First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Back in 1985, a head-over-heels fan of Cider with Rosie, I spent a day exploring Slad with Laurie Lee as my guide. I’ve never forgotten the deep and amused affection that the author showed for the little South Gloucestershire village where he grew up. So it was a thrill to be back there in Lee’s centenary year, walking the recently opened Laurie Lee Wildlife Way which meanders – marked here and there with posts displaying Lee’s locally-inspired poems – through a succession of nature reserves cared for by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Click here for a map of Cider With Rosie sites
Below the path in ancient Longridge Wood ran the dark dingle of Deadcombe Bottom where lay the haunted house of the Bull’s Cross hangman – or so young Laurie and his friends believed. Up at the crest the poem ‘Landscape’ summoned images of a lover and a countryside melting into one another. But the stolid sheep among the harebells of Slad Slope munched on regardless.
On through Snows Hill wood, and down across a jungly hillside to a brook fragrant with spearmint. ‘My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows,’ said ‘Home From Abroad’ on the far bank. Up again to a long view over the roofs of Slad, and a poem about The Three Winds in Catswood. Here a tawny owl got up and flapped briskly away before me.
Through autumn gentians and ladies tresses on the steep flank of Swift’s Hill; and then the approach to Slad itself, past the field where Rosie Burdock and young Laurie exchanged cidrous kisses under that famous hay wagon. Past the tangle of trees in the valley bottom where Laurie’s friend Sixpence Robinson lived – ‘the place past the sheepwash,’ Lee remembered in Cider With Rosie, ‘the hide-out unspoiled by authority, where drowned pigeons flew and cripples ran free; where it was summer, in some ways, always.’
Past the pond where poor crazed Miss Flynn drowned herself, and up the lane to the L-shaped house where Lee and his seven siblings lived, laughed, fought with and finally left their scatter-brained, infinitely loving mother Annie. As her dreamy youngest son put it in his poem ‘Apples’, she too was fated to ‘welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour, / the hollow and the whole.’
Start & finish: Bull’s Cross car park, near Slad, Glos GL6 7QS (approx.) – OS ref SO 877087)
Getting there: Bull’s Cross is on B4070, 1 mile north of Slad (signed from A419 in Stroud – M5, Jct 13)
Walk (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 179. NB leaflet guide from Woolpack Inn, Slad, or download at gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk):
Heading north from Slad, don’t take first path on right! At ‘Equinox’ poem at northern end of car park, ‘Wildlife Way’ arrow/WW points up B4070. In 100m, right (yellow arrow/YA) down lane. In 400m, through gate (882089); in another 350m, fork right off track (885088, YA on tree) on descending path. Pass end of lake, up across track (886087) and on up steep path rising to left. At top, cross bridleway (887087), through stone wall gap (YA) and on, down through grassland reserve. Stile (YA); cross field to bottom left corner and gate into Snows Farm Nature Reserve (889085).
Ahead down track through wood. At bottom, path bends right (892085, ‘Laurie Lee’/LL post, red arrow). Follow LL and WW southwest across grass slopes and through woods for 500m. Near Snows Farm cross brook (887081); on far bank, through gate; right (LL) along fence and through kissing gate. Don’t cross brook, but bear left over stile (YA, Wysis Way). Fork right in next field to cross stream by plank; fork right up slope and over stile; diagonally up across grassy field and into Catswood (886077). Right on path along lower edge of Catswood, and on into Redding Wood.
In a little over ½ mile, turn right along tarmac lane (880073). In 400m at bottom on right bend, left up steps (880070); follow path through Laurie Lee Wood Nature reserve (‘Trantershill Plantation’ on OS Explorer map). Through gate at top of wood (877068, with road below to right). Turn left past another gate, uphill on stony track. In 200m, pass ‘Field of Autumn’ poetry post on your right; at top of slope, with field gate on left, hairpin back right (879067), heading west over brow of Swift’s Hill Nature Reserve and down to road (875066). Left over cattle grid. Pass Knapp Farm; at left bend, right along drive (872067, ‘Upper Vatch Mill’). In 100m, right over stile (YA), and follow YAs across 3 fields for 600m to hollow lane (878071). Left to road at Furners Farm. Left past farm; on along stony lane.
In 10m, over stile (877072); on along green pathway through 2 fields and woodland corner. Cross stile on left into 3rd field (877076); follow hedge on left down to gate (877077). Pass village pond; left up lane. At top (874078), either left to B4070 (Lee’s childhood home – NB it’s a private house! – is down the bank on the left at junction, 874075) and on to Woolpack Inn, with church and school opposite; or turn right at top of lane to cross B4070 at war memorial (873079). Up lane opposite; at left bend, right (872079, fingerpost) along lower edge of Frith Wood Nature Reserve. In 200m fork left uphill; in 250m at top (874084), bear right to Bull’s Cross car park.
Conditions: Some short steep climbs; sticky/slippery after rain.
Lunch: Woolpack Inn, Slad (01452-813429)
Reading: Laurie Lee’s Selected Poems (Unicorn Press); Cider With Rosie (Vintage Classics)
2014 Centenary events: laurielee.org
Info: Stroud TIC (01453-760960)