Cotswold guided walks: The benefits of walking with friends

Friendship Cafe: Members of the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester meet regularly

Members of the Friendship Café in Gloucester meet regularly and often participate in walks, organised with the volunteer rangers of the Cotswolds National Landscape - Credit: ©Russell Sach

A group from Gloucester share chatter and laughter as they discover the many benefits of walking in the Cotswolds countryside

A group of women from Gloucester’s Friendship Café recently met up with Cotswold Voluntary Wardens for a guided walk. Starting from Cirencester church they explored the town and Cirencester Park, meandering side paths and through woodland as well as enjoying open vistas across the Bathurst estate before relaxing together over snacks back in town.  

In the afterglow of the next few days many of the women sent texts reflecting on the fun they had, Samira V writing for example: 

‘Thoroughly enjoyed my first walk with the group… It was lovely meeting new people of all ages and the laughter and chatter was uplifting. Looking forward to the next one!’  

Sajeda Hassanjee, who has been coming on Friendship Café guided walks for several years and has discovered a creative outlet through writing poetry, mused: 

‘The streets we walked were so cute and quaint 
The greenery in its glory and the flowers in full bloom 
Colours all over just the image for an artist to paint.’ 

Friendship Cafe: Members of the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester meet regularly and often particpate in

Members of the Friendship Café in Gloucester enjoy walking the Cotswolds - Credit: ©Russell Sach

Learning the names of trees, discovering wild garlic leaves, appreciating the peace and beauty of woodlands: all are recorded in Sajeda’s poem, not to mention the odd ‘sweet biscuit for a treat’ and ‘a little market that tempted the likes of one or two’ before they clambered back aboard the mini bus to return to Gloucester.  

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Cotswold Voluntary Wardens run lots of guided walks catering for a wide range of interests and abilities, encouraging people to get out and enjoy the National Landscape, nature and the benefits to mind and body of fresh air and exercise. In 2018 Margaret Reid, now head warden, approached The Friendship Café to see if they would like the wardens to organise some walks especially for the women who meet there.  

‘I leapt at the chance,’ says Aysha Randera, women’s development worker at the charity, which provides youth and community-based activities to people in the inner city and surrounding areas of Gloucester. ‘We had done a few trips into the Forest of Dean and the Cotswolds but not walks led by someone who really knew the Cotswolds countryside.’  

The first outing Margaret and Aysha organised, for a walk around Stanton and lunch in the café at Sudeley Castle, proved a great success. Further walks soon followed: from Bourton-on-the-Water to Lower Slaughter and back; around Woodchester Mansion; and from Quenington to Coln St Aldwyns.  

‘They were all fairly flat walks so that everyone could enjoy them, and we try to choose places where there are interesting things to talk about,’ Margaret says. ‘There has been terrific feedback from walkers and walk leaders alike.’ 

Friendship Cafe: Members of the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester meet regularly and often particpate in

Members of the Friendship Café in Gloucester: Cotswold Voluntary Wardens run lots of guided walks catering for a wide range of interests and abilities - Credit: ©Russell Sach

WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG? 

Just recently following a walk Samira L, who was raised in Manchester before moving to Gloucester, waxed lyrical about the rolling hills and unspoilt views of the Cotswolds countryside, reflecting:   

‘…they are on my doorstep but I have only just started to explore them after 14 years. Why? Why did I wait so long? If you have never ventured out of towns and cities you lack the confidence to leave your comfort zone. Where do I go? What do I wear? Will I get lost? The group has given me the confidence to explore our local National Trust treasures. The guides are knowledgeable and kind. The fellow walkers fun and enthusiastic. I am delighted to have met some kindred spirits and have my world opened.’ 

Friendship Café walkers are culturally diverse, including many that originate from the Indian subcontinent, Aysha says. There are all sorts of practical and social obstacles to explain why the women never before ventured into the Cotswolds countryside around them: family commitments, cultural restrictions, not being able to drive, community attitudes, or feeling they don’t fit or aren’t welcome.  

Getting together in a group of 15, of all age ranges, and walking with Aysha and four wardens, meeting people en route, and seeing new sights – they feel empowered. 

‘For me… This is not just a walk… it was like a journey and an experience we share with people without being judged,’ Fatima recalls. ‘I let myself go and actually be myself. Surrounded by beautiful trees, flowers, birds and those paths and endless green fields, blue sky… ah!!’ Chatting to a warden as one mother to another, ‘we were both on the same boat n think alike… it was also quite therapeutic… n then I had lots [of] banta in the bus with the ladies.’ 

Aysha, ‘a Gloucester girl born and bred’, loves the walks too despite health problems that can leave her legs aching the next day. ‘It is so beneficial to my wellbeing to be in the open and around nature.’ 

For her part, Margaret says, ‘It’s a shared experience that walk leaders love just as much as the walkers. They are very friendly, bubbly walks, and as wardens we enjoy talking about the Cotswolds, introducing people to new places.’ 

In addition to the five walks already planned this year for women from The Friendship Café, Margaret and Aysha are discussing the possibility of more challenging walks for those who want them, and perhaps a family walk too.  

OS map of the Cotswolds with compass

A map-reading session is planned for women at The Friendship Café - Credit: Candia McKormack

Thanks to a recent Caring for the Cotswolds grant, equipment including walking poles, books and maps has been bought for women at The Friendship Café to use. Last autumn the wardens hosted a power-point session on Safe Walking in the Cotswolds (relevant for any walking groups) and a map reading session is planned.  

‘The idea has always been that the women will have the confidence to initiate walks among themselves as well as share Friendship Cafe walks,’ Margaret says. – ‘Bringing out the country girl in each of us on the day,’ as Sajeda writes in the closing line of her recent poem.

More information 

The Friendship Café, thefriendshipcafe.com To find out more about planned walks contact Aysha Randera, Women’s Development, email aysha@thefriendshipcafe.com, tel. 07866 387250 

For more on general public Cotswold Voluntary Warden guided walks and self-guided walks in the Cotswolds, visit cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/visiting-and-exploring/guided-walks and cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/visiting-and-exploring/self-guided-walks