This month’s walk follows one of England’s most popular long-distance footpaths, the Cotswold Way. As well as being something of a switchback, with frequent ascents and descents, it alternates between long stretches through dense woodland and shorter interludes across high commons with spectacular views. Variety also comes in the form of prehistoric burial chambers, disused quarries, an Arts and Crafts church with windows by William Morris and a final section along a long-forgotten railway line.
It is a far from forgotten railway line that we use to reach the starting point at Cam & Dursley station, however, before heading north along the Cotswold edge to Stroud to catch another train back to Bath.
Leaving the train at Cam & Dursley, head out of the station, cross the road and turn left. When the road swings left, carry on along Halmore Lane (SO753021). Pass Halmore Mill and where the tarmac ends continue along a green lane for 1250m. After passing a group of buildings, follow the lane as it swings right, go through a scissor stile on the left and cross a playing field. After going through a kissing gate (KG), cross a road and turn left along the pavement (SO759005). Carry on, crossing and re-crossing the road as the pavement switches sides.
After 1,000m, when you come to a T- junction at Ashmead Green, turn right. After another 500m, just past a tall double garage, go through a gate on the left (ST767995). Bear right across rough ground to a car park, from where a clearly discernible track leads straight up the bluebell-covered slopes of Peaked Down. The climb up this conical hill is the most strenuous on the walk, and it steepens as you approach the summit. But the views – in all directions – make it worthwhile.
From the summit, head eastward where a track cuts a broad swathe gently downhill. As the track enters woodland, you come to a signpost, with a choice of six paths (ST769992). Follow the sign to Coaley Peak along the Cotswold Way (CW), which you will be following for the next seven miles. After a few metres, when the path forks, bear left uphill to cross Cam Long Down.
After 700m, the track starts heading downhill, before zigzagging steeply through woods. After crossing a stile, head down two sets of steps, past a marker post, across two more stiles and straight on along a lane (ST780993). When the lane swings right, bear left along the drive of Hodgecombe Farm. After passing the farm, head up a stepped path and continue up a holloway. After 500m, you will emerge by a bench (ST786993) with a view westward to another conical hill – this is the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny, 27 miles away.
Bear left and follow a CW waymark along the upper path. After 1000m, at a crosspath, bear right through a KG. After going through a gate at the bottom, faced with two paths ahead, take the one climbing steeply uphill. At the top, cross a side road and bear left along a verge beside the main road. After 80m, cross another side road, and a little further on, follow a CW sign down steps and past a sign for Coaley Peak to follow a path through a labyrinth of old quarries. Go through a KG at the end and carry on past a toposcope to emerge on Coaley Peak (SO793010).
Carry on past Nympsfield Long Barrow and into the woods. After going through a KG, the track leads past a deep quarry. Bear left alongside the fence, down steps, over a crosspath and straight on through a KG. After 50m, turn left at another crosspath. Go through a KG and carry on with a fence on your right, following the track as it drops down through woodland.
After 500m, follow a CW waymark straight on at a crosspath, and when the track forks bear left. After crossing another crosspath, there is a magnificent stretch through sloping beechwoods.
At the bottom, follow the CW through a KG and along the top of a field (SO805020). Carry on across a step stile, and, at the end, cross another stile to re-enter the woods. When you come to a gate, bear right up a track which soon levels out. When it forks, bear left and carry on as it climbs again.
Carry on over a step stile to head down a stepped path through the woods. At a crossing with a step stile, bear right at a T-junction, following a sign for Selsley Common. Cross a lane, carry on through the woods, and after 800m look for a CW waymark on the right and follow it up a path. A KG at the top leads onto Selsley Common and more magnificent views (SO825026). Head across the common, following waymarks past an Iron Age long barrow, and down towards a church with a saddleback tower.
Go through a gate at the bottom (SO829036), cross the main road and turn right past the lych gate of All Saints Church, incorporating glass by William Morris. Next door is Stanley Park, former home of Samuel Marling, a local MP and mill owner who commissioned the church.
Reach a junction and carry on along the pavement to follow the road down. At the main road, cross to continue along the pavement. Cross a side road, cross the main road at a traffic island and head along a path to the site of Dudbridge station (SO834044), where a branch from Stroud once joined the Midland Railway line from Stonehouse to Nailsworth. Turn left along the trackbed, and, after going through a tunnel, bear left to follow a sign for Stroud. Take a path through a housing estate and across a brook, before carrying on between fences and along a road.
When the road bears left, continue straight up a path between two bollards. Cross a road and head up steps to follow the trackbed of the branch to Stroud (SO837044). After 1000m, at the end of the line, bear left down to a road and turn right. After crossing the River Frome, bear right as the pavement swings away from the road to go through a subway. After crossing a canal, take the first right up Cheapside to the railway station. Return to Bath by changing at Swindon.
Andrew Swift is the author of On Foot in Bath: Fifteen Walks Around a World Heritage City and is co-author, with Kirsten Elliot, of Ghost Signs of Bath.