There is pride in knowing that you will have achieved your goal, sometimes mixed with a little relief that everything has gone to plan, especially if you map-read like I do. There is also a tinge of regret, especially on the morning that I set out, with a strong autumn sun at my back and all the colours of the season around me, that this wonderful adventure is coming to an end.
I think that conflict is at the heart of the appeal of long-distance walking, it represents a moment in time, an achievement that you will always carry but equally one that cannot be revisited in the same way ever again. Complicated.
Anyway, enough reflections, on with the walking – leaving from outside the Plaisterer’s Arms, it is worth taking your time along these first few hundred yards. Winchcombe has a number of interesting signboards offering information on the town’s past and these are worth a read.
Sudeley Castle is just down the road and you get a sense of the close relationship in history between town and that great estate, once the home to royal princesses.
However, my favourite plaque recorded the birthplace of Christopher Merrett (1614-1695), whose many scientific achievements included setting down the method for putting fizz into sparkling wine – good man!
Very soon, you will pass St Peter’s Church, which is an imposing and rather beautiful building, well worth getting your camera out to capture, which will be almost your last action before you have to put Winchcombe behind you and you thread through some housing to begin the long climb up Langley Hill.
Winchcombe Church is extremely impressive
I loved the many signs giving you snippets of Winchcombe's history
Up and up you go over Langley Hill outside Winchcombe
A lane gives way to a track and then to fields on a steady uphill trudge, I must have been doing quite well because I overtook a fellow walker and then fell in step with him for one of those brief but always pleasant chats.
He was a Cotswold warden, whose work helps to maintain these paths so well and I benefited from his local knowledge as he picked out some of the landmarks visible from this bird’s eye view over Winchcombe and Hailes.
Our routes diverged but he was good enough to set me on the right path along a long thin section of woodland. Finding the actual path here was tricky but the general direction was easy enough, though the ground was the boggiest I experienced on the whole trail, having been cut up by grazing cattle.
In the lee of the wind, it was a silent, lonely spot but progress was very good and very soon I switched from map OL45 to OL179 - three maps today with an irritatingly tiny corner of the trail on OL179.
The path here follows the lower edge of Stanley Hill and offers really good long-distance views, a real theme of the day. Much of the Gloucestershire Way is very intimate, with the focus on the immediate environment but today very much wider vistas open up time and again, including the distinctive hump of the Malvern Hills, which are a regular companion on today’s walk and the subject of an optional extra to the Gloucestershire Way.
The steep downhill from Stanley Hill was exceptionally pleasant walking and very easy to follow and I must mention another theme of today’s walk – cattle.
My main memory of the previous few days is of a neat, ordered countryside, of sheep and cattle and horses and arable fields. As I descended into the Severn Valley, I got a much stronger feeling of working farms, it felt more practical in some strange way and perhaps the difference was the re-emergence of cattle in large numbers for the first time in my consciousness since the run into Gloucester. And cattle are not neat and ordered.
The sweet smell of cattle hung in the air on several sections of today, once memorably mixed with apple scent from an orchard, still strong long after the fruit had gone, it was all very evocative of countryside.
Stanley Mount offered one of many long distance views to be enjoyed today
Shades of Thomas the Tank Engine as you near the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway bridge at Dixton
Instead, there is another climb around the fringes of Dixton Hill, partly over ploughed field, which is tough on the legs and the first of several such challenges on the run into Tewkesbury.
Skirting Woolstone Hill, you then come just below the summit of Crane Hill and the eagle-eyed will be able to make out the tower of Tewkesbury Abbey in the distance, which represents the journey’s end.
It is pleasant walking on Crane Hill and feels almost a shame to descend but down you must go to the hamlet of Oxenton, where I broke for lunch. The church at Oxenton is very nice and has a unique sign warning of rabbit holes, which was very endearing.
Sadly the porch was locked so I had to squat on a stone plinth for my cheese-and-pickle sandwich but it was still a nice, quiet spot to regather your breath.
Coming down from the church, there is a stretch of road through some very nice housing and then you have to cross the busy A46 to access the first in a series of fields leading into Tewkesbury itself.
It is now totally flat and progress is quick. Away to the right are the low humps which represent the military base at Ashchurch and the swathes of industrial estate which have sprung up to take advantage of the proximity of the M5 motorway.
However, despite evidence of busy-busy in the distance, the Gloucestershire Way remains solitary at this stage, picking its way across field after arable field with yet more ploughed fields to test your legs.
After Homedown Farm, a track leads down to the M5 Motorway, which you cross via a footbridge and then onto the old Walton Cardiff. The large new estate of Walton Cardiff is mostly bypassed by the path, which is clear at this point because it is obviously well used by local dogwalkers.
Crossing under the A38, Tewkesbury is now bang in front of you and though the actual route in is rather hard to discern as you pass through the top end of Priors Park estate, the abbey tower is always in front of you as a guide.
And so for the last few yards and suddenly, there it is – Tewkesbury Abbey, you have made it!
The abbey is well worth a visit and the equal of many a cathedral. A wander up into town too is well worth it because there is a wealth of half-timbered buildings to enjoy. There are plenty of cups of tea to be had in local cafes or pints of beer in local pubs.
Whatever your fancy, take a moment to enjoy the fact that you have just walked from Chepstow to Tewkesbury and raise a cup/glass to the Gloucestershire Way!
Oxenton Church with its rather endearing sign warning of rabbit holes
Journey's end at Tewkesbury Abbey - a stunning building
The cross at Tewkesbury, which has a wealth of history as a town including being the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471
Ornate stonework matched by half-timbered architecture in Tewkesbury
There is a higgledy-piggledy element to Tewkesbury
Take the time to wander in Tewkesbury and enjoy the sights