I’m sorry but whenever I think of Dyrham Park, that splendid, to be honest, a bit overdone, National Trust-owned mansion in what used to be South Gloucestershire, I’m reminded irresistibly of the Pink Panther.
Something about the rhythm of the words…Dyrham, Dyrham….(rising) four beats…Dyrham, Dyrham (falling) …. start singing it and you’re singing the Pink Panther theme tune.
Oh yes, just one of the bizarre things one finds oneself doing when walking a chunk of the Cotswold Way. I put it down to the tedium of the field walking. You go slightly bonkers crossing ploughed fields gathering ten pounds of claggy mud on each boot so you have to raise each leg high like Jed Clampet doing a jig but much slower.
I had been so looking forward to that stretch of the route. A couple of miles and then into the NT caff for home-cooked lunch with maybe a glass of vino or at the very least a really nice pot of tea to prepare one for the next eight miles or so.
But first of all it was impossible to get into. The route runs around the western edge of the estate and it seems the only entrance is on the eastern edge – off the horribly busy A46. It beggars belief that there is no sweet little gate manned by sweet little volunteer for the Cotswold Way walkers but there isn’t. So we had to gain entry by covert means which I can’t go into here. Suffice to say grappling irons would have come in useful and it’s just as well that National Trust volunteer trainees don’t have sniper rifles.
Once inside, it was but a nonchalant walk through the parkland to discover that the house, restaurant and other fancy bits – orangery, something for the kids, shop – were closed due to water drainage work. At least it meant it was quiet so we nosed around the gardens, undisturbed and found, oh joy, the little alcove in the wall by the grapevine that we’d all squished into when the boys were little and stayed for ages, our secret hideout among the vine leaves, picking sweet juicy black grapes from the bunches hanging over us. No grapes – just the old vine still in place, beautifully pruned and the promise of a fruitful autumn.
Back on the walk, in Dyrham Woods, there was an unusual feature – a message box. Not so much a dead letterbox as it was clearly marked “MESSAGE BOX” which would never work in a John le Carre novel but somewhere to leave messages. Inside was a book and a pen wrapped in polythene and a couple of scraps of paper from people who had been doing sponsored Cotswold Way walks. A photo of three girls in their late teens, early twenties had been signed with their names and the fact that they were walking the Cotswold Way to raise money for the British Heart Foundation in memory of their dad. Poignant.
Inside the book people had written the sort of messages you might find in a Visitors’ Book but more physical… “Glad of a rest. Quite knackered. Thanks for the excuse to pause” and other comments were simply descriptions of the scene when they visited… “blue skies and birdsong” or in one case a simple message in memory of a chap who loved to walk the Cotswold Way.
Apart from two skylarks dancing in the air fairly low and singing their hearts out, the rest of the walk was pretty unremarkable apart from The Shed.
On the edge of a village there was a garden next to a field with the Shed of Sheds. This was raised on a platform, painted green with a door and symmetrical windows (very important) flying a very ragged skull and crossbones. That, I said, is probably the last refuge of an elderly Treasure Island fan. That it be.
The house from the back. Gates firmly locked. Railings quite high.