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The Cotswalds - Walking Breaks with HF Holidays

Have you ever considered going on an organised walking holiday. One where everything is done from you and all you need to do is stroll along, enjoying the scenery and listening to your guide telling you about the countryside? Our Travel Editors, Hugh Taylor and Moira McCrossan, are the authors of several walking guide books and have spent a life time walking in the UK, but never in a group. So they were a bit apprehensive when asked to review an HF Walking Holiday in the Cotswalds.

Harrington House Bourton on the Water

After many years of designing and devising walks then writing them up for a variety of magazines and guidebooks we would never have considered going on anything like an organised walk far less an organised walking holiday. But we could see the appeal of them to others. No planning, everything laid on and some company to enjoy on the walk and socialise with in the evening.

 

From the word go we were impressed with HF Holidays. We’d arranged to do a three night/2day walking holiday from Bourton on the Water. We arrived at Harrington House abut 4.30 PM and were immediately impressed by how friendly everyone was. “ Oh Yes , you’re in Room eleven. Here’s the key and when you get settled in, there are tea and scones in the ballroom. And indeed there were, masses of them. We met a few of the others who had just arrived and soon the other groups who had been out walking came in too.

Harrington House BedroomAt seven we attended the nightly briefing where the three leaders introduced themselves and told us a little bit about the walks they would be leading the next day. There was a shortish one, a medium one and a harder one. We had to fill in a sheet indicating which one we wanted to go on. But we could easily change our minds in the morning if we wanted to.

 

Then it was time for dinner. We’d already indicated our choice of meals on a sheet outside the dining room. The food was excellent and the portions such that we were able to enjoy three courses without feeling absolutely stuffed. We were sitting at a table with two of the leaders and learned that they were all volunteers with lengthy experience. There’s a full programme of events in the evening which you can join in or not.

That evening there was a ghost walk round Bourton, board games or a musical quiz. In the end the board games didn't happen and while Hugh enjoyed the informal musical quiz, Moira went off to explore the darker side of Bourton. Our guide was local historian who shared his local knowledge with us as he led us into all the darkest corners, particularly Coffin Lane, the shortcut from the church to the cemetery, which was indeed as dark as pitch.

 

Next day, we were again impressed with the organisation. While we breakfasted, the staff had organised the packed lunches, which we had chosen the previous day. Alongside the sandwich packs was an array of fruit, biscuits, crisps, chocolate, healthy bars and drinks to choose from. No-one could have any excuse for going hungry on these walks. Hugh had chosen the easy walk as he had a sore leg, while Moira went for the medium. The walks start from different pointCHurch on walks but are planned to finish at the same time back in Bourton, allowing for the differing pace and fitness of participants and letting those on the easier walks spend more time enjoying the villages, churches and view points en route, while the hardy walkers keep up a good pace throughout. And indeed it was so; the medium walk arrived back at Harrington House just in time to see the easy walkers enter the gates ahead of them and both were no sooner ensconced in the tearoom, than the hardy walkers trekked past. Brilliant forward planning! The evening's entertainment was an hilarious village fete organised by one of our leaders who had come with an amazing suitcase full of old fashioned fairground games, such as roll the penny and skittles.There was much cheating and mocking as we discovered our skills to be lacking.

Unfortunately for us the Roman Villa, which was a main attraction on the next day's walks was closed for two days for works, which meant the easy walk would have been particularly short, so only Hugh had chosen it. HF will lead a walk with two people but not with just one so there were only two levels, medium and hard, both shorter than planned. We enjoyed another splendid day in the Cotswold countryside, meandering through meadows, happening upon golden villages and dallying in ancient churchyards. We took shelter en route in a fine traditional inn, just as the rain started, picnicked in an ancient churchyard and ended the day in another local hostelry enjoying that great English tradition of walking from pub to pub.

Lucnh on one of the walksThe final evening event was to design a boat for the boat race on the water through the town. There was a prize for the best design and of course for the winner of the race. This is a fundraiser and the best design was chosen by all participants putting money beside the design of their choice. There was much imaginative recycling of plastic bottles and polystyrene. All the money goes to HF funds. Hugh upped the ante by putting a fiver beside our design, so as others entered the fray, the final amount was much more than is normally collected! Our plastic bottle still didn't win but two of our walking companions highly original winning boat was made from a cow pat, wrapped in foil and garlanded with flowers. However when it came to the test, in the water, the cow pat did not fare very well and our creation was last. The winner was a minimalist cardboard bowl with three corks in it. But it was great fun and all the boats were cheered on by the local community for whom the boat race has become a regular Friday night attraction.

HF holidays have houses all over Britain from the Highlands to Cornwall and many of our fellow guests had returned again and again over the years. They really do have walks to suit all levels of fitness. One older couple, who had first come about twenty years ago, said they wouldn't now go to Glencoe, for example, where the walking is obviously more challenging than in the Cotswolds. We will definitely be back to explore some of the other areas of Britain and perhaps some of their destinations in Europe.

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