Cotswold Ways Walk: Sheepscombe to Painswick Beacon
PUBLISHED: 13:28 01 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:28 01 April 2019
Walk in the footsteps of cricketer-poet, Frank Mansell, from his favourite crease at Sheepscombe to the heights of Painswick Beacon
Frank Mansell (1918-1979) was known as ‘The Cotswold Poet’ following the success of his compilation of poetry entitled Cotswold Ballads, first published in 1969. Despite having been born in London, he came from a Cotswold family of farmers thought to date back to the 14th century. For many years, he worked in the engineering section of P.O Telephones, finally retiring in 1975. For most of his life, he lived at Salt Box, Camp, Miserden. In his spare time, he would write poetry, which was often published in the local press and gave readings of his work. He was also a keen village cricketer, playing for Sheepscombe Cricket Club. Another interest was astrology, which he had at one time practised professionally. He was a close friend of fellow Cotswold author and poet, Laurie Lee, who helped to publish and promote some of his work.
After making pilgrimage to the Cricket Club, which surely boasts the loveliest green in England like something from a David Inshaw painting, with its stunning views over the Slad Valley towards the Severn, we make our way, as Mansell must have done many a time, towards picturesque Painswick – with its distinctive spire rising from its steep streets of Cotswold stone. There is a curious cluster of folklore about this charming, genteel place. Locally, the residents are known as ‘Bow-wows’, and are said to eat puppy-dog pie, which sounds like something made up by envious neighbours in nearby valleys. The unusual topiary of the Painswick yews may cause you to linger (or perhaps you just need to catch your breath after the climb). There is said to be ninety-nine of the bepoodled boughs. It is believed that the Devil objects to a hundredth yew being planted and pulls it out in a fit of pique every time it has been tried. To ensure Old Nick doesn’t come out on top every year there takes place on the nearest Sunday to 19th September the annual ‘Clypping’ – a heart-warming community blessing which involves local residents, old and young alike, joining hands around the church and giving it a group hug (OE ‘clyppe’: to embrace). And if some of the residents appear a bit ‘vintage’ then we must bear in mind the folk tale of the Painswick Worthies, which relates a chain of increasingly decrepit super-annuated residents. But those storytellers are not to be trusted!
1. From The Butcher’s Arms head up the lane towards the old vicarage, then take the bridleway immediately on the right, up the hill towards the cricket club. It’s a steep climb so take it steady. There’s a bench on the brow (dedicated to ‘Jennifer’) where you can catch your breath, or push on to the cricket green – just past a five-bar gate (there’s a gap for walkers on the side). Follow the line of the boundary around to the handsome club house, where there are picnic tables.
2. Find a bench to enjoy the splendid view from (the one shaped like an oak leaf is tempting). If you have a copy of Mansell’s Cotswold Ballads, now is a good time for an impromptu poetry reading (‘The Old Cricketer’ would be ideal), or you can listen to Frank himself reading his poems online, if you can get a signal!
3. After you’ve got your breath back, push on up the hill. Behind the club house spot the narrow gap in the thicket where a footpath leads up past a shed into Lords Wood. Take care as you clamber over the wire!
4. When you come to a fork, take the left-hand path heading down hill.
5. This follows the edge of Lady Wood and comes out by Trench Hill. Note the ‘happy day’ stile. Opposite this is a lane heading down hill. Follow this.
6. When you reach a t-junction, opposite Painswick Lodge, go right.
7. Follow the lane as it plunges down a ‘hollow way’. Ignore first footpath on the right. Wait until you reach Damsells Mill by the stream. Here you join the Wysis Way, going right, just over the stream. If you spot the sign for Damsels (with one ‘l’) Farm by the cattle-grid then you’re going the right way!
8. Follow the Wysis Way up the steep farm track towards Damsels Farm. Note the lovely thatched outbuilding on the right side of the property. Before you reach the farm, turn left, crossing a stile and take the right of way that runs alongside the farm, following the stream. Say hello to the friendly sheep.
9. The footpath bends to the right and you will eventually reach a small footbridge, which warns you of the ram. Cross the bridge and climb the steep meadow – don’t worry, there’s a bench at the top where you can catch your breath and enjoy the views back towards Sheepscombe.
10. Enter the wood, turning left and follow the Wysis Way, heading up to the A46, which you can hear ahead.
11. You’ll emerge by ‘Adam and Eve House’. Cross the road carefully, and take the switchback signed ‘Wysis Way’ up to the golf course.
12. As you emerge onto the fairway (keep an eye out for golfers!) you will see the earthworks of the Beacon on the right. Head up to the gap.
13. Follow the ramparts of the old hill fort along to the trig point. Enjoy the magnificent views over towards the Malverns.
14. You can either do a victory loop of the hill fort; or take the wee steps just down from the trig point, and double back to the entrance ‘gap’. Either way, you’ll retrace your steps. Descend to the road that cuts across the fairway.
15. On your left you’ll see where you emerged from the Wysis Way. Next to that is a signpost for the Cotswold Way. Follow that towards the quarry. Don’t worry – the trail runs to the left of it. Keep following the path down through the woods, and, crossing the grass, continue to follow the acorns down to Painswick. You may be tempted by the Waypoint in the clubhouse, which welcomes walkers and their dogs.
16. You’ll eventually emerge onto a proper road (the B4073). Turn left here. Note the plaque to Eric Gill’s lettering for the Gyde Almshouses.
17. Continue down into the town, following the acorns (some are small and easily missed). At crossroads the route back to Sheepscombe continues straight on, down the hill, but if you wish to see the famous Painswick Yews then a brief detour from here is possible. Just turn right and head towards the church, returning to the crossroads when you’re ready to continue.
18. Carry on down the hill past the charming houses. Turn right when you can see the double spires and you’ll go past a Catholic church with a bench outside. Take a breather, before pushing on down the steep Tibbiwell Lane. Keep an eye out for it on your left. The water is lovely.
19. At the bottom of the steep lane, when you cross the brook, take the footpath on the left. Pause to enjoy the view of the lovely garden first.
20. Follow brook along until you come to another charming house, which used to be a mill (note the dry leat). Cross stile onto road, going right. Follow lane past sign for Painswick Glamping up the hill, past a farm. It’s steep, but keep going! Eventually you’ll emerge onto the road for Sheepscombe. Turn left here, and follow lane down to the village. You’ll pass a pretty church, a picturesque graveyard, war memorial (by the sign for Painswick/Miserden), and lots of beautiful houses.
21. At the bottom of the valley, the road crosses a little brook by the village hall and old phonebox (remembering Frank worked for P.O. Telephones). Follow lane up until it reaches The Butcher’s Arms. Time for a drink to toast Mr Mansell, who loved a jar or two!
Distance: 6.51ml/10.48km walk
Duration: 3 hours
Level: Moderate. Some steep sections (381 ft ascent from pub to beacon).
Parking: Sheepscombe by pub; Painswick Beacon walkers car-park.
Toilets: Pub for customers. Painswick High Street.
Transport Links: Regular bus services from Cheltenham to Stroud, stop on A46.
Map: OS Explorer 179: Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud.
Kevan Manwaring is a writer and creative writing lecturer who lives in Stroud. He is the author of several books exploring his love of folklore, legends and the landscape: The Windsmith Elegy series of novels; Oxfordshire Folk Tales; Ballad Tales; The Bardic Handbook; Silver Branch, and others. He is a keen walker and blogs and tweets as the @bardicacademic.