The Cotswolds. The name – which, ac­cord­ing to the font of all on­line knowl­edge, comes from a ‘sheep en­clo­sure in rolling hill­sides’ and pos­si­bly some­thing to do with weald/ wald, the Saxon/ger­man word for wood – in­stantly con­jures up pow­er­ful, idyl­lic im­ages of honey-coloured stone build­ings and per­fect coun­try­side pep­pered with dry­s­tone walls. In ed­i­tor Neil’s mind, it also con­jures up im­ages of great greenlanes.

That’s why we’re here to­day, driv­ing to­wards Al­ces­ter – first stag­ing post on a route that also takes in Bid­ford-on-avon, Honey­bourne, Chip­ping Cam­p­den, Broad­way, Snow­shill, Tem­ple Guit­ing, Up­per and Lower Slaugh­ter and Bour­ton-on-the­wa­ter. We’ll broadly be fol­low­ing Ryknild Street, a Ro­man road that ran from the Fosse Way at Bour­ton-on-the-wa­ter to Rother­ham. Neil’s looked at the maps and pro­claimed that this is the only sec­tion of Ryknild Street with suf­fi­cient greenlanes to make a de­cent route.

Ford­ing ahead

I’m driv­ing my pleas­ingly re­li­able Free­lander 1 and Neil is in his faith­ful, patina-laden 300Tdi De­fender 110. Af­ter a ba­con & sausage butty and a cof­fee we’re in search of the first of many fords on this route. It crosses the River Ar­row, next to Coughton Court, a large, Grade-1-listed Tu­dor build­ing that’s now a Na­tional Trust prop­erty.

The ford has a con­crete base and a nar­row foot­bridge to one side for those who pre­fer not to get their feet wet. The wa­ter isn’t too deep but it’s flow­ing briskly. The first green road (Lane 1, above) is just af­ter the ford, past a ‘farm ac­cess only’ sign on the left.

This first lane re­ally sets the tone for the day – firm, stony base, dry­s­tone walls, and wiry hedges and bushes. There are vari­a­tions, of course; some lanes climb out of the val­leys into more open coun­try­side be­fore drop­ping gen­tly down through trees; oth­ers have more muddy sur­faces, par­tic­u­larly the low-ly­ing ones that wend their way through the val­leys, along­side sparkling streams and rivers.

Some lanes of­fer a few mi­nor chal­lenges, be­ing a lit­tle scratchy in places. The sec­ond lane we drive (Lane 2, p46) takes us through over­hang­ing wil­low trees and un­der­growth with hid­den ditches bi­sect­ing our path, be­fore feed­ing into a stream off to our right. This all adds to the ad­ven­tur­ous feel but there’s noth­ing that phases the mighty Free­lander – that said, even Neil backs out of the deep ford at Great Alne.

We’re sur­rounded by his­tory and it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to spec­u­late what life might have been like when the Ro­mans were stomp­ing about here. For ex­am­ple, Al­ces­ter was orig­i­nally a Ro­man fort, Alauna, that grew into a small town. And Ryknild Street passes through Bid­ford-on-avon.

The next no­table place is Honey­bourne; no­table be­cause it was an im­por­tant town when Eve­sham, now a huge place, was lit­tle more than a ham­let. How things change. A bridge car­ries our road over the Padding­ton– Worces­ter and Ox­ford main­line. Rail­ways have played as big a part in open­ing up the Cotswolds as the Ro­mans did in their day.

Neil’s De­fender leads the way and I have no real idea of where we are. The sat­nav gives oc­ca­sional clues, iden­ti­fy­ing places and road names, like Baker’s Hill. At the top, we join a road that has ap­par­ently been aban­doned by the lo­cal coun­cil to fend for it­self. Ac­cord­ing to Neil, it’s an in­creas­ingly com­mon prac­tice: lit­tle-used mi­nor roads are sim­ply left. In time, they be­come greenlanes; for the time be­ing they’re still shown on the map as yel­low roads.

Fur­ther on, af­ter a cou­ple more lanes, we join the sweep­ing, sin­u­ous climb up Fish Hill (aka the Broad­way by­pass). This spec­tac­u­lar, ear-pop­ping climb snakes its way up the huge hill. At the top, we turn right, be­tween a pair of very grand stone pil­lars, to­wards Broad­way Tower – it­self an im­pos­ing struc­ture – for a des­per­ately needed cof­fee and com­fort stop.

I’ve been fol­low­ing the red De­fender for a lit­tle over two hours. The weather is even wet­ter and greyer, but we’re all en­joy­ing every twist and turn of our green­lane tour.

From Broad­way Tower we head to­wards Stow and Bour­ton-on-the -Wa­ter, on Buckle Street, which seems to go on for ever; no mat­ter how many turns we make, we’re still on Buckle Street. We pick up our next green road at a cross­roads which car­ries signs pro­hibit­ing lor­ries heav­ier than 7.5-tonnes.

(Lane 6, p46). It’s tree-lined and firm, sunken in places and you wouldn’t ex­pect lor­ries to even at­tempt driv­ing it – maybe they have lots of prob­lems with sat navs mis­di­rect­ing peo­ple.

A few min­utes later we reach Tem­ple Guit­ing (pro­nounced ‘gight­ing’, as in ‘light­ing’, we find out later). In the 12th cen­tury, the Knights Tem­plar founded a pre­cep­tory nearby, which lead to the cre­ation of the vil­lage.

We’re now ap­proach­ing Kine­ton and turn right on to Critch­ford Lane, a sin­gle-track road with pass­ing places, then right on to Lane 7

(above left), with a ‘Con­ser­va­tion Area’ sign at the start. It’s a very grassy lane with clear tracks and a firm base as it climbs gen­tly up­hill, re­veal­ing a half-mile straight sec­tion. It looks a more like a gal­lop used to train race­horses than a sim­ple farm track past fields.

If only the dank, misty cloud would lift, we’d have a great view across the land­scape. Even

‘It’s in­creas­ingly com­mon – lit­tleused mi­nor roads are sim­ply left. In time, they be­come greenlanes’

so, the drive is very gen­tle and easy on my Free­lander – and it al­ways feels great to be away from tar­mac for a while.

As we leave the lane, we’re joined by an­other track from our right that be­comes an un­paved road as it drops steeply down­hill, curv­ing round the gra­di­ent. The bro­ken tar­mac sur­face is sim­i­lar to that of the ‘aban­doned’ road we’ve al­ready driven but this one has a layer of wet, greasy mud on it to make it a bit more in­ter­est­ing.

Wrestling the Free­lander sharp right then even sharper left, we join the Winch­combe Way Na­tional Trail, a 42-mile-long walk­ing route from Cleeve Hill to Broad­way. This sec­tion takes us through a beau­ti­ful, ser­pen­tine val­ley with sil­ver birch trees ris­ing either side of us (see our open­ing photo, p40-41). Be­low us, a small stream trick­les through this ver­dant, hid­den cor­ner. It’s an­other yel­low road, not a green­lane (and cer­tainly not a foot­path at this point) but we agree to call it Lane 8 (p46). We left Stud­ley three-and-a-half hours ago. In that time, we’ve cov­ered a lot of ground.

The deep end

Af­ter cir­cling Kine­ton for a while, we plunge down a steep side road in the vil­lage, to the first of two fords across the River Win­drush.

Be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Coun­try­file pre­sen­ter Adam Hen­son’s farm, large signs warn driv­ers not to drive the road. This is no mere stream – but fine for my Free­lander. Very con­scious of pre­cisely where the air in­take is lo­cated, I com­mit to the cross­ing, and splash through with­out dif­fi­culty. The nar­row lane con­tin­ues along­side the river for a few dozen yards be­fore chang­ing its mind and turn­ing right, back across the river. The base is loose peb­bles and silt, and a clap­per bridge gives walk­ers and cy­clists a means of cross­ing with­out get­ting their feet wet.

So, an­other great photo op­por­tu­nity and an­other deep-ish ford tra­versed with­out in­ci­dent. I make that four fords so far; five if you in­clude the odd lit­tle ditch thingy in the wooded sec­tion of lane two.

Meet the Ro­mans

We’ve reached a tremen­dous lit­tle ham­let called Condi­cote, which gives its name to the next three sec­tions of green­lane. How­ever, the routes orig­i­nal name is Ryknild Street. For me, this is the high­light of the day; you can’t beat driv­ing an­cient routes like this Ro­man road, es­pe­cially on a misty, damp day, when his­tory hangs just as thickly in the air.

‘When you’re driv­ing a Ro­man road, es­pe­cially on a damp, misty day, his­tory hangs thickly in the air’

Some­times spelt Ryknield and even Ick­nield, the an­cient route is some­times a sus­pi­ciously straight coun­try road – as it is here, on the far side of Condi­cote. It leads down to a cross­roads, which then con­tin­ues as an ar­che­typal green­lane (Lane 12, p46), but re­mains as straight as a die to the hori­zon. I bet those Cen­tu­ri­ons longed for the warmth of their south­ern Euro­pean home­land as they marched up­hill to­wards the crest, now marked by an Ord­nance Sur­vey trig point.

We stop for a brew and a look at this trun­cated con­crete pyra­mid as Neil re­gales me with every geeky de­tail he knows about these cru­cial land­marks. What re­ally sets him off is the flush bracket. Who knew? Who knew that each one has an iden­ti­fy­ing num­ber that you can tick off from a list? Such fun!

Ryknild Street is also a great green­lane. There’s plenty of scratch­ing and scrap­ing past the de­ter­mined bushes cling­ing to the ex­posed hill­side, and that’ll only get worse with the fresh growth of spring – worth bear­ing in mind if your ve­hi­cle has gleam­ing body­work that you want to pre­serve. Be­yond the crest, the lane de­scends gen­tly, wrig­gling past a few larger out­crops of hedgerow and un­der­growth. The sur­face here has a deal of mud and ruts to pro­vide mod­er­ate chal­lenges for my Free­lander but noth­ing too daunt­ing.

We drop into Up­per Slaugh­ter, a typ­i­cal, small Cotswolds vil­lage nes­tled around a pic­turesque ford across the River Win­drush. With a splash of sun­shine, it would look pic­ture-per­fect – but even on a damp day like to­day, it looks tremen­dous as a back­drop, which is prob­a­bly why the Fa­ther Brown TV de­tec­tive se­ries and nu­mer­ous oth­ers use the vil­lage as one of its many lo­ca­tions.

There’s a sign warn­ing ‘deep ford’, but although we both make a bit of a splash go­ing through, even the Free­lander sur­vives. I wouldn’t want it to be much deeper, mind.

There’s time for one more green­lane near Naun­ton (Lane 15, p46) be­fore we slip qui­etly through the back streets of Bour­ton-on-the­wa­ter. Only the hardi­est tourists are still strolling about in the damp con­di­tions.

We set our­selves up to cross the River Win­drush for the third time – this route is some­thing of a wader’s de­light. Neil plunges his De­fender in deliberately but steadily. The wa­ter ex­plores the tired door sills of his sta­tion wagon, seek­ing some­where to stag­nate. It looks quite deep out in the mid­dle.

I pi­lot my Free­lander down the en­try ramp and into the icy wa­ter. Half­way across, there is in­deed a sud­den change in depth as the wheels briefly find a hole to scrab­ble in. Keep­ing a calm head and a steady course, Vic­tor the Free­lander ex­its the wa­ter like a muddy labrador tak­ing a re­luc­tant bath; briskly. Hats off to it – for a petrol-en­gined car, it has han­dled all of its wa­tery ex­cur­sions to­day sur­pris­ingly well.

Neil promised me a fun day out with some ter­rific greenlanes and plenty of fords. He has cer­tainly de­liv­ered, and I’ll tell him as much this even­ing when we sit down with the beer that I am now of­fi­cially look­ing for­ward to.

Grid ref SP 113597

A green­laner’s best friend. And a saw Pretty wood­land lanes are all part of the be­guil­ing Cotswolds mix

Grid ref SP 099264

Petrol Free­lander waded in with the best of them

He’s out stand­ing in his field

Grid ref SP 107256

Scenery’s still amaz­ing, even when driz­zly and over­cast

Grid ref SP 084209

Mark coaches Neil in the no­ble art of trainspot­ting

Grid ref SP 154267 Grid ref SP 153270

Three hours into Mark’s mono­logue and Neil’s ready for some­thing a bit stronger than tea Post-rain mud made un­chal­leng­ing tracks more in­ter­est­ing

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