“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour”
I’m in the market for short longdistance paths. And it seems I’m spoilt for choice…
IT WAS ROBERT Louis Stevenson who said it was better to travel hopefully than to arrive.
(In fact, he said “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” Thanks Google.) In this he was echoing the old Taoist philosophy that the journey itself is the reward and should be enjoyed as such as much as a fixation on destination; a good philosophy for us walkers to live by.
Of course, it doesn’t always apply. If you’ve ever picked your way across a frozen Sharp Edge in a high wind or crossed a barren Scottish moor in horizontal hail, you will know that the prospect of arrival is certainly a welcome one. But the point is still clear: much of the pleasure of walking and of journeys is in the embarkation, that first step that, as Confucius, or was it Lao Tzu, said, begins the journey of a thousand miles.
The Cotswold Way is substantially shorter than that. There is even a chance that having started hopefully (from Chipping Campden) I shall arrive on some future date at Bath 102 miles of Cotswold escarpment later. That is the plan anyway. Unlike my previous longdistance trails this one will not be tackled in a week of concentrated fun but as and when, a day or a weekend here and there. Having completed stage one, my appetite has been whetted. Chipping Campden is a fine town and the first section starts in what would in any other place be described as its back streets, if that didn’t sound far too shabby and down at heel for this particular Chipping. From here there’s a gentle pull onto the escarpment itself and fine, open views of England’s green and gentle rolling heartlands, and a swathe of villages and hilltops to be picked out on the toposcope. Up here too, you are on the site of one of the world’s most unusual and venerable sporting events: ‘The Olympicks’, established by one Robert Dover and a genuine, quirky forerunner of the modern Olympics (see panel.)
After this the way is easy and navigable all the way to Broadway Tower, a Capability Brown folly built 1000 feet above sea level for no better reason than that Lady Coventry thought that a beacon on this hill could be seen from her house in Worcester 22 miles away. Thus she ordered the tower to find out. Indeed, the beacon could be seen clearly; turns out she was right. Later it became a monitoring station for nuclear fallout, a task for which it remains happily unemployed. After that it’s a gentle descent into the village of Broadway itself, so pretty and sweet and rich it almost hurts your teeth. And that was Stage One over. Now I’ve just got to find the time for Stage Two; Broadway to Wood Stanway, six and a half miles via the Iron Age hillfort of Shenberrow Camp.
Since embarking on this adventure, I’ve also started the Salford Trail and have done two stages and eight miles of the fifty. It does strike me that before I start more I should really maybe finish one and, with that in mind, I’ve been looking at short long-distance trails.
The Three Crags Walk in Wharfedale is named after the crags of Almscliffe, Caley and Cow and Calf, and it’s a very manageable 16 miles. There’s the Durham Coastal Path, at just eleven miles, reclaimed from closed pits and the sea. Or, if you’re of a spiritual bent, there’s the ten-mile jaunt of the Wass Wanderers Way by Ampleforth Abbey in the North York Moors.
If you count the Cheviot Spur of the Pennine Way as a separate trail you could maybe make your own badge to honour the completion of its gruelling one-mile length. You could even make like Roger Bannister and try it in four minutes, perhaps if Messrs Trump, Putin or Jong Un do something daft and the four-minute warning blares out from Broadway Tower. If I had to name my ideal final four minutes on Earth, a decent one-mile trail would probably do it.
Hear Stuart on Radcliffe and Maconie, BBC 6 Music, 1pm to 4pm Monday to Friday.