Boxing Day lends itself to a walk – the post-Christmas over-eating guilt encourages people to get out. Amongst the set of people I was at school with, there’s a long standing tradition of walking over the hills from Dursley to Waterly Bottoms (we have fantastic place names round here) to a pub, and then coming back. It’s a steep walk, and not the easiest in the dark. I’ve done it a couple of times, and while I like the theory, I struggle with the practice. It also doesn’t help that not living in Dursley I need to get home after the return from the pub, sans car.
This year I thought it would be fun to start my own Boxing Day walk, for which I managed to lure out a few intrepid souls. While I like the idea of committing to a walk on this day, I have no sense of a fixed route I want to adopt – that may settle in time, or it may not.
The inspiration for the walk came from Gloucestershire Ghost Tales (History press, Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiosis) – the mention of a place called ‘Woeful Dane’s Bottom’ and reference to a standing stone that I didn’t previously know about. I spent a while cross-referencing the story with the local ordinance survey map, but then failed to take the map with me on the day, which had consequences.
We walked from Stroud to Nailsworth, and thence to Avening, where there was a detour to the graveyard. My great uncle – Wilfred Hunking – and his wife Anne are buried there. They are just on the graveyard side of the wall, and on the other side is a stile, and it was at that stile that they kissed for the first time on the night that they met at a local dance. They were a case of love at first sight. Romantic to the end. But also cantankerous – it was a romance that looked a lot like fighting and point scoring from the outside.
From Avening, we walked up the edge of Gattcombe Park, an exercise in trying to keep my inner proletariat from rioting. A vast tract of beautiful landscape and woodland largely inaccessible because it’s owned by a royal. There is now a gate in the field that allows people to access the barrow there – a really unusual barrow with a stone on the top, called The Tingle Stone. I’ve heard stories about Pagans trespassing in that field and finding themselves in conversation with armed police. And so we trespassed, but an unlocked gate is an open invitation, and I think it immoral that anyone is allowed to prohibit access to such places as these. The history of land ownership in the UK has a lot to do with conquest, which can equally be described as violent theft.
We found the long stone, but, without the map, were on the wrong road and the wrong side of the field, so we missed the second barrow, and we did not get to Woeful Dane’s Bottom. That will be for another day.
As is so often the way of it, this walk suggested the scope for another, and one that might be especially suited to early spring.