Disabled Ramblers tackle Cleeve Common

On a Thursday morning in August a group of 43 ramblers, 17 of them in wheel chairs, set off from Cleeve Common Golf Club.

Most of them were members of the Disabled Ramblers, a group who hold regular rambles throughout England and Wales (there are other groups in Scotland). They use all terrain, power wheel chairs, mainly of the four wheel ‘Tramper’ type, to cover distances between 4 and 12 miles, depending on the level of difficulty. The disabled members usually bring along an able bodied helper.
The organisation also have a trailer which carries a portable toilet and Trampers which can be hired by those members who don’t have their own powered chairs.

The Disabled Ramblers had originally been contacted by the Cotswold Way team in a two way effort to discover what changes might be made to parts of the Cotswold Way to make it more accessible to disabled users and also to offer the group a ramble on the Cotswold Way. The first area which sprang to mind was Cleeve Common because of the relatively large area with reasonably accessible gradients, the wonderful scenery, and the diverse range of areas of interest including historic features and natural history.

It took a couple of visits beforehand to work out a route which could be classified as ‘Category 3’, which means stretches of rough surfaces and/or steep hills, and is for heavier scooters. The maximum gradient was 1 in 6, and steep cross gradients also had to be avoided. The route was also circular and visited various points of interest as well as impressive viewpoints.

The Cotswold Way had considerable help in planning the route from Mary Knight, who advises the Disabled Ramblers, Ellie Phillips from FWAG who looks after the conservation interests of Cleeve Common for the Board of Conservators, and David Stevenson the Cleeve Common Ranger. They were all there for the ramble as well as one of the volunteer Cotswolds Wardens, John Heathcott. John proved to have a wealth of knowledge about the Common where he has led a number of walks and carried out many practical tasks. He is also a Cotswold Way warden.

The weather forecast that morning wasn’t brilliant but luckily the rain held off until 4 in the afternoon, near the end of the ramble. Amongst the areas visited were:
A high point overlooking Winchcombe and the Washpool Valley. At one stage we had hoped to get down to the Washpool but the terrain was too difficult. However, we had a very interesting talk about the Washpool and the adjoining areas. We were on the old route of the Cotswold Way and were able to point out the new route past Postlip Hall and up over Breakheart.

Barnards Cross. an ancient cross roads where a Roman White Way connecting the Vale of Evesham with Cirencester meets an old road recommended as the best route from Gloucester to Coventry in the first ever road map of Britain published by Ogilvy in 1675.

Some heather plots which are being re-established on an area of Greensands (meaning the soils are neutral whereas the rest of the common is noted for its calcareous, flora rich grass land). Here we stopped for lunch and a talk about the management of the common and the grazing and cutting regime used to control gorse and other scrub and rough grasses in order to encourage the heather and other wild flowers.

A dewpond which had been recreated where it was thought there had been an earlier one similar to those which were used throughout the Cotswolds to water sheep. John was involved in its construction and again gave a very interesting talk.

The Hill Fort where the talk included not just its own ancient history but also the part which Cleeve Cloud played in the break of the siege of Gloucester during the Civil War!
The topograph and trig point on Cleeve Hill, the highest point on the Cotswold Way (although not on the Common!)

At the topograph it started to drizzle but from there it was downhill to the Club house where tea and cakes were waiting so no-one seemed to mind!

Despite the changeable weather visibility was fairly good and everyone appreciated the fabulous views. In all we did about 6 miles and had a very enjoyable and interesting time. For those who hadn’t been involved with the Disabled Ramblers before it was a really impressive sight to see them spread out across a section of hillside. There were a couple of rough tracks and some parts were quite steep but nothing seemed to faze them.

The next day the Disabled Ramblers were going to do a section of canal from Sharpness so I expect that was a completely different experience!