Andrew Swift takes us on an invigorating hike across the tranquil Cotswold plateau.
Tormarton lies less than a quarter of a mile north of the M4, yet is the starting point for a walk through some of the most tranquil scenery in south Gloucestershire. After a brisk hike across the Cotswold plateau, which offers far-reaching views in every direction, you can head steeply downhill to Old Sodbury, where there is a welcoming pub, and from there, field paths lead to Dodington Park – landscaped by Capability Brown – and a climb past the source of the River Frome, to return to Tormarton.
Apart from three busy road crossings, the walk is straightforward, if muddy in parts. You are unlikely to encounter much livestock, but dogs have to be kept on leads in Dodington Park. There is also some walking along quiet lanes.
• To get to the starting point, leave the M4 at junction 18, turn north along the A46, and almost immediately take a right turn for Tormarton. After three-quarters of a mile, just past Chestnut Farm, take the third right and park on the left by Tormarton church (ST769788).
• Walk back along the road and, at the crossroads, carry straight on along a lane heading north. After 750m, turn right following a bridleway sign (ST769798). The copse you can see over to the right marks the site of an underground stone quarry. Carry on in the same direction for 2000m, and, when you come to a lane, turn left along it. At the T junction, bear left to carry on in the same direction, and after 250m, when the road swings left, bear right to carry on up another lane (ST786812).
• Over to your right, you will see a ventilation shaft, one of six that mark the course of Sodbury Tunnel – 2.5 miles long – which carries the GWR line from London to South Wales. Spoil removed from the tunnel is now covered by a copse of beech trees. Further away, to the north east, you can also see Badminton House.
• After 400m, when the lane swings right, bear left along a bridleway signposted to Old Sodbury, passing two more ventilation shafts. After 900m, just past Lyegrove Farm, carry straight on through a gate, following a path cutting through an avenue of trees, with Lyegrove House just over to the right.
• Another gate leads into a large ploughed field (ST776815). The OS map shows the bridleway heading straight on, but hoof and footprints indicate that it is customary to bear right and follow a grassy strip around the edge of the field.
• At the end of the field, and with another ventilation shaft to your left, carry on along the remnant of a green lane – marked as Tyning Lane on the map.
• At the next gate, carry on alongside a wall, but, after going through another gate, follow a waymark through a gate on the left. After heading across two fields, a handgate leads onto the busy A46. Cross and go through another handgate to the right of a drive.• Carry straight on alongside a wall. After 350m, just past a gate, take a track curving into woodland and follow rickety steps down into a holloway (ST758816). Although passable, this deep and ancient track is strewn with fallen trees. The official footpath climbs more steps to continue along the edge of the field, before dropping down through woods – carpeted with bluebells, with the holloway far below. This is the edge of the Cotswold plateau, and, through the trees, the Severn plain can be glimpsed, stretching far away.
• After crossing a stile, head diagonally down to a handgate and turn left (ST757818). You are now on the Cotswold Way (CW), which you will be following back to Tormarton.
• A kissing gate (KG) leads into a rough lane, at the bottom of which you turn right. Go through the churchyard, on the far side of which another KG leads into a field where a toposcope indicates features such as the Brecon Beacons, May Hill and the Tyndale Monument.
• Head down to the bottom left-hand corner of the field and through the KG. Carry on towards a barn and through a farmyard, before crossing a main road. If you look up to your left, you will see a final ventilation shaft.
• Head along Chapel Lane to the right of the Dog Inn. After 350m, follow a CW signpost through a metal KG on the left (ST752812).
• Cross the field diagonally to another KG, carry on in the same direction and go through one more KG in the top corner of the field. Carry on uphill, cross a stile and, after going through a gap in the hedge, continue towards modern buildings.
• After going through a gate, turn right along a lane. After 350m, turn left, following a CW sign into the Dodington estate (ST753805).
• Carry on through two more gates, cross a drive and continue over an ornamental bridge. As you head uphill beside a fence, you will see a lake to your right, with Dodington church and house high above. From the late 16th century to 1980, the estate belonged to the Codrington family, whose wealth came from sugar plantations in Antigua, but since 2003, it has been home to the pioneering hoover manufacturer, Sir James Dyson.
• After passing a CW waymark, go through a KG as the ground levels out, and carry on with a fence on your left. After 600m, as the fence bears left, follow a clear track straight ahead towards a line of beeches on the horizon.
• Cross a footbridge and head uphill beside the fledgling River Frome. Go through a gate at the top, cross the A46 with care and negotiate a squeeze stile by the milepost straight ahead (ST763790).
• After 200m, cross a road and carry on across a slab stile. After another 75m, two more slab stiles with broken-down steps take you across a lane. Continue through a gate and at a KG turn left along a lane. When the lane curves left, cross a stile on the right and head across a field to emerge opposite Tormarton church.
Walk distance: 7 miles
Time: 3 – 3.5 hours
Level of challenge: straightforward, although some sections may be muddy; three busy road crossings
Map used: OS Explorer 155