Cotswold Way: Hills, cheese rolling and monks

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The unusual Prinknash Abbey, hidden in the Cotswolds

We had overnighted at Painswick on the Cotswold Way. Being a Sunday morning, we breakfasted and then were off to experience a local church service. A pleasant service at St. Mary’s with the minister giving a sermon about the evils of transnational companies such as Nike. After the service we joined the congregation for coffee and biscuits. We met Janet, a retired geologist, and another woman who walks sections of the Cotswolds with her local group.

Back on the track, along Gloucester Road, just before the Roccoco Gardens, we turned right and made our way across the golf course. We had already decided to take the optional shortcut to avoid the climb up to Painswick Beacon, but we met Janet again and she persuaded us to accompany her and her dog Jess to Painswick Hill, a pre-historic hill fort. Once at the top Janet showed us the sights of the hill.

We made our way back to the track and continued to the road near Kite Hill. From there we followed the road to Prinknash Abbey, an austere looking building, softened by a mellow ambience.

Arriving at the Abbey, there is an impressive greeting set in stone to welcome the visitor. The name Prinknash derives from “Princa’s ash tree”. In 1928 a Benedictine community moved here and lived in a small mansion. They planned to build an abbey in the gothic style, but World War II intervened. After the war, it became too expensive to continue with the original plan, so the community embarked on a radically different design. The Abbey was completed in 1972 and looks more like an office building than a monastery.

The monks make the well-known Prinkash pottery, a major source of the monastery’s income. It’s certainly worth a visit to view the stained glass windows and to enjoy a quick meal at the café. We tried the jacket potatoes. We left the abbey and walked back up to the Way.

Nearby is Cooper’s Hill where the locals hold an annual event known as cheese rolling. From the top of the hill a 7 pound round (or drum) of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled, and competitors race down the hill after it. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. In theory, competitors are aiming to catch the cheese, but since it has a one second head start and can reach speeds of up to 112 km/h, this rarely occurs.

We met a couple out walking and the woman said that there was a lot of cider involved in the races. We enjoyed the climb down Cooper’s Hill and walked past an interesting looking tea shop. The path followed the contours of the hills to Birdlip. A very good day!

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