First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A church bell was ringing nine in the morning as we set out from Winchcombe, one of Gloucestershire’s nicest towns to linger in with its chic little shops and golden houses of oolitic Cotswold limestone. It’s a good place to walk out of, too, dropping down between the pretty estate cottages of Vineyard Street with a green ridge of hills in prospect to the south.
We passed the tall gatehouse of Sudeley Castle and struck out across squelchy fields of medieval ridge-and-furrow, the mud under our boots as pale and thick as batter. The view eastward opened over the deep valley where Sudeley Castle lay set with towers like a cathedral among well-kept pastures and woods of pale wintry mauve and brown.
The sun was a greasy button of silver in a thick grey cloak of cloud as we passed Wadfield Farm, whose hedge of holly and beech whistled in the wind. A track flecked with dull gold stone led up past Humblebee Cottage, and from the road above we followed the well-trodden path up to Belas Knap at the crown of the hill.
Belas Knap is truly impressive, a magnificent long barrow nearly 200 feet in length, lying north-south along its ridge. Its northern portal, deliberately blocked with an enormous chockstone, lies between walls that curve outwards like the flippers of a giant turtle. What those who built the great tomb some 5,000 years ago intended when they constructed the dummy entrance is unclear – perhaps to deter robbers, or maybe as a spirit door to allow the dead free passage.
We walked a circuit of Belas Knap. Then it was back down to Humblebee Cottage and a slippery grass track to Newmeadow Farm where they were shifting loads of dung and straw from the cattle shed to the steaming muck heap in the yard.
A muddy path led on north past the intriguingly named wood of No Man’s Patch towards the broad green parkland around Sudeley Castle. King Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, remarried and lived here after his death. Sometimes she’s seen at one of the castle windows, a wan figure in a green dress, gazing out and watching the world go by.
Start: Back Lane car park, Winchcombe, GL20 5RX (OS ref SP 024284)
Getting there: Bus 606 or W1 from Cheltenham
Road – M5 Jct 11, A40 to Cheltenham, B4632 via Prestbury and Cleeve Hill to Winchcombe.
Walk (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer OL45): Follow ‘Town Centre’ to High Street. Right; in 150m, left down Vineyard Street (‘Sudeley Castle’). Follow road past castle gates and on; in 300m, right (025278, ‘Winchcombe Way’/WcW) off road. Follow WcW across fields (kissing gates/KG, footbridge, yellow arrows/YA) for 1¼ miles, up past Wadfield Farm (026264) and Humblebee Cottages (023259) to road. Right for 600m; at car park left (020262, ‘Belas Knap’) on well-trodden path for ½ mile to Belas Knap long barrow (021255).
Return to Humblebee Cottages. Just below cottages, right (waymark post with YA on left) past cottages. In 300m, through gate and turn left (025257, ‘Gustav Holst Way’/GHW) along fence, down to Newmeadow Farm (029261). Right along track (YA, GHW); in 700m, left at fingerpost (035259, ‘Windrush Way’/WdW). Follow WdW north through succession of gates/stiles, some unwaymarked. In 600m, at north end of No Man’s Patch wood (032265), half right across two fields (directional posts). At WW fingerpost just short of a road, right (031271) across brook; at far side, left (KG), then half right up grass slope past post. Aim left of Sudeley Castle. Opposite castle, through double gates (030276); bear half left (not ahead, as KG and YA suggest!) past playground to drive (028278). Left to gatehouse, return to Winchcombe.
Conditions: Can be very wet and muddy in fields
Lunch: Plaisterer’s Arms, Abbey Terrace, Winchcombe (01242-602358, plaisterersarms.co.uk) – friendly pub
Sudeley Castle: 01242-604357, sudeleycastle.co.uk. Open early March – end Oct