1967-10-The Beacon





  • As told by Three Pilgrims of the Cotswolds

THE MINUTE we opened the train door at Oxford the heavens opened and by the time we dived under cover we were drenched.  After half an hour’s struggle with our rucksacks we reached the bus station where we took another half-hour to get them off again, and then paid 9d. [4p] to dump them in the left luggage office.

After a meal we made our way to the Botanical Gardens where Hilary slumped down on the nearest seat and promptly fell asleep, while Janet and Marilyn explored the neighbouring area.  We then visited Blackwell’s bookshop, the Sheldonian Theatre and several colleges.

At 5 p.m. we set off to the Youth Hostel guided by two German girls who told us it was a ten-minute walk.  Approximately one hour later . . we panted up the hill to the Hostel.  Our dreams of “living it up” crumbled as we fell exhausted into bed at 9.30 p.m.

Next morning we set off bright and early, after two eggs & a good deal of washing up.  Tramping up the A 40 until we came to Yarton, we stopped to look around the eleventh-century church then, after fighting our way through 6ft. nettles, brambles, thistles, etc. for an hour or so, we came to a cornfield and had our iron rations – two soggy biscuits and a bite of banana.

Of course, by this time we were completely lost but we reached Bladon gasping for a drink, and after a bottle of Corona each felt slightly revived, so we made our way across Blenheim Park to Woodstock, where Janet discovered she had lost her purse!

The policeman told us to retrace our steps to Bladon, which we did – a good deal slower than we came.  Finding nothing we got to the main road and hitched back to Woodstock.  We met for the second time a kindly gentleman called Howard, who gave Janet £1 after hearing the woeful tale.

So on to Charlbury to find that the Youth Hostel was at the top of a HILL! 

Our next days was to be a “rest day” so we began by washing up, then after exploring Charlbury, we walked 1½ miles to Spelsbury where we looked round the church then caught the bus to Chipping Norton.  We had a meal of beans on toast, looked round the village and walked the six miles back to Charlbury in an hour and a half. 

On Saturday we started again by washing up.  The morning was showery but brightened by the time we had reached Ascot-under-Wychwood.  After passing through Lyneham we stopped at a pub for lunch, then continued on through Bledington (hope you’ve all got your maps open – Ed).

We arrived at Stow on the Wold which, of course, was on a HILL, and made our way to Mrs. Weedon’s house in Church Street.

Our room was at the top of two staircases, the 2nd being very steep and uneven.  Opposite our window was the Parish Church, whose clock chimed every 15 minutes ending on a flat note.  That evening we paid 7/6 [37.5p] for a small unappetising meal and made friends with the man in the “White Cottage Gift Shop” who gave us some tips about nearby cafes.  Before retiring to luxuriously soft beds Marilyn did the laundry, tied some string across the window to the dressing table and draped the washing over it.

We went to the Baptist Chapel where we were confronted by a congregation of 8, all over 80, one of whom sang like a certain Mr W.W.  Still, our singing was also remarked upon.  We sought comfort in a large chicken dinner…


We visited Upper and Lower Swell and stopped at a closed pub on the way back to enjoy a refreshing cream soda.

Whilst Hilary and Janet were signing the visitors’ book on Monday morning Marilyn dashed upstairs with toast & marmalade wrapped up in paper serviettes only to bump straight into Mrs Weedon – the landlady.

We said goodbye to the Man in the Gift Shop and trotted on to Bourton-on-the-Water, where we paddled in the Windrush, saw the model village & caught a bus (?) to Andoversford.  During the ride we ate our lunch, by then, rubbery toast and marmalade & discovered to our horror it was early-closing day at Andoversford.  So on we went to Whittington.

On a cart track we stopped for lunch at 3.45 p.m. – a rum truffle & three segments of orange each.  A herd of cows came to the fence to view the scene. Later … Crossing Cleeve Common to reach the Youth Hostel which, of course, was at the top of Cleeve HILL – we again spent our time at this Hostel .. in washing up.

Next morning the “camel train” set off in a thick mist and after a five-minute walk had to scale a sheer rock face.  Although we had felt cold in the mist the heat soon became tremendous, and whilst taking our anoraks off, in a country lane, we were pinned to the hedge by a monstrous farm vehicle.

We then made our way to a house to beg for a cup of water and were given directions to reach the Seven Springs, supposed to be the source of the Thames [it is furthest source from Tower Bridge].  Thoroughly exhausted we eventually crawled to it and were confronted by a gnat-infested hole, but the Latin inscription on the wall did say “Hic tuus, O Tamesine Pater, septemgeminus fons.” – “Here is thy seven-fold fount, O Father Thames.”

(Most maps show the source of the Thames at Kemble, 12 miles south of Seven Springs; but this stream, which flows through Cirencester as the River Churn, is one of the longest head-waters of the Thames.)

Feeling too exhausted to walk any farther we hitched a lift from the Seven Springs to Redcomb.  From here we climbed a steep hill and sat down in the road, then raced to safety when a herd of cows suddenly came upon us.  Of course, Janet managed to sit in a patch of tar.

We arrived at Duntisbourne Abbots after tramping through dust, clay, water, flies and the rest.  Spying a Y.H.A. sign we rushed into the garden of the nearest suitable house on the hill.  A startled vicar looked out at us.  Naturally, the Youth Hostel was at the very TOP of the hill.

Janet and Hilary flopped on their beds and went to sleep, but they hadn’t bargained for the noise made by a party of 12-year-old girls who were staying at the Hostel for a week.  However, we felt refreshed after a good meal and a hot shower.

In the morning Hilary polished the tables whilst Janet and Marilyn peeled potatoes.  After walking into Cirencester, an old Roman town, we spent our time exploring, & caught a bus to the Inglesham Youth Hostel.  We made an agreement with the driver that he would let us get off just round the corner to the Hostel so that it would not be too obvious that we had used transport up to the door.  This Youth Hostel was not on a hill – but it was miles from nowhere. 

Next day the warden gave Hilary 3/- [15p] to send a letter by express post for her – but in Swindon we discovered it would cost 3/4.  We travelled on to Wootton Basset, where we spent the rest of our holiday with Janet’s sister.  Civilisation has its advantages.

Janet Lane

Hilary Starr

Marilyn Smith



Inserted footnote.  I actually stayed at all of these Youth Hostels mentioned in this article during the 1980s and the 1990s.  I also stayed at Stow on the Wold Youth Hostel – I last stayed at this Youth Hostel in 2010.  Sadly, all these Youth Hostels are now closed.  However, there is now a new Youth Hostel at Cirencester. 

I can relate to the places mentioned in this article.  The Cotswolds are certainly a beautiful part of England!


Page last updated: 5th February 2018 3:50 PM