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Olimpick Playground Near Chipping Campden

Walk out from the Cotswolds' most beautiful wool town to Dover's Hill, the spectacular site of centuries-old Whitsuntide festivities.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 280ft (85m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Fields, roads and tracks, 8 stiles

Landscape Open hillside, woodland and village

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 45 The Cotswolds

Start/finish SP 151391

Dog friendliness Suitable in parts (Dover's Hill) but livestock in some fields

Parking Chipping Campden High Street or main square

Public toilets A short way down Sheep Street


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1 Turn left from the Noel Arms, continue to the Catholic church, and turn right into West End Terrace. Where this bears right, go straight ahead on Hoo Lane. Follow this up to a right turn, with farm buildings on your left. Continue uphill over a stile to a path and keep going to a road.

2 Turn left for a few paces and then right to cross to a path. Follow this along the field edge to a stile. Go over to Dover's Hill and follow the hedge to a stile with extensive views before you. Turn left along the escarpment edge, which drops away to your right. Pass a trig point and then a topograph. Now go right, down the slope, to a kissing gate on the left. Go through to a road and turn right.

3 After 150yds (137m) turn left over a stile into a field. Cross this and find a gate in the bottom right-hand corner. Head straight down the next field. At a stile go into another field and, keeping to the left of a fence, continue to another stile. Head down the next field, cross a track and then find adjacent stiles in the bottom left corner.

4 Cross the first one and walk along the bottom of a field. Keep the stream and fence to your right and look for a stile in the far corner. Go over, crossing the stream, and then turn left, following a rising woodland path alongside the stream. Enter a field through a gate and continue ahead to meet a track. Stay on this, passing through gateposts, until you come to a country lane and turn left.

5 After 400yds (366m) reach a busier road and turn left for a further 450yds (411m). Shortly before the road curves left, drop to the right on to a field path parallel with the road. About 200yds (183m) before the next corner go half right down the field to a road.

6 Turn right, down the road. Shortly after a cottage on the right, go left into a field. Turn right over a stile and go half left to the corner. Pass through a kissing gate, cross a road among houses and continue ahead to meet West End Terrace. Turn right to return to the centre of Chipping Campden.

The Cotswold Olimpicks bear only a passing resemblance to their more famous international counterpart. What they lack in grandeur and razzmatazz, however, they make up for in picturesqueness and local passion. Far from being a multi-million dollar shrine to technology, the stadium is a natural amphitheatre - the summit of Dover's Hill, on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment. The hill, with spectacular views westwards over the Vale of Evesham, is an English version of the site of the Greek original.

Dover's Hill is named after the founder of the Cotswold Olimpicks, Robert Dover. Established with the permission of James I, they were dubbed 'royal' games, and indeed have taken place during the reign of 14 monarchs. Dover was born in Norfolk in 1582. He was educated at Cambridge and then was called to the bar. His profession brought him to the Cotswolds but he had memories of the plays and spectacles that he had seen in the capital, for this was the era of Shakespeare. It is generally accepted that the first games took place in 1612, but they may well have begun at an earlier date. It is also possible that Dover was simply reviving an existing ancient festivity. Initially, at least, the main events were horse-racing and hare-coursing, the prizes being, respectively, a silver castle ornament and a silver-studded collar. Other competitions in these early games were for running, jumping, throwing, wrestling and staff fighting. The area was festooned with yellow flags and ribbons and there were many dancing events as well as pavilions for chess and other similarly cerebral contests.

The Olimpicks soon became an indispensable part of the local Whitsuntide festivities, with mention of them even being made in Shakespeare's work. Dover managed the games for 30 years and he died in 1652. The games continued in various forms throughout the following centuries, surviving attempts to suppress them when they became more rowdy, and finally becoming an established annual event once again in 1966. Nowadays, the games are a cross between pantomime and carnival but have somehow retained their atmosphere of local showmanship. At the end of the evening all the spectators, holding flaming torches, file down the road back to Chipping Campden, where the festivities continue with dancing and music along the main street and in the square.

The Wool Town

It's worth lingering in Chipping Campden, before or after the walk. Possibly the most beautiful of all the Cotswold towns, it was once famous throughout Europe as the centre of the English wool trade. A leisurely stroll along its curving High Street of handsome stone houses should be an essential part of your visit. The church too is particularly fine and it's also worthwhile searching out the Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden, on the High Street.

While you're there

Broadway Tower, with its associations with William Morris, stands about 4 miles (6.4km) to the south west of Chipping Campden. A Gothic folly, built in Portland stone in 1799, it glowers across the Vale of Evesham. There is an interesting small museum inside and fine views across the vale from the top.

Where to eat and drink

Chipping Campden has plenty of pubs, tea rooms and restaurants of all descriptions. Badgers Hall, on the High Street, does an exceptionally fine tea, whilst the Seven Bells, on Church Street, is a very relaxing pub.

What to look for

On reaching Dover's Hill, the route almost doubles back on itself -this is necessary in order to observe legal rights of way. Spend a little time poring over the topograph - on a clear day there is much to try to identify. In Campden, look out for the 14th-century Grevel's House, opposite Church Lane. William Grevel, called 'the flower of the wool merchants of all England', is thought to have been the inspiration for the merchant in The Canterbury Tales.


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