Friday 4 January 2013


Barnaby the Border collie pub entered my life to console me when the pain of Pythius's death became so deep and so raw that I found it difficult to face it alone.  There is nothing like a fluffy little puppy darting round the house to pull you together, help you face the world again and provide a jolly good reason why you should get out of bed in the morning.

Born September 29 on a farm in the Cotswolds, Barnaby is a purebred Border collie with merle eyes and a remarkable intelligence.

At the moment the walks we share are short and close to our home in the Oxfordshire village of Eynsham. As time progresses and his little bones get stronger and stronger, our walks will become longer and we will begin walking the Cotswolds, just as I did with Pythius.

Monday 19 November 2012

Farewell Pythius-Peacocke


Border Collie 
12 ½ years old.
Co-author of Paws Under the Table, Paws for History, Paws Along the Way and Paws for the Cotswolds which is due to be published November 19th.
Fully paid up member of CAMRA
Member of the Guild of Beer Writers

Sadly, just days before his next book came out my beloved Border collie Pythius-Peacocke exchanged the views of the Cotswolds that he loved so much for the fields laid out before him in Doggie Heaven.

He will be forever remembered, not just as a faithful companion, but for his many enthusiasms and his ability to bring great joy to all he met.

I doubt there are many dogs who explored more of the Oxfordshire countryside and the Cotswolds than he did and I doubt that I will ever love another creature as much as I loved him.

Farewell Dear Pythius - Farewell

Who is Pythius-Peacocke?

Pythius-Peacocke (Border collie) is now eleven years old.  There are times when he feels older, because living with his mistress Helen Peacocke is not always easy, however, it’s great fun.

Several times a week they share a Paws Walk, so called because Helen writes the walks up for the Paws series of books she has been working on since retiring as a feature writer for The Oxford Times three years ago.

Paws Under the Table, Paws for History and Paws Along the Way, have already been published by Wychwood Press (£9.99) and are proving very popular with dogs and their owners who walk  (or would like to walk) through Oxfordshire countryside and the Cotswolds, calling for a pub meal, a dog biscuit, and a pint along the way.

At the moment Helen is working on Paws for the Cotswolds. This book is almost finished and will be delivered to the publisher Jon Carpenter of Wychwood Press sometime this week.  Helen hopes it will come out late Spring.

Unfortunately there are times when Helen gets it wrong and it is those moments Pythius would like to share with you. He will, however, share some of the positive moments too, if only because Helen goes to such pains to get a walk right that he feels she deserves some praise when everything falls into place.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Brill - The Pointer pub & four mile walk

Brill - The Pointer Pub & four mile walk on a foggy day

I know one should expect it to be foggy on in October, but the fog was so thick when we visited Brill this week that my beloved Border collie kept vanishing in the mists, I have no photographs of him on this visit. That doesn't matter, I sensed he was not far behind or in front of us.  He is the sort of dog that often goes off for a moment to investigate a smell or check something out, but he is never far away.  In all the 12 years that we have shared walks together, I have never lost him.
We were visiting Brill to check out The Pointer a newly revamped pub in the center of this charming little red-brick village  which thanks to the vision of David Howden and farmer/butcher Jon Wilkins it now comes complete with its own butcher's shop.
The butchers shop is only open during the afternoon three days a week at the moment, but once David and Jon have settled in, opening hours will be extended and the butchers will even sell freshly baked bread that comes from the pub's kitchen.
Our meal was scrumptious, nicely cooked and beautifully presented.
As  I am now working on a book about fish and chips - I ordered fish and chips and was not disappointed, whilst Uncle John went for the hotpot option that featured on the menu as a Senior Special at just £5, which was jolly good value. Judging by  amount of senior citizens enjoying lunch while we were there, he was not the only one who thought this.
As The Pointer is a free house, the beers can be selected from anywhere, so most were local, with their very own Pointer Pint created for the pub by the XT brewing company down the road, near Thame.  This proved a perfect ale for lunch. The grains and yeast to brew this tipple are given to David and Jon who feed them to the Longhorn cattle that they rear on the farm.
Apparently the Longhorn will be ready for Christmas, both to buy in the butcher's shop and  the festive menu that their chefs have created. Longhorn is a particularly tasty and succulent beef - the perfect roast for Christmas.

The walk begins at the 17th century windmill which stands close to Brill's other pub The Pheasant. Delightful views over Otmore make this hilly spot well worth a visit (when it is not foggy of course). The beginning of the walk is quite difficult however as the terrain is particularly rough, such that it would be easy to trip if you weren't looking where you were going. The circular walk took us towards the village of Oakley and Little London Farm. It took us one hour 45 minutes as we had to watch our step and the fog made this difficult. Also the presence of moist cow pats suggested that there were cattle present which we couldn't see.
The notable landmark on this walk is a very ordinary looking modern farmhouse, which replaces the original house built there, that  had been purchased by the Great Train Robbers in 1963, to provide them somewhere to hide and a garden in which they could bury some of the banknotes if needs be. Leatherslade Farm was their hideout for a couple of days, then they cleaned it from top to bottom to remove any fingerprints before leaving. Unfortunately for them they failed to wipe the tomato sauce bottle that was marked with Ronald Biggs prints.
Passing the farmhouse certainly added that extra something to our walk.
We enjoyed our visit to Brill so much, it's our attention to call in before Christmas to try some of the beef  and more of The Pointer beer.

Friday 31 August 2012

Pythius visits Southrop

We have visited the Swan, frequently, it's a glorious 17th century inn that stands  in the centre the lovely little Cotswold village of Southrop, which you will find when travelling the A361 that runs from Lechlade to Burford.

Our As it changed hands recently we decided to check it out and make sure that Pythius was still welcome to put his paws under the table as he had previously done. The team running the pub is now headed by Rob  Broadbent who is general manage who comes from Sydney and David  Burke who is head chef. David has a brown Labrador  who is now settling down happily in his new country home.
Obviously  with David being a dog-lover needn't have worried about Pythius being allowed in, he was made very welcome..  Water was offered immediately - all in all he felt very welcome. So did we.
Deciding what to eat was difficult, as we were tempted to try the Old Spot Hash with a Southrop Fried Egg, but in the end we went for the Deep fried Haddock and chips.  It proved as tasty as any fish and chips we have enjoyed  recently.

And the beer? Oh yes, that was fine, how could anyone go wrong with  a glass of beer brewed at Hook Norton.  A half a pint of Old Hooky is the perfect accompaniment when eating well cooked fish and chips

A walk in Southrop is easy, the best one beginning at a little green path  on the left hand side of the road behind the pub,  By walking across the first field you you reach the river, which at this time of the year is crisp and cold.
Pythius loved it, and spent some considerable time wading about among the rushes and splashing about - something he is able to do freely at this time of the year as there are no nesting birds.
Must admit the ground was rather soggy, but this is not unique to Southrop, most walks we take these days call for Wellington boots because the rains have fallen so aggressively.
Pythius doesn't mind it being wet of course, he is a Border collie and built to make the most of everything that the countryside offers him.  A happy dog indeed.

Thursday 5 July 2012

The ancient fort at Uley

Three mile walk round Uley Bury and a visit to the Old Crown Inn.

Our walk captured on our new magic machine that tracks our path
We were looking for a challenge and decided on Uley Bury, an Iron Age fort which stand on a spur of the Cotswolds escarpment. With an ascent of 345ft, which for us was challenge enough as poor Pythius is now suffering slightly from arthritis in his rear legs, it proved the perfect challenge.

Uley is a charming little Cotswold village in Gloucester shire, which can be viewed from the top of the hill fort as a cluster of little houses and a church that nestle comfortably on the flat earth below. It's all very picturesque.

We began our walk by taking the lane besides the village Post Office which doubles as the village store. On turning right after about 100 yards into yet another lane, we reached the stone walls surrounding the church yard and turned sharp left to a grassed field.  This is where our climb began We were heading for the woods that fringe the edge of this ancient fort. As you can see from the picture above we missed our mark slightly and had to backtrack to the gate that opens out to the wood and the main path up the hill.
Walking through the wood was delightful, if somewhat arduous.

View from the top
 Having reached the top, the rest of the walk was easy, just a matter of following the footpath signs that lead the walker gently round the plateau.  We did keep a watchful eye on Pythius at this point as red signs constantly reminded us that livestock were in the area.  That said, we saw nothing, not even a lone Cotswold sheep munching on the grass.

The Brewery

After our decent back into the village, we passed the famed Uley Brewery that supplies real ale to many pubs in the area. Built in 1833 on the edge of the village, it stands close to a spring that flows on to the Seven estuary. This is the fresh spring water that is used to create their brews which include: include Laurie Lee's bitter, Pigs Ear and Old Spot

Next came the pub,The Old Crown Inn, that stands in the middle of the village and has its own car park. This attractive white washed building is a 17th century coaching inn that is open all day, though no food is served in the afternoon.

Obviously Uley beers were on tap, so while sitting in the small walled garden at the rear we drank Pigs Ear which is a quite delightful amber coloured ale. Pythius was limited as usual to a bowl of cold water which he was in need of actually as there was no water en route and was getting thirsty.

Pythius says:
Must admit that this walk would have been even better if there had been a small stream or river, I certainly needed that water by the time we had reached the pub.  I did laugh when Helen and Uncle John kept stopping as they were climbing the hill.  They pretended they were admiring the view (one of their favourite tricks) but actually they were taking a rest!  Gosh they are wimps at times.

Am getting excited about our next book which will be Paws for the Cotswolds.  It is not quite finished yet, but has got to the stage where the publisher, (Jon carpenter Wychwood Press) is reading through the final proofs. Gosh what fun I will have when it comes out.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Jubilee celebrations with our Aussie friends

Jubilee celebrations with our Aussie friends Graham and Roe from Melbourne
Pythius says:

Our lovely friends who have come to stay this weekend.
 "Gosh what an exciting weekend I am having. Helen's special friends Graham and Ro from Melbourne are stopping for the weekend before they go on to Scotland. They even asked me to choose a local pub where we could enjoy a plate of English fish and chips. I chose The Hand and Shears, Church Handborough, which is featured in my first Paws book - Paws Under the Table.
They toasted the Queen with Jubilee beer and I raised my water bowl to celebrate the occasion.  What fun we had.

Pythius sitting by the fire at the Hand and Shears.
 We are now off to enjoy the village lunch street party in Eynsham Square - will tell you all about it when I get back."

The Street Party
"Oh dear - the weather got in the way!
It proved so wet, cold and windy that that organisers decided to  hold it in the church, instead of the village  square. Because of these changes I was left at home to look after the cottage while Helen, Graham and Ro made their way to the party armed with beer, bottles of wine, cucumber sandwiches, spam sandwiches and lots of little cakes. Helen explained that it was very, very crowded and such a lovely atmosphere as everyone was there. The Eynsham Morris team danced outside when it stopped raining.
Most people dressed for the occasion, sporting wearing union flag hats. Helen didn't have a hat, but she wore her union flag apron and was smiling a lot when she got home, so were her lovely friends who let me share their room when they went to bed later that night.
Some the Eynsham Morris toasting the Queen

Our vicar Morey Adams

I am enclosing a picture that Helen took of the vicar while they were there. As you can see from the people in the background it seemed as if the whole village had  joined in the fun and toasted the health of her majesty.

Our friends have gone now. As I write they are making their way to Scotland where they aim to meet up with their son Adam and have a lovely time sight seeing, before going back to London and then Ireland. I shall miss them! They were very kind to me, particularly when I chose to sleep in their room instead of with Helen."

Pythius-Peacocke, Border collie.

Monday 7 May 2012

Cothill and the Merry Miller pub

A Walk Through a Bluebell Wood at Cothill

Despite the rain and a very chilly wind, we decided it was time to walk through a bluebell wood and chose the Cothill area, close to Wooton and Dry Sandford, Oxfordshire.
Bluebell Wood Cothill
This was a walk that called for heavy boots or Wellingtons as the winding pathway running through the wood was so muddy we found ourselves slipping and sliding all over the place. Pythius didn't seem to mind, but he has four legs to balance him as he darted from tree to tree.
The path we took stands opposite the Merry Miller public house next go a spacious car park. It passes the entrance to the Parsonage Moor Nature Reserve which has been a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1950 and is now managed by BBOWT. Because of the importance of this spring-fed wetland area, dogs are not permitted, so we just looked at the area and walked on through the bluebell wood.
We walked for about two miles, following footpaths at whim, finally turning back towards the main road and the Merry Miller as black rainclouds began to appear overhead.
What a glorious walk this proved. There is something remarkably peaceful about a bluebell wood, when the flowers are in full bloom, as they were when we walked. Everyone should amble through such a wood at least once during the spring, often stopping to stare and listen to the silence, only broken by intermittent bird song. Who cares about muddy boots? We certainly didn't. It proved a simply glorious walk.
The Merry Miller public house
Yes, we did call into the Merry Miller  after the walk, removing our muddy boots before entering, as dogs are welcome here. Gosh what a lovely pub - flagstones, beamed ceiling and rustic scrubbed tables - friendly professional staff too. The menu is superb, loads of choice, including pastas, risottos and loads of delicious fish dishes.  We chose whitebait and ordered a dish of the pubs special home fried chips to go with it. Pythius just had a bowl of cold water - but that was fine - he never eats at lunch time.

Our delicious lunch - whitebait
Pythius Says: "What a wonderful walk, yes, I did get covered with mud, but Helen dried me off with an old towel before we entered the pub. I was given a bowl of cold water, but didn't really need it as I had drunk my fill from all those muddy puddles along the way."

Wednesday 11 April 2012


What a fascinating little Cotswold market town Northeach is. Its close proximity to the A40 makes it particularly accessible. Unfortunately many 'would be' visitors drive on towards Cheltenham without taking the slip road which would lead them to this delightful medieval town.

The river walk Pythius did not have this time
Uncle John and I had planned to take Pythius to Northleach on Bank Holiday Monday, and take him for a walk alongside the river Leach, but the weather got in the way. Rain and more rain and gale force winds had been predicted and that's exactly what we faced. A long walk therefore, was out of the question After a gallant attempt to face the elements we aborted our walk that would have circumnavigated the town and taken us alongside the River Leach .Instead we headed for the Sherborne Arms, a delightful dog-friendly pub in the middle of the market square. Here we warmed up and enjoyed a scrumptious lunch as we mingled with locals, tourists and fellow walkers.
Northleach's main street
A brisk walk to the top of town after lunch took us to the Old Prison which sits alongside the Fosse Way.

This unique 18th century building is a colourful piece of Cotswold History, where petty offenders (both men and women) were once locked up alongside hardened criminals. It has undergone several reincarnations since then.

The Old Prison was turned into a heritage centre in 1975, and still boasts a nationally significant collection of waggons, carts and farming equipment collected by the late Olive Lloyd-Baker, but sadly it is now awaiting a new owner and so stands half empty. The cafe is closed now and only one room devoted to the Cotswold Conservation Board remains open to the public. Friends of the Cotwolds are fighting to raise sufficient funds to buy this fascinating building. Even as I write they wait to hear if their bid has been successful.
Their intention is to turn it into a facility for both locals and visitors alike, which celebrates the very essence of the Cotswolds. They see it as a Cotswold treasure and do not want it to be converted into a hotel, block of flats or a supermarket. Nor do I.  It can offer so much more and act as a hub for training people in rural skills, encourage volunteer involvement in the countryside and spread understanding of the Cotswolds Area of Natural Beauty.
This is certainly a campaign worth supporting by us all.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Roman villa North Leigh

Roman Villa North Leigh - 2 mile walk
The Swan Pub - Long Handborough

It was so misty when we set out for the Roman Villa at North Leigh (ten miles west of Oxford and two miles north of North Leigh, off the A4095), that I didn't bother to take my camera which means I lost the chance to take some enchanting shots of the sun suddenly piercing through the mist, filling the world with a golden glow. I offer this photo instead which was taken when Pythius and I walked this way last year.
First we visited the Swan Inn - Long Handborough which was renovated a couple of years ago by Steve Chick who managed to give it a new look, yet retain its rustic charm. During the renovations an old fireplace which had been hidden for more than a 100 years was uncovered, also a bricked up window.
The food is great, the menu offers a choice of several different steaks, home-made beef and beer pies, fish and chips and omelettes and sandwiches too at lunch time.
The Windrush Rambler's lunch which is a plate of home cooked ham, mature Cheddar cheese and crusty bread being the most popular choice for folk like us who aim to walk to the villa and then amble along the banks of the Windrush. Delicious beers from the nearby Hook Norton Brewery are always on tap.
The walk to the villa begins by taking a track opposite a lay by on the A4095.  After walking about 600 meters you will discover the villa laid out on the left hand side.  The villa it is known for its exquisite mosaic floor that is now covered with a roof to protect it from the elements.
Some of the mosaics are thought to have been created by Cirencester workers who have supplied mosaics to other villas in the Cotswolds, including Cedworth.
Entrance is free.
Having visited the villa, walk on down the track which opens out into a large meadow, then follow the bends of the river.  It ventually leads to a little bridge.  Cross this then turn left and you enter Stonesfield Common where dogs can run and run.

Pythius says;
I adore this walk during the winter when the meadows are devoid of livestock and I am allowed to run free, jump into the river and have the time of my life.  Not so sure I am into visiting villas, but I go along with that if it keeps Helen happy.

Friday 13 January 2012

The Plough Inn, Finstock

The Plough Inn, High Street Finstock - one of the most dog friendly pubs in Oxfordshire.

This 18th century thatched pub is not just dog-friendly, it also serves the most scrumptious fish and chips I have ever eaten. I never bother to look at the menu when we call at the Plough Inn despite the delicous meals it lists - fish and chips are always the order of the day.
I will write more about this pub and the walk we enjoyed which circles the lovely Cotswold village of Finstock later. This post is just to let you all see one of Pythius's new friends and the notice that her owners Joe and Martin have hung in the bar to help her keep slim. It asks us not to feed the dog in a dozen different languages. Because customers have respected this request and have stopped passing her a chip every time she passes their table Bella has reduced her weight by more than 7 pounds.

This is Bella - the pub dog.  Isn't she beautiful.

Bella is so appealing customers began giving her treats from their plates - hence the notice! She is a slimline doggie now.

Friday 9 December 2011

Filkins - Five Alls Pub

A short one mile amble from Five Alls Pub, Filkins to the Cotswold Weaver's Heritage Centre and back, via surrounding meadows.

HAD it not been pouring with rain driven across the landscape by gusty blasts of wind travelling at more than 40 miles an hour, we may have walked further, but it was not the weather for walking. Even dog seemed rather uncomfortable about the way the rain was beating down on his coat. (You will notice I have taken no photos of the countryside this time as I feared the rain would damage the camera)

We were visiting Filkins, a beautiful little Cotswold village that lies just three quarters of a mile off the A361 between Burford and Lechlade and about 20 miles from Oxford. Its an 18th century pub The Five Alls, which was once a coaching inn, and stands in the middle of the village. As it has recently undergone a face lift, everything gleams, inviting visitors to walk in over the flagstone floors, warm themselves on the open fire and admire the wooden ceiling in the bar area. A spacious and well designed restaurant area is also available, but obviously dogs are not allowed there, they are restricted to the bar area, but that is fine, its as stylish as the restaurant.

The name - The Five Alls - is confusing, did the original sign writer mean to write Five Ales, but placed an extra L where the E should have gone?

No look at the picture and you will notice that a picture of the devil's head is in the middle. he is surrounded by a lawyer who pleads for all, a parson who prays for all, a soldier who fights for all and a farmer who pays for all - the devil it seems governs all.

As it is a Breakspear pub, fine ale such as Oxford Gold and Breakspear Best Bitter are available at all times. These are brewed nearby at the market town of Witney and taste fantastic. Oxford Gold being the perfect lunch drink.

The food served here is really delicious, with very reasonably set menus served during lunch time. As the chips are cooked in goose fat, it goes without saying that they are both tasty and crunchy and are so beautifully served it was easy to imagine we were eating in a Five Star hotel.

Pythius was served lunch too, a small dish of shaped doggie biscuits which I allowed him to eat as it was such a cold day and he would need all the energy he could get when we struggled against the wind and rain after lunch.

The staff by the way are both professional and very friendly, nothing was too much trouble, their service made us all feel very spoiled.

The walk is easy, just a matter of turning left as you leave the pub, walking through the main street past magnificent yew hedging, St Peter's Church and then the War Memorial and Rouses Road marked by a red letter box. Turn down this road, past the village shop with its blue plaque dedicated to Sir Stafford Cripps, statesman and benefactor to the village. You will eventually come to a stile on the right hand side which leads to a muddy little lane, and then a large meadow, which had it not been raining we would have circumnavigated to give Pythius an extra run. Instead we walked to the far end of the field where we were about to spot the Cotswold Woollen Weavers Heritage Centre. Dogs are not normally allowed inside the centre, but the staff felt so sorry for us, we were all ushered inside. By this time we looked like drowned rats! Pythius was certainly soaking wet, while he sat waiting, water dribbled off his coat, such that it looked as if he was sitting in a small pond.

Weavers are still working at the centre, weaving some magnificent cloth from wool shawn from Cotswold sheep, known for its natural lustre. Ready made garments, hats and soft furnishings are also on sale. It is a fascinating place and well worth a visit.

Pythius says: I think that Auntie Liz and Helen act like bears with little brains at times. Who but them would venture forth when the rain is coming down in torrents and the wind is so strong it is almost blowing them over? Thank goodness that the lovely woman who served our lunch provided me with a little bowl of dog biscuits to keep me going. They were tasty and helped keep out the cold.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Cotswolds -Friendship Trail

Cotswolds Friendship Trail & Old Spot Inn Dersley - Three and a half mile walk

The weather forecast was grim, but we piled on extra layers of thermal clothing and headed for Dursley, Gloucestershire anyway. Nothing was going to stop us walking the newly established Korea friendship Trail that circumnavigates the summit of Stinchcombe Hill.

The Trail, which follows a Cotswold Way three mile circular walk is one of the world's first such trails - and what a first!

This glorious trail, with views to die for, is possibly the most satisfying walk we have ever taken.

The twinning with a Cotswold walk with a similar walk on Jeju Island, off the southwest coast of Korea is a new initiative that came about as a result of the World Trail's conference on Jeju Island, attended by representatives of the Cotswold Way.

Essentially the idea is similar to the twin town's concept which enables people from two similar places, but in different parts of the world, to team up with each other. It is hoped that this idea will soon spread all over the globe.

The Trail is marked as both the Cotswold Way and with signs of the Jeju Ollie, which is known as the "Ganse" and shaped like a Jeju pony which appears on the Korean Trail on the Jeju Island too.

The word Ganse translates to "lazy bones" and for good reason as both trails wind their way through beautiful countryside which should be absorbed at a pace slow enough to embrace all before you and allow you time to fully appreciate the landscape that spreads out into the far distance.

Because there are no stiles to clamber over, and the terrain, whilst undulating, makes for easy walking you will find it compels you to slow down and absorb each breathtaking scene as it presents itself.

Stinchcombe Hill is part of the Cotswold Edge, set on the southern edge of the Escarpment above the Severn valley. It offers magnificant views of the Forest of Dean, the Black Mountains, the Malvern hills, the Bristol Channel and North Devon and acts as a magnificent backdrop for the Gloucestershire market town of Dursley where this lovely walk begins.

A free public car park opposite the award winning Old Spot Inn, Dursley is but a minute's walk from the corner of May Lane and Hill Road. A Cotswold marker post and signs for the Jeju Ollie point you towards a trek up May Lane, and eventually a golf clubhouse. This part of the walk is arduous so if you prefer to start at the top of the hill (as we did) just drive on to the top and use the public car park there.

The rest is so easy very few instructions are needed, as by following the Way signs in a clockwork direction you will be able to follow the Trail easily. Benches are provided along the trail to enable walkers to sit and soak up the views as they present themselves and a stone cabin has been erected at the half way point to provide shelter if the weather turns around.

My beloved Border Collie loved this walk, as there were no livestock to worry about and there were no signs asking us to keep the dog on a lead. There was a moment when a golf ball flew over our heads at a tremendous rate, that frightened him and us, but otherwise this walk is doggie heaven.

On returning to Dursley we all tipped into the Old Spot Inn for a hot beef sandwich and half a pint of real ale. This is one of those traditional boozers which really knows what hospitality is all about. Pythius was made as welcome as we were, the food was great and beer local. Had it not been getting late and dusk was threatening to settle, I am sure we would have settled in for the afternoon and gone on enjoying the intimate atmosphere of this fantastic little pub.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Nympsfield - The Rose and Crown & Woodchester Park

Nympsfield - The Rose and Crown

Woodchester Park - One and a half mile circular walk

We had travelled more than 50 miles to get there, but be assured the effort was worth it, as the The Rose and Crown, Nympsfield, transformed us into the magical world of Ambridge, a village familar to BBC Radio 4 listeners. Nympsfield is a charming little Gloucestershire village located six miles south-west of Stroud on the path of an ancient Roman Road. Ambridge however is situated in the fictional county of Borsetshire and can be visited nightly at three minutes past seven by tuning into Radio 4. So what is the connection? Why was I so excited to be sitting in the main bar of the Rose and Crown, a 400 year old pub built from Cotswold stone, which dominates Nympsfield's main street? Think Brigadoon and you have the answer. Brigadoon was the Scottish village in the musical of that name, which came to life once in every 100 years. Nympsfield is the place that transformed itself into Ambridge for just one day. July 6 1985 to be exact. When dusk settled that day, and the 800 year celebrations commemorating the appointment of the first vicar of the parish were over, the residents removed the signs they had put in place for the day everything went back to normal. The sign of The Bull was taken down and the pub became the Rose and Crown once more, the Ambridge Village Store sign was removed, so was the Gray Gables name that had been stuck to the entrance of local convent. All that remained at the end of the day to remind the residents that they had lived in Ambridge for just 24 hours were the memories.

One visitor that day was my friend the late Mollie Harris who played the Archer's character - Martha. She and other Archers characters had been invited to join in the celebrations, and add an air of authenticity by entering the village on a horse-drawn brewery dray. She mentioned this visit in her book The Magic of the Cotswold Way. It was for her an unforgettable memory.

It was for Pythiu, Uncle John and me too. The Rose and Crown, with its small restaurant at the back and its rustic feel, hop flowers decorating the beams, could have easily been the Bull. Indeed I half expected to be asked if we wanted a pint of Shires - but we weren't of course, though we were served by a charming young woman who brought water for Pythius without being asked.

Perhaps the thing that sets the two pubs apart is the Dog's Dinner Menu Board by the bar. I doubt The Bull would have offered a Good Boy duo twist, a pig's ear or a Pedigree pouch of chicken, lamb, rabbit or beef. Pythius ordered a pigs ear and loved it. He has never been offered choice from a dog's menu before. It made him feel very important, so did the locals congregated by the bar sipping their real ales. They called him a splendid Border collie, tapped him on the head and watched him eating his dog's dinner. It was all great fun.

The Walk: Woodchester Park is owned by the National Trust and is just a mile from Nympsfield, four miles south west of Stroud and off the B4066 Stroud to Dursley Road. It is a glorious secluded valley with a mansion and a chain of five man-made lakes fringed by woodland and pasture. The thing I liked about this park is that there are three different, clearly marked walks.

The Woodland Walk that takes you to a high point and close to the Mansion which is just 1.7. miles long, and marked by blue arrows. The Boathouse Walk marked with orange arrows that is 3.5 miles long and the Valley Walk marked with red arrows, which is 7 miles long and explores the lakes and more woodland, with viewpoints that offer a glimpse of the Mansion. Having eaten so well at the Rose and Crown Inn, we went for the first walk, and gently ambled along a wood-lined path, past remnants of the old ice house. As it took us close to the Mansion which is a Grade 1 listed building built in French Gothic revival style from Cotswold limestone, we made a short detour to view it. Apparently the work on this building took so long that in 1870, after 16 years work, the workers left, leaving their tools behind and many of the rooms unfinished. Inside there are doors that lead no where and corridors that still end abruptly. The Mansion trust that owns it is now using trainee craftsmen to undertake repairs and preservation.

It was whilst taking a small detour to view the Mansion, which is only open to the public a few days every year, we met up with the most delightful couple, who like us, were enjoying the peace of this glorious park and admiring the wonders of this unfinished masterpiece. How I would like to give you their names, but am ashamed to say I lost their email address. It's my hope, that on reading this they will make contact again.

Pythius Says: There are times when I reckon my mistress is barking mad. How can a supposedly intelligent woman like her travel all the way to Nympsfield just because once a long time ago the residents put up a few signs and pretended it was somewhere else?

Living with her is not always easy - it is fun though and I must admit the joy she seemed to get from sitting in that pub was something I couldn't deny her. Besides, this pub had a dogs dinner menu. Fancy me, a Border collie being offered lunch! That has NEVER happened before. And the walk, short though it was, took us through the most beautiful wooded countryside full of glorious smells. I had the time of my life in that lovely park. I just wish Helen had chosen the seven mile walk rather than the short one though, then I would have seen the lakes and perhaps been given the chance to swim. Oh well, I guess I can't have everything.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Prestbury - The Plough Inn

Prestbury - the Plough Inn - Three and a half mile circular walk

Perhaps we shouldn't have chosen Pestbury, near Cheltenham for our walk as my Border collie Pythius doesn't like ghosts and this delightful little Cotswold village is reputed to be the most haunted place in England, but we took him anyway. We even left him standing outside The Plough Inn, Mill Street, at the point where the ghostly galloping horses are said to pass by. Poor little lad, he just stood there waiting for something to happen - but it didn't - so we all went inside for lunch.

Although the main bar of this 17th century thatched pub has a great olde-wordly atmosphere we ate in the garden which judging by their accents and well-cut garments, was filled with members of the Cheltenham set. The food was freshly cooked and scrumptious and served by a charming young barman who kindly checked to see if Pythius would like a bowl of water. Several of the men-in-suits smile at Pythius when he curled in a comfortable position under the table while we ate. It proved a very friendly pub.

The Walk:

Having parked the car in a free car park just off Mill Street and close to the pub, we turned right into a small road called The Bank and right again into Mill Street, then turned left until we reached the B4632 , then left again, walking for about 100 yards until we spotted a stile and Way marker the other side of the road. Despite being a B road, the B4632 is busy. Crossing demands vigilance, a tight dog lead and loads of patience., but we made it and having climbed the stile we followed a well worn track and headed for Queen's Wood which is straight ahead and easily spotted. The path alongside the wood now bears slightly left when it reaches the third field. Long horned cattle and loads of sheep will greet you as you pass this way. Before reaching the main road again we stopped to admire Cheltenham's famous race course which comes into full view on the left.

After crossing the last stile next to the main road (one of three that had an ingenious dog-friendly entry, operated by pulling up a plank of wood to enable dogs to clamber through) we faced the daunting task of getting safely over the road.

The medieval buildings of the De La Bere Hotel, which dates back to 1486 and is reputed to be haunted, now comes into view. One look and it is easy to see why. It is a magnificent old building but definitely looks rather spooky.

We followed Southern Lane, turning left after about 200 years into a field, with the hotel on our left. Keeping the hedge on our right we followed the track to a bridge-stile and eventually a minor road that was to finally lead us back to Mill Street.

Pythius Says: Once we got back to the village Uncle John and Helen dragged me through the streets, first stopping to view the Old Post Office which is now a news agents where a poltergeist is said to move things about. They then went on to the Old butchers Shop which is supposed to be haunted too. Anne Good Close was next as a little old lady is supposed to peer out of he windows. At each building they commanded me to sit and just watched so see if my fur went all prickly. But it didn't. There was no ghostly figure dressed in black in the church yard, no galloping horses outside the pub - nothing at all. I was however slightly concerned about the horned cattle we passed when walking towards the wood and the young bullocks we met towards the end of the walk, well the best said about them the better. Gosh Helen is a wimp! The pub was fine, I was welcomed and offered water - so all was well.

Monday 18 July 2011

Church Handborough - Hand and Shears

You will discover Church Handborough when travelling a minor road between the villages of Eynsham and Long Handborough. Small though it is, Church Handborough does boast a great pub and a superb church that dates back more than 900 years. The magnificant spire of St Peters and St Paul is so tall and majestic it can be seen for miles around so walkers never get lost when exploring this area as the spire acts as a beacon, guiding you back to The Hand and Shears which stands directly opposite the church. The pub is now in good hands. Sadly this hasn't always been the case. Over the past decade it has had several licences - each promising that they will run it as it has never been run before. Unfortunately this doesn't happen, they stay for but a short time then vanish leaving the locals waiting for the next one to take over.
Delicious fish and chips
Auntie Liz and I always choose the fish and chips when we visit this pub as this dish is the speciality of the house and something that they serve as a take away. Because I never cook fish and chips at home, this choice is a real treat. Besides, the chef knows just how to make a delicious crunchy batter. Pythius is welcome here and always offered a bowl of water.

We usually walk the nearby Pinsley Wood an ancient remnant of Wychwood Forrest when we visit this area. This week, having parked the car in the space in front of the church we took a different path. Turning right on leaving the car we walked just a short distance to Pigeon House Lane which leads to the village of Freeland. This is a narrow tarmacked lane, which divides after an equally short distance. There is a metal gate and Waysign on your left that points to a series of fields, the second of which is full of sheep so this is where you place the dog on the lead, cross the stile and walk on following the Waymarkers which direct you through several other fields until you reach the village of Freeland (approximately half a mile). Now you can either turn right and walk the main road until you reach a sign on the right to Church Handborough, or return the way you came. As this is the narrow tree lined road on which you began your walk, there is nothing very interesting to see. Far better to turn and go back the way you came as the views on the way back are superb.

On our return we spotted a poor little lamb on its back struggling to get to its feet. Auntie Liz stroked it gently, easing it up as she did so. It stood shaking for a moment, then with glee leapt onwards towards the main flock. It was a good moment.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Thank You Blackwells!

"Thank You Blackwells"

During my youth I would walk the miles of bookshelves in Blackwell's wonderful bookshop, Broad Street, Oxford, marvelling at the amount of books stocked there. As I grew older I began to dream of seeing a book I had written displayed there too. I often wondered how it would be if I encountered my own book unexpectedly. This happened yesterday when I called into the travel section for an Ordance Survey map of Gloucestershire to help me with my next book Paws For the Cotswolds, which Pythius and I are working on now.

As I approached the shelf I needed, I did a double take - there they were - not one but all three Paws books prominently displayed nearby. Apparently they are selling really well, especially as they have done a £1.00 off deal. Thank you Blackwells you have made a DREAM COME TRUE!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Slad, Gloucestershire - The Woolpack pub & two mile circular walk

Slad - The Woolpack - 2 mile circular walk.

Pythius and I joined Uncle John on a trip into Gloucestershire and the idyllic little grey stone village of Slad, which was immortalised by Laurie Lee. It nestles in the folds of the Slad Valley just north of Stroud and about eight miles from Gloucester.
The valley is one of those remarkably beautiful finger valleys that radiate from Stroud. The undulating landscape calls for considerable effort as you climb the hills, but be assured it is well worth it.
You approach Slad from the tree lined B4070 which passes through the village. The Woolpack inn stands right in the centre, close to both the old school building with its adjoining school house and the church.
The Woolpack Inn

The pub is a 16th century treasure which clings to the hillside offering views in abundance and an unspoiled atmosphere. This was Laurie Lees local. Portraits of the writer whose first book Cider With Rose described his childhood at Slad during the lead up to the First World War, cover the walls and his collection of vintage beer bottles decorate the back of the bar. The beer pumps offer a choice of Uley beers, including Old Spot, Pigs Ear and Uley bitter which has plenty of body and a glorious dry hoppy finish. If you are looking for a serious Cotswold ale, you can't do better than sip Uley's superb brews.
And for your dog an impressive stainless steel water bowl, filled to the brim sits outside the main door.

The walk can begin by checking out Rosebank Cottage where Laurie Lee lived as a child. It is just a short walk north of the pub, though unfortunately it is not fully visible from the road.
Walk a little further until you arrive at a right hand turning which will lead you to the pond that features large in Laurie Lee's book as this was the pond in which 'poor Miss Flynn's' naked body was found floating, her hair stretched out white in the water'.

Pythius at the pond

Having viewed the pond with its abundance of ducks, which is can be found by taking the first Waysign on the right, return to the road an having walked a short distance take the second turn which will lead you up a steep, stony track. Trickles of water that descend throughout this section of the walk mean it can be both muddy and slippery, but persist, the view at the top is worth it .
About an eighth of a mile up this path you fill find another path crossing this way, which is easier to manage though do watch out for gnarled tree roots that can cause you to trip.
This path finally bears left and leads to to the first yellow Way sign - it is slightly faded now and points across the first of many fields and meadows you can now explore.
As there are several footpaths in this area, you can, should you wish now walk where you will, remembering to keep the village of Slad on your right hand side.
Your return to the B4070 and the pub is just a matter of taking anyone of the footpaths on the right hand side when you are ready.

Walk on and you will probably notice that one of the meadows has a yellow sheen when viewed from afar. If you walk this meadow you will notice an abundance of wild flowers and grasses. More than 130 plant species can be found here as it is one of the Meadows below Swifts Hill, and the Elliot Nature Reserve. This is one of the country's finest grasslands and an important site for butterflies and wild orchids.ite

Pythius Says: Gosh what a walk - the views, the uphill climbs, the slopes which almost beat Helen and Uncle John - terrific - no dog could ask for more. There was even a big pond on which a multitude of wild ducks swam. When they saw me they all darted to the centre of the pond - but I didn't mind that I played with sticks instead.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Mikron Theatre Company

Despite the winter chill in the air Pythius and I did an extra walk today which took us to the beer garden of our favourite Eynsham pub - The Queen's Head, Queen Street. We were there to watch the Mikron Theatre Company's production of Beer Street, which proved a heady draught of people, pubs and brewing. In fact almost everything that interests dog and I.

When they learned that Pythius is a fully paid up member of CAMRA and also a member of the British Beer Writer's Guild, they asked him to join them before the curtain went up.

Pythius says: During the summer months this fascinating little theatre company travel the waterways to bring original and accessible theatre to villages such as Eynsham that are close to the Thames or the Oxford Canal. It's jolly good entertainment, I certainly enjoyed it, so do look up their website and check in case they are travelling in your area this summer.