BROADWAY HILL - The Cotswold Lion .......sleeps tonight!
(nearest postcode WR12 7LB)
A fine day in April and we were off exploring again – this time in search of a wonky crenulated tower perched on the top of a hill in Worcestershire. This is Broadway Tower.
It was built by the sixth Earl of Coventry in 1800 in such a position as to be seen by his wife’s family in Worcester. He actually made sure of this by lighting a beacon on the top of the hill first.
The nearest village is Broadway, and this is where we parked for the start of our adventure.
Broadway is a very pretty village with a wide main street lined with mellow Cotswold stone houses. There were several dogs with their humans trotting up the road towards us but before we had a chance to meet them, Julie led us on to the Cotswold Way.
We had thought that we would be leaving the humans behind us in the village, but instead were surprised to see lots of separate groups of humans all climbing down the hill towards us. The path ahead looked steep, and I couldn’t resist diving into a small stream to ‘take on water’ before we tackled the ascent. I couldn’t help thinking that we hadn’t chosen the easiest route.
We passed an orchard as we walked. The boughs of the trees were smothered in frothy white blossom - a sure sign that spring is here. There were lots of sheep in the field and we caused quite a stir as we walked through it. Several ewes brought their lambs across to meet us. They seemed to know that we were both sheepdogs. Bruno would have loved to stop for a chat, but Julie took us marching resolutely up the hill towards the tower.
Of course, it is the sheep that graze here that have made this part of the Cotswolds so special. Continuous grazing for many centuries has produced a very short grassy sward enriched with a plethora of short-stemmed herbs including stemless thistles, small scabious, and clustered bellflower which is found nowhere else in Worcestershire. It usually prefers the chalkland downs of the south.
Sheep have been grazed here since well before the Romans came. They were kept in large pens called cots and these were located high up on the hills (wolds). From this it is easy to see how the Cotswolds got their name.
The Romans brought sheep with them which they crossed with the smaller native ones , to produce the Cotswold Lion - a sheep that produced much longer and thicker fleeces.
Sheep rearing became big business in the area and the local wool merchants and clothiers became very rich and so built many stone manors and churches as a sign of their wealth. Local fast flowing streams powered the mills which established the weaving industry especially around Stroud.
Sadly, the area became over dependent on the wool industry, and they were ill prepared to deal with competition from the North.
However, in spite of this, sheep continued to graze the hills and so the grassland here is quite different to other areas of the Cotswolds where grazing has been less enduring. Today part of Broadway Hill is looked after by the National Trust and in the summer it is alive with chalk loving insects such as chalk hill, small blue and marbled white butterflies. Of course, we didn’t see any today. It was far too windy.
When we reached the top of the hill and stood in front of the tower the views were absolutely magnificent. The wind gusted so strongly that our coats were blown completely the wrong way. We wanted to run and chase. It was so exciting but sadly, we had to stay on our leads. A sign told humans to watch out for baby deer – but not to approach them – for fear of scaring off their mums. Lots of humans and their dogs were enjoying the top of the hill too.
We set off on a contour path along the side of the Cotswold scarp and there were even more sheep, but these just watched us from a distance. Bruno didn’t even notice them.
There seemed to be dips in the hillside probably from where the Cotswold limestone had been hewn to build the lovely stone buildings in the local villages.
As we climbed down the hill, we descended into beautiful beech woodlands with their smooth shiny grey trunks. The trees were still devoid of leaves. We crossed over an extremely busy road to walk into a continuation of the beech woodlands. Here the trees were giants and their roots sprawled across the path like huge serpents, creating the most exciting obstacle course complete with drinking cups where the rainwater had collected. The water was so cold. It was delicious – and welcome – the limestone grassland seemed very dry.
Finally, we were coming to the end of the walk. We saw the village of Broadway below us and we ran and chased and wrestled our way down the hill.
But as we climbed further and further down the hill, the ground became surprisingly wet and sticky under our paws. Rushes clumped together in small groups. We pludged our way through the mud and our pristinely white paws became muddy and brown right up to our armpits. It didn’t bother us, but I am not sure that Julie was too impressed.
We emerged onto Broadway High Street – still busy with all the things that humans do.
As we trotted along, we smiled at them – in the only way that we canines know how.
And, more often than not, the humans smiled back.
Two American ladies – coated and booted up for the weather – stopped in their tracks – looked at our mud-stained legs and said
“Some one’s had a fun time!!”
– and indeed, we had!