Saturday, 11 June 2011

Climbing Kelston Round Hill

My brother Richard has turned up for a few days. He is between jobs and is taking a short break. Despite the gloomy weather forecast the sun is shining, it's a glorious day.
"Come out for a walk," I said.
Mick had also turned up for the day. They both looked at me doubtfully. Mick, I could see, was floundering around for an excuse. "We had planned to watch the Grand Prix," he said.
"I didn't know that was today was the Grand Prix," I said.
Turned out it was the Canadian Grand Prix. And not even the main race, it was the qualifying ones.

"Aw, come on," I said. "Just a short walk."
Richard looked at me suspiciously. "How short?"
"Four miles, round trip. Five at the very, very most."

They agreed to a short walk and we set off. We headed up the fields and lanes to the top of Saltford,stopping to admire a foal and its mother in one of the fields before heading down the road into the village. Today was the start of Saltford festival and we expected to see people thronging the narrow village roads, bunting, and (hopefully) burger-bars and barbecue stands. Nothing. The place was deserted. A sign advertising a display by local artists in the church hall was the only indication that something was going on.
"It's not exactly Notting Hill, is it?" said Richard.

I wanted to show the others Saltford Manor House, which is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in Britain. The house dates back to 1148 (give or take a year or two), thought to be built by Earl William of Gloucester. It's currently on the market for £1.25 million, although last year the asking price was £2.5 million. We had a quick tally up and worked out we could, if we pooled our funds, make a realistic offer for the left hand chimney stack. The chimney was about all we could see from the road so we went into the churchyard and stood on the bench to get a better look, and then had a nose around the church as, despite being atheist, I do like to look around old churches.

The church is Norman and painted white and pale blue. It has a pleasant, light feel to it. I liked it very much. There is a Norman font, which, the story goes, was taken from the church during the English Civil War after the Battle of Lansdown and was later found being used as a cattle trough and returned to the church. In the porch is a memorial to Frances Flood who, whilst passing through the village in 1723, lost her legs through gangrene after contracting smallpox. She went to ask for help from the Overseer of the poor in Saltford. He refused and they put dung in the barn where she had been sleeping to prevent her returning. Not very charitable. But eventually she found a barn where she stayed until she recovered and was able to tell her story, which is now held in the British Museum. Given our experience every time we moored our boat up in Saltford (moan, moan, moan), we were not at all surprised to learn of Saltford's, shall we say, less than welcoming attitude to strangers.

The Bird in Hand looked welcoming enough though, and the garden was packed with people enjoying an afternoon pint in the garden.
"We could stop for one," said Richard, hopefully.
"Would be a shame not to," agreed Mick.

I was being firm though, it was already gone three o'clock and I thought it much too soon to stop for a beer. Especially as one pint would turn into two and we would get no farther that day.

"No, absolutely not," I said marching up the steps next to the pub which led to the cycle path. As we made our way up, the other two still grumbling, a chap was waiting to come down with his bike, obviously heading to the pub. He shot a glance at Mick and Richard muttering away.
"Don't worry about them," I said. "They're miffed because I won't let them stop for a beer."
He gave them a sympathetic look. "That," he said, "is just cruel."

Unrepentant I continued on with the other two trailing behind. Within half an hour we had crossed a few fields and were stood outside The Old Crown at Kelston. This is Richard's favourite pub.
"There is no way you are stopping me having a beer in here!" he said, sticking his chin out resolutely.
I could tell I was beaten on this one, so we went in and had a pint and then, predictably, another one.

"Where now?" they asked resignedly when we emerged from the pub.
"Up that hill," I said.

We climbed the lane that ran perpendicular to the main road. To our left we could see Kelston Round Hill, distinctive with its crown of trees. A gate on our right and a track across the field looked promising so we took that and then edged our way up a couple more ploughed fields before the final ascent through long grass to the top of the hill.

And what a view! It was superb. In front of us Saltford, Keynsham and Bristol, and beyond, the hills of the Mendips, the Quantocks and Wales. Mick reckoned he could see Exmoor but we pooh-poohed that as ridiculous. Around the other side was a fantastic view across Bath and across the valley, Beckford's Tower, designed for the eccentric William Beckford. At the back of the hill the Cotswold Way winds its way up to Lansdown and another superb viewpoint at Prospect Stile. We could see the Westbury White Horse in the distance, over 25 kilometres away.

By now I was well and truly rumbled. The topograph said six kilometres to Keynsham, as the crow flies.
"Five miles walk!" said Richard. "Five each way, more like."
"No it's not ten miles," I protested. "Six. Seven at the very most."

It was time to head back before I had a mutiny on my hands. We passed the back of Bath racecourse and then crossed the site of the iron age Littledown hill fort. The defensive ditch was clearly visible, but the rest of the site has been cultivated. Below the fort the path took us across a field full of sheep and a lot of sheep poo. I stopped for the forty thousandth time to have a pee, beer has that effect these days. Mind you the other two weren't any better, every few minutes someone would be dashing off to find a hedge to water.

The path entered the little village of North Stoke from behind the small, twelfth century church. Mick was all for having a look around the graveyard to see if he could find any ancestors buried there (they lived in Swineford) but it was gone seven now so we decided that would have to wait for another day. Instead we trotted down the old lane towards Swineford and the Avon. There are remains of Roman settlement in North Stoke and it is likely that this route down to the River Avon has been used for many hundreds of years. Talking of age, by now we were all feeling it. Mick was complaining that his back hurt, Richard was limping slightly due to a gammy knee and I was feeling the effects of a tumble off my bike a couple of days before.

We limped into the Swan at Swineford and ordered a pint from Bath Ales. The pub is a bit foodie but the beer was nice and set us up for the last limp home, along the river and through vast wheatfields to Avon Valley River Park and then home via the Co-op. Once home the other two slumped into chairs exhausted, barely able to raise a glass of wine to their lips. As punishment for making them walk so far, I was made to cook supper.

Map of our route is here

That's what I call a cow pat!

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