Sunday 1st September 2019
This was it. Some two years after I started officially walking the Severn Way, I was due to complete my personal journey from Bristol to Tewkesbury.
I left my car outside of the village hall in Apperley and set off walking in search of the River Severn.
My aim was to head south for a bit, across fields and along footpaths, before I’d joined a path running west alongside a disused canal. That would then guide me to the river.
I’d have been better off following a quiet road running south past the local church, as the route I followed led me to a busy B-road, opposite a pub.
Hills far away from here; I must’ve been looking on to Herefordshire or South Wales. I wasn’t expecting any kind of elevation from this walk.
I followed a bridleway running south from Apperley Hall Farm and could see why the dog walker ahead of me was in wellies.
Then I met the Coombe Hill Canal… Very green, narrow and extremely disused.
I only recently learned that the term ‘tow path’ comes from the action of horses towing barges along the water.
This lies within Coombe Hill Nature Reserve. All of the available paths are clearer marked on this map.
Left along the road at the end of this path and I’d soon rejoin the Severn Way on my right-hand side; some six-months after I last left the trail at this very point.
These initial few miles were quite familiar to me, as I had walked them in the winter several years ago, in a route taken from the Walk West series of books. I’d even used the same car park, even though I was walking in the opposite direction.
I crossed over the disused lock and saw a car driving ahead of me. He was obviously here to go fishing. But he wasn’t driving a vehicle with four-wheeled drive; it was a Monedo, or similar. How did he get to here?
Far away to my left stood the iconic tree-topped May Hill in Herefordshire. I said to myself at the start of this year that I would walk there in 2019… There is still time for that. It’s an idea that often slips my mind.
Ahead of me in the next field stood (and sat) a herd of cows. Just as I had seen here, several years ago. There was no easy way to walk around.
But I made it through the larger visible gap without incident. They barely moved a muscle and so must be used to walkers and fisherman passing by.
Approaching Haw Bridge and the B4213 road, I walked along what was quite like someone’s front garden, before taking steps up to the bridge.
This was a view looking back down the River Severn from the centre of Haw Bridge. A few cyclists passed, while I could see boats moored up beneath a local pub.
Following the Severn Way north from here, I passed a line of pitches set out along the river (presumably for fishermen and not camping). I counted each as I passed, hoping these numbers would not climb as high as my current age… But of course, the last one was the ‘magic’ number!
Through the next field and I was heading towards the familiar site of a caravan park where each unit is raised on ‘stilts’. I presume this is for when the Severn inevitably bursts its banks. It would be “unfortunate” if you were walking the Severn Way on such an occasion!
Dodger appeared to be doing what he does best in avoiding my camera and all lines of sight…
Barely able to squint at the river through trees down to my left, I entered an overgrown section of the path where I had to inconveniently give way to a pair of walkers heading the other way.
But again, they were absolutely fine and non-threatening. Baking in the sun. I remember this being a day in which I’d set off wearing long-sleeves but had to switch to a T-shirt by the time I joined the trail.
Now, I could see the Malvern Hills standing tall on the horizon. Ahead of them, to the right was a church… Possibly an abbey? I didn’t spot this at the time of taking the photo.
Despite being closer to Gloucester and Cheltenham in this area, Birmingham seems to have its hold on the local fishing rights through Deerhurst.
At a slightly chaotic junction with the Sabrina Way, I decided to stop to have something to eat.
…But closer to the river’s edge and its muddy bank. I could see yachts taking to the water and heading my way as the sky began to cloud over and the wind picked up.
This section of the Severn Way has been marked with trees… Coincidentally.
Beyond the river now I could see… What might’ve been Bredon Hill. I don’t believe it was a greater portion of the Cotswold Hills. I’ve not been to that particular mound for over two years now.
My final view of the River Severn for this day came as I passed the Cheltenham College Boat House (…In Tewkesbury).
On the facing side of the building, the recorded heights of record tides are staggering. I’m 6ft1in tall and almost on a par with the 2007 level!
There’s a nice area here for a picnic but nowhere immediately nearby to park. Dog walkers had parked further up the road, closer to the town and walked back.
Then I was on the road through Tewkesbury. A Medieval town I’d never visited before and knew little of (apart from the it was flooded in 2007). I’d passed a footpath signed as the Battle Trail and presume this has some relevance to the flags that can be found… Everywhere.
I didn’t have to walk far before I could my first unquestioned sighting of the abbey.
It was around lunchtime as I arrived. I decided that I would take a tour of the inside before stopping for food.
Admission in to the Tewkesbury Abbey is free, although donations are very welcome. Similar to some of the cathedrals I’ve visited, there is even the option to pay by car and in a self-service checkout, with no human presence to pester or demand money.
I forget the significance of the people and their roles portrayed, here. But one of them was Offa; King or Mercia and (alleged) creator of the dyke that once divided England and Wales.
There’s also an art sculpture, Our Lady Queen of Peace.
Back outside, I followed my way clockwise around the remainder of the abbey, while a small group of older visitors were determined that one locked door was the way in…
I had my lunch on one of the benches beside the abbey. Watching the people slowly come and ago – including a pair of walkers I’d seen earlier in the day. Undisturbed by the sound of nearby passing traffic.
Following paths from close to a long-stay car park, I would cross fields to complete a small circuit en route to road junction. where I would leave the Severn Way.
To follow the Severn Way north of Tewkesbury would involve negotiating roads in an attempt to complete circular walks, with the M5 motorway running close by. It’s possible I could get as far as Upton-upon-Severn. Maybe even Worcester. Right now, I feel as though I’ve walked far enough and the abbey made for a fitting end-point.
As part of the return route, I made the decision to try and avoid Tewkesbury Park golf club, following various rights of way.
My experience of following footpaths across golf courses has rarely been great, except where an established National Trail is involved. I did spot the occasional golf ball, which perhaps suggests that one is never truly free from the threat of danger.
Nearing Deerhurst again, I confidently crossed Park Farm. I’d seen a tractor in one of the previous fields but felt as though no-one often walks this way, where paths are available in all directions.
Beneath this hill, I saw a field of cattle, greatly dispersed.
…They were more curious than those others I’d encountered! My suspicions of a lack of human contact in this area may’ve been well founded. They followed me close, from behind and beside. Almost skipping along, while I brushed the hedge to my right.
But no harm came of this. I did (rightly wrongly) test their mettle but running at them with my arms up from the safe side of the kissing gate… They ran back for a moment.
I was curious. I DO NOT recommend giving farm animals a fear of people.
A couple more miles and I was back at my car. My journey was complete! I’ve been feeling as though I need a new long-term challenge to keep myself occupied and to challenge a cycle of endlessly repeating familiar loops and circuits.
Distance of this walk: 12 miles
That could well be the Cotswold Way… It’s barely one hundred miles long and I’ve covered a good chunk of it in day walks. I’d rather do the lot across five or six consecutive days but it’s also a local one and I know that some sections can be completed in linear walks, with the aid of public transport.
As for the Severn Way, I’ve just checked and, from its obscure start point near the centre of Bristol, I’ve covered the best part of 76 miles to get this far! Technically, there a couple of miles bordering the River Avon that I’ve not walked but I’m willing to discount those for now.