Distance: 7.4km (4.6 miles)
Route: View route with OS Maps
Time: Roughly 2 hours
Difficulty: Gentle, with some moderate inclines
Eats and drinks: Stop to eat at Foston’s Ash Inn (child and dog friendly), ideal for Sunday lunch
This Sunday’s amble was a circular route near the village of Birdlip, taking in the Workman’s Woods at the National Trust’s Ebworth Estate and the stunning views from Sheepscombe common, skirting the fields alongside the Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve before a Sunday roast at the warm and welcoming Foston’s Ash Inn.
Owned by the National Trust, who manage five hundred acres of beech woodland and six hundred acres of organic farmland there, the Ebworth Estate is far larger than anyone can imagine from the outside (we’ve passed the Ebworth sign on the B4070 many times and never thought it would be so expansive!). The estate here also forms part of the larger National Nature Reserve, and despite being nestled between the villages of Sheepscombe and Cranham, we couldn’t have felt farther from civilisation as we followed the winding trail into the very bottom of the woods.
This route meandered through a forest of lofty beech trunks with a towering canopy. You can’t miss the evidence that this land is worked throughout the year – the track is easily wide enough for a large vehicle and the route punctuated by large wood stacks. Walkers can even stop with their flask at the workman’s rest, a sturdy tin shed which is currently being swallowed up by the forest around it.
The path (and the rainwater!) winds its way gently downwards for some time. Although the weather was fine and sunny, there was some squelching through mud under the cover of the trees (if you’re walking in Autumn or Winter, this is definitely an outing for sturdy boots or wellies!). But even if you’ve been lucky enough to visit after a spell of dry weather, remember to look down and admire the colour of gorgeous green leaves against the cream-coloured sand underfoot.
We were surprised to turn one corner and discover a well-hidden lake marking the very bottom of the forest. From there, we wound our way gently back upwards, past a more modern-looking wood store. We both stopped for some time to marvel at the entrance to the Sheepscombe valley, inconspicuously marked by a gate into the field below. If you ever fancied owning a field (sorry, random I know), this would probably be the one! It offers breath-taking views into the beginning of the prehistoric valley, lined with an array of forest on each side. Here we spotted our first yellowing leaves, heralding the return of autumn to this part of the world.
The exit from this section of forest is marked by a couple of envy-inducing Cotswold stone homes, beyond which we followed the road up to Sheepscombe Common, where the terrain changed considerably. Here, the grassy knolls and crumbling, yellow paths underfoot are more like what seasoned walkers might recognise as typical of the Cotswold escarpment, reminiscent of Cheltenham’s Cleeve Hill. But it’s the view from this common which truly makes this part of the walk! The day was bright and clear and the viewpoint here offered an impressive vista and the ideal bench on which to pause, absorb the view and check the map.
As we continued on through Lord and Lady’s Woods, we entered the final section of our stroll, which skirted between the woods of the National Nature Reserve on the left and grazing farmland on the right. This footpath couldn’t bring you much closer to the Cotswold’s agricultural heritage, with wood stacks on one side and cows on the other, the two separated by a hand-crafted dry stone wall. We passed on through a field of soulful-looking big, brown cows and onto the road, before cutting through the fields by Overtown Farm and back onto the B4070 – just in time for a hungry rumble from both our stomachs!
For me, stepping into the Fostons Ash Inn always has the feel of stepping into the large dining room of a friend! The seating area is one large stone room of rustic farmhouse tables, cleverly repurposed singer sewing machine tables and old church pews. By no means a large pub, a small crowd of weekend lunches and family celebrations makes for a busy and bustling atmosphere here. Some of the draft beer is local (we both enjoyed a very tasty glass of Fathom it Out, by the Forest of Dean’s Bespoke Brewing Co.), the dinner portions are both generous and delicious, and the service is speedy, warm and personal. Paul ate the roast beef, and I the slow roast roulade of pork (an agreement to taste each other’s lead to some argument over who had ordered best – I think me; I suspect he’ll tell you something different – and the truth of it is that both were excellent meals). If Sunday lunch isn’t your thing, the full menu (which can be found on their website) was on offer, as was a children’s menu (on request).
We’d love to hear about your adventures in the Ebworth Estate and the surrounding area – why not share your walk with us on Facebook?