The intoxicating scent of Laurie Lee's languid coming of age novel, brought to life again in the current BBC Sunday night drama, draws us all to the innocent wild of the Cotswold countryside. Lee set his stories in the landscape of his childhood, the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire. The bucolic portrait of hay carts and wildflowers belies a harsher world of rural poverty and death in post first world war England. Lee left home at 19 and walked to London to make his way in the world, playing his violin and writing poetry. He ended up walking all the way to Spain, scraping a living as a musician and walking his way through the landscape. In 1937, he went back to Spain to join the International Brigade in the fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The story of his journey is told in As I walked out One Midsummer Morning. When he came home, he worked as a journalist and scriptwriter before becoming a huge success with his novel Cider with Rosie in 1959. The money he earned from this novel allowed him to buy a little cottage in Slad, the village where he grew up, and to become a full time writer.
Slad remains much as it was, with its honey-coloured seventeenth century cottages and welcoming roadside pub, The Woolpack. Lee lived in a run down cottage here with his mother and six brothers and sisters, now a restored cottage called Rosebank. Lee's grave is in the churchyard, overlooking his beloved pub; the church has a memorial window. The wooded narrow valley and steep countryside around the village is laced with footpaths and it is easy to create a circular walk of different lengths to suit.
A good place to start is at the lay-by at Bull's Cross (described by Lee as 'that ragged wildness of wind-bent turves') on the B4070 from Stroud. Follow the footpaths round towards Steanbridge Mill. Walk in to Slad if you wish to visit the village, otherwise turn left after the pond where Lee would skate in winter, and walk over the fields towards Furners Farm. Follow the footpaths in a loop back past the disused quarries and through the woods towards Bull's Cross. That's about 4 miles. Or explore the ancient beeches of nearby Frith Wood. The leaves will be wonderful at this time of year.
Book at The Woolpack to secure a table. 01452 813 429
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust have created a 6 mile Laurie Lee Wildlife Way, following a series of 10 poetry posts
Map: OS Explorer map 179
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