Creating guidebooks is an all-consuming job, so each year the staff at Bradt HQ recharge their batteries by going on a company outing. This year we travelled to Cirencester, a town in the Cotswolds recommended by the author of our Slow Travel: The Cotswolds guide, Caroline Mills. She took us for a walk on Minchinhampton Common - this is how we got on.
A walk on Minchinhampton Common is one of those easy-going walks for no purpose other than to lift the soul. © Guy Jackson
Earlier this month The National Trust produced a new report titled ‘Places that make us’. The report has scientifically proven something that, really, we knew all along – that we create an emotional, spiritual and physical attachment to places more than we do objects. Places help to shape our lives and seeing fabulous views, outstanding countryside or magnificent architecture lifts our spirits and makes us feel good.
It’s perhaps little wonder, then, that I coincidentally chose Minchinhampton Common – an area managed by The National Trust – as the place to lead a walk to introduce staff from Bradt Travel Guides to some of the most iconic (but oft taken for granted) features of the Cotswolds. There are walks that get you from A to B, hikes that form a stretch of long-distance trail – and maybe a challenge – and then there are easy-going walks for no purpose other than to lift the soul. A walk on Minchinhampton Common does just that.
Between the Nailsworth Valley and Golden Valley (two of the five that make up the Stroud or Five Valleys, sprawling like tentacles away from the Cotswold town of Stroud) the land rises sharply with Minchinhampton Common and Rodborough Common keeping the pair apart.
These commons provide some of the best examples of Cotswolds’ unimproved limestone grassland and some of the best places to view the accompanying wild flowers, including 13 species of orchid, and butterflies rarely seen in gardens these days. The commons look the way they do thanks to a management partnership between Natural England and The National Trust, which has gradually restored, conserved and enhanced the commons by utilizing a herd of rare breed cattle and traditional grazing methods.
Mingling with the locals on Minchinhampton common © Guy Jackson
Because this is common land, you can walk pretty much anywhere, mingling with the cows and the golfers that also tee off on the hilltop. Besides the impressive catalogue of wild flowers and butterflies, it’s the uncompromising views that lure walkers to the commons. You’ll never see everywhere all at once because of the lie of the land and the distance between viewpoints. It’s what makes a walk here so intriguing and pleasant – as one vista disappears, another opens up.
There’s a circular walk that I particularly enjoy, which you can begin close to the centre of Minchinhampton Common (grid ref SO 85582 01253). It passes through the therapeutically restful hillside villages of Amberley (where stops to quench the thirst and soak up the views are possible from the pub gardens of either The Black Horse or The Amberley Inn) and Box before entering Minchinhampton.
Minchinhampton's maginficent 17th-century Market House is a reminder of the town's historic past. © Peter Jay
The streets and buildings of this quiet old market town are very enticing and the High Street is a heady mix of Cotswold gables and Georgian facades with barely a modern intrusion in sight. At the top of the High Street is the magnificent 17th-century Market House, created on stone pillars and archways, at the end of which are displayed charges and rules (including the warning that ‘No Swing Show or Booth for the purpose of public Amusement will be Suffered’) that seem so idiosyncratic to today’s visitors.
Perhaps the most striking of Minchinhampton’s buildings is Holy Trinity Church in Bell Lane. The church tower is like a truncated cone topped with a coronet, although its design is not as originally intended. The tower has a square base and should have remained square to the top; however, cracks began to appear as it was being built and so changes to its shape and appearance were necessary.
Mid-way through the walk, Minchinhampton is a great place to stop off for coffee and cake at either The Kitchen (on the High Street) or Henry’s at Woefuldane Organic Dairy (by the Market Place). There was no time on this occasion, though, as we were heading for lunch at The Kings Head Hotel in Cirencester’s handsome Market Place.
The Kings Head was a source of much-needed nourishment after our walk © Iona Brokenshire
Guided by waiting staff into the Panel Room, a cosy, muted grey wood-panelled private dining space, the Bradt party dined on chunky home-prepared beef burgers topped with dry-cured bacon and oak smoked cheddar, falafel and haloumi burgers garnished with tomato relish or minted pea and broad bean risotto dressed with pea shoots.
We nattered over the sights we’d seen on the walk – the distant hills beyond Stroud, the vistas of tree-hugging Woodchester Park (another place for a soul-lifting walk) and Woodchester Vineyard, the unfolding panorama over the rooftops of Nailsworth towards Selsley Common and the enticing prospects of the Golden Valley and Nailsworth Valleys either side of Minchinhampton.
Editorial Assistant Anne Marie catching up on Cotswolds' history on Minchinhampton Common © Anna Moores
I’m thrilled to have been able to share this lesser-known but notable and important part of the Cotswolds. In character, it’s far removed from the most popular northerly fraction of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty around Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold and Broadway that, for so many, is ‘The Cotswolds’. Will a walk on Minchinhampton Common shape the lives of all those that visit? On a day as celestial as ours, the vistas cannot fail to imprint themselves on the soul.
Where to eat: The Kings Head Hotel, 24 Market Place, Cirencester, Glos GL7 2NW; www.kingshead-hotel.co.uk
Click here for more about our staff outing!
Interested in finding out more about the Cotswolds? Get 20% off Caroline Mills' Slow Travel: The Cotswolds when you use code CIRENCESTER at check out.