First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A hot afternoon of streaky blue sky over Cleeve Hill, with Cheltenham spread out 800 feet below like a town in a scale model. The sleek horses of the Wickland Stud champed their grassy paddocks as we followed the Cotswold Way, a powdery white track, along the northern edge of the great swath of common land that caps Cleeve Hill.
Golfers, walkers, joggers and kite flyers disport themselves on Cleeve Common these days, but this dome of flower-rich calcareous grassland has traditionally been a scene of hard work for graziers, arable farmers and quarrymen. Through a tumbled landscape of old quarry scoops and ledges we dropped down to the delectable dell where Postlip Hall raises its Jacobean gables on a wooded slope above a handsome medieval tithe barn.
There was a sleepy Mediterranean feel to Postlip, house and path simmering in the sunshine, only the crowing of a cock behind the high garden wall disturbing the soporific afternoon air. Sheep panted in the pastures, too sun-dazed to get up as we went by.
In a green dingle beyond Postlip a stream tinkled seductively under a footbridge. From here the Cotswold Way rose in stages – some of them pretty steep – through the intriguingly named Breakheart Plantation, with glimpse out north-east across the valley where the huddled houses of Winchcombe and the pale walls of Sudeley Castle lay and baked in the sun.
Out again on the wide Cotswold uplands we came to the sad ruin of Wontley Farm, barn roof in holes, buddleia sprouting from windows and doors, all silent and crumbling in a sea of nettles.
From Wontley a grassy track led back west to Cleeve Common. Along the rim of the escarpment young kestrels were playing chase in the updrafts. The Cotswold Way ran north through the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort to reach the topograph on Cleeve Hill. We stood and stared out west, over Cheltenham and May Hill, way beyond the Forest of Dean, across the Welsh border to where the Sugar Loaf raised a tiny peak nearly 50 miles away. A breath-taking panorama in the peachy light of evening.
Start: Quarry car park, Cleeve Hill, Cheltenham, Glos GL52 3PW (OS ref SO 989272)
Getting there: Bus service 606 (Cheltenham-Winchcombe) to Rising Sun Hotel (footpath links with walk).
Road: – Quarry car park is just beyond Cleeve Hill Golf Club clubhouse (signed from B4632 Cheltenham-Winchcombe road.
Walk (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 179): From car park, right along stony track. Follow well-waymarked Cotswold Way/CW clockwise for 2¾ miles via Postlip Hall (998267), footbridge below The Paddocks (006265), steep ascent in Breakheart Plantation (007255) and under power lines (009251) to farm track NE of Wontley Farm (011245). CW goes left here; but turn right to ruined Wontley Farm (008247). Right on Winchcombe Way. In ½ mile descend to gate (001247); ahead on grass path to radio masts (994248). Left along road; in 200m, right (993246, fingerpost). Don’t cross stile; fork left down edge of wood to reach CW (991246). Right along CW for 2 miles, following escarpment to Quarry car park.
Conditions: Steep paths in Breakheart Plantation; can be muddy, slippery.
Lunch: Cleeve Hill Golf Club (01242-672025, cleevehillgolfclub.co.uk)
Accommodation: Rising Sun, Cleeve Hill GL52 3PX (01242-676281, oldenglishinns.co.uk)
Walk with Christopher: Christopher is appearing at Cheltenham Literature Festival (cheltenhamfestivals.com/literature) on 10 October, and will be walking on Cleeve Hill that afternoon with audience members. Please book walk places with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays at ramblersholidays.co.uk.