Cotswold Ways Walk: Bards and Bibles in Wotton-under-Edge

The copse on Wotton Hill

The copse on Wotton Hill - Credit: Kevan Manwaring

Stunning views, fascinating heritage, great pubs – what’s not to like?

Wotton-under-Edge High Street

Wotton-under-Edge High Street - Credit: Kevan Manwaring

There is something utterly charming and civilised about Wotton-under-Edge. Is it the picturesque main street, gently sloping down against the backdrop of high blue hills of the Cotswolds? The colourful local businesses? The Victorian Jubilee clock or Electric Picture House independent cinema? The photogenic row of Alms Houses or the inviting hostelries with their fine fare? Maybe it is all of those things, and more, hidden to the casual visitor but deeply familiar to residents who have made the quintessential Cotswoldian town their home, or, having being born in such a delightful place, deciding that the most sensible thing would be to stay.

Sign at the Bear Packer’s alms houses

Sign at the Bear Packer’s alms houses - Credit: Kevan Manwaring

One of the town’s famous citizens certainly thought so, the poet UA Fanthorpe (CBE). She made Wotton her home with her partner, Dr Rose Bailey, after a long and winding road that took her from a Kentish childhood, to the dreaming spires of Oxford, to become the Head of English at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Building a career upon her love of the English Language, it was not until she forsook academe to become a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital in Bristol, that she ironically found her own voice. Inspired by the ‘strange specialness’ of the patients she wrote her first collection, Side Effects. So began her literary career, resulting in nine full-length collections, prizes and honorary degrees, and ultimately, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003. Her poetry (wry but warmly humane, like Larkin on a sunny day) often reflected down-to-earth subjects and notions of Englishness, flavoured with a witty take on things, that has made her work loved by many. Fanthorpe died in 2009.

How appropriate that not far from this wordsmith’s demesne is the magnificent Tyndale Monument, erected in 1866 in honour of the translator of the English Bible, who was born nearby, at Melksham Court, Stinchcombe. Tyndale suffered a martyr’s death in Flanders in 1536, all for wanting to make the New Testament accessible to his countrymen. His Tower of Words (aka ‘Nibley Knob’) is a fitting memorial, and offers spectacular views for those brave enough to negotiate its dark, winding staircase. After 121 steps you emerge, breathless and relieved, 111ft up and the glittering Severn, mysterious fastness of the Forest of Dean, and the wild hills of Wales are yours to behold. It might make you want to declaim poetry, or scripture – or quickly descend for a picnic or pint.

The walk

• Starting at the short stay carpark (1 on map), proceed north past the Visitor Centre and the Electric Picture House, Wotton’s fine independent cinema. Continue past The Star, on your left (the White Star Liner company, owners of the Titanic, was named after it when it was founded by the son of the landlord, who emigrated to Canada, setting up a logging company that eventually expanded into shipping) and The Swan, a 17th-century inn (now hotel) on your right, a good choice for a Sunday roast, a pub snack and a pint later on.

• Turn right at the Victorian Diamond Jubilee Clock, down the charming Long Street with is lovely array of local businesses.

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• Turn left at The Falcon steak house (another catering option) onto Church Street, then beyond the war memorial turn right to Culverhay (B4058).

• Turn left up past the lovely Bear Packer’s alms houses. A sign relates the history.

• Continue up the green lane of Adey’s lane.

• When you reach a short row of houses on your right take the footpath (sign broken) behind them up into the woods.

• Ascend until you reach the ridge.

• Push north, then north-east, following the edge of the woods.

• When you come out onto the metalled road, carefully cross and proceed towards Waterley Bottom.

• As the lane crooks right, take the footpath on the left leading to the woods.

• Go straight in, northwards. Ignore footpaths that cross and branch from the route, until you reach the far side of the woods (where the edge drops away).

• Now, bearing left, follow the edge of the woods along – with the steep drop on your right – all the way to the intersection with the Cotswold Way (white acorn trail-sign).

• Heading to the break in the trees, you will eventually emerge at the magnificent Tyndale Monument. Worth a climb of the 221 steps for the view! Drop a donation in the slot to help maintain it.

• After such giddy heights it’s time to head south, taking the Cotswold Way back through Westridge Wood to Wotton. Just keep following the acorns.

• Before you drop down into Wotton you’ll emerge at a copse of Scots Pine on Wotton hill. A small plaque relates its history.

• Carefully descend to the town (it’s steep and slippy in places so take care!).

• Eventually you’ll emerge onto Gloucester St (B4060). Turn left, and head towards the town centre.

• Turn right into Bear Street, past the garages, and left onto the High Street.

• Turn right into Market Street and head back to the carpark, if you can resist the pubs!

Need to know:

Distance: 5.88miles / 9.46km walk

Duration: 2.5 hrs

Level: Moderate (some steep/muddy sections: suitable footwear essential. Walking poles advised).

Map: OS Explorer 167 (Thornbury, Dursley & Yate)

Pubs: The Swan Hotel: 16 Market St (GL12 7A) t: 01453 843004, The Star Inn: 21 Market St (GL12 7AE) t: 01453 844651 and The Falcon Steakhouse: 20 Church St (GL12 7HB) t: 01453 521894

Dog-friendly: Check with pub.

Parking: Chipping Car-park (GL12 7AD)

Public Transport links: Nearest Train Station Dursley, buses to Wotton-Under-Edge. Bus links also from Yate, Bristol, Stroud, Gloucester (via Dursley).