Cotswold Way walk: Laurie Lee midsummer saunter in Slad
PUBLISHED: 10:42 23 May 2017
Walk in the footsteps of Cider with Rosie author, Laurie Lee, as you explore the glorious Slad valley, ending up at his favourite local, The Woolpack
Some writers become so inextricably entwined with a place that it is almost impossible to experience the landscape except through their voice and vision. Such is the blessing Laurie Lee bestowed upon his beloved Slad, a steep-side valley just north of Stroud, and it is a blessing – for his legacy has left a kind of protective talisman about the place, protecting it from the encroachment of housing schemes (something he actively campaigned against in his later years). Laurie Lee, in evoking the genius loci of his particular peculiar Gloucestershire valley, has it sometimes seems posthumously become it.
Born in Stroud on June 26, 1914, Laurence Edward Alan Lee, or ‘Laurie’ as he became known, is best known for his 1959 memoir Cider with Rosie. Selling over 6 million copies, adapted many times on film, stage and television, and, after being enshrined on the national curriculum, known intimately by every schoolchild of a certain age, it is a praise-song to innocence and evanescence – to Laurie’s magical childhood and all that was fading as he came of age. With the royalties Lee purchased Rose Cottage, within staggering distance of his favourite haunt, The Woolpack where he was wont to hold court amongst his cronies, and for the benefit of visitors. One famously asked him where ‘Laurie Lee was buried’.
Passing on in 1997, his wish to be placed between the pub and the church was honoured, ‘so that I can balance the secular and spiritual’, as he put it. Walk a while in the footsteps of this great writer, then raise a glass to him, preferably cider.
1. Park on Main Street, opposite old school, near bus shelter.
2. Just down the bank notice Rose Cottage, where Laurie Lee lived with his wife, Kathy, and daughter, Jessy. Beyond you’ll see Swift’s Hill – a prominent landmark dominating the valley. We are going to do a clockwise circular walk around the valley ending up on its summit before returning to the village. Let’s go!
3. Opposite the bus shelter, note the Old School, where the young Laurie learnt the 3 Rs.
4. Walk passed the Woolpack Pub (for now). Don’t worry, you’ll finish here, but you have to earn your pint first. Note the poetry post next to the pub – one of several installed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and part of the Slad Valley Wildlife Way, which we’ll be following part of. Spend a moment reading the poem and ‘see’ the valley through Laurie’s words. ‘The Abandoned Shade’ was an early title for Cider with Rosie.
5. Progress up the lane. As you come to the bend in the road, you’ll behold on your right, down the bank, Rosebank Cottage. This is where Laurie grew up and it features prominently in Cider with Rosie. Imagine a 3 year old Laurie deposited on the bank amid the long grass.
6. Take the turning for Steanbridge Lane. When it turns a sharp left, follow this back up the hill...
7. ...To the War Memorial. A good place to catch your breath and to remember those who gave their lives for their country. In inclement weather there is handy stone bus shelter opposite.
8. Carefully cross the road and take the steep lane opposite, heading toward the modern white house.
9. Continue up to the footpath sign on the right, take this, and enter Frith Wood, a SSSI site. Information about the flora and fauna can be read on the Wildlife Trust interpretation board.
10. Following the edge of the wall that runs behind the houses, take the path up through the woods. After a little while, take the left fork (Wildlife Way signpost) and head up the hill.
11. On the brow of the hill, there is a convenient memorial bench. Catch your breath here, and reflect that near this clearing there was a ‘hunting lodge’ called Pan’s Lodge where the gentry got up to all kinds of shenanigans!
12. Turning right, follow the path passed the clearing until you reach some wooden seats (logs). This is a good place for a cuppa. Enjoy the view over the valley towards Painswick, whose residents are fondly known as ‘Bow-wows’, so-called because of their fondness for ‘Puppy Dog Pie’, or so the local folklore suggests!
13. Stop to read the next poetry post (‘April Rise’), then head towards the wooden gate. Pass through this, and you’ll come to the road.
14. Cross carefully and you’ve arrived at Bulls Cross – a notorious crossroads haunted by phantom coaches, demonic goats and the victims of the gallows situated here. Note the worn mounting block on the verge.
15. Opposite the sign for Painswick, follow the steep Wysis Way path down to Trillgate Farm.
16. As you descend the steep track, note the fields to your right – home of rare orchids, as this is prehistoric limestone grasslands.
17. At Trillgate Farm note the picturesque dovecote. Go left here over the stile and down the hill, watching your step as it can be slippy here.
18. Cross over the Slad Brook, near the site of the hangman, hence the nickname of ‘Dead Man’s Bottom’. Not a place to hang about on a dark night!
19. Climb up the steep hill opposite until you come to the metal gate.
20. Here, turn left and follow the stony track to the bend. Follow it round to the right until you get to the road.
21. At the road, turn right, down the hill.
22. You’ll pass the impressive edifice of Down Farm on the brow of the hill.
23. At the bottom you’ll pass the lovely Steanbridge Mill and its old leat.
24. On your left watch out for the ‘Restricted Byway’ sign. Follow this up the steep muddy lane, a holloway known as King Charles Lane. Apparently the Royalist troops came down here after a battle on Painswick Beacon. It must have been pretty hairy!
25. Cross the crossroads. Keep ascending the holloway. Note the amazing roots. As it reaches the top it bends to the right – follow that, and the next right fork to the road.
26. Follow the winding lane downwards (ignoring the signs for Solomon’s Byre and Fletcher’s Knapp) to the picturesque hamlet of Elcombe.
27. Passed the bend of the hamlet, on your left you’ll see some steps and a sign for Laurie Lee wood – purchased by the author and given to the Wildlife Trust.
28. Follow the path through the woods as it rises. Watch your step.
29. At the far end, turn left up the track.
30. You come out on Swift’s Hill – enjoy the magnificent views towards Stroud, the Severn, Forest of Dean and beyond.
31. Walking in the direction of Stroud, descend the hill (carefully). Note the interpretation board that lets you know about the 14 different orchid species and a rare snail named after Laurie Lee!
32. At the bottom turn left down Knap Lane, over the cattle-grid.
33. Notice the fabulous, mysterious Badger Posts. See how many professions you can spot.
34. Pass by the pretty gables of Knap House.
35. Carry on down to The Vatch.
36. Pass Vatch Cottage, take the footpath on the right up the hill to the road.
37. Follow the road back to the village, enjoying the views back towards Swift’s Hill, which you have just conquered.
38. Back in the village you may want to finish the walk by paying your respects to Laurie Lee at the church. His beautifully modest tombstone is to the side of the church. Note the poetry inscription on the side facing away from the path. Inside the cool interior of the church there is a memorial window dedicated to the great author.
39. Now it’s time for that drink – The Woolpack awaits! In the snug bar on the right you will see some Laurie Lee memorabilia. What better place to raise a glass to Laurie?
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