Hiking Through the Cotswolds

It’s been several weeks since my last post; in the meantime I’ve been enjoying the final weeks of my Easter Holiday travelling with my family, travelling to the southwest of England by myself, and hiking with friends.  I’ve been to the place where Thomas Beckett was murdered/martyred in Canterbury Cathedral, I’ve stood on top of a lighthouse overlooking the white cliffs of Dover, and I’ve eaten a scrumptious sandwich in Sandwich.  It has been a delightful break.  But now, Trinity Term is starting up and soon I will be back to attending lectures and writing papers (and posting blogs more regularly again!).

Although I could go on and on about everywhere I’ve been these past couple weeks, I would like to focus on the final five days of my vacation.  Towards the middle of last term, my roommate asked a bunch of the visiting students if anyone would be interested in a hike along “Shakespeare’s Way”, a trail that runs nearly 150 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon—Shakespeare’s birthplace—to the Globe Theatre in London.  One other brave soul (also named Mike) and myself thought it would be a wonderful way to end our holiday and whole-heartedly agreed to join him.  We decided to hike the 60-mile stretch from Stratford to Oxford.  On the 14th of April, we took a bus out to Stratford to begin our adventure.

Our first day was spent simply exploring Stratford.  We visited Trinity Church, the home of Shakespeare’s tomb.  It also curiously had what is known as a ‘weeping chancel’, which means that the chancel is bent to one side (rather than at a right angle), thus emphasizing Christ bent in agony on the cross.  According to a guide at the church, this style of chancel was popular with groups seeking to emphasize the humanity of Christ; if I remember correctly, he said that there are probably about 70 or so weeping chancels across Britain.  For dinner, we ate at the Black Swan, affectionately known as the Dirty Duck, a pub popular with the actors and crew of the Royal Shakespeare’s Company, the theatre of which was just down the road.  After a restful night and a hearty breakfast at our B&B, we were ready to hit the trail.

We swiftly discovered that this hike would be like none that any of us had ever done before.  Although our guidebook had warned us that the trail would take us through private property (thanks to the owner’s kind permission), we did not quite realize what that would entail until we found ourselves crossing through the middle of what was to be the first of many large sheep pastures.  We quickly became acquainted with the colourful language of our guidebook, which such delightful passages as “our old friend, the river Stour”, “pass the scrappy fence”, and the positive gem:  “as you continue, glance back to watch as the stately home descends like a great ship beyond the horizon”.  The authors of the guide certainly kept us entertained.  As our first day of hiking drew to an end, the trail brought us to the edge of a vast yellow field of canola in full bloom.  The trail cut straight through the middle, and by the time we emerged from the other side to reach our destination for the day (Shipston-on-Stour), all three of us were thoroughly dusted with a bright layer of pollen.

The next few days brought us much of the same; the trail wound through pastures and fields, towns and woodland, hills and streambeds.  The weather cooperated beyond our wildest hopes, never being too hot nor too cold, and there wasn’t a single drop of rain the entire hike.  Every day we were presented with stunning vistas of the beautiful English countryside.  We had an extraordinary view of Blenheim Palace, and even walked past the surprisingly humble grave of Winston Churchill himself.  Our last day took us along a canal straight into Oxford, and after 60 miles of walking, returning to the “City of Dreaming Spires” had never before felt so much like coming home.

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