Day 4 - Longford to Cockleford

THIS is a landmark stage for the Gloucestershire Way as we swap the Severn Valley for the Cotswolds with our biggest climb of the entire route, Crickley Hill.
  But we start the day north of Gloucester, turning off the Longford Road into fields and then crossing diagonally to intersect with the Hatherley Brook, which will be our constant companion for the first couple of hours.
  The advantage of this is that there are no navigational issues, you simply keep the brook to your left and enjoy a deliciously easy start to the day. The terrain is flat and borders crop fields, which were all stubble on the early autumn day I chose for my walk, giving me a glimpse of houses in Innsworth away to the right.
  Gradually these start to fall away and the hum of traffic noise starts to give way to the swish of the wind in the trees bordering the brook. Soon the open farmland is replaced by stands of trees and suddenly you are walking on springy turf courtesy of the grounds maintenance staff at Leckhampton Golf Club.
  The path hugs the extreme edge of the course and you can ignore the various little bridges giving access to the tee positions and keep striding forward until you reach the B4063.
  Crossing the road, there is a signpost which leads you into a narrow fenced path, a very pleasant and easy route which borders the rear of Staverton Airport, so the odd helicopter or light aircraft may well buzz overhead.
  As you turn the corner of the airport perimeter, you will be suddenly aware of the A40, the first of several major roads which feature today as the path bisects Gloucester and neighbouring Cheltenham, which is akin the threading the eye of a needle but is achieved very well by the route-planners, who always preserve the sense of countryside.
  Passage under the A40 is via a large subway and then you are leaving it behind across more fields and skirting Home Farm until you reach another subway under the railway line, which pops you out close to the M5 motorway.

The imposing tunnel under the A40

Goats encountered near the M5

Badgeworth Church from an usual angle

My companions across this field were a herd of goats, who stared impassively as I tramped past into a little small-holding and up a slight rise to the road bridge over the motorway. Rather less welcoming were three geese, the nearest of which puffed itself up in a flurry of indignation, stretched its neck out and hissed grumpily. It is hard to feel affectionate about a goose.
  Never mind, it was time to cross the bridge and watch the traffic flash by north to Birmingham and south to Bristol and reflect on the fact that it had been a very good morning's walking, which continued as I pushed on to Badgeworth, where there is a rather lovely country church.
  The path is easy to lose here and I was assisted by a cheerful church volunteer. More fields now, again pretty easy to walk, until you pick up a roadway which is part of some kind of bee-related enterprise. One of the most curious sights of the whole walk was a shipping container across a field painted with a warning about it housing live bees …
  And that brings you to Shurdington, where you cross the A46 and head straight on down past a plant nursery to Greenway Farm. I got quite hideously lost in this small collection of homes and farm outbuildings, burning a good 15 minutes until I found the sign to the footpath hidden slightly in a hedge.
  Hot, grumpy and cursing my incompetence, I headed for Greenfield Farm, where I met a party of some 20 ramblers coming the other way - effortlessly striding across the fields, chatting away and with never the slightest danger of getting lost. Very annoying.
  As it happens, the worst was now over navigation-wise and the path is really easy to follow as it starts to drift uphill and you feel the first pull on your legs of Crickley Hill. I ate my lunch sat on the step of a stile-bridge and then pushed on up, enjoying the view behind me from the rising ground - all Gloucester and Cheltenham spread out.

Enjoying level ground before Crickley Hill

Lovely views to be had on the climb up Crickley Hill

One of the more impressive residents of Crickley Hill

The path hugs the contours of Crickley Hill, giving you a steady uphill rather than a brutal one but at Cold Slad, height must be found and there is a short section which is really steep. Crossing the little lane, there are some steps up a steep bank but they give out halfway up and then you have to carefully find your footing, particularly in wet weather.
  Just when you think you want to lie down and give up the ghost, the worst is over and the climb is now more gentle. There is turf under your feet, you meet the Cotswold Way and there is a National Trust sign proclaiming Crickley Hill. You have made it.
  The walk up this section is really lovely and finishes with some beautiful open woodland, getting their first covering of autumn leaves as I walked in mid-September.
  The noise of traffic starts to grow as you reach the intersection of the A417 and the A4136 at the Air Balloon pub. This is a really busy bit of road and care needs to be taken as you cross over to the Air Balloon and then have to cross the A417 to signposted woodland on the other side.
  However, once you move into the countryside, it is amazing how quickly the road falls away behind you and this stretch was my favourite of today's route. Crossing a field, you then pick up the ridge of a valley - the walking is smooth and the view is lovely, an easy and steady walk all the way to the B-road near Coberley.
  Accommodation options for this stage and the next are a real headache and here you need to leave the path and divert down the B-road for 20 minutes into first Cowley and then Cockleford, where you will find the Green Dragon.
  It is a nice quiet stretch of road but obviously an extra strain on the legs though it is certainly worth it because the Green Dragon is a very nice pub, smelling sweetly of wood smoke and with a decent range of beers. For real ale fans, Butcombe, a local beer, is a real treat on draught …
We have mapped a loop back to the path which means you don't have to retrace your steps but more of that in the next blog.

Open views from Crickley Hill

Some uphill but it is not too brutal

The valley beyond the Air Balloon was a terrific bit of walking to enjoy