The Cotswolds is an area of England, to the northwest of London and just east of Wales, characterised by its rolling hills, picturesque valleys and yellow limestone. For over thirty years people have enjoyed walking this area as a way to learn and understand its secrets as evidenced by the creation of the Cotswold Way, a long distance footpath and National Trail.
It is popular to walk the Cotswold Way in its entirety as a several day journey, or to take shorter walks from the villages along the way that incorporate portions of the Cotswold Way.
There is a loop that begins in Old Sodbury that is well worth taking. Walkers start out on the Cotswold Way and follow it out of the village before coming upon a little church on a hill.
This is an 11th century medieval era church with plenty to fascinate visitors, but there is also a bench nearby with an excellent view of the village below. Continuing on along the Cotswold Way will take walkers past quaint fields and soaring trees towards Sodbury Camp hill fort. Sodbury Camp is an ancient fort from the bronze and iron ages which was also crucial in the decisive battle of the War of the Roses. Walkers will then pass through an orchard before turning off of the Cotswold Way and following a different path across a footbridge on the way back into the village.
Another walk shows the area’s history in a lighter way. This walk begins in Cranham under an old beech tree and continues into a nature reserve where walkers will be surrounded by magnificent woods. Climbing up through these beautiful trees will lead to the top of Cooper’s Hill which is a somewhat mysterious piece of Cotswold history. Cooper’s Hill has long been the site of the cheese-rolling festival during which people race each other down the hill after a rolling wheel of cheese – some making it to the bottom on their feet, some rolling alongside the cheese. The mystery is in the origins of this festive day because where it all began was lost long ago. Walkers will carefully tread down the edge of the hill before continuing on through more scenic woods with views of distant lakes and a trickling stream.
Some may want to stop in at the Black Horse Inn for a spot of refreshment before returning to the starting point.
A walk with fantastic views begins in Winchcombe at the war memorial. The path follows the Cotswold Way past charming cottages and St. Peter’s church before exposing amazing views back over the town. A climb up a hill will take walkers to Belas Knap, a long barrow or burial site from 3800 BC with a false entrance and several true entrances. Resuming the path will take walkers to viewpoints where they may see broad vistas of the Cotswolds and of the breathtaking Sudeley Castle and gardens. Returning downhill brings the path back to Winchcombe with its many tearooms and pubs to revive weary walkers.
For a diverse experience, try a walk that commences from King’s Stanley. Beginning at the Kings Head pub, the path works its way out of town and across a footbridge before joining the Cotswold Way. Climbing a stony gulley will take walkers up into some woods where they will wind through trees until breaking out onto Selsley Common. Again climbing is necessary, this time affording breathtaking views of the Severn Estuary and across to Wales.
Continuing on takes the path past Toots, an Iron Age burial mound, before trending downhill.
The reward for making it down the hill is the lovely Selsley Church, known for its 19th Century stained glass windows. Now crossing open fields, the path displays Ebley Mill and the rest of the valley that Industry played such a part in shaping. The path will cross a small bridge before uncovering the Stroudwater Navigation Canal, opened in 1779, allowing walkers to wander beside the canal for a while before moving back toward King’s Stanley. The Kings Head pub promises a warm reception at the end of your journey.
One of the simplest, most ‘essentially Cotswolds’ walks begins in Chipping Campden. This walk starts near the tourist information centre at the official beginning/end of the Cotswold Way. As walkers follow the Cotswold Way out of town, views of the pastoral wonders ahead gradually come into frame. Passing through a small forest of windblown trees, the path continues toward a hillside that leads to Lynches Wood. Here walkers will find a fabulous carpet of bluebells when in season. A long climb uphill, including a flight of steps and veering past a nearby pond, brings visitors to the top of Dover’s Hill. This is an opportunity to enjoy the views and reflect on the fact that this is the site of the historic Olimpick Games (held since the 1600s) with competitions such as sledgehammer throwing, spurning the barre, and shin-kicking. Following the curve of the hill, the path capitalises on some magnificent vistas before descending into the town once more.
The experience of walking these paths unearths new understanding of what makes this practice so prevalent and what is more, treading the countryside by foot leaves hardly a trace, so walkers may enjoy the natural wonders in a completely sustainable way. These walks also bring back the calm and quiet of a bygone way of life that exposes the natural beauty of the English countryside.
This is a guest post written by Hannah Smith, a travel writer for thetrainline.com the UK’s leading independent retailer of cheap train tickets.