I was 15 years old when my dad handed me his battered copy of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. Laurie Lee’s description of setting off from his tiny Gloucestershire village of Slad, with nothing but a violin, treacle biscuits and some cheese, instilled in me a wanderlust I’ve never been able to shake off.
But it’s for Cider With Rosie that Lee is most famous; a golden and crumbly chronicle of his childhood and this western Cotswold valley, a valley that was: “narrow, steep and almost entirely cut off; it was also a funnel for winds, a channel for floods, and a jungly, bird-crammed, insect-hopping sun-trap whenever there happened to be sun...Our horizon of woods was the limit of our world.”
In his footsteps
Start the walk by paying your respects to Mr Lee at his graveside in the quiet churchyard across the road from his local pub, the Woolpack Inn. Inside the Victorian church, you’ll find a noticeboard with lots of information about Lee and his involvement with village life.
Cross the road, passing by the Woolpack, and continue out of the village along the road. You’ll be retracing Lee’s footsteps when he left home on that bright Sunday morning. Later he wrote: “I turned the corner, passed the village school, and closed that part of my life for ever.”
After a second bend in the road, cross over to a footpath and climb steeply, bearing left at a junction of paths and continue to a field. Keep to the right of the field then follow the path as it weaves in and out of beech woods. Look out for limestone remnants of a former quarry.
Into the woods
At the top of the hill, turn right on to Folly Lane and at a junction continue ahead on to a path that will take you into Frith Wood, an ancient beech wood overlooking the Painswick and Slad Valleys.
When you come to Bull’s Cross, mentioned in Cider With Rosie as “that ragged wildness of wind-bent turves…a sort of island of nothing set high above the crowded valleys”, cross the road on to a Tarmac drive signposted public footpath and Trillgate Farm. Follow it down and, immediately before the farm buildings, turn left over a stile into a field. Go down the hill, through another stile and clamber up another hill where you’ll come to a gate.
On golden pond
Turn left along a track – where it joins another track, stay right and continue to a lane. Turn right and walk to the bottom passing the beautiful Steanbridge Mill and its pond full of ducks. This is the pond where Lee skated in midwinter as a child: “The reeds and horse-tails at the pond’s edge smelt as pungent as old men’s fingers. Hanging branches of willow, manacled in the ice, bloomed like lilac in the setting sun.” Steanbridge House is also mentioned in the book – it is the Big House where Lee and his brothers sung carols for the squire Gilbert Jones.
Try Lee’s local
Follow the lane back into the heart of the village, passing Lee’s childhood home, which you can still see down the steep bank. You can imagine him as a three year old, howling beneath the tall grass as he so memorably describes in the first chapter of Cider With Rosie.
End your walk at the Woolpack, where you can see Lee’s old school across the road. You can absorb views of the sump of the Slad Valley from the beer garden while you try a pint of Cotswold ale – or maybe a cool glass of cider.
HOW TO GET THERE
Slad is two miles north east of Stroud on the B4070. The nearest train station is in Stroud and you can catch the number 15 bus service from Stroud to Slad. There is parking in the village and in the layby near Bull’s Cross at the top end of the village.
FIND OUT MORE
Painswick Tourist Office
Painswick Stroud, Gloucestershire GL6 6UT
The Woolpack Inn
Slad, Glos GL6 7QA
Take in views of the Slad Valley while sipping real ale from the Uley Brewery. This was Laurie Lee’s local – you’ll find his books on display and a couple of portraits on the wall. Good wholesome food, too.
Painswick GL6 6TH
18th-century gardens featuring flamboyant and frivolous follies and a maze. It affords magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Open 10 Jan to 31 October. Car parking free.
OS Explorer 179
Grid reference: SO 873 076