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Cotswold Ways walk: Stroud to the Edge

PUBLISHED: 14:04 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:05 07 May 2019

The Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud

The Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud

Kevan Manwaring

Walk in the footsteps of the much-loved late poet/therapist Jay Ramsay from arty Stroud to the edge of the Cotswolds - secret valleys and stunning views await

Like a great tree falling in a forest, sometimes a person's death can leave a large gap in the canopy. This can be, for the bereaved, a painful absence. But the loss can also create more light and more 'nutrients' – symbolically encouraging new life. So it is with the passing of the man known as Jay Ramsay, who, like a classic English oak, sheltered and nurtured much creative life – guiding, supporting, and inspiring his students, clients, and fellow pilgrims. And his death in late December 2018, after a heroic struggle with cancer, has brought together his many friends and loved ones in a kind of affirmation of community and interconnectedness. This walk has been created as a memorial to his remarkable legacy.

Jay was a psychotherapist and poet who lived for 25 years of his life in Stroud, Gloucestershire. The author of nearly 40 books, including numerous collections and anthologies of poetry, non-fiction on alchemy and relationship psychology, and translations of classics of Eastern philosophy, he was a singular and influential presence on the alternative poetry scene for nearly forty years. With the rich timbre of his voice and his impassioned opinions he was a heartfelt ambassador for transformative spiritual, political and psychological awareness. He corresponded with Robert Bly, Kathleen Raine and Ted Hughes, who were very encouraging of his work.

Born John Ramsay-Brown in Guildford in 1958 to Donald and Yvonne Ramsay-Brown (née Wray). Both parents were from an Army background. His father, a decorated lieutenant-colonel in WW2, went onto work for the Iraq Petroleum Company. His mother died when he was 17. He was educated at Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Oxford, where he studied English Literature. Redefining himself as 'Jay Ramsay', he launched himself on the London poetry scene. In the early 1980s he founded 'Angels of Fire', an influential series of cross art-form happenings. Jay contributed to many other festivals and literary events in Britain and abroad.

Curious sheepCurious sheep

Jay edited poetry for Kindred Spirit and Caduceus. He performed at Findhorn's 50th anniversary celebrations, and was a guest tutor for Skyros and Cortijo Romero. In addition to reviewing widely, Jay created the popular correspondence course 'Chrysalis: the poet in you'. He also edited a number of individual collections for other poets. He ran workshops in poetry and performance in the UK, in Ireland, Portugal, Malta, Greece, and the USA. He was a regular tutor at Hawkwood College in the Cotswolds. He also became a UKCP-accredited psychosynthesis therapist and healer, in private practice in Stroud and London.

As a performer, Jay gave numerous readings both solo and in collaboration (with fellow poets, musicians, dancers and artists). Beyond his more famous alliances (e.g. Mike Scott of The Waterboys; priest, author and TV presenter, Peter Owen-Jones) Jay had a wide network of creative, spiritual friends.

King's MillKing's Mill

Three months before he died Jay became engaged to Angela Warren whom he met at a Resurgence Magazine gathering earlier in the decade. They were married on Boxing Day. He died peacefully in Devon shortly after. He is survived by her, a step-daughter, Ruby, and his sisters Carolyn and Diana.

And his spirit lingers in the town he made his home for a quarter century, and in the surrounding landscape. In this walk – a kind of personal literary pilgrimage – we follow in Jay's footsteps, starting at the Museum in the Park, the town's unofficial poetic hub; to his former home in Uplands; and then on to leafy enclave of Hawkwood College, where he ran workshops for many years. After finding inspiration at the special spring there, we push onto a magnificent oak tree he celebrated in a long poem, 'The Oak', published in his collection, 'Places of Truth'. The walk reaches its zenith at the beautiful church of St John the Baptist's, Edge, before returning to Stroud – either by foot, or by public transport. There are plenty of places to pause for reflection. As Jay himself would advocate, linger and wonder – see the world and one another anew.

Water nymph at Hawkwood College's springWater nymph at Hawkwood College's spring

The walk:

1. Start at the Museum in the Park. Behind the left entrance post spot Jay's life-mask. Visit the museum – it is full of local treasures. They have regular events, including readings from Stroud's lively poetry scene.

2. Leave museum and walk down hill to the pond.

3. Cross over opposite Brewers Fayre and head left up to roundabout.

4. Turn right, heading back into Stroud along Beeches Green.

5. Opposite Roses School, cross over and ascend pathway between houses up Folly Lane.

6. Follow Folly Lane round, then turn right into Springfield Road, eventually coming to Oxford Terrace. Follow this around to the left. Jay lived for many years at Number 5, enjoying views over Slad Valley.

7. Continue along. Turn left up Upper Springfield Road, pausing at the church – Jay worked on his last book, 'The Dangerous Book', a poetic reworking of The Bible, here.

8. Take Thompson Road on right, past Primary School. Follow it around until it intersects with Folly lane.

9. Turn right here and head upwards, away from Stroud.

10. When you get to a track on your left which runs diagonal to Folly Lane alongside the allotments, take that – then at the end climb stile and head up hill across meadow towards the trees.

11. Enter woods and follow path.

12. At a fork in woodland path, take left one, heading down towards Hawkwood. Cross stile and enter Hawkwood by enormous tree – from its base there flows a lovely spring. Sit a while here and enjoy the tranquil ambience. For many years Jay ran poetry workshops at the college.

13. Progress along drive way to entrance lodge of college.

14. At Old Painswick Road, turn left, then, shortly after, when you reach a footpath on right, take that back across fields, heading NE towards Hammonds Farm.

15. Going to the right of the farm, follow edge of field past curious alpacas along the Painswick Valley using footpaths.

16. Continue along footpaths heading roughly north-east, cross Wades Lane, the Painswick Stream and Pincot Lane. Pass some pretty houses and eventually emerge onto a gravel track. When it forks take the left one heading down hill to a small cluster of charming houses (including one dated 1691).

17. Pass the magnificent Kings Mill, push up the steep, but mercifully short Kings Mill Lane to the main Stroud-Cheltenham Road. Here, turn right – proceed along the road shortly until you reach a public footpath opposite. Cross carefully and take this.

18. Follow footpath alongside Wash Brook all the way to Edge Farm, on the brow of the hill. There are several stiles and one point you intersect the Cotswold Way (turn left here, then, at Washbrook Cottage, turn right up track).

19. Cross Edge Lane, keep following Washbrook to Washbrook Cottages. Here, it feels like you're trespassing, but hold your nerve – there is a steep footpath heading diagonally right over a small footbridge here. Take this, then turn left at top, following edge of tree line. You will start to climb to Edge Farm on brow of the hill. Don't give up now – you are nearly there!

20. Behind Edge Farm, go through into field and head towards large 'bushy' tree on the far side. Go through gap in field to left of 'bushy' tree and you will come to a large oak by itself – this is 'The Oak' Jay writes about in his long poem in Places of Truth. This peaceful spot is an ideal place for a picnic, or for a moment's contemplation.

21. Climb up out of field, crossing stile by water-trough. Turn left. Head up to cottages on brow of hill.

22. Turn left at cottages, heading south, following back lane with great views back across the valley, then a bridleway on your right as lane forks downhill to the left. As bridleway ends at corner of field, turn right up to stone stile on western field boundary. You will eventually emerge out onto the main Stroud to Gloucester road (A4173), via Sevenleaze Lane.

23. Heading back towards Stroud, you come to the lovely church of St John the Baptist. Jay was a very spiritual poet, and he had a strong connection to St John the Beloved/Evangelist. His funeral service in late January this year was held at a church dedicated to his favourite saint in Devon, near Totnes. Sit here for a while in the beautiful churchyard, often full of flowers. Do check out the beautiful stained glass windows inside.

24. Then, when you are ready, head down the main road to Stroud. If your legs are tired you can catch the bus at several points along here. If you are need of refreshment then the Edgemoor Inn is not very far down this road. Stop and enjoy the views over a drink and maybe a meal.

25. Or, if you prefer something alternative, then head to the wonderful Star Anise Café at the bottom of Gloucester Street as you reach the town – Jay would often be seen in here, socialising with fellow poets, therapists, and artists, and it still retains its colourful bohemian atmosphere – a true taste of Stroud!

Essentials:

Distance: 9.61ml/15.46km walk (full length, with stops); or approx. 5-6 miles (linear).

Duration: 4 hours (full length, with stops); or 2.5 hours (linear walk returning by bus).

Level: Moderate. Stiles. Livestock. Some steep sections.

Parking: Stratford Park Leisure Centre (pay and display).

Toilets: Museum in the Park; Edgemoor Inn (for customers).

Refreshments: Museum in the Park has a vending machine for hot drinks; The Edgemoor Inn for pub lunches with fantastic views; Star Anise Café, Stroud, for top quality organic vegan/vegetarian food.

Transport Links: Regular bus and train services to Stroud from Swindon, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Stroud-Gloucester bus for stops back into Stroud from the Edge.

Map: OS Explorer 179: Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud.

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