I am very loathe to put this on paper as this place is extremely special to me. It’s where I take loved ones to show them real magic in the countryside – and to perpetuate the myth that I am a genius for finding secret places.
Most people think of the Cotswolds as being north of the M4 – those exquisitely charming honey-stoned towns and villages often clogged with visitors.
My Cotswolds lies between the motorway and Bath – it’s just as beautiful but few people visit and it feels more authentic. So here is a taste of the Cotswold escarpment, a beguiling hamlet and a perfect lost valley.
The clear waters of the Broadmead Brook hold a few trout, bullheads and crayfish ©Raymond Bird
1. Market town
Start in the handsome market town of Marshfield. This used to be on the old road to London and has several handsome coaching inns that served bygone traffic as well as a magnificent winding high street. Where Chippenham Road meets Hayfield, take the footpath beside the road sign (there’s an ancient iron kissing gate). Head north and around to an alley to the right of the community centre to reach the very busy A420. Cross the road very carefully and walk for 50m or so until you see a footpath sign. Take the footpath diagonally north-east across the field. Don’t follow the edge of the field – I got into trouble with the famer for this.
2. On the plateau
After 400m you follow the line of the drystone wall field boundary to reach Down Lane – a track across the rolling Cotswold plateau with a wide verge and drystone walls. Listen for corn bunting, skylarks and yellowhammers. In late summer, I’ve heard quail from here and seen partridges and kestrels.
Keep your eyes peeled for kestrels in late summer ©Getty
3. Fire in the verge
After 350m, take the left fork. You have a mile walk ahead to the village of West Kington, passing over a crossroads in the process. If you walk this road at dusk in July, look for fireflies in the verges.
4. Hallowed hamlet
West Kington is a tiny hamlet of beautiful houses and gorgeous gardens. Ignore any side roads and head down towards the centre. Take a footpath left beside a very symmetrical cottage with iron railings out front. This takes you down to the Broadmead Brook. Follow the truly delightful path upstream through the village until you arrive on a lane – Drifton Hill.
Spot corn bunting beside the river ©Getty
5. Secret valley
Continue for 250m before taking a footpath left. Go through the farmgate to enter what is known as the Shire Valley. This is a lovely hidden sheep-grazed vale of wildflowers, buzzards and ravens, with the brook on your left. Grassland and woodland butterflies teem here on hot summer days. I always have a picnic here, though in autumn, pheasants are a plague. Follow it for a mile and a half – with the valley gradually widening out – until you reach Shire Hill Lane.
6. The yomp home
For simplicity, you can follow Shire Lane all the way back to Marshfield – but beware of traffic – this is a busier road than Down Lane. I follow it for about half a mile before taking a footpath on the right back across fields to the A420 beside Marshfield and a well-earned drink in one of those coaching inns.
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Main image ©Raymond Bird