Friday, 4 November 2011

Dyrham Park Disaster

Yvonne, fit and strong from walking the Camino de Santiago de Compstela, suggested we go for a 'long walk.'
'Ok,' I said, 'how long? Ten miles?'
Yvonne looked at me in disgust. 'Ten miles? she said incredulously. 'No, let's do twenty.'
I shook my head. 'No, I can't manage twenty,' I protest feebly. 'Ten. Fifteen at the most.'
'Leave it to me,' said Yvonne. She texted me the departure point, at the back of Dyrham Park and I duly arrived in my car at the appointed time of half-past nine. Dyrham Park supplied most of the exterior shots for the film The Remains of the Day, although the interiors were mostly filmed at nearby Badminton House. Dyrham is also on the route of the Cotswold Way and it was a section of this route that Yvonne proposed that we walk for the day. This sounded good to me, and we strode through the village and then turned right on a footpath in the direction of Bath.

The day started well, albeit a little drizzly. The route was varied and pleasant, alongside fields and small ponds and passing through Dyrham Wood. In the wood a little box on a post had some usefuls in it, left by other walkers, including a couple of biscuits, a card with the number of a local B&B and a notebook for leaving messages, presumably for lost companions. 'Dear xxx, we're heading for the pub at Tormarton. Hurry up, it's your round.' That type of thing. We debated whether to eat the biscuits. Alfie (Yvonne's Westie) was in favour, but I was not so sure. There would no doubt be people passing this way whose need was greater than ours, after all we had only been walking for twenty minutes. We put them regretfully back in the tin and strode purposefully on.

We had speculated whether we would be able to get a coffee at the White Hart in Cold Ashton but when we got there the pub had closed. Permanently closed. There was, however a sign for a cafe along the road so we decided a small detour was in order. The cafe was a little gem, a small building on a walking farm. The play area outside was now being used to house a group of pigs, who seemed to like it, although I was disappointed to note that none of them seemed keen on using the slide or the little climbing frame.

(If one wanted to give an example of the versatility of the English language one need look no further than the pig. Pigs have been around for a very long time, domesticated from the wild boar, and English words for pigs are plentiful. The animal itself could be a pig, a swine, a hog, a sow, a grunter, a squealer, a shoat or a piglet. A group of pigs, depending on the type, the age and whether or not they are on the move could be called swine, a drift, a drove, a herd, a sounder, a farrow, a flock or a doylt. )

The proprietor of the cafe was lovely, and she had no problem with us bringing either our muddy boots or Alfie into the warm room. I was unable to resist a huge piece of carrot cake and Yvonne, who was suffering from a pre-existing blister, managed to scrounge a couple of plasters. After our refreshments we pressed on through the village of Cold Ashton itself and then along a long, long lane before once again crossing fields.

The route started to climb up to Lansdown and we arrived at the site of the Battle of Lansdown Hill in July 1643. (That's the date of the battle, not when we got there.) The field in front of us was apparently the site of a significant skirmish between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War or if you're a fan of Christopher Hill, the English Revolution. (Personally I think Professor Hill was rather pissed off that the French and the Americans, let alone the Russians, had all had their revolutions, and so determined to make this one our very own 'English Revolution', so claiming that we were the first.)

As we followed the course of the path around the hill, it was not so much the English Civil War that struck me, it was much older history. We passed the site of a Roman Villa,although nothing remains of it now, and an Iron Age fort and although I am not prone to superstition I caught something in the atmosphere which was hard to define, the ephemera of long dead people who had walked this route over the centuries.

More prosiacally, the path also marches through Lansdown Golf Club, 'a traditional private members club', and we sternly informed Alfie that this was not the place to stop for a pooh. 'As if I would,' he muttered.

Finally we reached Prospect Stile which gives, as Jane Austen would say, A Fine Aspect over all of Bath and the surrounding countryside. We sat on the bench and ate our lunch. I was by now getting a little concerned as it was gone three o'clock and at this time of year the nights were drawing in. It was time to turn around and head back. In view of the time we decided to head back straight across the race course and the golf course. I was starting to worry about the dwindling light and suggested an alternative route back. This proved to be a mistake.

It looked straightforward enough on the map, a shortcut down to Langridge and then through a few fields to rejoin the Cotswold Way. We stopped for a quick look at St Mary Magdelene Church, Langbridge, a beautiful little twelfth century building with a magnificent norman arch before heading up a steep lane. Three or four fields on we would rejoin the proper path and then head back.

What the trusty OS Map didn't show, however, were the horses and cows. Yvonne was worried about taking the dog through fields of cows and horses. And, if I'm honest I wasn't too keen either. But we made a run for it though a field full of young horses, during the course of which Alfie slipped his lead. Ahead of us was a field of full cows and another one of horses. We dithered for a while  and eventually we decided to backtrack up a lane.

By the time we reached the proper route again it was dark. I dug out my headlamp and we peered at the map. Suddenly mooing up in front brought my companions to a halt. Yvonne suggested we traverse the field next door and try and pick up the route at the other end. This was not as straightforward as we hoped, we were reduced to crawling through brambles, under barbed wire and stepping in unseen cowpats in the dark. I don't think it's pushing it to say we were all getting a little bit pissed off. Eventually, god save us, we reached a lane and stayed on it until we reached the A46. We traipsed down here for a while but I knew a decision awaited us. Go through Dyrham Woods in the pitch dark or make a massive detour along a busy road, in the dark, with no footpath.

'It'll have to be the wood,' I said, wearily. We had no choice. Why are woods so creepy at night? I blame The Blair Witch Project. We managed to get through it though and trudged disconsolately on. When we were almost at the end of the path at Dyrham I slipped and fell down hard on my right buttock. 'Damn, fuck and bollocks!!' I said. Which I think under the circumstances was quite restrained.

By the time we finally reached our cars, eleven hours after our jaunty departure, we were tired, dishevelled, and stinking of cow shit. Only Alfie who had earlier been complaining he was tired seemed undaunted, jumping for joy as the car came into view.

'Errm, that was lovely, Yvonne, we must do it again sometime,' I said, unenthusiastically.
'Uh, yes, we must,' she responded, with even less enthusiasm.

I'm sure we will go for another walk. Sometime. Maybe.

Our route


  1. I used to have to visit Dryham Wood quite often for a wildlife survey - and it's bloody creepy even during the day! Sometime afterwards the wife of one of the local famers told me it had a 'weird reputation' - never been able to find out any more about it (was googling it just now and came up with your blog) but you're braver than I am, going in there at night!

  2. Kaye - I'm glad I didn't know that before! We may have been forced to walk round the road. There is something about it that feels strange...

  3. so glad I didn't know that at the time! it was very spooky though and I wouldn't go there alone even in the day. Reading all your blogs and now feeling nostalgic for all our walks - even this one! Did the Freshford one on Sat

  4. anonymous?? it's me! :)