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.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Cotswold Wildlife Park

The Cotswold Wildlife Park, Burford.

When our rusty old mini turns off the A361, two miles from Burford and through the gates of the Cotswold Wildlife Park , Pythius shows distinct signs of excitement. His ears go up, his tail wags and he starts to prepare to get out of the car even though it is still moving. Keeping him calm at this stage is difficult for despite having to be kept on a lead throughout his visit, it seems to rate as one of his favourite places.

It's not commonly known that dogs are allowed into this park, most of my friends are surprised to discover that they are welcome along with their masters. But Pythius knows he is welcome and responds accordingly.

First we visit the lions, safely contained within their superb enclosure where they have loads of room to roam and lie in somnolent poses against the glass that divides them from the visitors. As Pythius lives with two small domestic cats, he sees them as a larger version of his fluffy friends at home, and watches them roam their territory with fascination.

The little train that travels through the park is dog-friendly too and he jumps on eagerly as this gives him a chance to travel past the grazing camels and so many other animals that fascinate him.

When we get to the penguin enclosure he is mesmerized - as he is when we come to tother animals who watch him watching them. It is all such fun.

The grounds are beautifully laid out, it is rather like walking through a beautifully designed park.

I accept that this is not one of our normal walks, but Pythius loves it as much as we do and your walk round the wildlife park can be as long or as short as you want it to be,

Pythius says: We visit this park often, I love it, so many different animals to talk to. The giant tortoises for example, they put their noses to the fence and let me talk to them and the monkeys who swing from high branches laugh at me as I pass by. All stimulating stuff for an inquisitive Border collie like me.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Witney Book Festival

The Witney Book Festival

Pythius Says:
Perhaps you would like to know that Helen and I took part in the first Witney Book festival last week - what fun we had. It was the first festival that Witney has ever staged, but be assured it will not be the last!

We were allowed to give our talk in the Tap Room at Wychwood Brewery where our guests were offered glasses of Oxford Gold, Hobgoblin and several other very tasty beers brewed by Wychwood, which stands in the heart of Witney. They were given a tour of the brewery too, though sadly I wasn't allowe to join that as I am a Border collie. If you arrive at this attractive little market town first thing in the morning when the wind is in the right direction you can smell the aroma of malt wafting through the town.

We were offered this space by the brewery because they respect my knowledge of a good brew and the fact I am a member of CAMRA.  I am also a member of the British Beer Writers Guild, because I help Helen write our books, which as you can imagine is something I am particularly proud of.  Some people laugh and shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them this - "How can a Border collie write a book?" they say. I don't even bother to answer that question, because I know and Helen knows just how much I contribute to our books, particularly Paws Along The Way which was published a couple of weeks ago.
                    If  you would like me to appear at your book festival do contact Helen on - we make a great double act.

Snowshill Lavender Fields

Snowshill Lavender Fields - The Plough Inn - Ford.

In the heart of the Cotswolds close to the picturesque villages of Stanton, Snowshill and Stanway you will encounter the Snowshill Lavender fields which, at this time of the year stand out on the rolling landscape as a large patch of mauve, interspersed with stripes of soft lilac, pink and white, It is a breathtaking sight.
The lavender plants that covers 53 acres and grows on free draining limestone were first planted in the year 2000. Now rows of 250 different mature lavenders stretch more than 70 miles if you walk up and down each one of them.
The wonderful thing about these glorious fields is that well behaved dogs such as Pythius are allowed to take the walk too providing they are kept on a tight lead and do not get too close to the plants.

The 250 different varieties of lavender are now coming into bloom and beginning to display their deep purple flowers subtle blues and even soft pink and white blossoms. Their combined aroma is overwhelming.
Because lavender is known to have a soothing effect - not just on us, but dogs too - we were amused to watch Pythius' reaction too its fragrance. He stopped walking for a moment, looked around him, sat down then sat besides the flowers swaying gently from side to side, a calm soporific smile on his face.

Indeed he was reluctant to leave. It really was amusing, I have never seen him look so contented. It was all I could to to control my urge to laugh, but one must never laugh at a dog, as most dog lovers know. They can't cope with it. 

Unfortunately the lavender field's attractive little restaurant doesn't allow dogs to enter, so Pythius curled up on the backseat of the car for just for a short time while we enjoyed freshly baked lavender cakes and scones washed down with an excellent cup of coffee. Later, after walking a couple of nearby fields, we drove on to The Plough Inn at nearby Ford, an amazing "horsey pub" known for its friendly hospitality and well cooked food It's a dog-friendly 16th century pub built from Cotswold stone that attracts customers who are often in the area as it stands opposite the entrance to Jono O'Neill famous Jackdaws Castle racing stables set in 500 acres of land. and home of the Grand National winner Don't Push It 2010. The Plough Inn was voted Racing Pub of the year in 2008. It serves a pretty good Pimms during the summer but we stuck to beer as it is close to Donnington Brewery and a selection Donnington ale's is readily available including Donnington's Best Bitter, a pleasing amber ale that makes a great lunch time tipple.

Helen and Pythius in lavender field

Pythius Says:

Well strange things seem to happen on this walk - within a few minutes of reaching those fields filled with flowers I was overcome with a desire to sleep and felt so relaxed I could have stayed their for ever. We didn't of course, but it was nice while it lasted.

The pub was great, in fact I'd be inclined to say downright fantastic as the staff were so kindly and several customers came over to chat with me. All in all it proved a great day out.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Paws Along The Way is published!

Third Paws Book - now published and available.
Paws Along The Way by Helen Peacocke and her Border Collie Pythius-Peacocke - Wychwood Press £9.99 has  finally been published and should be in the shops on Tuesday May31st.  It can be ordered (post free) through Wychwood Press    

This book is another collection of dog-friendly pubs and walks in Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, that should delight walkers who enjoy taking companionable walks with their dogs and relax in traditional pub that serves tasty food and fine British ale. The walks are not long, some are only a mile or two though some  allow you to walk as far as you wish before turning round and heading for home.
Some  of the Ways featured in this,Helen's third book, are ancient trade routes dating from the Roman period or beyond.  Many such as the Windrush Way, The Oxford Green Belt Way and the Warden's Way, however have been created quite recently and link old routes with bridleways and footpaths. There are times when you may find yourself walking two ways at once, particularly when travelling along routes such as Shakespear's Way, which joins  paths that Shakespeare may have taken when journeying from Stratford-upon-Avon to the Globe Theatre, London.
Although Helen has written a great deal of the book, Pythius-Peacocke has his say too, adding little comments and details that only a Border collie would notice.
Oxford artist Sue Mynall brings extra life to the book with her superb sketches that highlight those special moments that cry out to be shared.
Helen and Pythius will have a little rest now this book is finished, then begin working on their next book which will be named Paws for the Cotswolds.

Pythius says:
Pythius looking for Cotwold stories
Having helped Helen finish our third Paws book, I must admit that I am finally getting the hang of this writing lark and finding it great fun.  Once we have had a bit of a rest, we will begin  combing the Cotswolds for scenic dog-friendly spots and more dog-friendly pubs, many of which we will mention on this blog from time to time.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Circular walk round Ozleworth Manor

Three mile circular walk through one of the quietest and most beautiful parts of the Cotswolds.

I am not going to bother to write about the pub that served us lunch this time, Yes it fed us as such, but the food was just fodder and nothing worth writing about.  I'd rather talk about the countryside we travelled, though I doubt I will be able to do justice to the beauty that surrounded us as we walked a valley floor thick with wild garlic, primroses, cowslips, bluebells and dandelions.  (I mention the dandelions because they added a deep depth of yellow that contrasted wonderfully with the delicate white flowers of the wild garlic).

Wild  garlic in abundance

We were visiting Ozleworth, which I guess would be classified as a hamlet if it didn't have a church.  Ozldeworth stands  18.5 miles south of Gloucester and 20 miles south west of Cirencester.
Apparently there was a time when a large community lived in Ozleworth valley, working on the mills powered by the Little Avon River - now all that's left to suggest this land was once quite heavily populated is just a small row of cottages, a manor house and a small Norman church.
Actually that suited us well - we chose this walk because we wanted to get away from the Easter traffic, holiday makers and all that Bank Holidays represent.
We couldn't have chosen a more perfect place.  It was so silent that not even the gentle drone of a light aircraft flying overhead could be heard.  Only song birds and the buzzing of bees broke the silence.  It seemed  apt that the name Ozleworth was originally the name for an enclosure frequented by blackbird as there were certainly loads of blackbirds here, woodpeckers too.

Photographs don't do the valley justice

This walk, which took us down rutted tracks, bridleways and the edge of established woodland, through which a small stream flowed gently through the landscape. It was so picturesque  that Uncle John, Pythius and I kept stopping to take in the view, and listen to the silence.
..and the sky was blue - the weather fine.

As to directions, let me just say that you start and end at map reference ST792934, which offers space to park the car besides the road in the middle of nowhere. A waysign points to a wooden gate on the left which directs you to the Church bridle path.
Take that path keeping a well constructed (smart/posh) metal fence on the right until you come to a metal kissing gate, that lets you into a field, and down past the remaining cottages of Ozleworth.  Several sheep and their lambs were there when we walked that way, so Pythius was firmly fixed on his lead  until we got through and onto another bridle path on the left.This took on a glorious circular path, so clearly marked with yellow arrows we didn't get lost, eventually finding ourselves back at that kissing gate again. This is a walk that should not be hurried - the Ozleworth countryside is too glorious to pass through at speed.
Pythius says:
What fun we had, gosh what a lucky dog I am, even Helen joined me in the stream now and again, while Uncle John watched the little black tadpoles with waggly tails swimming round and round in circles in the shadows under the little wooden bridge.  I think this was the most beautiful walk I have ever shared with Uncle John and Helen.  I won't comment on the pub, because as Helen remarked, it wasn't that special. BUT the walk - well it was out of this world!  Helen says we can return in the autumn when the colours are changing. I'd like that.

We both played in the stream!

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Gustav Holst Way & The Craven Arms

The Gustav Holst Way & Craven Arms

With some excitement Pythius and I handed in our completed manuscript for Paws Along the Way to our publisher Jon Carpenter, Wychwood Press, last week. Now we wait for him to contact us, checking this, that and the other He has very exacting standards and will not tolerate sloppy work, or silly mistakes - which is what makes the books he publishes so special.
To celebrate this moment, Uncle John and I took Pythius to Humblebee Wood, which lies about two miles from Winchcombe. This wood was walked by Tolkien just before he wrote Lord of the Rings, which  intrigued me.  I imagined  it would be filled with gnarled old trees and harbour an air of mystery. It didn't. The trees were spindly and without character and there was nothing mystical about it that could be linked with  Lord of the Rings.  The only positive thing about this walk was the breathtaking view of Winchcombe when seen from high on the hill at the edge of Humblebee Wood

Humblebee wood and cottage at top of hill.

We were about to turn and find a pub where we could have lunch when I spotted it!  A NEW WAYSIGN,  and when I say NEW,  I mean just that! A NEW WAY  that we had not explored and even worse,  included it in our new book about Ways that Jon Carpenter is processing even as I write.
The new pale green Way sign for Gustav Holst Way

I think it is called Sod's Law!  We  scoured the maps while working on Paws Along the Way, attempting to include every Way that crossed Oxfordshire and the Cotswold's - then a new one creeps up on us just a week after the book is finished.

The walk, named after the composer Gustav Holst, is 35 miles long and cut into chunks of 6 to 8 miles each. It begins at Cranham which represents this great composer's childhood and concludes in Wych Rissington where he worked later in his life. The walk was devised by Brian Carvell when he was a Trustee of the Holst Birthplace Museum.  Apparently the walk will be formally opened later in the year, once all the signs are in place.

Obviously we will explore this walk and tell you more about it once it is established. Actually Uncle John and I are rather looking forward to walking this Way with the sound of the Planets singing in our heads as we follow in Gustav Holst's footsteps.

Having returned to Winchcombe after our three mile walk to Humblebee Wood and back, we drove to The Craven Arms, a 16th century Inn nestling in a backstreet of the charming little village of Brockhampton, near Cheltenham.   And what a find it proved to be.  We were served by the charming Lucy who made Pythius comfortable immediately,

The charming Lucy  at the Craven Arms looks after Pythius.

We ordered baguettes which were Delicious and stuffed full of freshly sliced ham and mustard. It is one of those lovely little Cotswold's pubs that also offers its guests a beautiful garden in which to sit and admire the view. Perhaps we would have  done that if it had not been so cold and the fire in the main bar so welcoming.

Pythius says:  The walk to Humblebee Wood was uphill all the way, which Border collies like me can cope with, but Helen and Uncle John were struggling a little as we progressed to the top of the hill.  The view, however, was stunning- even I could appreciate that.
 I am not sure why they both got into such a flap when they noticed a  new way sign, but they did.
The pub was great, that lovely Lucy kept coming over to check I had everything I needed... what more could a chap ask for?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Feathered Nest Cotswold Inn

The Feathered Nest Cotswold Inn - Nether Westcote

The Feathered Nest Cotswold Inn at Nether Westcote, that stands mid-way between Stow-on-the-Wold and Burford, looks rather like the house that Jack built from outside, but when you walk through the door into the first of many small intimate areas all beautifully furnished, it is obvious this is one of the most stylish pubs for miles around.  And the view!  Gosh, even on a cold grey day when the sun hides behind the clouds, it is stunning. The inn looks down on the Evenlode Valley with its undulating landscape scattered with dwellings built from the honey coloured Cotswold stone that marks this area out as both enchanting and unforgettable. Some describe this view as one of the most beautiful in the country.

The Feathered Nest Inn, Nether Westcote  - Unforgettable!

As Auntie Liz had badly bruised a toe last week, the long "Paws" walk we usually enjoy after a good meal every Thursday was not possible. This was unfortunately as The Feathered Nest is close to the Diamond Way, The Oxfordshire Way and the D'Arcy Dalton Way. There is also a public footpath close to the Inn which leads you right down to the bottom of the valley and Westcote Brook - what more could anyone ask? Having discovered just what a gem this pub is - we will return as soon as Auntie Liz can walk comfortably again, and enjoy one of these walks, which I will write up soonest.

Friendly staff - great beer!

Cosy, intimate and friendly interior,.
Dogs are welcome at the Feathered Nest providing they are happy to place their paws under tables in the second level bar or outside in the garden.  A stunning (and when I say stunning  - I really do mean stunning) water bowl is offered immediately. What Pythius didn't expect was a "Doggie Bag" too, but I will let him tell you all about that.
Home cooked Cotswold pasty - delicious

When Auntie Liz ordered a Cotswold pasty for her lunch she was warned all the food is freshly cooked and it would take at least 20 minutes - which as far as we were concerned was fine.  The atmosphere was so relaxing, the wood burning fire so warm and snug. the staff so friendly, we would have been happy to have waited even longer.
Our food (I ordered fish and chips) arrived served on rustic wooden plates and was absolutely delicious.
Gosh what a terrific lunch!The beer was great too - we drank a local Hook Norton Brew.
This inn has become so popular, do phone and book a table if you aim to visit during the weekend.

Pythius says:
I still can't believe it. When we were settling at our table and I was adjusting my paws so that they were comfortable,  the lovely Amanda Timmer, who runs the inn with her husband Tony, came up to me, patted my head, talked to me for a few moments then handed me a carrier bag filled with "Doggie Goodies".

Pythius inspects the contents of his Green Fields Doggie Bag.

Apparently they are all part of the Green Fields range of elegant and wholesome dog products. One was a spray which makes my coat shine and also makes me smell sweet when I have rolled in things I shouldn't roll in, and another was a jummy bag of gourmet doggie biscuits.Another was a small bottle of shampoo. I have often been given doggie bags containing left overs from Helen's lunch, but NEVER, EVER have I been presented with MY VERY OWN DOGGIE BAG. 
What a lucky dog I am.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Fossebridge and The Inn at Fosbridge - 2 Mile circular walk

Fossebridge - The Inn at Fossebridge - 2 mile circular walk

The Inn at Fossebridge, as its name suggests, nestles besides a bridge in a dip on the A429 (Fosse Way) that passes through  the Coln Valley, just three miles out of Northleach, four miles from Bibury or 6 miles north of Cirencester. Its close proximity to Chedworth means it is also but three miles away from one of the most spectator Roman Villas in the country.

The Inn at Fossebridge

It's no wonder that the Romans chose to settle in this area - even during the winter months the Coln Valley displays a breathtaking and haunting beauty, which remains gloriously unspoiled.
The Inn dates back to the Georgian period and stands in 4 acres of a mature garden in which a small lake sits in the centre.  The river Coln acts as one of the garden's boundaries.

The Inn's glorious garden and lake

 Describing The Inn at Fossebridge without resorting to superlatives is impossible. This remarkable inn is not only one of the most friendly establishments I have ever visited, it is professionally run too. It is indeed a true country retreat, offering  guests a chance to step back in time, enjoy old fashioned hospitality, and fine food. Auntie Liz and I were much amused to note that there is an old sign above the main bar DATING BACK TO 1945 advertising DAVID CAMERON BREWERS! I wonder if our esteemed leader knows that there was a brewery of this name?
David the friendly barman

It goes without saying that Pythius was made really welcome, and that a large bowl of cold water is placed by the side of the bar for visiting canines.  He was allowed to roam the inn's lovely grounds too. If I was award wining stars, this inn would get five out of five.
The  walk was so easy - having walked round the grounds and admired the swans, with our back to the inn, we used the left hand side exit from its grounds that led to a minor road.  Having crossed the road we followed the directions of a waymarker and climbed a wooden stile that led to a large field. This is really all a walker needs to know.  This two mile walk is well signed throughout, not just with waysigns but with well worn paths that suggest hundreds of feet have walked this way often.
Strangely, although we were passing an undulating terrain, the walk seldom presented an uphill challenge, nothingwas strenuous, which means that providing walkers can manage to climb the wooden stiles (some of which are quite high) it is an easy walk.  When the roofs of a few houses finally come into view, you will arrive at the last stile on the way out. Having climbed it, you find yourself in a grassy passageway which suggests you are walking through someones garden.  Worry not, you are simply taking a short green lane that leads to a minor road. Place the dog on the lead at this point and on reaching the road, turn left, walking but a few yards to a waysign on the left which takes you back the way you came, but on a quite different path, and this time  alongside the small stream that trickles through the valley.  Gosh how the dog loved the stream, with its crystal clear bubbling water.

Unspoiled countryside
As with the first path, so many feet have travelled this track that waymarkers are not really necessary.
The path eventually leads you to a large meadow and a stile in the far left hand corner which takes you onto the A429 and just a stones throw from the inn, which stands on the left.
There were no livestock in the fields the day we walked, but I am told that sheep graze here during the summer months, which means there will be times when the dog must be kept under close control.
Pythius - Border collie - having fun

Pythius says:
What can I say?  Like Helen I rate both the pub and the walk amongst the best ever.  The pub was so friendly, the grounds simply glorious and the walk - well that was out of this world.  I was exhausted when I got home, but I was also a very, very happy dog.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Lechlade River Walk - aprox 3 miles (perhaps a little less)

Lechlade River Walk

Lechlade is one of those idyllic little Cotswold towns that is still firmly set in the middle of the 20th Century. It is also a gloriously watery place as its here that the River Coln and Leach join the Thames and where tourists can make river trips on the luxury Thames launch Inglesham throughout the summer season.
The launch takes its name from a nearby hamlet where the 13th century Church of John the Baptist can be found.
I mention this church because by making a short  detour you can incorporate a visit to this remarkable unspoilt building, which I promise is well worth the effort. 

Look at the layers of wall paintings! Aren't they amazing?
 This is the church that William Morris saved from decay, and which is now in the care of the Churches Preservation Trust.
It was the layers of wall paintings that date from the 13th to the 19th century,that intrigued me most - the 17th century box pews and pulpit are pretty impressive too.

We were also  thrilled to discover a Saxon carving of Madonna and child. The fact that this church has remained virtually unaltered since the early 16th century makes for a never to be forgotten experience. Pythius sensed it was a special place that had to be respected too.

But you don't get to the church until you are half way through the walk which begins by taking a path to the right, having walked along Thanes street past the Black Cat Tea rooms and the amazing Christmas Shop that remains open throughout the year. A sign on the left hand side of the road indicates that you have reached a path that will take you to the Round House, River Thames and Canal, all reached by taking this narrow secluded little path that runs alongside a small stream, and into a series of meadows, linked by some of the wackiest wooden stiles I have ever seen.

One of many wacky wooden stiles along the way
Having passed through the meadows we followed a track to the Round House, which as its name suggests is in fact round! By turning left having reached the river and the Round House, we were able to cross a delightful little wooden bridge spanning the Thames.
Unfortunately Pythius did find the exit from this bridge rather difficult. He did eventually  manage it, but only because Uncle John encouraged him to do one of his impressive doggie jumps that have got him out of trouble many times.
This is where we made a detour across the meadow to the right and visited the church, before returning to the river, where Pythius was able to run up and down the bank and dive in and out of the water as we headed back to Lechlade and the Riverside pub where we stopped for lunch. And yes Pythius was allowed to join us for lunch. This pub is very busy during the summer months as you are able to sit outside enjoy all that the River Thames  offers, including swans, ducks and loads of boats.
One of the most memorable things we encountered on this walk were snowdrops.
An abundance of snowdrops decorated the river banks, the church yard and several other places along the way. They filled our hearts with joy as they signified the beginning of Spring. A truly wonderful sight.

The first signs of spring

Pythius says:

Yes, Spring is on its way, I can feel it, smell it even.  This lovely walk enabled me to run free, dart in and out of the water and visit a very impressive old building, without bumping into a single hazard, for there were no sheep, horses or cows in the fields and the river bank offered loads of places where I could jump in without finding myself in deep water.  BUT (Yes, there is always a BUT) during the summer months much of this changes as livestock can be found grazing several of the fields we walked this week.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Pythius has booked a holiday!

                                                         Pythius has booked his holiday!

Pythius has already packed his suitcase
Now that Pythius and I have completed 35 chapters of our next  book Paws Along the Way, which will be published late Spring, we decided to organise our 2011 holiday.
Obviously we had to find a dog-friendly place where Pythius could run free and enjoy all the doggie activities he has come to expect over the years, which include dog-friendly beaches, wood and river walks and a garden he can run around in before going to bed.

We finally decided to book a luxury dog-friendly cottage at Helsbury Park, North Cornwall, which is close to Bodmin Moor and a spectacular South West Coastal Path, that will turn "walkies" into a real adventure. The cottages stand alongside a 100 acres of back garden, so there is space in abundance for everyone.
As the accommodation has a five star rating, and provides me with the chance to kick off my shoes and put my feet up  in front of a roaring fire, or wallow in a steaming bath after a long dog walk to the river and back, it offers absolutely everything that humans need too.
Spacious kitchens and dining areas make these cottages special.

As this holiday will mean I have time to enjoy some real cooking in a  farmhouse kitchen using fresh local ingredients - I'm really looking forward to creating dishes that call for a generous garnish of Cornish cream.  I am also looking foward to cooking with  freshly caught local fish.

Pythius says:
What can I possibly say, except that I am really, really excited.  We won't be going on holiday until  the autumn, but that doesn't matter, it gives me something wonderful to look forward to.

Look at that wonderful space!
Imagine being able to  open the back door onto all that space, with a river not far away. And the food too - apparently I can order special doggie food if I want to - though I doubt that Helen will allow that as she insists I stick to my Butchers Superior dog food, which I must admit is delicious.
As the cottage can accommodate quite a lot of people I am hoping we can persuade Auntie Liz, Auntie Kate and perhaps Uncle John to come too.
Gosh isn't this exciting, particularly as Dog Walkie maps are supplied, which means that the girls won't get lost (as they usually do) when we begin exploring.
Apparently Helen got the information on Helsbury Park by going to: