First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Perspective is a strange commodity. When I was a child, and free to run about and play in the fields near my Gloucestershire home, the Red Lion Inn on the River Severn at Wainlode Hill seemed a sky-scraping palace, the river a mighty tideway.
Looking down from Wainlode’s heights today, I see a modest red brick pub on a bend of the Severn narrow enough to pole-vault across in two hops. Beyond stretches a yellow and green patchwork of hay meadows, cut and uncut, with the Malvern Hills standing like miniature mountains ten miles off on the northern skyline.
Walking north up the riverbank, I remember winters when King Severn would leave his lair and advance across the meadows to flood our village. On this windy summer day the grasses, enriched by the silt of Severn’s yearly incursions, ripple in different varieties – tufty sweet vernal, soft sprays of cat’s tail, a grey mist of Yorkshire fog. Big tree trunks, plucked out of Severn’s banks by last winter’s floods, wallow in the wind-roughened eddies of the river.
At Apperley’s pink-faced Coal House Inn I leave the river and make east up a green valley to a viewpoint that suddenly reveals itself, forward across wet meadows streaked with pools and fleets of water to the long sweep of the distant Cotswold Hills.
Coombe Hill Meadows is a nature reserve these days, treasured for its rare plants that thrive on regular inundation, for its orchids and ragged robin, for the wading birds, ducks and geese that throng its damp ground and carefully maintained pools, and for the marsh harriers and peregrines that hunt for frogs and water voles and small birds along its reedbeds and old abandoned canal.
As a child I knew very little of all that. I just tore about ecstatically in the great open spaces. Under enormous skies flickering with black-and-white lapwing flocks I plunged recklessly in the canal, ran as far and fast as I could, and was chased by cattle into ditches and up the pollarded willows. It was bliss.
Today I walk more soberly but just as delightedly through the squelchy meadows and along the canal where purple loosestrife grows tall and the willow leaves flick white and green in the wind. A wild and lonely place to wander, now as then.
How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; mostly level walking; squelchy in parts on Coombe Hill Meadows nature reserve
Start: Red Lion Inn, Wainlode Hill, Norton, Gloucester GL2 9LW (OS ref SO 848259)
Getting there: Wainlode Hill is signed from A38 at Norton (Gloucester-Tewkesbury)
Walk (OS Explorer 179): Right (north) along river bank for 2¼ miles to Coal House Inn (855284). Right along road; in 100m, right through gateway (855283, yellow arrow/YA). Through right-hand gate ahead (YA); up through fields (stiles) to road (862282). Right; take left fork past war memorial; in 100m, left (fingerpost) over stiles, past Willow Hill and down to B4213 (866278) by Farmers Arms. Across into Wick Lane; in 100m, left through gate (867278) into orchard; on over stile; downhill across field to track (870276). Left; through gate; half right to go through hedge gap. Left, and on through hedge gap (waymark post); ahead through next gate (875275); right to waymark post (874275, YA). Left, following YAs to canal bank (878271; YA, gate, info board). Right for 2 miles to road (850265); left to Wainlode Hill.
Lunch: Red Lion, Wainlode Hill (01452-730935, redlionwainlode.co.uk) – open every day, booking advisable for weekend meals
Accommodation: Hatherley Manor Hotel, Down Hatherley Lane, Gloucester GL2 9QA (01452-730217, hatherleymanor.com)