say hello.
  Coming up through the trees, suddenly the view south opens up and what a sight! The River Severn can be seen snaking away towards the Bristol Channel and as you all too quickly start to descend, the temptation to jump up for one last look is irresistible.

Climbing May Hill remember to look back and enjoy the view behind you

The distinctive crown of trees at the top of May Hill

The River Severn is a silver ribbon looking south from the summit of May Hill

It is downhill all the way now, a really easy route through the village of May Hill itself and then into some really very pleasant woodland at Brights Hill. Progress is rapid as you skirt Huntley though there is a very large field immediately south of that which it is easy to lose the path on, though nothing too serious.
  A word about cattle on today's section because you may meet them multiple times and the sickly-sweet smell of the cattle farm is also a regular companion. I had them wander up to me several times and some people might find that a little disconcerting, though they were never menacing and mostly just curious. It is a feature of walking and everyone devises their own strategy for it so use today to hone yours.
  From here down to the river, there are few navigational issues at all apart from the need to climb the odd gate which landowners have seen fit to nail shut, which was surprising really because the landowners I met in person were very pleasant and knew the path well enough to point me in the right direction after a nice chat.
  Anyway, before long you will have your first encounter with the railway line at an open crossing, so keep your eyes peeled because this line is well used. I walked this path in September and there was a lovely smell from the apple orchards which put me strongly in mind of cider, which it was far too early to think about to be honest.
  Reaching the A48 is a bit of a shock after the countryside quiet and crossing this busy road takes some nerve. The reward after a short section of pavement is a scramble up a bank and suddenly, there is the River Severn out of nowhere.
  There is a further stretch of A48 before you can put the traffic immediately behind you and join the riverbank proper through Minsterworth, where I broke for lunch next to the church, with the river in front of me.
  If you are lucky then your visit may coincide with the Severn Bore, Minsterworth being a popular spot to watch this natural phenomenon. The Severn is a tidal river and periodically, a tidal wave will surge upstream, large enough for people to surf or kayak on. Another popular viewing spot is from the Thomas Telford bridge, which you cross going into Gloucester. The Severn Bore timetable is available online.

A gorgeous stretch of woodland at Brights Hill

Apple trees at Minsterworth

Railway crossing near Minsterworth

After a nice long stretch by the river, you turn inland (I missed it by two fields and had to double back) and so begins an odd but not unpleasant section avoiding the A48. Once again, you get to explore people's back gardens and there are several 'hidden' path pick-up points, one of which, at a road junction near Hampton Farm, involved me sticking my head into a bush like I was going though the wardrobe into Narnia - yep, there was the path …
  You kiss the A48 briefly and immediately find yourself in the garden of a very imposing property from which the exit is not immediately apparent. In hindsight, cross diagonally left to a gate to the left of the outbuilding and then diagonally left again to the top corner of the paddock.
  At the time, I stood confused in the garden until an extraordinarily large Newfoundland dog appeared and gave a half-hearted bark. I had spent part of the day negotiating with cattle so was not fazed and cheerfully asked the dog where the path was. To my amazement, he loped off through the gate and as I followed, the way became clear. My new friend did not look much like Lassie but it was a fine imitation.
  Beyond Upper Moorcroft Farm, all that was left behind and instead you cross a very large field to pick up the railway line and a subway just beyond a small pond.
  Now you enter the urban world which will largely be your companion for the rest of the stage. Away to the left is the sound of traffic from the A40 and to the right, the clatter of trains as you walk along the sidings. It is a lonely spot in many ways despite the noise and, in its own way, quite reflective.

The riverside stretch beyond Minsterworth

Swans on a small pond near the railway line at Gloucester

The Severn from the Thomas Telford bridge, a popular spot for viewing the Severn Bore

Emerging onto the A40 near Over Farm, you are suddenly in a whirl of never-ending traffic as you walk up the pavement until you hit the turn-off to the old bridge, built by the great Georgian engineer Thomas Telford in 1829. They knew how to build in those days and this bridge served the city until 1974, reputedly bearing the weight of tanks during the Second World War.
  Now it leads, Alice in Wonderland-like, to a pedestrian access to the city which many who have lived here a lifetime may not yet have discovered. Above you on the flyovers are Over Causeway and behind you the A40 as you pass through Richard's Wood, an urban woodland which brings you out onto the main road near to the city itself. The wood is a modern planting and is named for Richard, Duke of Gloucester, better known to history as King Richard III.
  A pedestrian bridge takes you over the east channel of the Severn and now you have a decision to make. If you are staying in the city, then go straight on up into Westgate but if, like me, you are pushing on to Longford, then turn left and follow the path along the river.
  Not everyone likes urban walking but I do, I think it offers a different perspective on the world and this is a very interesting, if not particularly picturesque, section. The river runs quietly alongside as you pick your way along a slightly overgrown path, with always the noise of traffic and the odd bit of debris from urban life. It feels almost like you are intruding on a secret world on a little-trodden path and I suppose in a way, that is true.
  You follow the east channel along the backs of houses until you intersect with a quiet little B-road, by which time the traffic noise has disappeared to a faint hum. Taking the right fork in the road, you then turn right across some fields with Longford in the distance.
  It looks a fair step on the map but in fact is very quick and very easy and suddenly you are stood on the A38. Tomorrow, you take the path right in front of you but for today, it is time to find a bed.
  The Premier Inn at Twigworth is the closest, if you opt for the one at Longford then there is another bit of walking to do but you can break that with a quick pint at the Queen's Head, halfway on the left, if the mood takes you!