Caravanning in the UK in winter is not something I would have conceived doing a few years ago. Even when we set off on our tour in 2014 we thought we might head into Europe and find a warm spot in Spain for a couple of months to over winter. Usually, come the end of October we are hibernating at home until spring.
However, after purchasing The Coachman last December we spent a few nights away just to test it out. We thoroughly enjoyed our short winter trip and have decided that weather permitting (i.e. not two foot of snow) we will try and get a trip away each month during the winter. The theory is great, but when you wake up in the morning and its minus 4 degrees the attraction wears off slightly, it was certainly cold last night. It was that cold I would not have wanted to be a brass monkey!
The great thing about cold December nights is they are usually followed by beautiful sunny days and that’s what we have today. It is a perfect day for wrapping up warm and going for a good walk and there is no shortage of places to go around here.
Studying the Ordnance Survey map of the area the thing that immediately stands out is the old gravel pits that now form the Cotswold Water Park. After our wonderful trip to the RSPB reserve on the old gravel pits at Dungeness a few months ago we think the Cotswold Water Park might be an interesting place to explore. It is only a short drive to the car park close to the village of Somerford Keynes.
Leaving the car park and returning to the road we turn right along the village lane and after a short distance turn left to walk on the broad verge besides a busier road. The way-marker says that we are on the Thames Path, which initially seems odd because we cannot see any sign of a river.
Crossing the road to follow the Thames Path way-marker we head down a lane towards the Lower Mill Estate. There is a stream running besides us and we realise this is the River Thames. It hardly seems possible that this is the River I crossed so many times when working in London. But all rivers have to start somewhere.
We walk along a tarmac drive with houses to our right and stop to look over the old gravel pits to our left, we immediately know the combination of low winter sun, clear skies and reflective water mean we are in for some stunning scenery today.
The drive becomes a track and we proceed cautiously because this section is icy, the path narrows through a shaded area where the sun has failed to reach and it is covered in frost. The recent trend of mild winters means this once familiar sight has become uncommon.
Soon the path rejoins the river and it is a pleasant stroll as we head towards Ashton Keynes.
Just before we reach the village there is a small flock of Herdwick sheep. The opportunity to take a picture of sheep is not something that Lynnie will pass up!
Ashton Keynes is a typical, attractive Cotswold village. I later learn this is a village with a strong community; both the village shop and the White Hart Inn are community owned.
We follow the Thames Path signs through the village and on reaching the playing field see signs encouraging people to sign up to the campaign to keep a village footpath open. Let’s hope the community can achieve their aim. Footpaths are key to enabling public access to the countryside. During our travels we encounter any number of footpaths that are overgrown or obstructed, at best this is a nuisance but on occasions dangerous especially when the alternative route is along a busy main road.
We continue on the Thames Path across the sports ground and then as it passes between lakes. At a junction of paths at Waterhay we avail ourselves of a car park bench to stop and eat our sandwiches. Walking along we are warm enough but on stopping soon feel the chill, it is not long before we are marching briskly along the Thames Path once more. The way soon turns right to head around Manorbrook Lake and then further expanses of water.
It is amazing to consider how much gravel must have been extracted from this area; at every turn there is another lake. The path then wends its way around some low lying and boggy fields, fortunately our route is dry. At a junction of paths the Thames Path turns to the left and we follow it, but at the next junction of paths we turn left away from the Thames Path and head along a track. On reaching a tarmac lane we turn left and follow this until we reach a larger minor road, the unusually named Fridays Ham Lane, here we turn left and follow this road past Rixon Gate back into Ashton Keynes.
We arrive in the village alongside the playing field and on reaching the sign for the Thames Path turn right and retrace our steps through the village and then alongside the Thames as we head back towards Somerford Keynes.
Dusk is falling, we keep getting caught out at this time of year by the failing light and as we reach the stunning Somerford Lagoon, the largest lake in the water park, there is a small murmuration of starlings performing acrobatics in the sky. There are probably only a few hundred birds but they are still spectacular to see.
We arrive back at the car before dark, it has been a really interesting afternoon. I imagine if you were into birds there were plenty of species you could have spotted along the way. We are not great at identifying our less common birds and walk too quickly to spot that many of them. We have covered almost ten miles this afternoon and seen plenty of lakes, time for a change tomorrow I think.
1st December 2016
[To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 169 – Cirencester & Swindon]
© Two Dogs and an Awning (2016)