All walking days should be as stress-free and enjoyable as today's walk from Cam to Painswick, and here are just a few reasons why.
Weather: Although the sun was there, it politely hid behind clouds until I was safely cowering under an umbrella in the pub. For someone with sunburnt legs, this is more important than you'd think.
Distance: At around 12 miles, the walk from Cam to Painswick is pretty easy, especially when you break it halfway at a lovely countryside pub (more of which later). A slow plod comes in at around 3 miles per hour, so we're only talking about four hours of walking here, two before lunch and two after. That's really rather luxurious when the average distance on this trip is around 16 miles per day, and it changes the day's walk from a mission into a meander.
No More Climbing: Today I decided that this would be my last day on the Cotswold Way, even though the accepted End-to-End route follows it for a further day and a half. I've enjoyed my flirtation with the Way for the three days I've walked it, but I'm jacking it in early and tomorrow I'm heading north, straight to Gloucester.
The main reason is that the hazy weather is getting in the way of the escarpment views, and after three days of what appears to be pretty much the same scene, I'm a bit bored. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but as the Way insists on climbing straight up all those vertical staircases to enjoy said views, I've decided to give it a miss. In beautiful weather it would be worth the climb, but in the kind of humid oven that Gloucestershire has suddenly become, it's not a lot of fun.
The result is that today's walk was my Cotswold Way swan song, and as such it was hard to get irritated by the climbs and descents, because I know that from tomorrow I'll be kissing it all goodbye.
No More Committee Walking: Peta and I spent my rest day on Saturday exploring the area around Painswick, wandering up hills like Cam Long Down and reeling in the tropical heat, so when I resumed my slow plod north, I was able to miss out the parts of the Way that we'd already seen together. The result was that today's walk was a much shorter and snappier affair that avoided most of the climbs, most of the descents, and most of the committee's not-so-clever decisions.
This was good because I've had enough of all the dithering around that the Way does. Barry was right; the Cotswold Way was designed by a committee, and it feels like it. Yet again today saw a stupid hand-shaped detour, this time around Haresfield Hill, and yet again I managed to avoid it with a judicious ten-minute road diversion. The Cotswold Way is a walk for people with time to spare, but I'm enjoying the feeling of heading north and making progress to distant John o'Groats, so that's another reason to wave goodbye to the Way.
Pub Lunch: So instead of all the climbing and meandering, I walked for a couple of hours north to Randwick, a little village north of Stroud, where I met Peta in a pub and sat out the hot part of the day in the company of a roast dinner and a couple of pints of IPA. The difference this made to the day's walking was tremendous; in the morning it drove me on, giving me a reason to walk, and in the afternoon it ensured that the trail slipped by in a happy haze of hops.
Drinking and walking is an interesting combination, though it can play havoc with your navigational skills. Luckily it was only about three or four miles from the pub to my B&B in Painswick, and I took it slowly, enjoying the pleasant feeling of loping along with a couple of pints and a roast dinner inside. Not surprisingly the day shot past, and the next thing I knew I was sitting in another pub in Painswick, tucking into my third big meal of the day and testing the local brew, just to make sure it hadn't changed too much in the 12 miles since Cam. It hadn't.
Company: I mentioned meeting Peta for lunch, and it transformed the day. I can only imagine what it's like to have your partner along on a walk like this, but the thought of sharing this walk really appeals to me. I'm not talking about the actual walking so much, as that depends on the compatibility of walking styles and stamina, but I've met a couple of people who go off walking while their partners take the car and meet them in the pub at lunchtime and in the B&B at the end of the day. This sounds like bliss to me; you get company when you're not concentrating on the walk, someone to sort out the accommodation, someone to carry all the maps and things, and someone to lean on when the going gets tough. But best of all you get to have your girlfriend along; for me, that would be enough to transform it from a super-long challenge walk into a holiday.
All these happy coincidences conspired to make a very pleasant day's walking indeed; OK, the End-to-End is a roller-coaster and no doubt things will hit rock bottom again soon, but when you're riding at the top of the curve and things are back on track, it feels good.
As an added bonus Painswick is a lovely place, a typical Cotswold village that has a church with a monstrous spire, 99 beautifully crafted yew trees in the churchyard, and at least one lovely pub in shape of the Falcon (I didn't manage to visit the other pub in Painswick, though it also came highly recommended). The only fly in the ointment was the Falcon's music system, which got itself stuck on just one song that it played again and again, around and around, all night.
I will no doubt be humming the Corrs' irritating 'Only When I Sleep' for the next week or so, but at least it won't be on the Cotswold Way...